PAT NEAL: A good day’s fishing

DID YOU EVER have one of those days where nothing seems to go right? When everything you try, try and try again ends in a dismal failure of confusion, blame and lame excuses?

Welcome to my world. Some people think that being a fishing guide must beat working for a living; that all you have to do is catch a couple of fish or make up a story that you caught a couple of fish.

When all else fails you can blame the government, the weather or the tourists. The game goes on. You have to show up to play.

Failure is an option that can rear its ugly head at any time. A bad slump can be made even worse by the success and good fortune of others.

Out on the river nothing could be worse than sitting there watching fish being caught while you couldn’t catch one if it was flopping around in the bottom of the boat.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse the ignorant tourist in the front of the boat yells, “Fish on!”

He jumps up as if electro-shocked, almost tipping the boat over while reeling as fast as he possibly can, which twists the line into an impossible tangle that must be cut out and replaced with new line while everyone else is catching fish.

Still I was grateful we had finally hooked something. Until it became obvious that his trophy catch of a lifetime was what we call a timber-trout or a limb cod, otherwise known as a piece of wood stuck to the bottom of the river.

We break off the five-dollar lure, which causes five bucks worth of line to erupt in a tangle that must be cut out and replaced while the other valued client chimes, “Fish on!”

This time it’s a tangle of someone else’s fishing line with a couple of pounds of algae, which can put up quite a battle in fast water, but it is soon painfully obvious even to a tourist that this is not a fish, either.

So, I try to show them how it’s done with a mighty kamikaze-hurricane cast which somehow goes very wrong and sinks the single barbless hook in my back through my raincoat right between the shoulder blades.

As much as I complain about the stupid barbless hook regulations, they are a lot easier to pull out of your hide than the hooks with the barbs on them.

Still, it’s almost a toss-up as to what is more embarrassing, to walk around with a fishing lure stuck between your shoulders where you cannot reach or asking a perfect stranger to pull it out with a pair of rusty pliers.

Suddenly, miraculously, inexplicably, the fish were there.

We started catching big, bright silver salmon one after another. We had a double-header on when my phone rang.

It was a call I’ve been waiting for. Momma went home. Not to her house. We had to sell it to pay for her care.

Now she’s at her real home.

She sent me some fish as a way of saying everything is okay. Which I have to tell you is a tough way to catch a fish.

I can’t explain how the death of a loved one makes the fish bite, but it’s happened too many times to be a coincidence.

Harry, Dusty, Bruce, D.J and others have all sent me fish after they passed.

If I said it once, I’ve said it a hundred thousand times, which still would not be enough: “Thanks Ma. I really needed that.”


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild