Category Archives: drift boat

Welded Aluminum and Nerves of Steel… or How to Sink A Jet Boat Without Even Trying

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Dream Crusher loves her alone time and has David to thank for the many hours of stress- free, John-free weekends that happen every late summer and fall. He is, after all, the one who taught me to fish in North Idaho. I grew up in Alaska so I know how to fish – everyone does. It’s what you do when there are endless hours of daylight and only nine miles of road. I had to learn how to tan when I moved south, but learning to fish was never an issue. When I moved to Idaho, I thought I would fish, but the only fish I could find were tiny ones, like the kind I would snag under the dock and use for bait. So, I quit fishing all together, got married, and had kids. Being married to Dream Crusher has been so much better than fishing anyway (DC is my editor, so this may have been changed from the original), but having kids, well let’s just say they are lucky I didn’t meet Dave prior to them being born (he’s just kidding kids- DC).

I consider the last 35 years of living in the Panhandle my “lost” years since I really had no desire to fish and had no idea that only 40 miles south the river was teeming with big fish. I was like a thirsty man who did not know that he had an artesian spring on his property. It was Dave who led me to water and made me drink. I can’t believe that I was somewhat reluctant to go when he asked me to float a section of the Clearwater with him. I guess all those years of no fishing had hardened my heart and I was hesitant, expecting some anemic trip with the end result being a tiny stringer of puny fish. But then I caught my first A-run Steelhead. And you know what? This thing jumped and fought and tried to kill me. Okay, it was pretty small for a Steelhead, but it did fight and it was fun like I remembered fishing in Alaska being, and this one act of kindness set me on a new life path. It was like being born again to fishing because the fish were big and the river was beautiful. I even went out and bought the first of my many boats after that trip (Dream Crusher does have a love-hate relationship with my fishing partner). So, when David said he was going to buy a jet boat, I thought, “cool, a new way to fish the Clearwater.” And that’s what it has been… until there were no fish in the Clearwater.

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No one can quite figure out why the fish have stopped coming to the Clearwater. Some blame the dams, but the dams were there during some of the best fishing in recent past. Some blame the Fish and Game and still others blame the seals or the Native Americans or global warming or Trump or El Nino, but all I know is that I was sick to death when I got the email that all fishing in the Clearwater drainage was closed for the year. Then I got an even more chilling text from Dave. “Can’t fish the Clearwater, but I’m heading up the Snake. You want to come?”

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Now, if you know the Snake River you know it flows through the deepest canyon in North America (yes, even deeper than that big hole in Arizona that people keep falling into and dying). In order to navigate the waters during most times of the year when the water is low, you have to have some understanding of where bad things can happen and it was smack during “most times of the year” when I got the text, and while Dave has mad skills in many other areas of life, knowing where bad things can happen on the Snake River is not in his wheelhouse, not by a long shot. I texted back one word:

“Um?”

“Come on, it will be fun.”

“Um?”

“Don’t be such a baby. We’ll just figure it out as we go.”

“Um?”

“Oh, and a friend of mine who can run the river with his eyes closed will be teaching me.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll go, but only if he keeps one eye on the river and one eye on you!”

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As we dragged his 22 foot jet boat down a dirt road past house after house with large yards and huge, boat-storing shops, I got to thinking about how different it must have been a hundred years ago when the rule of law was a rifle and a strong arm. Hell’s Canyon has a torrid past, rife with Chinese massacres, Native American displacement, horse thievery, gold mining, get rich quick schemes, boat sinkings and land rape, but as Dave backed the boat down the ramp at Heller Bar, it had more the feeling of a monster truck rally than any of that. Guide boats sped up and floated down the river with six souls aboard, each dragging a length of lead, a hook and a glob of eggs down the bottom of the river, whooping and hollering and holding up adult beverages every time one of them hooked a fish. Tour boats as big as blue whales lumbered and thundered past the ramp hauling hundreds of people up the river. The constant roar of big engines and the roar of trucks pulling off the ramp made me realize that I was not on the quiet, gentle Clearwater anymore… not by a long shot.

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I had been on the Snake one time before and, to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I had seen videos of rafts hurtling through two story rapids with no way to keep upright or for the rafters to stay in the boat and I was expecting to blast through every wave train like a roller coaster loosed from its rails, but what happened was far less dramatic. What I didn’t realize is that the last thing a boat owner wants to do is to try and break every welded seam by smashing his boat over and over through every single wave, no matter how much fun it would be and, in reality, it’s not that fun. Hitting big rapids in a jet boat feels a lot like getting hit by a car and the pounding you take means you can’t get out of bed the next morning. But, at that time I was expecting water careening over the boat and huge waves crashing down upon us and having to lash myself to the mast in order to get some really cool pictures, but what I got was a skirting of all the big water and a zippy little ride up the river zooming in and out of the waves like a gazelle running around the pack of deadly lions instead of right through their pride.

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Our guide Red (his name has been changed to protect his identity) kind of pointed Dave up the river and said, “Go up there!” Dave buried the throttle and the boat slowly got up onto step and in a moist cloud of dust and engine smoke we added to the din and went “up there.” From what I could hear over the engine noise, it seems that there are really only a few rapids that you need to worry about in order to get up the river. The rest of the miles and miles of turbulence is just a matter of knowing how to read the water and your depth finder which fluctuates from 2 feet to 35 feet in the blink of an eye.

