PAT NEAL: Finding work when there’s no fishing

My life sucks ever since they shut down the fishing season. Without fishing, my life has had no meaning. Each day became a long dreary exercise that stretched to a limitless bleak horizon with absolutely no possibility of catching a fish. Part of the trauma was the fact that they shut down even catch-and-release fishing before they counted the fish. Civilized countries like Alaska have sonar devices in their rivers that tell the fisheries managers how many fish are going up the river. Here in Washington, we’ll use any excuse to shut down the fishing.

For example, there’s a hot bite for blackmouth salmon in Sekiu right now. So, they’ll probably shut it down early because fishing is too good. Otherwise, they would shut it down because fishing is bad. Either way, our fishing season is subject to political pressures far beyond the scope of the best available science. People who fish are expendable enemies of the state. We’re all supposed to take up bird watching. This is unfortunate for those of us who believe that every day spent fishing is a day not counted against the span of our lives.

It’s even worse for those who make a living on the water. There is no better way. Guides have the best stories. But when it’s over, there’s no point in waiting around. It’s time to move on to bleaker pastures. It’s hard because of the way the other guides looked up to me and worshipped me like a god in their own simple way. I was a role model. Now, I am a failure forced by circumstances beyond my control to get a real job.

So, I did. I hired on as a food server at a ritzy place with an exclusive clientele. Things went OK at first, and I have to say, the ladies seemed to like me. It was nice to be appreciated. The cuisine was exquisite, and the setting sublime. However, servers do not set the menu. There were changes amid rumors of a budget cut to the food bill. I was blamed. The response was immediate.

A customer took one bite of her meal, gave me a dirty look and immediately turned and walked out an open gate. This had never happened before! It was unheard of. Imagine how it made me feel. I was doing my darndest to make the best out of a difficult situation, but no, everyone’s a food critic. Some of these ladies could have stood to lose a few pounds, but they attacked their meals like animals and fought over biscuits even though there was plenty to go around. Then the menu changed, and things got a lot ugly.

Scientists have theorized that many personality disorders could be the result of a too-rich diet, and I became convinced that’s what I was seeing. After binging on eastern Washington alfalfa all winter, the ladies went cold-turkey onto a domestic grass hay. It was beautiful. Each bale smelled like a summer morning in a meadow. Redolent of timothy with hints of native red top grasses, the bales were gourmet but not alfalfa, aka, the crack cocaine of fodder.

I tried mixing the alfalfa with the grass hay like I needed another chore. That made them mad. I almost got stomped. They wouldn’t have noticed until the following breakfast service when they’d wonder where the ape with the hay was.

I had to outsmart the cows. I’m still working on it. Fortunately, springtime is on the way. Grass is growing, and hopefully, I’ll be unemployed just in time for salmon season.

_________

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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