6:00 p.m., Friday evening, May 6, 2011: Give my two unlucky 48-quart blue coolers the evil eye as I yank the big, white 120-quart job out of the shed for a Wind River spring Chinook dive bomb run.
The blue guys are my bananas — killing, slowing or otherwise messing with the action over the past few fish raids to the Columbia — so they have been permanently moved to inactive reserve.
Plus, if you’re going to catch Man Fish, you need a Man-Fish-sized cooler, and the white one might as well be a freakin’ coffin for all but the biggest of kings that head up the crick. Why hasn’t this occurred to me before, I briefly wonder.
6:02 p.m.: Realize the flaw in my plan: white cooler will not fit in the trunk of car no matter which way I try to slide it in. Consider lashing it to roof racks, shove it into back seat instead.
6:30 p.m.: Tell Amy that I’m just about to leave, but am waved off the runway. “You’re not going until the kids have had their bath and are in bed!” she says — and that means like 8 p.m. Argh!
7:15 p.m.: A reprieve, the Control Tower authorizes an immediate launch!
7:25 p.m.: Fire up fish wagon, jump onto interstate.
7:30 p.m.: ARGH! Traffic jam. Stinking Seattle.
9-10:00 p.m.: Fester about sleeping plans for the evening. With the late start and long drive, I’m going to make the run in two parts. But do I really want to be one of Those People?
You know the ones, People Who Sleep At Rest Areas — the dark cars with sweatshirts for drapes you see when you pull in for a potty break in the wee hours.
What will my friends and family say? There’s the obvious decline in socio-economic status for starters.
And then there are the lines from Alice’s Restaurant and scenes from Something About Mary that go through my mind.
Then again, when was the last time you heard about horrible bloody murders at a rest area?
But maybe those stories are also suppressed in the hopes of luring in more victims …
The angst, the angst.
10:09 p.m.: To hell with it, too tired to care. Pull into Salmon Creek Rest Area near I-5/I-205 split, park halfway between two other rigs, jam white cooler in passenger seat, lock doors and stretch out in the luxurious confines of a back seat at least a foot and a half too short … with knife and cell phone handy.
1:00 a.m., Saturday, May 7: Wake up, windows fogged up. That’s good, nobody can see it’s just me in here, plus maybe they’ll also think I’ve got a ferocious hybrid wolf along if I growl loud enough and say, “Easy, Killer, easy boy, wait till he gets in the car to attack, then go for his face.”
2:50 a.m.: Wake up alive, go get java. Wow, there are like 15 other rigs on this side of the rest area doing just what I did, plus two very chatty hosts on duty at the coffee-and-cookie station. Donate a dollar to the cause.
5 a.mish: Arrive at Wind River, forget which end of bridge Rob Phillips told me to park at, choose least likely side … and of course end up walking to other side where the Yakima-based ad man, his son, Kyle, and Joe, the local beer distributor await in the dark. Shove off and head out to where the bobbing green lights of boats await official sunrise minus one hour.
The omens are good: The fish count jumped back to 10,000 on Friday, Rob tells me, and we’ll be right in the way of those pulling off into the Wind River. We’ll be fishing the shoreline drag, from the point where bankies bomb away, down to the “Cabin Hole” at the western fishing boundary.
Unlike “The Line” out on the mainstem Columbia — a trench fished headed east — this is a two-way street, and it’s not long before we see our first near collision as two skippers are unable to read each others’ minds and nearly scrape stickers.
5:45 a.m.: Creeping worries — Andy’s unlucky cooler mojo may be in effect. Ten thousand, schmen thousand, there are four fish on around us and our Magnum Fat Fish might as well be tofu to these spring Chinook.
“That guy’s got one on,” someone points out.
6:06 a.m.: One of Rob’s plugs is benched. Kyle ties on a “fishy” new color. Accounting for a good share of their catch last weekend, it’s got a fluorescent red body and lip, chartreuse lightning squiggles on its sides and a chartreuse butt.
“It doesn’t really have a name because it is a prototype,” Rob explains later. “It actually was developed by Roy Houle a few years ago. Will be in the line up next year. One of the perks of working for a lure company is we get to try new colors.”
