I’LL NEVER FORGET the first time I saw a Sasquatch. It was Feb. 28, 1970-something.
I know the date because that was back when the Dungeness River closed on the last day of February.
At the time, the Dungeness was one of the best steelhead rivers in the state.
The locals like to brag the Dungeness is one of the fastest-dropping rivers in the country.
If you ever hooked a big steelhead while fishing the Dungeness, you’d know that.
The Dungeness is pretty much un-wadeable most of its length when the water is high enough for good fishing.
That last day of the season, I saw a guy standing in shallow water on the edge of the river.
The first thing I noticed was that he didn’t have a fishing pole. He didn’t have a hat or any hip boots, either.
The temperature was somewhere in the 30s with a steady rain, perfect winter steelhead weather. It was too bad the river was rising and getting milky.
The day before, we caught four steelhead as fast as you could punch your card. That morning, we could not hook a fish.
Then there was this guy standing there, staring at us from about 75 yards downstream.
He didn’t look like a tourist. He looked as miserable as a wet cat with his shoulders all hunched up like he was trying to keep the rain from running down his collar but there was no collar.
I made another cast. Then I looked downstream to see the guy wading across the river.
With big arms and big hands swinging above the water, he waded out onto the far shore almost directly across from where he started, which meant he didn’t get swept downstream in the crossing.
My friend Harry saw this.
He said the same thing I did: No man could cross the river there, even in low water.
Now, the river had chunks of wood floating down in the current, which is a sure sign the water is rising fast.
Harry had hunted, fished and trapped the Dungeness for 40 years and had never seen anything like it.
Just as he was about to pass on to the happy hunting ground, his last words to me were, “I wonder what that thing was.”
I’ve wondered what it was every day since.
Every tribe on the Olympic Peninsula has a legend of the Sasquatch, Skookums or Stick Indians where they are everything from a cannibal ogre to a benevolent healer.
I went to a Native American friend who knew about the old days.
She said the Sasquatch were just another tribe of Native Americans and how they just wanted to be left alone.
She told me about her uncle, Boston Charley, the last medicine man of the Klallam, who broke his leg high in the Olympics and was nursed back to health by the Sasquatch.
The Native Americans had a system of remote trade exchanging with the Sasquatch for food, especially smoked salmon for medicine.
With the arrival of the Europeans, there were efforts to collect a specimen of the Sasquatch so it could be protected.
Fortunately, these efforts were abandoned due to a total lack of success.
Now the effort has evolved into an attempt to communicate with and document the Sasquatch.
This year marks the 50-year anniversary of Bob Gimlin filming the Sasquatch at Bluff Creek.
This footage, shot by a Yakima cowboy, has since become one of the most popular symbols of the Pacific Northwest, and it is to him that this year’s Sasquatch Symposium is dedicated.
(The Olympic Peninsula Sasquatch Symposium is set from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at Studio Bob, 118½ E. Front St., Port Angeles. Admission is $10 per person.)
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal email@example.com.