Huge rivers and mythical beasts

If the fool were to persist in his folly he would become wise. –William Blake, Proverbs from Hell

Standing in the bottom of a huge valley, Rob, Jeff and I watch the weather roll in from a couple miles out. A squall on the horizon, hanging on the trees like an old wet blanket. The rain is just a few minutes away.

Casting over a giant riffle, I guess it looks like the Columbia, before the dams.


There’s something mysterious about this place, spooky even. Its sheer size makes you feel small and insignificant. This huge river has carved the whole damn state in half, from the Cascades to the Pacific. But it’s more than that. It seems out of time. It’s so big, it’s going in every direction at once. Nonlinear.

The landscape sparks a conversation about the afterlife. If I drown right now, would my ghost haunt these waters? Would I spend the rest of eternity in these stinking waders? Would my ghost be a conscious extension of my current motivations and terrible casting habits? I doubted it.

But what if I die and there’s nothing? Annihilation? There has to be some cycle.

Can we derive meaning by wading in these gray-green rivers, pushing out feathery handmade squid imitations into the current, waiting for some connection to the natural world?


We had a long debate the night before, about whether catch and release angling for wild fish is ethical, given the challenges facing wild steelhead. Every time you put your hook in the water you’re putting a fish’s life at risk. (In my case that risk is pretty low, but stay with me here…)

Is it more justified to fish for giant spring chinook and to kill one and feed all of your friends, than to go catch a dozen wild winter steelhead and let them all go, potentially to die from hooking mortality?

I argued, help me go catch a dozen wild winter steelhead in a day and then I can offer you some kind of insight, since I’m eking out a handful of fish each season. My pleas unheeded, we’d decided to chase chinook.

The river is lined with huge myrtlewood trees, plunking shacks. It’s populated with serious men in custom jet sleds with secret handshakes. The sprawling seams and boulder fields are epic.

Epic: heroic; majestic; impressively great; of unusually great size or extent; noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style.

I consider man’s role in society: For millennia our job has been to enter the realm of mythical beasts and to return with bounty or stories. Standing on a gravel bar near a deep pool at tidewater, I feel that tension of lurking danger.

What if one of this river’s 10-foot sturgeon decided to find out what I had for lunch? Just pinned me down on the bottom and sucked on my face with its barbels? Or worse, decided I looked like a curvy female sturgeon in my too-tight gray waders, playing hard to get, and the prehistoric bastard decided to spawn with me in one of those sturgeon ball orgies?

It could have happened. Anything could have happened.

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6 Responses to Huge rivers and mythical beasts

  1. Sam Wilkes says:

    Haida incantation:

    The Great One, coming up against the current,
    begins thinking of it.
    The Great One, coming, putting gravel in his mouth,
    thinks of it.
    You look at it with white stone eyes –
    The Great One, charging up river,
    becomes it. . . .

  2. Joe Palanuk says:

    Great photo and great article, I’m with you in “spirit!”

  3. themostdangerousanimal says:

    Is that a trout net that the fellow in the photo has at his side?

  4. Rob R says:

    The trout net was found tangled in riverside brambles from some wild high water event. I cleaned it up and threw it over my shoulder so I could offer it as a gift to little Paulie, who is now using it to control his house cats.

  5. rick says:

    Curvy female Sturgeon? Tight waders? Sturgeon orgy? Holy smokes!
    I think I’ll stick with my homewaters. To scary out there in the badlands.

  6. mike says:

    This river is too deep for me.

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