When I lived on Ben Howard Road with Worldanglr, a guy from Monroe stocked a local lake and made it pay-pay-to play. He hired our buddy Backyard to be their guide.
Backyard lives kind of a charmed life. At the time I don’t even think he had a house. He fished all day, and then always managed to find some woman to put him up for the night. I remember one night, after everything I’m about to tell you happened, where we put Dan’s drift boat in Green Lake fishing the night away looking for the Tiger Muskies they put in there to control the carp they put in there to control the plants they put in there for some forgotten reason. I felt pretty stupid floating around this tiny lake in the middle of Seattle in the middle of the night. That is until a guy passed us on a surf board. That was the night Worldangler snapped his 7 weight right at the butt by doing bounce casts off the water just where the trees drooped over them to make his fly land right up near the shore. That was also the night where I buried a 7” muskie fly in his dreadlocks when the Dan yelled “Stop!” mid cast. We had to cut it out with a hunting knife. After, we went to the Elysian pub where the bartender said she would let me drink for free all night if I would go home with her after she closed. Somehow I couldn’t but Backyard could. That all got written up, in a sterilized fashion, in Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine.
Anyway, Backyard got the keys to the lake right around when my parents came to visit. The lake wasn’t even open yet, but high friends in good places and all that and one late summer evening Radar came over, we packed a nice picnic of BBQ chicken and beer, and headed off to the lake. The lake was up on Utilities land, all gated but with passable roads, if barely, for my Subaru. The roads meander around in there like an ant farm and if I wasn’t following Backyard, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.. Along the way, we passed a McMansion development and the owner of the lake told us about his grand plans to sell fishing lots on the lake like they do on golf courses.
When we got to the lake there was a dock, a boat launch, a condemned trailer for the alcoholic caretaker, and two floating docks across the lake. They had a boat tied up and we all piled in, Backyard sitting in the bow like Gollum and paddling with the single oar. In short order we’d gone the several hundred yards to the docks and unloaded. Turns out King Lake had a pretty good native population before they put thirty K of stockers in there, as evidenced when I snagged a twenty-inch cutthroat and the owner noted they hadn’t even stocked cutties.
The fishing was, as they say, epic. My mom had just had stomach surgery so couldn’t cast, but she sure could rope trout. We’d take turns casting out any ridiculous dry fly, like a Chernobl, and if by some miracle the fish didn’t take it, when she would strip it in to recast, they would leap out of the water and grab it off the tip of her rod. She’d have to let them run just to get the line back out of the guides. My dad sat down on the cooler and launched sixty-five foot casts with ease. He had to be careful not to lick the water on the back cast though, because that would often as not result in a strike.
I was so green to fishing, I probably lost a dozen by grabbing the leader to land them, never having had to unhook a fish heavier than the tippet’s load rating. But of the 100 strikes I had, I hooked 50, even if it was for just a short time. My folks were having the time of their lives and it’s always kind of nice to give something like that back, you know? The biggest fish my dad brought to hand (after I stopped helping him and breaking them off) was over ten pounds. My mom got a picture of it standing six feet away on telephoto so all you see is this girth of fish wider than my dad. He still has the picture in his wallet, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any pictures of me in there.
Eventually, for a change of pace, the owner took me and radar out in the boat. There was just the slightest north-south current in the lake, so you could go to the top and drift back pulling streamers in the deep cold water for the “real lunkers” (up to the state record of thirty-three pounds). Radar sat drooling in the bottom of the boat, so overloaded on fish that every time one hit he would jerk the line and crack them off. In short time the guide was completely out of flies and Radar had a new name –“Cracker” – that has stuck with him ever since. As with any good nickname, it’s multidimensional and describes both his fishing prowess and world outlook.
It got dark way before the fun ran out. After dark the fish seemed even more voracious and fearless and their jumping sounded like feeding time at an alligator zoo. We eventually rolled it up, I tipped Backyard $100 for being so solicitous to my mom and we went back to the house.
