IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news.
An invasion of desperate anglers spread quickly across the Olympic Peninsula from the Dungeness River, west to the Quileute, then south to the Humptulips and every river in-between.
Tourists have been coming here for salmon ever since July 1790, when the old Spanish Sea Captain Manuel Quimper purchased some 100-pound salmon from the Klallam somewhere off the mouth of the Elwha River.
These 100-pound salmon have probably been extinct for about 100 years or more, but the tourists don’t care. They still come here trying to catch one.
No one in recent history has witnessed such crowded conditions on our waters.
The rivers and the roads leading to them were in a state of gridlock.
Boat launches were plugged with people who obviously did not back up with a boat trailer more than once a year, resulting in a round of pungent witticisms from the crowd as the rush of visitors attempted to fish in the solitude that they, and flocks of their fellow anglers, came here to discover and enjoy.
In the old days, we used to say that, when the rivers got crowded with people, you would have to bring your own rock to stand on if you wanted a place to fish, but no more. Putting a rock in or along the river is probably illegal these days. You may want to check what the current fishing regulations say about moving rocks before possibly incurring a criminal record. You may require an attorney to understand the Washington fishing laws. If you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford fishing.
Although, financial considerations often go out the window when it comes to fishing these days.
This is not a cane pole, safety pin for a hook and a worm for bait kind of fishing.
Fishing poles are now called rods that can cost many hundreds of dollars.
Fishing lures come in a dizzying variety of types and sizes that cost at least $5 or more.
At some of the more popular fishing holes, the tree limbs are festooned with a festive display of lures that make you wonder if some people are fishing for squirrels.
Fish don’t usually get up in the tree limbs until the water is higher.
People who fish for salmon don’t care how much it costs.
It’s like we say on the river, “One man’s hoarding disorder is another’s tackle collection.”
We figure whoever dies with the biggest tackle box wins.
River boats can cost many thousands of dollars, even though internal-combustion motors are illegal on our rivers.
It doesn’t matter.
Even without a motor, it is possible to pump a small fortune into the hole in the water also known as a boat. A heated pole-holder alone can cost many thousands of dollars.
Still, there are times in the murk of morning fog, beneath the dim shape of the overhanging rain forest, that the magic happens.
The rod goes down. The line peels out.
There is something big on the other end.
It’s moving downstream like it’s going to swim back out to the ocean. We pull the anchor to chase it down and try to pull it in.
Is it a hundred-pound salmon brought back from the brink of extinction? No.
It turns out to be a black plastic garbage sack full of water.
They can put up quite a fight if you snag them just right.
Maybe we didn’t catch a salmon, but we did our small part to clean up the river.
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].