Each summer, the wife and I try to sneak away in late July/early August to a magical zone about three hours from the house. Due east of former Kerouac/current Gary Snyder haunts and miles and miles from the nearest interstate or Wal Mart, this valley and its tributary streams hold wild cutts, rainbows, bulls and returning steelhead and Chinook runs. While at times the byzantine network of hatchery and “enhancement” efforts lead one to think there are more WDFW fish counters than there are fish, an eyewitness experience with one of these nearly cryptozooic creatures gave hope to us both.
Way upstream, just below a closure, deep in the darkened evergreens of the North Cascades at the end of an unmarked road, we slip into the stream and watch a green-gray doppleganger of a king salmon torpedo up the bank and into an undercut. At twenty pounds plus, it got our attention in a stream not much wider than a city bike path. And being several miles above the hatchery, it was likely wild. Though the trout fishing was a little slow with the unbelievable volume of continued run off and heavy summer pressure on the mainstem, watching this brute tail away into the forest was nearly as rewarding angry 20-inch cutties on hoppers. Nearly.
We later met an iconic old timer with walking stick, ham radio set-up in his truck and what appeared to be a .38 service revolver in a belt holster. He had had a decent morning and showed us his big nymph patterns before simply wandering off towards the water. I offered that we had not yet fished upstream. He simply replied, “I think I am just going to take some pictures for paintings. Sometimes it’s fine just to look at the fish.” Indeed, especially when they’ ve swam 400 miles just to be there, too.
Thanks to Zack Mertens of Idlwylde flies for hooking us up with an epic collection of neon hopping beasts. Definitely coaxed some heated and jaded fish with these.
“Deep tumbling under arching walls and stuck
Whole head and shoulders in the water:
Stretched full on cobble–ears roaring
Eyes open aching from the cold and faced a trout.”
–Gary Snyder, from the poem “Water”.
Photo: JG; on a bright desert highway, hot wind in her hair…