After that I nearly forgot about the place for some reason. I have a bad habit of getting “too busy to fish” even though I was working at home at the time. My nephew Gabriel came out and I took him there for his graduation present. I’d been grooming him up to be a fly fisherman since my dad was way back in New Hampshire and I want him to have somebody to fish with. It was one hundred degrees and not the best day for trout, but again Backyard switched flies and worked with him until they finally figured out the choronimid situation (something that required Backyard drawing on the thoraxes of the flies with a felt tip pen, how does he figure that shit out?). Choronimid fishing is something I have never had the time nor the interest to try, let alone figure it out. For me it’s like nymphing: if those are the options, I’ll go home.
For myself, I would try a fly until I caught two fish on it and switch up. I think I landed about 25 fish for the day. My ratio was getting better and although not a great day by King Lake standards, it was still a great day fishing. Even Gabriel caught a dozen or so. By this point, the fish were a little cagier than our first visit when we joked we needed a dogfood fly for the domesticated piscatores. I also think poaching and loss of interest by the owner were taking their toll.
Later still, we were all sitting at the house one fateful night, as the authors say, when Worldanglr said he and Backyard were going up to the lake. The lake may have been nearly out of business by then. I called Cracker and off we went, me and Cracker in the Subaru, Backyard and Worldanglr in Backyard’s Four Runner. This time we went in by a different gate and took a much more tortuous route. There were several hills whose summits seemed dubious goals given the breadbox-sized and shaped rocks, but somehow we made it.
I guess I should’ve paid more attention on the way in.
We all fished till dark again, and being out of beer and it not being such a good night Backyard and Worldanglr decided to take off. The bite had really been picking up though out on the seam in the boat and I talked Cracker into staying with me. I kept getting hit after hit on what had become my favorite King Lake fly. I called it the Pimp Daddy because it was the gaudiest thing in the store. Some cone headed monster with more feathers than Carmen Garcia. I have no idea how or why that thing ended up in my fly box. Eventually I decided that the shape and coloration of the fly must look like a monster rainbow’s gill plate and that the little buggers were smashing it out of sheer aggression. And so it went for an hour: Smash! Miss! Smash! Miss! It was too infuriating to call it quits, but eventually Cracker was dozing in the bottom of the boat and I decided to give up, it being so dark I was going to have a hard time finding the landing. Imagine my chagrin upon reeling in the fly to find the hook had been broken off by the very first fish. Prophetic.
In the dark, going the other way, on bad roads, we were not quite instantly lost but going the wrong direction for a long time before we realized it. Now Cracker is the kind of guy who reads the Journal of the American Medical Association for pleasure, and got a job building networks because he can do it on a headset while he fly fishes, and generally is smart enough to keep me out of trouble. Which I admit can take a certain amount of smarts. However, both Cracker and I suffer from hypoglycemia, and we were at the point where even together we couldn’t tie on a fly let alone navigate dark unmarked roads twelve hours past our last meal.
Somehow, more by luck than intellect, we managed to find the gate after several hours. By now we were exhausted, cranky and ready to go home. It was at this point that we discovered that some concerned citizen had shut and locked the gate that WorldAnglr and Backyard had judiciously left open for us (as they both swear to this day). There we were, not four yards from the road and we might as well still be lost in the woods. We left cell messages for everybody on the planet, but given the hour and their probable intoxication levels, we were on our own.
It was one of those gates with multiple locks that is opened by unlocking any one lock. Of course we had no flashlight, so working in the high contrast of the headlights we tried to open the box and jimmy the levers, but we could not even lift the lid of the box and bloodied our fingernails in the attempt. Eventually, I looked at the path the quad runners had beat around the end of the gate and decided that if I just put one wheel of the Subaru into the bushes, I could drive around it. At this point, even having a beer in me would’ve helped me to make better decisions. As it turns out, having a bunch of beers in me could hardly have made it worse.
Cracker couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he was pretty sure it was a bad idea. He opted to stand by the sidelines to watch. “What could possibly go wrong?” argued I. “I’ll just drive through those thick bushes there.” And so I eased my way around the gate. Unfortunately, those bushes sat on the edge of a thirty-foot ravine. In fact they may have been the tops of trees growing in the ravine. The left front of the car plunged out of sight, the rest of the car tottering on an axis from the left rear diagonally through the car to the right front. “Uuuuurrrrrrrk,” it rocked over the precipice, “uuuuRRRRkkkk,” it rocked back.
At this point, I really didn’t understand my predicament decided I should exit the vehicle. I opened my door and promptly stepped into space. I had to climb back up and shut the door with the car looming over me in space. “Uuuuurrrrrrrk, uuuuRRRRkkkk.”
