PAT NEAL: A really hard winter on the Peninsula

It was daylight in the swamp. Last week’s snow was melting in the rain. It turned into a slushy mess with an icy base that made walking a challenge.

The wind seemed to be blowing from every direction at once. Although, there’s no time to complain about the weather when there are winter chores to be done. Unless the weather gets so nasty it’s dangerous to be outside with the falling trees and limbs crashing everywhere. It’s just not safe.

In that case, it is indeed fortunate that we can go steelhead fishing in weather that is far too nasty to go to work in.

Years of evolutionary genetic adaptations have allowed some people who fish for winter steelhead to grow a heavy coat of fur and a thick layer of blubber to deal with the extreme conditions.

Meanwhile, blizzards, landslides and downed powerlines can shut down our roads. This serves to keep our legendary steelhead streams from becoming overcrowded. Avoiding other people is our goal.

There was once a famous philosopher who said, “Hell is other fishermen.”

Or something like that.

Steelhead fishing is a search for solitude away from the crowds of other anglers seeking solitude. Fishing in abominable weather helps us do that.

This is nothing new.

The Earth is billions of years old. Man has only been recording the weather for centuries.

One thing seems clear: The further back in history we go, the nastier the weather seems to have been.

In 2019, when over 3 feet of snow shut down U.S. Highway 101, steelhead fishing was epic. It stopped when the snow melted.

Then there was the winter of 2007. Winds of 100 mph hit our coast, knocking down trees, flooding roads and knocking out power.

The winter of ’97 was a doozie. The Hood Canal Bridge was closed for three days. Buildings collapsed. The stores in Sequim ran out of bread.

The winter of ’85 was a bad winter that started on Thanksgiving. The knee-deep snow melted off the roof so fast it formed giant icicles overnight. One of them fell and took out a window.

The winter of ’77 was a bad one, but I don’t remember much of it because it was the ’70s.

In 1969, there was so much snow on the roof of the house, we thought it would collapse. So I went up to shovel it off. When I fell off the roof, the snow was so deep it didn’t hurt at all. I think the head injuries helped my writing.

Make no mistake, these winters were hard, but we had the modern conveniences of electricity, gasoline and telephones.

They were easy compared to what the pioneers suffered before the invention of these modern miracles.

In 1916, it was the winter of the “Big Snow.”

It started snowing in January, and kept on falling until there was up to 6 feet of snow in Port Angeles.

Twenty feet of snow was reported at the Olympic Hot Springs — which would have been a great place to ride out the storm.

There was no recorded depth at Hurricane Ridge, because there was nobody up there.

That was nothing compared to the hard winter of 1893. That’s what the old-timers called the winter of the “Blue Snow.”

Snow started falling in Port Angeles on Jan. 27 and fell every day through Feb. 7, until 75 inches were measured on the ground.

The temperature fell to 1 degree below zero.

That was the year the Queets River froze over. Which would have made steelhead fishing tough, even if there was a road back then.

Winter is not over.

We still have a chance for some good steelhead fishing.

_________

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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected]

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