PAT NEAL: On losing an old friend

AUTUMN IS IN the air.

There is the smell of wood smoke, the calls of the geese flying south and the sound of the rivers roaring through the canyons from the recent rains.

The blizzard of falling leaves seems to make this season a time for letting go of the past.

This can be a difficult process for some.

Old buildings, old trees and old times have always held a special attraction for many who view the world by looking backward into history.

We long for fishing like the good old days when fishing was all that really mattered.

We keep reminders of the glory days that used to be in the form of old fishing lures which are a special treasure, like faithful friends that no one wants to lose.

When you catch fish on a particular lure day after day and year after year, that lure can become your best friend.

Lures have a lot in common with friends. Many of the best ones are found on the river.

They might look a little beat up with a questionable heritage and a dim future but none of that matters when you see how they fish.

I can think of no better example than a friend, I mean a lure I lost recently.

I remember finding it like it was yesterday.

It was daylight on the river with a heavy mist of fog hanging low on the water.

We were anchored up, waiting for the king of the salmon, the chinook or Tyee to grab hold of our gear and make getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning seem worthwhile.

I saw something floating by. It was a lure, a salmon plug.

It drifted past our lines, the ones that weren’t catching anything and continued downstream.

Just then there was a huge boil underneath the floating lure and what looked like a shark fin coming out of the water.

It was a giant king salmon that had ignored our gear and struck a lure floating down the river.

I had to have it.

We chased the lure down and picked it out of the water. Of all the thousands of fishing lures sold each year, this one had absolutely nothing that would make it stand out as a good idea to tie on your line.

It was not much to look at. The hooks were bent. The paint was all chewed off. There was a broken chunk of what looked like 40-pound test line tied on to it.

Obviously, the poor thing had been badly abused by fish and the people trying to catch them.

We were having a slow morning anyway so there was nothing to lose by trying the new lure out.

After all, if a salmon is going to hit a lure floating down the surface of the water what would happen when it was bouncing and behaving in front of their face? I tied it on.

We sat back waiting for action. This did not take long.

The rod went down. It was about a 20-pound king. Curiously, it didn’t fight much. That’s because the fish had swallowed the lure way down it’s gullet so deeply it couldn’t breathe.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I’m certain that it happens all the time.

I fished that lure for years.

When the water conditions were right, it was the hottest lure on the river.

Now it’s gone, lost on a fish.

I hope another down-on-their-luck angler finds it.

As for me, I’ll have to do my best to cope without my old friend, I mean lure.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River 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