PAT NEAL: Remembering a guide’s friend

Like the good Book said, “There were giants in the land.” We lost one last week.

If you didn’t know Bob Gooding and his tackle store, Olympic Sporting Goods, you probably didn’t fish out of Forks on the West End of the Olympic Peninsula in the last 30 years.

Bob was an institution, a character and guru like Don Rickles with a fresh chew.

His encyclopedic command of enduring truths was dispensed with a vituperative invective in stomach-churning detail.

In short, many of our nation’s problems, both foreign and domestic, were solved at Bob’s with a stoic humor that left you feeling like we’re all in this together.

In other words, a visit to Bob’s was a mandatory stop along with gas and groceries for any fishing trip.

For fishing guides, going to Bob’s was even more important than that.

The fact is, many people that we take fishing have spent entirely too much time watching bass fishing shows.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. I’ve done it myself, but those shows tend to give folks the wrong idea about fishing. After watching bass fishing shows, people think you just yard fish in without giving them a chance to wiggle so you can get back in the water and catch another fish.

When some of these people hook a salmon or steelhead and the fish is peeling out line, the angler invariably cranks on the reel like a banshee and yells, “There’s something wrong with the reel!”

Sometimes, but the problem is usually located between the rod handle and the reel handle.

No fishing reel can take this abuse for long. You had to take it to Bob.

This could take some time, but Bob had parts for almost every reel a guide could own. The last time Bob fixed three reels for me it took about two hours while we reviewed the history of fishing, hunting, logging and everything else that happened in the West End in the last 50 years.

He charged me $10. I gave him $20.

Going to Bob’s was part of a client hazing ritual.

The first thing Bob would do was to ask them why they were going fishing with this guy. That would be me.

From there things would escalate as we went through the rigmarole of getting a fishing license, where you have to give your personal information to a complete stranger who’s raking you over the coals the whole time.

Sometimes things went off the rails.

“Taking your daughter fishing?” Bob once asked a prospective angler. “Uh, no, that’s my wife,” he explained.

Bob was also an uncanny salesman. One day a Texan, not all our tourists are Texans but all the Texans seem to fish here, asked Bob if a fly would catch a Chinook, (he pronounced it, “shynook”) salmon.

Bob said, “There’s a first time for everything.”

The Texan bought the fly.

I like to fish plugs. Bob said plug fishing was one dummy on one end of the line and another dummy on the other. He said he would rather kiss a duck’s butt than fish with a plug. He sold them anyway.

Bob was a guide’s friend. When a local guide, Gordon Gracey, got busted up on a hunting trip, Bob helped take care of him.

Gordon wanted Bob to take him to church. Bob was afraid the church would get struck by lightning. It didn’t.

Bob kept going to church. Now he’s gone and we are sad.

We just figure the Good Lord needs a good laugh more than we do.


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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