PAT NEAL: For him, the plunking bell tolls

MAYBE IT’S JUST a local legend that the nicest weather of the year seems to occur after school starts and the tourists have gone home.

Nowhere was this enduring truth more apparent than on the last campout of this summer.

It all started much like any other perfect summer morning on a river bar on the West End of the Peninsula.

A light ocean breeze swept up the valley. The weather forecast called for some rain, but they’ve been wrong before.

And besides, why should I care about rain? I was plunking.

Plunking is a fishing technique that is more than just fishing. It is a way of life where you seek a sense of greater peace by hooking salmon and steelhead while sitting in your truck.

All you have to do is find the route the fish use to swim up the river and set your gear on the bottom with a heavy weight.

I use a rubber band wrapped around a rock. Then you want to secure your rod.

I once saw a rookie plunker hook his fishing rod to a lawn chair.

In a moment’s inattention, my lawn chair and fishing rod shot out into the river with something large at the other end of the line.

Next to having the right bait, patience is required.

Plunking action can be fast and furious, but most of the time it can take a while to get a bite.

You could become distracted or fall asleep. This is the most likely time for the fish to hit.

That’s when you want a bell on your rod so you can hear it ring when you are getting a bite.

That was the theory, but as the day wore on I began to get more distracted.

The wind stopped. The sky took on a brassy appearance. There was a rainbow ring around the sun, a portend of things to come

A party of campers drove up in what looked like a diesel-burning wagon train. They parked the rigs and began setting up tents with barbecues and picnic tables under them.

I was just about to wander over and lend a hand when my plunking bell rang. It was just a cutthroat.

By the time I cast my gear out in the river, there were a few drops of rain beginning to fall. I thought I’d go over to the camp to help build a campfire.

The way the weather was turning it looked like we’d need a big fire before the night was over.

It’s always a good idea to get a good supply of night wood in before dark. I was about to drag a big log into the flaming pile, but just then my plunking bell rang again.

The fish got away, but by the time I got back to plunking it was really starting to rain and the wind was blowing.

Back at camp, the barbecue was almost ready.

There’s something about the camaraderie of camping, gathering around a smoky fire in a 30 mph wind, joining hands on the metal frame of the dining canopy to keep it from blowing away, then letting go as the lightning flashes nearby — causing us to appreciate the little things in life like being home, bored in our own dry beds.

The dining canopy used this opportunity to rip loose of its moorings, fly over the collapsing picnic tables and tumble across the gravel bar like a giant, ugly robotic tumbleweed.

I was about to chase the runaway canopy, but just then my plunking bell rang again and I had to check it out.


Pat Neal is a North Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and humorist. His column appears Wednesdays.

Pat can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected], or see his blog at

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