Rain and wind for three days straight, but my friend, the writer, fisherman and road warrior, Riverhorse Nakadate, was going to be in town from Houston. It was not looking good. But with one day to fish and hang out, we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. Miraculously, as we put the boat in the water, the wind began to fall out. The rain let up. Between brief squalls, the clear, green water settled and for one brief moment, blue sky appeared overhead. We fished, talked shop, and told epic single-mom hero stories, which, it turned out, we both experienced first hand as kids. And we found fish, mostly little ones to start, but after switching through patterns, we finally hit the answer and it was on. Jackpot. Half a dozen slab-sized sea-run cutts made it to the boat before the tide quit and dusk fell. Later, as I was washing the boat in the driveway, I felt the first drops of rain in hours. By the time I was done, wind was thrashing the trees and rain pounded in sideways. The window was closed. But it had stayed open just long enough.
I’ve been meaning to post this since we returned from Japan way back at the beginning of summer: In the midst of a fantastic, city-based jaunt through the ancestral homeland, I savored each opportunity to look at and eat fish of every kind. In fact, one of the things about Japan that makes a fish-obsessed person like me feel at home is the overall cultural importance of fish. But after days of exploring fish markets, seafood sections in grocery stores, fishing departments in sporting goods stores, and fish restaurants, I found myself yearning to get out in the country and actually go fishing.
My old friend, Hisashi Suzuki, who I met years ago while chasing native trout in the Japan Alps, came to the rescue. As luck would have it, our one completely unscheduled day happened to be in Nagoya, where Hisashi runs a fly shop and guides. He generously made time to take the kids and me fishing, and provided expert guiding, boat, waders, rods and everything else we needed.
I was expecting that we’d drive to the mountains and fish small creeks for the tiny, jewel-like yamame (trout) and iwana (char) as we did when I’d last been there. Instead, we drove east to the Pacific Ocean, and spent a fun, completely absorbing day wading and sight-fishing for black bream on sand and eel-grass flats. It was the perfect contrast to our days in the crowded, chaotic cities (which us country folk love but aren’t used to) and a great time to introduce the kids to a good friend and new kind of fishing. What treat. Arigato gozaimashita, Hisashi!
The closing of our local king salmon fishery was announced last week, so the kids and I decided to celebrate a fantastic season with one last session chasing our favorite fish around the Island. Of course, the kids had sleepovers the night before, and by the time I had them collected and our gear together, it was pushing noon. Not exactly ideal king time. But it was sunny, warm and flat calm, so we packed a lunch and figured on a relaxing afternoon boat ride.
We tried a few places without any action, enjoyed the weather, watched a pod of harbor porpoises, and when I suggested heading in, Skyla insisted, as she always does, on trying “one more spot.” And sometimes, when there are a lot of fish around like this year, the time of day and even the tide matter little. In short, we got lucky.
In about an hour at Skyla’s “one more spot,” we hooked four and boated three gorgeous fish. Just enough excitement to make two kids, one dad and a Labrador retriever hop around a very small boat. And just enough salmon for a full smoker, not to mention a very satisfying close to the season.
Sometimes, even in the middle of a strong king salmon season, you start craving something a little more delicate and less industrial. The idea was to escape the heat and smoke, and if things went well, find a few decent trout willing to come up for dry flies. I guess we didn’t go high enough–it was still hot and smoky–but the little river was beautiful, with cool water flowing over drops and swirling through plunge pools. There were just enough trout of various shades of small to keep us interested. That’s Skyla above, pushing a nice loop upstream.
Some were tiny and tame, while others were slightly less tiny and the color, as my friend Bill McMillan says, of butterflies.
Halo, though, was having a rough time, her paws and claws not exactly adapted to scrambling on big, loose, slippery boulders. It was slow, sweaty going working our way upstream, trying to find paths that Halo could manage. When we found a flat spot, she and Weston were both ready for a break.
Skyla wanted to keep pushing farther up to fish, so we left the boy and his dog in the shade and kept going. From one vantage point, we could just barely see what looked like a flat spot in the river way upstream. We cut into the woods trying to find an easier path.
After a little brush busting, we emerged from the trees to something from a dream. The river spilled over a bedrock escarpment in waterfalls and slides, pouring into a deep, emerald-green basin shaded by moss-covered maples. Trout of all sizes cruised through the pool. Skyla caught a couple right away, and I hooked one big enough to dive into the maple roots and break the leader.
Then we rushed back downstream to get Weston and Halo. And Weston knew exactly what to do:
Skyla quickly joined him, and we spent the rest of the day in the water, laughing, shouting, jumping in, sliding down rocks, and generally having the best possible time. It wasn’t the outcome I expected–it was better. Much, much better. And I think, a perfect argument for the idea that you never really know what you’ll find when you go somewhere new and keep pushing upstream.
Things were a little hectic. We had one week after we returned home from Japan to prep fishing gear, get the boat running, dig up camping equipment and get over jet lag. Not to mention catching up with work. So yeah, I was frantic, crazed, sleep deprived and wondering if it was all worth it. At one point, it felt like I was trying to pack everything we owned–and a dog–into the car and boat.
As you can see, the annual camping/fishing gig for the king opener turned out fantastic. Though we missed our usual conspirators on this trip, we were happy Smarty could join in. The weather was windy but manageable, we ate well, and most importantly, the fish were there. That’s the first morning’s haul below.
We played on the beach, looked for rocks, enjoyed cooking and eating outside, made s’mores, and between fishing sessions, generally took it easy. Everyone, including Halo, had fun. And we came home with a box full of kings. Turns out all the prep chaos was worth it, and as so often happens, we came home happy that we put in the work and made it happen. Here’s to doing it all again next year.