THE PAT NEAL COLUMN: What defines a good day’s fishing?

“CALL ME WHEN the fishing’s good,” my fancy friend said.

I wish had a dollar for every time I heard that one.

As a professional fishing guide, I can tell you that it’s only natural for people to want to go fishing when they have the best chance at catching one of the rarest critters that swim, the steelhead.

It is called the fish of a thousand casts, which might translate into 10,000 oar strokes in a drift boat, or 10 miles of slogging muddy rain-forest trails through tangles of vine maple and devil’s club to find a secret fishing hole that’s clogged with other anglers who all have one thing in common:

They came to the North Olympic Peninsula seeking solitude and a chance to catch what many consider the greatest game fish on Earth.

As a guide on the cutting edge of the tourist industry, I tell people they should have been here 100 years ago. The fishing was ruined here with the coming of the railroad.

But you can still have a good day. Unfortunately, many people wouldn’t know a good day’s fishing if it snagged them with a treble hook.

Half the people who fish for steelhead don’t catch one. They are skunked.

Skunking can lead to depression and a feeling of inadequacy that can directly translate into other areas of your personal life.

Conversely, watching a 3-foot-long chrome-plated trout peel out 100 yards of line and jump into the sunrise can allow you to forget your dead-end career, abusive relationship and nagging health problems long enough to enjoy life.

These sordid details of a doomed existence are somehow pushed to the back burner when you hear the words, “Fish on!”

The experience has been known to release endorphins into the bloodstream that can adjust serotonin levels in the brain, in a manner consistent with other forms of addictive behavior.

The symptoms of a fish-induced psychosis can take many forms.

The angler may wear rubber boots when it is not raining.

They obsess on the weather report.

They may smell like fish.

They develop physical maladies like minor burns on their thumbs caused by hot fish peeling line off the reel.

Or they may suffer from tennis elbow without ever having played the game. They got it from setting the hook on one too many fish.

They may develop problems at work — that is, if they still have a job. Few employers enjoy having production stopped just so the crew can look at my fish pictures or listen to the one-that-got-away-fables that only foster an inbred sense of failure.

Typically, the beginning angler starts out happy to catch one steelhead a day. They think that is good fishing.

As the season progresses however, they are driven to catch another and another fish to get the same buzz they used to get catching just one.

They may go on fishing binges that can last for days, the only purpose of which is to catch larger and brighter fish.

The mystical connection between man and fish is reduced to a delusional statistic of numbers caught on the days spent fishing.

At that point there is nothing you can do but wait until the angler hits bottom.

The day will come when he can’t catch a fish if it was flopping around in the bottom of their boat.

This will often cause the poor angler to pause and reflect on the pointless nature of his existence.

He finds himself wishing he could just catch one fish.

That would be a good day’s fishing.


Pat Neal is a North Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and humorist whose column appears every Wednesday.

Pat can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected]

The “Pat Neal WildLife Show” is on radio KSQM 91.5 FM ( at 9 a.m. Saturdays, repeated at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

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