I fish 17 days of the late-spring hatchery Chinook season just a short drive from my Bellingham, WA home. Mostly alone, I walk looking for things—things for my camera, for my fly. Inspect side channels, logjams, bushwhack the long way back to the truck. River mostly high, milky glacial silt, then warm snowmelt brown.
I build a throne to watch the water, a pile of rocks with a big flat one to sit on. Build three beer circles in the river; the water level determines which one is in use.
There is a nearby root ball I’ll pee on at least three times per visit.
This is the run. I’ve found it. I’ll fish it through three times in the early part of the day. Break for corn dogs and beer, and back for evening shifts. Warm days I wash my face, cool water on my neck. Nap comfortably on round rocks. Squeeze yarrow buds underneath my nose. The crepuscular hour waltzes in but yarrow cologne does not work on these fish. What does?
Char come sporadically, but I feel they are just participation trophies on chartreuse, even if trophy sized. Thankful for the pull, for the life they provide to line and rod—but I want Chinook.
One sunny day I’m low-holed by a quarantine-renovated wooden drift boat. They’ve caught one. Their optimistic words: “There’s fish moving.” A shot of confidence I desperately need.
This is the run. Nobody else fishes it. It’s traveling water, one-in-a-million chance. I should fish elsewhere. I stay, fishing it well, staying as positive as I can. I bleed one night. A knuckle knocked a busy outgoing reel handle. Hottest, biggest, brightest anadromous fish of my life seen from a distance but burned white hot into memory. A shot of confidence I desperately need.
A friend joins. If it weren’t for this friend, I wouldn’t be here tonight, river left and unprepared. Heavy rain and wet clouds with more coming—I thought the river would blow. Nighthawks thrive before dark; one bumps my line swooping dinner in the cool night air, inches from the surface.
A fish hit and run, tippet breaks after three jumps. Friend gets destroyed too. I see their fish jump in the soft water river right, hundreds of yards downstream. There is nothing we can do but laugh at ourselves and the moment and learn from it.
Driving home the smells of freshly cut hay, woodsmoke and laundry waft in the window. Open, 55 mph air on my face. Dark shades still on, a cloudy sunset. Hat low, one hand on the wheel. In the tape deck, Fred Eaglesmith. Cold leftover coffee for the road, unlit cigarette hanging from my lips. A shot of confidence I desperately need.