PAT NEAL: A humble apology

THANK YOU FOR reading this.

Sometimes I think if you didn’t read this no one would. But you do.

You send me the most wonderful cards and letters.

Your suggestions of what I can do with myself and my unique view of the natural world make every trip to the mailbox an adventure.

And while the response is gratifying it might be a good time to review and renew my commitment to truthful and accurate information in our nation’s only wilderness gossip column.

You, the reader(s) deserve nothing less.

As a fishing guide who spends 500 days a year on the water catching the biggest trout that swim while providing a shining beacon of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, I can tell you from hard experience that the truth can be the first casualty of a fishing trip, closely followed by the wallet.

Still, that can be no excuse to mislead, misstate and/or obfuscate the role of the journalist in this great experiment we call democracy.

At first, I wanted to share my love of nature.

Failing that I tried to help people who had fishing problems.

Failing that I badmouthed the government.

Give up on that and we would have very little to talk about around here.

I thought it was a slam-dunk to badmouth the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual January closure of Puget Sound rivers.

This shut down the rivers to even catch and release steelhead fishing, sending invading angling hordes stampeding to the Olympic Peninsula at the end of every January for the last best steelhead fishing now that they have been managed to near extinction everywhere else.

This coincided with the mysterious appearance of a treatise on river etiquette that appeared plastered to the trees along our rivers.

As a professional conspiracy theorist, I mistakenly concluded these two events were somehow connived by a conspiring cabal of underhanded biologists to make our lives miserable and for that I apologize.

The fact is that Feb. 1, the Department of Fish and Wildlife opened the Skagit and Sauk rivers in northern Puget Sound to steelhead fishing.

Furthermore, the river etiquette guidelines were not an example of government propaganda that I had mistakenly suggested but rather an attempt by the Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association to foster a more professional, polite and productive attitude among the crowds of fishers crowding our waters and to reduce angler confrontations that are the result of our increased angling pressure.

Fishing these days is as competitive and divisive as the rest of modern America.

Some fishers want to wade in the water to fish.

Others want to row a boat to fish.

The wading fishers have even shut down some water to fishing from a boat.

The rowing fishers accuse the waders of stomping the nests of steelhead into the gravel as they march down the rivers flogging the water.

Both sides of the row versus wade controversy can only agree on one thing: banning the other guy’s gear.

The river etiquette guidelines are a good reminder that people who fish have a lot in common.

The last sentence of the guidelines says it all, “We are all here to have fun, enjoy the outdoors and the fish that live here.”

It asks that we all be positive and respectful of other anglers.

How you actually do this is anyone’s guess.

I suggest that as a general rule just assume that everyone you meet on the river is carrying a Glock and a cellphone.

If you want to see better manners, have better manners.


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