I admit, three hours into a six-hour drive through Friday I-5 traffic, I was no longer thinking about the upcoming volleyball tournament. Crawling through the parking lot that is Portland, I was thinking, it’s a beautiful day, we should be on the water, fishing. Not that I’m a stranger to such thoughts. I’ve had them for all the twice-a-week volleyball practices in a town an hour’s drive away, and during the other tournaments we’ve driven to this season. And for every basketball practice and long weekend of hoops in various places around the state. This is the reason it’s become increasingly difficult to squeeze our usual outdoor activities into the schedule.
But then I think this is what the kids want to do, and they work hard to be good at it. And I consider how much they’ve grown–physically, mentally, emotionally–as part of their teams. At 14 and 11 years old, I understand that my day-to-day time with Skyla and Weston is increasingly short, and if this is what they want to do, I want to do it with them. And when I watch Skyla jump serve, or Weston drive to the hoop, I realize something else: This is really fun.
With both kids playing competitive sports and all the resulting travel, it’s been tough to squeeze in our usual outdoor pursuits. Skyla, on her way to another distant, all-weekend volleyball tournament sent me a text, which I received while driving Weston to his all-weekend basketball tournament, saying, “We need to go fishing soon, Dad.” That’s how it’s been this spring.
Saturday was the 4-hour Puget Sound spot prawn opener. Skyla couldn’t make it, but Weston and I wanted to go. Of course, we needed to be in a town an hour and a half away by early afternoon, and I wasn’t picking him up from his mom’s house until 9:30am. Tight squeeze.
Captain Smarty to the rescue. He picked us up off the beach at 10:00am, we jumped in and headed back to the shrimp grounds. We pulled four pots with full limits for us, cleaned the shrimp, and made it home in time to change out of saltwater gear and into basketball gear (Weston, not me) to hit the road just in time. That’s Weston warming up for basketball with a trophy spot prawn above, and John, Helene and Weston cleaning shrimp below. Now, after eating delicious, sweet prawns for four days straight, I think I’m sweating shrimp. But it was exactly what we needed. Thanks, Smarty!
In our very tiny Kingdom of Fish, a prince and princess were married this weekend. Driving down the lower Columbia on my way to the festivities, the weather came through in pounding white squalls, rain crashing into the windshield like bullets. Not the best sign for the outdoor beach wedding to come. When I arrived, I asked the bride if they had a Plan B in place. She said, quoting her royal sage, Alan, “I’m going to trust in the universe.” I had to turn away quickly so she wouldn’t see my eyes roll. A beach wedding in April on the Oregon coast. Ha!
It rained through the night. We woke to gray skies, chilly drizzle and wind sweeping across the beach. A big swell brought crashing waves and salty spindrift. I dug through my bags for goretex, fleece and puff. Walked the beach leaning into the wind and wishing I’d brought a beanie.
The wedding would start at 3:00pm. At 2:30, as the crowd gathered, the sky lightened. By 2:45, blue appeared overhead and sunlight streamed down, raising steam from the ground. And at the appointed time, with the royal court forming a circle on the beach, the prince and princess strolled onto the beach under blazing sunlight, not a breath of wind, and the dark clouds pushed to the east. Trust in the universe. A truly epic weekend of good friends, festivities and a groundswell of love. Late that night, as the party wound down, the weather returned with black sheets of rain and whistling wind. Trust in the universe. But bring the goretex and puff anyway. You know, just in case.
I was lucky enough to spend a few more days out on the OP with longtime friend–we’ve been fishing together since college–Nate Mantua, and a new friend, photographer Cameron Karsten. (If you’re wondering why the photos in this post are so much better than usual, Cam’s the reason.) We found tough conditions: First it was summer low and clear, then we experienced the unusual (and not good) combination of rising, coloring rivers with dropping water temps. The rivers actually lost almost 4 degrees overnight. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
With all the different fishing we do, and all the exotic places I’ve chased fish, I’ve come to realize that my favorite fishing of all takes place right in my own backyard. It tough to explain: Swinging flies for winter fish is a low-percentage proposition at best, the weather sucks, and the water’s freezing. Perhaps it’s a form of masochism. But chasing wild steelhead with a two-handed rod is my old true love.
This time, trying to match our locations to the changing river conditions, we fished four different rivers. We fished so close to the sea we needed to shout over the roaring surf. We fished high up in boulder-filled runs surrounded by dripping moss, ferns and ancient cedars. I loved all of it.
And Cameron did an incredible job of capturing what it’s all about. These are a few of his images, but if you want to see more of his work, check out his website. The guy flat-out has talent.
Fishing was tough, but we found enough fish to keep us interested, including a luminous sea-run bull trout a stone’s throw from the ocean, and a big, bright buck steelhead from a rocky, roadside pool on my way home–the Hail Mary fish on what would be my last day of the season out there. Mostly, I realize, I’m just stoked by the whole process, swinging away and hanging out with good friends. I’m already looking forward to next season, right in my backyard.
In August, after celebrating a First Salmon ceremony with our Lummi friends, we were touring the Tribal Center with Darryl Hillaire. His phone rang. He answered it and spoke with a grave expression and hushed tone. Cooke Aquaculture’s net-pen salmon farm on nearby Cypress Island had collapsed that morning, releasing hundreds of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. It was a sour and alarming note to end our time with fellow salmon people.
In September, the kids and I made signs and took to the water to protest Cooke’s net-pen facility just off our home island. This net pen, the site of past viral outbreaks and source of chemical and fecal pollution, is outrageously situated adjacent to the Orchard Rocks Marine Conservation Area. The event was planned by Wild Fish Conservancy long before the Cypress Island incident, but the disaster added urgency to what we were doing. More importantly, a wider group of citizens, the media and politicians were paying attention now.
Last Friday, Governor Jay Inslee, signed into law the bill banning non-native net-pen salmon farming in Washington state. Outright victories in the fish conservation world can be few and far between, but after years of trying, this one came together quickly. Huge thanks to Wild Fish Conservancy, State Senator Kevin Ranker (who sponsored the bill), and all the activists, advocates and citizens who protested, called and raised enough of a ruckus to make this happen. It’s a big win for the Salish Sea, wild salmon, and, on a personal level, a great lesson in democracy for Skyla and Weston. We are stoked!