PAT NEAL: Fishing for excuses

Profiling and stereotyping have no place in a Wilderness Gossip Column. In last week’s episode, it was mistakenly mentioned that deer hunters have more excuses for failure than people who fish.

That was wrong.

To illustrate the fallacy of this gross mischaracterization, we need look no further than the fishing excuses I used on a recent fishing trip. They were too numerous to mention.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Because it was.

There was a mysterious bright light in the east shining eerily through the fog.

The light appeared to be moving slowly upward and getting brighter until you could hardly look at it.

Disturbed, I was about to dial 9-1-1, but I couldn’t remember the number. I tried to remain calm so my fancy friends in the front of my boat wouldn’t panic.

“That sun sure feels good,” one of them said, trying to put up a brave front.

Oh yes, the sun.

The fact was, it had been raining for so long, I forgot what the sun looked like.

It was pretty.

The sunshine reflected across the smooth green surface of the water to the white-barked alder forest that lined the shore.

As the sun rose in the sky, it got in my eyes.

Sun in the eyes is a good excuse for hunting and fishing, but there’s more.

After a while, the temperature soared to over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just too darned hot to fish in.

If you have to fish in the sun, use sunscreen to protect against the harmful rays and wear a pair of polarized sunglasses.

They can help you spot salmon in the river.

Fresh out of the ocean, they are blue and grey and appear as nothing more than a shadow of a ghost.

With most of our rivers flowing west, the sun doesn’t shine upriver until the afternoon.

With the sun at their backs, the fish are more likely to bite, since they can see the lures coming downstream flashing in the sunlight a long ways off.

This is an excellent excuse to sleep in and not go fishing early in the morning.

Unfortunately, fishing guides have to fish early in the morning. It’s part of a system of excuses and client hazing rituals that include sleep deprivation and gas station sushi.

That morning, I put the gear out with the sun shining down the river anyway, in a desperate bid to catch a fish, an excuse or both.

Almost immediately, it was fish on!

Before we could catch a glimpse of the brute, it dove under a spruce limb that stuck out in the river.

At a time like that, it’s like we say in the woods, “a man’s best friend is a good sharp axe.”

I wished I had one while hacking away at the iron-hard spruce limb with a dull hatchet.

Meanwhile, the line peeled off the reel at an alarming rate.

There is only one hope at a time like that.

Give the fish enough slack line and it might untangle itself.

Dream on.

Instead, our angler punched the free spool button which made the reel explode into a bird’s nest of tangled line.

Just then the fish rolled at the surface.

I tried to net it, but the sun was in my eyes.

The fish dove. The line broke.

I really should have used the heavier stuff.

Those are my excuses anyway.

Feel free to use them for your own failures.

You’re welcome.

There is, in fact, only one fishing excuse that doesn’t work and that is “I didn’t go.”


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

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