THE RECENT MARTIN Luther King Jr. holiday is a three-day weekend that traditionally marks the peak of the winter steelhead season on the North Olympic Peninsula.
If you don’t know what a steelhead is, then you probably aren’t from around here.
Steelhead are sea-run rainbow trout that come back to the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula in the dead of winter when it is so cold it’s stupid to be fishing.
The line freezes in the rod guides.
To keep fishing, you must thaw the frozen mess by using either your frozen fingers or that other unhygienic practice commonly used by people with bad fishing problems: sucking on the rod guides to thaw the line.
Usually by the time you get the fishing gear thawed, your cup of hot coffee has frozen solid.
When dressing for a steelhead fishing trip, it is a good idea to dress in layers and make sure the outer layer is waterproof and not, as they say, water-resistant.
You’ll know the difference as soon as you are soaked to the underarms and posterior areas.
Keep adding layers until you can no longer bend over to tie your shoes or squeeze into the so-called breathable waders.
These can cost as much as a designer suit and be every bit as water-resistant.
As a steelhead guide who fishes 500 days a year, I have seen people dress in every imaginable form of foul-weather gear, from leather jackets to flimsy little water-resistant windbreakers.
Along with the description “water-resistant,” also remember to stay away from words like so-called “three-season” outdoor gear.
There is only one season that you should really be concerned about: the howling, wet winter.
The most creative had to be the lady who made a complete suit of rain gear from plastic garbage bags and duct tape.
While wearing it, she survived an ice-pellet storm scooting upriver on a 30 mph gale, all in an effort to hook a fish that is so difficult to catch, it has been called the fish of a thousand casts.
This is all about to change.
We may have to rename the steelhead “the fish of 10,000 casts” because the same people who are co-managing our salmon into extinction are working their magic on the steelhead.
This is a three-step process.
First, they stop planting hatchery-raised fish.
Hatchery fish are said to be genetically inferior to wild fish, but if that is so, how do they manage to migrate to the Aleutian Islands and back just like the wild fish?
While it is true that I have never caught a hatchery steelhead over 27 pounds, no one has ever complained about one of these so-called “genetically inferior” fish when it was on the end of their line.
Hatchery runs always fail after you stop planting the fish.
Once we shut down the fish hatcheries, we will continue the commercial industrial overharvest of the fish until there are none left to fight over.
Then we shut down the fishing seasons while raising the fees for the fishing license.
Once the fish are declared endangered or threatened, it opens the federal floodgates for studies and data-gathering by the same people who co-managed the fish into near-extinction in the first place.
Their studies usually demand more studies, more data, more logjams and more money with no demonstrable results.
All of which confirms the conclusions of the MLK Jr. fishing weekend: Steelhead fishing isn’t as good as it used to be, but not as bad as it’s going to be.
Pat Neal is a fishing 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].