Each morning we pulled out of Sekiu Harbor at dawn, purple sky and bourbon fumes trailing in our wake. One of a handful of boats staggering out past the kelp beds, around the break-wall, and accelerating up onto plane.
By sun up, there would be thirty five boats bobbing on steel gray swells, light stacking up in layers over the Olympics to the East, Vancouver Island, dark on the horizon to the North. The kelp bladders lolling on the currents, water fifty-degrees Fahrenheit.
We’d breathe in exhaust, breathe the swells, the clouds. A handful of boats silhouetted off Slip Point to the East.
Click, click, clickity, clickity Penn level winds sending down divers and a helicoptering whirligig, skirted squids fondling hooched up herring chunks. Some kind of abstract art that clearly demonstrates I have no idea what the hell salmon are thinking.
Ten minutes later a rod would go off, winching giving drag, a trailing a hook in the eye. Blood on the decks, the coolers. Blood and white plastic. Blood and wet steel. Cracked hands, smeared herring, bleeding gills torn out in the net with my fingers. Flop it on the ice.
For those of you looking for the straight fly fishing report, you can and we did, catch big wild coho salmon in salt water trolling pink and white clousers on the surface 40 feet behind the boat. They’ll tear the nine-weight rod out of your hands, maybe out of your boat, and tail walk all over the roiling ocean. Fat silvers, the size and shape of a grown man’s leg.
It had been a summer of pink salmon on the Strait. Dwindling runs of Puget Sound coho and chinook put increased pressure on the pinks, humpies, these small and least desired salmonids. But I was very grateful for these rangy, green-spotted salmon charging around on the surface of the ocean, in 300 feet of cold blue water.
Each day just before noon, I’d stand on the dock’s gleaming and bird shat planks with the gulls circling the fish cleaning station, cutting soft orange salmon flesh splayed out on the slimy wooden board. The pinks had a pocket of coiled muscle on the spinal ridge, like a spring lying in wait to become that giant dorsal hump as soon as they hit the freshwater flows to the east.
And each afternoon we let loose the last shots, the Hail Mary’s — desperate and nearly last off the water. The swell died down for the night, and the sun falling into Neah Bay. We’d fire up the Weber and gorge on the greasy pinks, drinking rye and orange bitters, and talking baits and flies, colors and depths, speeds and other factors with the other lunatics at Van Ripers Resort.
Then we’d set back off the next morning, into the current hooking around Slip Point. Rods bent, jaws set, clear cuts mixing with clouds on the hills. Soaked to the elbow in salt water, shoes scale spattered, cigarettes burning holes in our faces, lines taught to the rigs below, circling, a death spin, under tension. Nine AM sun burning off the clouds on the island mountains, burning the greasy sheen of pink salmon from our hands, faces.
I’ll be back.