We run it out, set the rod into the holder and head back uphill.
6:06:30 a.m.: Holy sh*t, it gets bit! And I’m on deck!
6:15 a.m.: Rob now has something to talk about as Shangle calls him for a segment on Northwest Wild Country. He gives various advices about switching things up if you’re not getting bit, etc., but later I come to suspect the best advice of all might just be to have lots of lines in the water — and thus anglers in the boat — to try a broader range of gear.
We’ve got the lures out a good cast/35 pulls or so back on 15-pound mainline strung off baitcaster reels and stout salmon plugging rods.
7:30: Bite continues for another 30 minutes or so, but by now, a boat pulls alongside us and the driver says, “Kinda died.” Not twenty seconds later one of their rods goes off and the fleet maneuvers to give them room.
7:50 a.m.: Hot bite back on — well, the freshwater clam bite anyway. A mollusk snaps its shell around that new fangled plug’s hooks.
7:55 a.m.: Oh, my goodness, two younger guys in an older tan boat cruise past with three Keystone Lights up on the dashboard already. Reminds me of times down here and at nearby Drano Lake with an old friend who, unfortunately, has been swallowed by the swill. Fun while it lasted nonetheless.
8-9 a.m.: Petition to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names: I suggest going back to calling this Cruzatte River, after the Lewis & Clark Expedition member it was originally named for. Reports that the Wind is well-named are, well, overblown. It is the next to dead-ass calm out here. Alternating bands of mist, drizzle, light rain and rain fall straight down onto us, and at one point, the boats out on The Line just seem to be suspended in space — there is no break between them, the clouds and the river. Rob puts the top up on his newer North River.
Awesome! A train with the initials AW on a mess of double-stack cars rumbles past — how cool is that?!? Ah, shucks, BNSF, you didn’t really have to, I’m just a fish writer, not a movie star.
Eventually realize that AW stands not for “Andy Walgamott,” but “Allied Waste,” and this train’s pulling a bunch of trash to the big dump over in Klickitat County.
Still, with the amount of rail traffic on both sides of the Columbia, this fishery would be so perfect for taking River out. Almost 4 now, he is all about trains. When I get home, he will say, “Daddy, did you think of me?” and I will say, “Yes, I thought of you every time a train went by and how you would love it,” and he will say, “Daddy, let’s play trains,” and we will play trains.
9 a.m.: There is a secret code among the Yakima Navy in attendance — say maybe 20 to 30 boats of the 100 or so — and I am your Enigma Machine. With word of some bites on the pattern by another valley angler, we deploy a Fat Fish in “Wolfman.” This is not exactly a color scheme you will find in the Worden’s catalog, and it’s beyond a stretch to say it has anything even remotely to do with werebeasts (though looks have next to nothing with some lure names). It’s named after a Yakima angler by the name Wolf, features your standard fluorescent red background except with a mess of silver flakes all over it, and is one fishy mother.
At some point we also tie on a brass-red-chartreuse-green Toman spinner in size 4.5 with a 6-ounce dropper and 4 feet of leader as well as a Fish Flash, blade and prawn.
The latter setup provides a pretty unusual catch. We’re trolling upriver when the rod starts bending, as if snagged. But when I pick it up, it feels spongy. My first thought is, dead sturgeon, then, holy sh*t, world-record walleye! I keep reeling and eventually a brown thing comes up out of the depths, but it’s not a bugeye, rather an extremely water-logged stump. Damn.
9:40 a.m.: The Keystone Light boys land one beside us, are cursed by a certain representative of a multinational brewing concern.
9:47 a.m.: Good news! A shadow appears! The sun is sort of out.
9:50 a.m.: More good news! A fish or two moving in set off more rods, and there’s now a little breeze to help clear these clouds.
9:57 a.m.: Hmmm, the breeze freshens.
10:03 a.m.: Wait, are those whitecaps to the west?!
10:06 a.m.: Also moving upriver, a freakin’ sea lion.
10:08 a.m: I watch as a springer grabs the spinner rod and yanks. Joe jumps up and fights it to the boat — a nice one.
