Slide Show

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Brave New Tattoo

It was a bad idea to write about combining the myriad permits, licenses and stamps that are required by the various state, federal and local bureaucracies for a person to be on public land. I had suggested combining them into an interactive personal bar-code that could be monitored by drone aircraft from a central location.  A simple bar code would do away with our antiquated Soviet-style travel permit system and make it easier for us to get all the licenses, permits, tags and punch-cards that are required to be on United States soil. Personal interactive bar codes would allow our bureaucrats a greater opportunity to enhance the stewardship of our natural resources while protecting us from the social costs that are borne by us all. 

Imagine a world where you can never be lost.  With the miracle of the personal interactive electronic device the government would know when you are sleeping and know when you're awake. The government would know if you are bad or good so we'd be good for goodness sake.

 Unfortunately the idea of having a personal bar code to replace the sheaf of documents we are now required to carry was too easily confused with the “Mark of the Beast,” mentioned in the Bible. And for that I must apologize. The alert reader(s) were kind enough to warn me, “don’t go there.”

So I didn't. That was then. 18 months later technology has caught up with this column. A December 29 Peninsula Daily News article, “Electronic Devices-On or Inside You,” described a number of new personal electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted or tattooed on a person.

A Seattle man has implanted rice-sized radio frequency identification tags in his hands that allow him to do away with the hassle of remembering all of the keys and passwords that are required to get into his home, car and computer. All he has to do is wave his hands and all of the gadgets will open or close or turn on or off which would make this the greatest labor saving device since “The Clapper.”

A Google-owned company wants a patent for an “electronic skin tattoo” that would allow people to listen to music without headphones and talk more clearly on their smart-phones in a room full of people yakking on their smart-phones. In addition, the electronic tattoo could include a galvanic skin response detector that would measure the way your skin conducts electricity. This would be helpful in determining if the person speaking on a smart-phone is nervous which could be a good indication that they are engaged in telling falsehoods.

Don't worry the electronic tattoo is not to be confused with the Mark of the Beast mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  No way. The Mark of the Beast goes on your forehead or right hand. Google's electronic tattoo would go on your throat or on a trendy collar around your neck. Nokia has proposed a tattoo that would vibrate when your phone rings. The possibilities for a vibrating tattoo are endless.  Futurists have long envisioned an interactive electronic device that would provide an individual's permit status to the authorities along with vital sign information which could be used in polygraph analysis, blood alcohol/drug screening and a host of other data gathering opportunities

Sure some silly civil libertarians will whine about how these devices affect our Constitutional rights but with the Patriot Act and the recent Supreme Court rulings on warrantless searches and self incrimination the Constitution has become irrelevant in today’s modern world.  You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.  We'll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Best Bait

It was daylight on the river on what might have been the shortest day of the year. The sky was so dark the sun did not show until ten in the morning and it seemed to be getting dark by noon. We were fishing for that rarest of fish the hatchery winter run steelhead.  These are the only steelhead that you can catch and eat this time of year. Hatchery fish are identified by a clipped adipose fin near the tail. Steelhead with all of their fins intact must be released under the terms of the fish war that has been raging on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula since the 1974 Boldt Decision.  In this conflict each side tries to catch their fair share of a fast disappearing run of fish.  One side uses a hook and line, the other uses a gill net. Both sides blame the other not catching as many as they used to.  If truth is the first casualty of war it is sure to be buried in a mass grave somewhere out on the river. The fact is that the best steelhead fishing in Washington is on the lower Quinault River which has been managed as a commercial net fishery by the Quinault Nation. How can this be? They have fish hatcheries which pump millions of fish from native stock into the system.

Meanwhile, for the second year in a row the hatchery steelhead have failed to return to the rest of our river systems.  It is a sad truth that runs of hatchery fish always fail after you fire the hatchery workers and stop feeding the fish. Government efforts to restore these fish have involved buying real estate from willing sellers and building log jams with predictable results. Somehow these runs of steelhead were supposed to restore themselves on their own without any hatchery plants. They have not.  Millions of dollars of fishing license revenues have been spent with no appreciable results.

