It was daylight on the river. We were sitting in the vapors of a fog-shrouded valley trying to solve the central problems of human existence.
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
It’s my solemn hope that this grueling experience will provide inspiration to those who are faced with the same situation someday. It’s all about helping others who may have the misfortune to suffer from severe, chronic, reoccurring fishing problems. Usually along about autumn when the salmon run.
Sometimes, people with fishing disorders exhibit extreme personality changes and a medical condition commonly known as “meat fever,” which can combine the symptoms of cardiac arrest and Tourette syndrome into a perfect storm of poly-phobic, psychotic behavior with inappropriate comments and violent outbursts that can occur when a really big fish is hooked and starts peeling out line and racing upstream and around the bend, then throwing the hook at the top of a mighty leap. Ouch.
As an unlicensed relationship counselor, I am sometimes able to help people with fishing problems responsibly balance their lives and choose among work, social obligations and stuff and the option of quitting their job, moving into their car and going fishing.
As a guide who fishes more than 500 days a year, I’m not going to lie to you for money. Fishing has ruined more than one life. I am only allowed to talk about this particular instance now because the witnesses are dead and the statute of limitations thing expired long ago. So here goes.
Being autumn on the Olympic Peninsula, it was a little foggy that morning. The air was so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw. We were in a netherworld of water. You couldn’t see the shore. All we could see were salmon. They were jumping all around us, but not a one of them would bite.
It is often, at times like these, that a period of professional frustration can lead to personal growth. This was not one of those times. Instead, there was a free-for-all replay of the blame game, and it was all my fault that we were not catching fish while they were jumping all around us.
It is a known fact that salmon do not feed when they enter the freshwater rivers to return to spawn in the gravel where they were born. Since they do not feed, we don’t know why they bite a particular lure or bait. But sometimes they do, and then sometimes they don’t.
This is a mystery made all the more mysterious when the salmon are jumping. This curious custom was first documented back in Roman times when they observed fish jumping in the Thames River and named them Salmo, which means “to leap.” Salmon have been jumping ever since then. Causing questions like “why do salmon jump?” to be asked. There are many theories to this timeless question. Scientists say salmon jump to rid themselves of sea lice, a persistent parasite that hitches onto the fish in the salt water. The sea lice typically fall off the salmon a day or so after they enter the river, so why do the salmon keep jumping?
Others say the salmon jump to clean their gills and scales, but why would they need to clean when they are swimming in our crystal-clear waters? Some say the salmon jump to look for landmarks on their migration or because they are happy and there are lots of them.
I say there is only one good reason why the salmon jump. They are on the end of my line.
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 patneal [email protected].