10:45 a.m.: Rub-a-dub-dub-dub, three men in a 10-foot aluminum tub troll past. You see all kinds of boats here, from big-river-worthy outboards to Alaskans, ancient smoking-engined craft to Bayliners. Rob says last weekend he saw a kayak angler getting ready to put in. This is why I have kayak kolumnists.
10:55 a.m.: The outlandish prices of fishing goods and sunscreen at a certain east Columbia Gorge convenience store located beside a bridge are disparaged, but anglers get the last laugh in this case.
“How much you pay for that (Wolfman)?” Rob asks another boater with four in the box on the plug.
“Six-ninety-nine,” comes the reply.
But it’s more than worth it. The man adds, “If I’d known it would catch that many, I’d have paid $69.99!”
11:00 a.m.: Rub-a-dub-dub-dub-umm-dub, four men in a tub — and they’ve got one of those green nylon nets to boot. They better hope the wind doesn’t come up much stronger. Then again, all that weight will help them cut through the waves.
Noon: The sun comes up and blue sky is spotted. Layers start to come off and we too feel brave. The top comes down, and we spot the KL boyz down to their muscle shirts.
12:07 p.m.: Action only sporadic, but a boat with California licensing yards one in. I ask if they really came all this way to fish the Wind, a 400-mile drive. Yep.
“I used to live just down the road. Now I’m on the Smith River,” says the skipper.
1:00 p.m.: Squall sighted to the west. Rob and Joe tweak Folsom Prison Blues — “I see the rain a’coming, it’s rollin around the bend.”
1:04 p.m.: A tan-and-blue Lund trolls past us rather fast and I assume they’re dragging plugs because of the line angle, but when they get bit, they reel in a flasher and prawn as well as a springer.
“We were about to go home,” one of the men tells Rob, “the engine’s running like crap.”
Engine problems or not, they stick around awhile longer.
2:00 p.m.: “There is one big-ass sea lion in here,” someone says as a big-ass squall also heads our way.
2:10 p.m.: Another bite, and Andy “Fish Hog” Walgamott is first to the rod. Sharp elbows keep Rob and the boys at bay, mental jujitsu wards off the sea lion.
2:12 p.m.: AW is limited and the curse of the coolers is broken! It’s the same color-code-yet-to-be-determined plug that did the job earlier (and will also lead to two more the next day for Rob and Kyle). I’d say that Yakima Bait’s got a winner on their hands.
3:04 p.m.: Pull into the boat ramp where a PSMFC/WDFW sampler wands our three springers for coded wire tags and passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags. Joe’s fish has a CWT buried in its snout, so the sampler saws off its face and packages it up for Olympia to dissect. The tag will tell them the fish’s origin and age.
A whirl of motion, the sampler also takes three scales from each of our fish for aging and places them into lined, wooden-backed notebook and answers my questions.
He says the score is 65 for 49 boats at that point.
For the period May 2-8 and including released fish, Wind River anglers averaged nearly two-thirds of a king per rod, “an outstanding catch rate for spring chinook,” his boss, Joe Hymer, will report on Monday afternoon.
It’s the same score over at Drano.
3:30 p.m.: Leave the river, heading home.
4:35 p.m.: You know what, I can fight this feeling some more, so I blow past the Salmon Creek Rest Area and blaze north on I-5; do a double take at the Clark County Events Center billboard — REO Speedwagon coming Aug. 6.
5:25 p.m.: Amy calls, “Can you be home in half an hour?” Instinctively I say, “Yes,” though this will require me to travel at approximately 220 mph, or three times my current rate.
“Did you catch any?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Two?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Good, we’ll be fed for awhile,” she says.
I smile. Who is The Man? Daddy’s providing, bringing meat back to the cave from afar. I’ll be a god in the eyes of the boys when I get home.
5:31 p.m.: Testosterone rush dampened. Chick passes me in a Prius going 80 — holy crap, I didn’t even think that was possible!
7:09 p.m.: Arrive home 23 hours and 44 minutes after leaving, having traveled 460 miles for a pair of springers. Clan Walgamott loves ’em broiled up at Mother’s Day feast.