 Meanwhile we fish through the peak of the steelhead season still hoping to catch one. The variety of lures and bait employed in this effort is truly mind-boggling. It is said that whoever has the biggest tackle box wins but that is not necessarily true. All you need is the right bait, live sand shrimp. These are sold in bait shops and gas stations where you find them or not at all.  As luck would have it there were no sand shrimp one weekend. I told a buddy to bring a dozen shrimp on his next trip out west but somehow the message got garbled in translation. Instead he brought a dozen dozen or 144 dozen sand shrimp. That's a lot of sand shrimp. Many were females with little egg clusters which make the very best bait. I had to keep them alive. For that I needed some fresh sea water. Getting sea water was not as easy as it might seem. The surf was running high. Standing in the ocean surf with hip boots and a five gallon bucket was a life threatening adventure. I was almost swept off my feet and drug out to sea. I dumped the surviving sand shrimp into the bucket. The water turned black. Some of the sand shrimp revived. I put them a cooler loaded with moss. There they kept very well. For five days while the rain fell and the rivers turned brown and un-fishable. Eventually I released the rest of the shrimp back into the ocean. Proving the old adage that sometimes even the best bait is not good enough. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Gifts of the Vampires, (With apologies to O. Henry.)

Eighteen dollars and fifty cents. That was all. Most of it was in quarters and dimes, saved one at a time by bargain hunting the pharmacies for hair gel, skin whiteners and other essentials for life as a vampire family in Forks.  At first Bella and her husband Edward tried to live a normal life as productive citizens in a small town that celebrates the diversity of life style choices. That was until Edward crossed the line and became a monster much scarier than some old vampire. Edward became a government biologist. Things went okay at first. Edward worked in a secret room in the basement of the State Capitol in Olympia.  They put him in charge of a roulette wheel. Every spin of the wheel shut down a fishing season, boat ramp or fish hatchery somewhere. Being the new guy, Edward was forced to go outside once in a while where all those years of night school at Forks U. came back to haunt him. When the boss biologist sent Edward out to Electro-shock the bull Trout and count the marmots he must have read the memo wrong.  Marmots started showing up with patches of burnt hair. Edward threw the bull trout up on the bank to avoid counting them twice.  The Boss Biologist called Edward into the office.

“That was good work son,” The boss biologist said. “The more endangered things get the more money we get to study them.”  Edward was given a promotion.  It was a night job with all the gasoline and ammunition he could burn. Edward would be shooting barred owls.  They were after all, endangering the Spotted Owl. The last critter to endanger the Spotted Owl had been the Hickory shirted loggers.

“We couldn’t shoot the loggers. “  The Boss biologists explained. “If they found out about it they could become agitated. So we moved them to Alaska.  After that Alaska said they won’t take our owls so we got to shoot them.”

“The Loggers?” Edward asked.

“No, you idiot!” The boss biologist raged slapping his riding crop against his leather hip boots. “The owls.”    Edward sucked at owl hunting. He only got paid for the owls he killed and hunting was poor. The young newlywed couple would be broke on their first Christmas. Bella counted her money three times, had a good cry and then powdered her cheeks with some skin whitener.  Edward and Bella had met at the dog pound. If there was one thing in which Bella took pride, it was her pack of pit bulls.  If Stefanie Meyer herself ever showed up with her own pack of dogs in Forks, Bella’s pit bulls would out wag them ten to one.

 And if Boris Karloff himself ever showed his face in Forks chances are he would not be packing near the firepower that Edward had. It was a chrome-plated double action .44 magnum owl blasting nightmare.  The trouble was the big pistol kept falling out of Edward’s pants and going off which would wake up the other biologists. Edward needed a holster.

Eighteen dollars and fifty cents, it was all the money Bella had for Edward’s Christmas present. Bella took the pit bulls back to the pound and saved enough on dog food to buy Edward a holster.

By 7o’clock the eggnog was ready. Edward came home and asked,

“What happened to the pit bulls?”

“I traded them for a holster for your pistol.” Bella said.