“Huh,” remarked Cracker as I finally made it up the bank, scratched, bloodied, and muchly chagrinned.
“Well, I’m disinclined to leave my car here where the tweakers can see it, being how we are only ten feet from the main road. If I’d just driven it over my insurance would cover it. If somebody pushes it, that’s vandalism and I’m not covered.” Out in the unincorporated parts of the county, meth is one of the only industries. There are more hyped up people out here stealing your catalytic converters to sell for the platinum than there are in all of the shooting galleries of LA, and it seems like them and fly fishermen for some reason seemed to cross paths a lot. I worry more about my car in the woods than I ever have in the city.
“Not too late…”
I was carefully opening the hatch to extricate my laptop bag which contained a bunch of sensitive Microsoft data. I was nervous that just shutting the hatch would send it over the edge. “Don’t tempt me,” I said, walking around to the passenger side, reaching up in the air and grabbing the door so I could lock the car.
At this point we decided to hitch into town, pick up his truck, go to my house, get sleeping bags, come back and make a night of guarding the car. Or I decided. Poor Cracker was still going along for the ride. Being country folk myself, I figured that a couple of relatively clean cut guys walking along with a lap top, of all things, would get a ride easy. No such luck. The only cars that even slowed down threw beer bottles at us. After several miles of this, we did a little math and figured the round trip would take us a couple of days.
We finally got to a house that still had lights on and I walked up to the door. There was a middle-aged white couple, a young redneck, and a beautiful mulatto woman sitting at a formica table smoking weed. The redneck quickly introduced us to his “aunt, uncle, and cousin” and then offered as he might help us. The dubious expression had not yet left Cracker’s face. Eventually after much bong-blowing and some other assorted shenanigans I can’t quite remember he got himself together, we loaded into a golf cart and drove the 100 feet to the barn where he had his truck. I know a little about trucks. Thanks to Cracker my ex got into drag racing a Dodge Ram Turbo Diesel 4WD club cab (I never know what order to put all those adjectives in), and even set a world record at one point. Trucks are like fly rods. You got yourself there an all around tool, which just may be beautiful (R still pulled her horse trailer with her truck), then you got your all out penis-mobiles which cannot have anymore purpose in the real world than that IM14 modulous graphene rod that I’m sure will be coming out next year and sold to all of the people who cannot cast their IM6 rods, nor pull trout in on them.
This was full on penis-mobile with more lights than that Close Encounters UFO, and tires the size of an earthmover’s. Our captor drove it at insane speeds down the curvy country road, us bouncing around on the soft suspension like a cat in a crate that I once saw tumbling on the conveyor belt at the Sea-Tac luggage pick up. Except it was much funnier when it was the cat, even though Cracker was making about the same noises. He was one of those people who could tell you his life story in twenty minutes. Twice. Seems he had a vindictive ex and had bought the truck as a way to tie up his finances. The more he talked the more I liked that woman. We got there and our redneck oohed and awed over Cracker’s diesel. We went home, had a can of cold soup, and headed back to the scene of the crime.
Cracker slept in the quad cab, and I slept in the back of the truck. Well, actually I lie awake all night long listening to the car rock in the wind, “Uuuuurrrrrrrk, uuuuRRRRkkkk.” Morning came and my cell reception sucked, so Cracker decided he would head to work and call a wrecker for me. I walked down the road, threw my sleeping bag into the ditch out of earshot of the car. Right after that, a bunch of PUD guys came along, unlocked the gate, and filled me full of sage advice about what I should’ve done (which I filed away for the next time, I’m sure), spent some time messing with a winch and cumalong to no avail, promised to call me a wrecker, and left the gate open for me. So now I was sitting there with the gate open and my car swinging in the breeze “Uuuuurrrrrrrk, uuuuRRRRkkkk.”
Finally, around 2, the wrecker showed up. It took him an hour and two cables to move the car the two feet I needed to get on solid ground. Right around this time the owner of the lake showed up, having finally gotten my calls and showed me how I could’ve “easily” reached under the box and flipped the lever because the gate was, indeed, unlocked.
Ah, shit. I got in my car and drove to my 4 o’clock meeting at work.