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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day: Fishing for love

You don’t see many women out on the river. Once in a while a guy will call up and want to take his wife on a winter steelhead fishing trip.

That’s when I ask, “Have you tried counseling?”

I suggest couples try a less drastic solution than steelhead fishing, before their relationship reaches a point of no return. Sometimes by reminding them of feelings they might have once had, say before they were married.

They will come to their senses.

I’ve heard all the excuses: Money, power, revenge. That’s still no excuse to subject your significant other to the pain and abuse of a winter steelhead fishing trip where even the fish are too cold to wiggle.

I know that now. After the way my heart got stomped by that waitress. She had pretty hair. She worked in a bistro slinging steaks cut from cows that must have limped off the Ark. There was watery coffee in dirty cups.

She yelled at me for being a worthless fisherman and tracking my muddy boots across the floor. I wasn’t there for the food. I was homesick.

I remember the good times. The secret glance, the hidden gesture and the $5 bill I gave her for putting a shot of dish soap in that bragging fly fisherman’s coffee.

\Before I knew it I started hanging around the grease fryer. I fantasized about us running off to a plunking bar with a jug of pickled herring. I knew it was wrong to fall in love with the waitress the minute she mentioned her husband.

“He’s so stupid and lazy,” my dream-boat purred. “I have to tape a can of beer to the lawnmower just to get him to push it around.”

Why are all the good ones taken? I had too much respect for the marriage institution to ever want “shot by a jealous husband” on my headstone.

I can only counsel that we all handle rejection with a good helping of sensitivity and maturity that allows a certain degree of personal growth from the experience. That must be why I locked myself in the restroom, turned on the hot water and let it run no matter how long they beat on the door.

Then I got a call about a fishing trip.

She said she was a kick-boxing instructor from east Athabasca. She could karate chop my heart right out of my chest so I could watch it beat while I died. That kind of thing could come in handy out on the river.

She wanted to book a fishing trip. I told her fishing was bad and getting worse. It’s like a surgeon saying I could die from the procedure or an attorney warning a client they’ll do time.

It’s my job as a fishing guide to convince the client the fish are nearly extinct. That way if I catch a fish I look like a genius.

I tried to talk her out of it but she showed up to go fishing anyway. At least my conscience was clear, for a while. Do you believe in love at first sight?

I’m certain it happens all the time. She had pretty hair. I launched the boat and rowed the boat downriver and got the gear working. We were back trolling plugs. It was one of those clear February days you wait all winter for. When the river drops from gray to blue and we catch the biggest steelhead of the year.

Eagles soared through a cloudless sky. The snowcapped Olympic Mountains seemed near enough to touch.

It was "fish on!" almost immediately. It was almost a perfect day of fishing except for one thing. My guts began to churn and howl like an alien was trying to crawl out. Then I remembered. We’d stopped at “Soapy’s” for breakfast. I noticed that two-timing waitress, laughing in the back with the fly fisherman. I’d been soaped!

After some agonizing hours it was lunch-time. The kick boxer offered me a sandwich. It looked about the size of a bale of hay, bacon, egg and yellow cheese all frozen together in a lump. I couldn’t say no. I said I’d love a sandwich.

“Look, there’s an eagle,” I said. When she turned to look I chucked the sandwich in the river. That’s when the nightmare started. For whatever reason, maybe because it was frozen, the sandwich wouldn’t sink. It began floating along with the boat. It kept up right through the riffles, sticking out of the water like a little shark fin.

The rest of the day was a stomach churning memory. We caught a lot of steelhead, just how many I was in too much agony to say but it was one of those days.

You could spend the rest of your life on the river and never have another one like it.

I told her she should probably never go steelhead fishing again. So far she hasn’t.

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