“I traded my pistol for a new kennel for your dogs.”  Edward said.  It was probably not the best Christmas ever.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Another Successful Launch

There is probably nothing more beautiful than a river in the snow.  We are fishing for the winter steelhead, the giant sea-run rainbow that may be the sole purpose of enduring a winter on the Olympic Peninsula. Just seeing a steelhead on the end of a line thrashing on the surface or cart-wheeling down the river with the red of the sunrise reflecting on its silver sides can have an amazing effect on the human metabolism. Hooking a steelhead can actually increase a person's temperature to the point where they do not notice the cold until it is too late. Hypothermia is only one of many hazards of winter fishing that people who fish for steelhead care nothing about.

As a guide who fishes five hundred days a year I feel preparation is the key to a quality steelhead fishing experience. We'll start with the steelhead fishing diet which relies heavily on the three basic food groups, sugar, grease and alcohol. With the proper diet the fisherman can put on an extra thick layer of fur and blubber to protect them from the icy winds of winter.

Winter clothing is important. Especially since the nude fishing discount ended last summer. Your most important item of clothing could be your choice of boots. Take it from me the right boots can make the difference between endless hours of bone-chilling cold and amputation from frostbite induced gangrene.

A good pair of boots is important. It is even more important to not have a hole in either one of them.  It is a curious law of science that the same water that leaks into a boot will seldom leak out again. Leaky boots can be patched but this is often a futile effort you discover when it is too late, you have wet feet. I like to recycle my old boots into holiday gift items for friends, family and co-workers. For example, this year I’m making custom computer mouse pads out of my old boots for everyone in the newsroom! It’s really the thought that counts.

Meanwhile I slipped on a pair of fancy new boots in that made me feel like a million bucks, for a while.  Felt soles can make your feet stick to the bottom of the river like glue. That was cool until I got out of the river and the felt soles froze and caked up with snow until they looked like a pair of hillbilly ice skates.

It would be daylight soon. There was no time to thaw out my boots. I had to launch before the barbarian hordes, (other fishermen) showed up to make a traffic jam that looked like a Nascar race with fishing poles. Driving down the icy boat launch was out. I might never drive out again. There was only one thing to do. Gently slide the boat down on the snow. I gave a little push. The boat shot away into the darkness like a runaway bobsled. I held on.

Sliding down the hill in the dark I wondered how many other Olympic sports had been invented by accident. Few could rival the adrenal rush of riding a boat down a hill with a rushing river at the bottom of it.

I picked up speed.  It might have been an unofficial boat skiing record.  It was going to make a big splash, somewhere. Then we hit a thin layer of sand that ground the boat to a sudden halt.  It was a perfect four point landing, another successful launch! We floated into the vapors with a wild joy on our heart strings.  


Monday, December 9, 2013

The End of Salmon Season

The end of salmon season was like the end of a lot of things. It was a sudden surprise that left me in shock.   It was the day my universe came crashing down. It seems like only yesterday that salmon season started. Now it is all over. You can lose track of time when you're fishing for salmon. It's a theory of relativity thing. A person can go to a job they hate where one shift seems to last for two days. The same person can start salmon fishing at daylight, fish for what seems like a few hours then act confused when it seems to be getting dark.

“That's because the sun went down,” I explain. Call it a coincidence or a guide's intuition but I started noticing years ago how it got mighty dark after the sun went down. It's all part of being a guide, to share the wisdom of years of experience on the river, in a way that enables a responsible stewardship of the eco-system as a whole.

Without the salmon my life had no meaning. The day became a long dreary exercise that stretched to a bleak horizon with absolutely no possibility of clubbing a fish.  My self-esteem issues were in the ditch. My psychologist did not return my calls. I tried the suicide hotline and got a machine said my call was very important but they were busy with more important calls. In a final act of desperation I sank into what many consider the modern opiate of the masses, Monday Night Football.

I remember hearing a vague rumor out on the river about the Seahawks having a good chance of getting into the playoffs, which seemed strange to me. I didn't even know it was baseball season. It shows what I know about professional sports.

All I knew for sure was that as long as our beloved Seahawks were winning, people would abandon the river to watch a ball game on TV.  This means that every Sunday you could get the river to yourself. And if what that famous French philosopher, “What's His Name” said was true and. “Hell is other fishermen,” then Super Bowl Sunday can be a little slice of heaven.

If all our football dreams come true and the Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl forget about other people fishing the rivers, there would be no one on the road. It could be one of the best steelhead fishing days of the century!

That's when it hit me! The end of salmon season is the beginning of steelhead season! It just goes to show how fishing can be like life. About the time one boat sinks another one floats by to pick you up. Steelhead fishing may not be a matter of life and death. It's probably much more important than that. Steelhead fishing is a lot like salmon fishing only worse or better depending on your perspective. All I know is the thought of a steelhead swimming up the river without me catching it at least once is disturbing. Maybe it's because steelhead fight harder than salmon. That could be because they don't die after they spawn. Or maybe it's because steelhead are more intelligent than salmon or at least on any given day they can be smarter than me.  Steelhead run prediction is an inexact science that has combined elements of science, technology and the ouji board.  Now with the Seahawks win on Monday Night Football we have a new tool to determine the success of this winter's steelhead run, the NFL. Go Seahawks!



Thursday, November 28, 2013


Thank you for reading this. Sometimes I think if you didn't read this no one would. So there is probably no better time than Thanksgiving to thank you, the reader, (s) and all of the little people I stomped on my way to the top of a publishing empire that at one time may have stretched from Shine Slough to Dead Dog Flats.

 At first pandering a column that combined misanthropic venom and Stalinist rhetoric in a crude attempt at humor was more fun than a barrel of double-jointed nympho-maniacs. Unfortunately after the first week or so writing a column became almost like a job or something. I started wishing I had listened to one of the many hard working English teachers we had over the years. Like the one who convinced us to take him crabbing out in Dungeness Bay at night in the winter. It wasn't my fault he got stuck in the mud and tangled up in a crab pot line. I never did learn much English after that. In a vain attempt to write good, I was forced to rely on the tireless efforts of the many hard-working government agencies that manage our natural resources for the raw materials for this column.

For example, I would never in a million years have dreamed up the idea of the government biologists shooting the Barred Owls to save the Spotted owl. For this yuk-fest we must thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Without them, many of these columns would not be possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Every year they provide us a constant source of mirth with a hundred and fifty pages of cutting edge humor disguised as the fishing laws.

It would not be fair to not thank the Washington State Parks people. Making people pay for a permit to go on public land and then printing the permit with disappearing ink was one of the most humorous pranks ever played on a taxpayer. Of course it would be wrong to not thank the yuk-meisters in the salmon restoration industry.  They just got done knocking down an historic dairy barn in Dungeness and the 3 Crabs Restaurant, for among other things, Bull trout habitat.

I have spent a lot of time at the 3 Crabs over the years. Grandma first took us there in the '60's for burgers after we went clamming. That was back when you could do that for less than a hundred bucks. I don't remember seeing any bull trout at the 3 Crabs at the time. They were not even on the menu. Later I conducted a lot of historic research at the 3 Crabs bar with pioneer legends like Wild Bill and Harry, the Mad Trapper of the Dungeness.  There were no Bull trout in the bar either. The idea of a bar as fish habitat is a hilarious concept.  It reminds me of the old joke about the Bull Trout who goes into a bar and asks the bartender,

“How many biologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“I don't know,” The bartender said,

“One hundred.” Said the Bull Trout, “One biologist to screw it in, and ninety nine to apply for the grant.”

I am just a humble fisherman. There is no way in a million years I could make this stuff up on my own. It is only through the tireless efforts of these hard-working bureaucrats that I am able to produce a weekly column and for this privilege I am very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camping in the Rainforest

There are few things more enjoyable than sleeping under the stars.  I don't know the names of many heavenly bodies but there's just something about looking at the Milky Way that takes my breath away.  You get to wondering if somewhere out there in that big old universe there couldn't be another planet with water on it.  If there was water on that planet, it would only stand to reason there would be some kind of fish. From what I've seen on movies, generally space critters are monsters. The prospect of fishing for monsters on another planet fills me with a sense of wonder.  Even a slow night of stargazing is liable to treat you to a meteor show. On a good night you may even spot a UFO. For years I have built campfires along the riverbanks as a form of beacon to the UFO's in an effort to communicate with intelligent life forms in space, after having failed at the attempt on earth.

Unfortunately stargazing has become increasingly endangered by a form of pollution few care anything about. Just like smoke from burning slash piles obstructs our daylight view, light pollution from the growing human population deprives us of our view of the night sky. It's already too late in some areas. Forget about stargazing in the eastern Olympics. A fluorescent haze of a false dawn from the evil cities across the water permeates the stratosphere. Stargazing opportunities in the northern and southern Olympics have become increasingly endangered as well, leaving only the sheltered valleys of the western Olympics to give us a view seen by relatively few, a star-filled night sky.

This is not a perfect world. The western Olympic Peninsula is a rain forest. Once it starts raining your star gazing opportunities are fleeting and...wet. My days of sleeping under the stars were numbered. I got a little tent.

It was beautiful. The picture on the package showed the tent pitched in a flowering meadow beside a rollicking brook beneath a clear blue sky that must have been manufactured somewhere in the Rockies. The instructions on the tent emphasized in no uncertain terms,

“Keep the Tent Clean.” This would be a problem when camping  in a flooded rain forest. Things went okay until I took the tent out of the box and tried to fit the poles together. This was no more trouble than say, trying to set up one of those giant swing sets for the kids on Christmas morning only by then it was really raining and the wind was whipping up, knocking the tops of the trees together. That tent was not going to be much protection against falling limbs even if I did get it set up. There was only one thing to do, hug in under a big spruce and pray it didn't fall over.

I hoped the weather would make the elk want to commit suicide. It was after all elk season, the culmination of months of planning, scouting and preparation that would all unravel as a violent Pacific storm system battered the coast with torrential rain and wind.

Sitting in a mud-hole in the choking smoke of a campfire picking the spruce needles out of my cocoa I thought that autumn might be my favorite time to camp. The tourists are gone. The weather's  so abysmal no one in their right mind would ever think of being out in it, leaving a few old fishermen to camp along a back eddy in the river.

Rain sprouts the mushrooms, swells the rivers and brings the fish home. Salmon fishing in the rivers has many advantages to the ocean. They don't call our rugged, unpredictable coastline the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for nothing. It's not only  dangerous,  fishing the ocean can be an unproductive waste of fish.

For most of the year you cannot keep a fish with an unclipped adipose fin in the salt water. Some days you may have to catch a dozen or more salmon just to get one with a missing fin, which indicates a hatchery fish. Typically squads of happy seals and sea lions follow the fishing boats around to gorge on the just released salmon that are bleeding or too exhausted to swim away after being released.

While it may be forbidden to keep a wild fish in the salt water, it's legal to kill them in the rivers where they spawn. Even better, you don't need an expensive motor boat to fish the river and I've never heard of anyone getting sea-sick while standing on the shore.

Unfortunately fishing the rivers is not without its hazards. In Washington State you need a variety of Federal and State permits just to be on public land. To be on State land you need a $35 Discover Pass.

It is a great money maker for the State since most of the tourists and a lot of the locals have never heard of the Discover Pass and don't know where to get one. 

I used to joke about the Discover Pass being the greatest tool we have to eliminate tourists. Once the tourists get a $100 ticket for not having a Discover Pass they'll generally leave and not come back.  Little did I know that the joke was on me.

My Discover Pass had been printed with disappearing ink! I was a hunted criminal!  Maybe it was just a coincidence but the reprobates I camped with were also cursed with defective Discover Passes. The ink had faded on all of them! I had no idea this would trigger  an unfortunate chain of events that would lead to a ticket and my eviction from an abandoned campground. It didn't matter there was no one else there, we had overstayed our 7 day limit!

“Why do they hate us?” the old fisherman sobbed. “We cleaned out the outhouse, picked up the garbage and cleared the brush out of the road. We bought every permit and license they sell and spend money in Forks like drunken Congressmen! I stopped at the store to get a package of bacon and ended up spending $170 dollars on fishing gear!  And now they are throwing us out?” 

It's like my good old Uncle Joe who used to chuckle,

“Give me the man, I'll give you the crime.”  America can sleep better knowing our abandoned campgrounds are safe from this sort of criminal element. When camping is outlawed only outlaws will camp.