A jet boat driver has to has to have pretty good reflexes since you can’t really slow down and stop if you lose your way. Sometimes you can, but often you are running in very skinny water and if you stop, you stick. And getting a multi thousand-pound boat off of a rock or sandbar isn’t really all that fun. As we motored up river for the first time and I watched Dave do an amazing job of navigating, I had the distinct feeling that I was in a giant game of asteroids being played on a fast moving body of water where you sometimes can and sometimes can’t see the rocks. Unless someone is holding your hand as you go and pointing out every hidden gremlin in the river, you would hit bottom and get the waaawaaawaaa and a big “game over” flashing on your screen. Only there is no screen, just a cold float and a long cling to a slimy rock until someone stops to peel you off. In this game, losing is not an option.

As we came to the next in a long succession of rapids, Red casually mentioned that if you run the river enough you will hit the bottom at some point. Um, what? I asked him to repeat himself. “Yep. Just a matter of time.” I’ve trained my mind to worry. It has kept me alive for 56 years and I’ve kinda turned into Dave’s second wife – in name and nag only. I found my mind wondering when we will hit, what it will look like, and what will happen when we do. I’ve never been able to just blindly trust to providence or luck and somehow keeping the thing I fear in the forefront of my mind, keeps it agile and awake to all of the potential issues. When we do hit on this river, my hope is that our shields are up or that the rock with our name on it has been rounded smooth by the other boaters who hit it before us or, barring that, trust that the extra few half inches of hardened aluminum that Dave’s boat has will be enough.

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I have ample reason to worry because I’ve actually hit bottom in a jet boat before, and I don’t mean that after years of drinking and drugs, that my intervention was in a jet boat with friends and family telling me how my actions had affected them. No, I mean Dave and I thumped a big rock as we sped down the Clearwater because some guy with a $5000 fly rod in a drift boat, saving the environment and enjoying nature without supporting fracking, was camped right in the channel we needed to be in and we turned right instead of left and hit a rock. We all flew around the inside of the boat for a bit. Dave grew pale and ashen and tried to act like hitting the rock was what he had planned on doing all along, but the drift boat guy was pumping his fist, waving his non-gmo-bone-broth-smoothie at us and getting ready to paint another hash mark on the side of his boat next to the other 15 already there.

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The first thing that comes to mind when you hit bottom is that you’re going to sink, so you quickly lift the engine cover and look for water in the bilge or beams of sunlight where sunlight shouldn’t be and then you run to the edge to see if the bilge pumps are shooting out copious amounts of water. The second thing you do… Oh wait, back up. The first thing you do is wet yourself. Then you look into the bilge… then you panic and beach the boat quickly to catch your breath. If you see water shooting out of every single one of the boat’s orifices (or is it orifi?), you get out, grab a beer and hope the water is shallow enough and the river calm enough for the salvage guys to float it out and onto your trailer. If it’s not, you call insurance and start looking for another boat on Craigslist. However, if all appears normal, you keep fishing and hope you didn’t miss anything. It turned out that we didn’t miss anything and when we pulled the boat at the end of the day, the blemish on the bottom of the hull was about the size of a small mole that you thought might be cancer, but turned out to be one of those spots that means you’re just getting old. Thankfully, Dave spent the extra few bucks and got the thicker hull. I was equally thankful that we hit bottom in the Clearwater where the calm, steady ebb and flow of the river has smoothed the rocks to a polished and mellow state, and not in the jagged, rock and roll turbulent flow of the Snake River that smashes and breaks huge boulders into hidden, snaggy nasty things that bite.

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I don’t like bitey things. As we motored upriver Red mentioned one of those “things.” “There’s a boulder, right there” he said as he pointed to a flat, calm, smooth as glass piece of the river, and, sure enough, as we roared safely past you could see it smirking quietly to itself a few millimeters underwater. There are many of these “things” in the Snake and anyone without course knowledge gets a dent or a hole, but preferably a dent…and an education. I secretly think the old timers like the idea of deadheads in the river (a deadhead is something just below the surface that you can’t see, but can cause damage, and has nothing remotely to do with Jerry Garcia). It gives the old timers a bit of something to talk about in the evenings and makes their knowledge worth something. If they marked every rock with a big flag or just dynamited them into small bits, no one would have to pay for their services and they wouldn’t have anyone to laugh at. Most of these guys own their own boat building companies and deadheads are just a good business model, like the local dentist who gives out candy instead of toothbrushes for Halloween.

There have been efforts to make the river more navigable and at one point the Corps of Engineers put large, white navigational poles above and below each rapid. The theory was that if you lined up the poles one behind the other, going up or down river, you would have a repeatable way to run each rapid. That is unless the river changes, and the river always changes. Rivers like the Snake are wild rivers that kick at their confines and tear at the canyon walls and move sand, silt, slag and boulders around in an effort to escape. It wants to wander and can’t and bucks and kicks. If you think you’re safe because two man-made sticks are lined up, think again. The river is fluid and so are the boulders and the first guy who lined up the sticks perfectly and struck bottom must have thought “What the heck was that?” as he bounced off the ceiling of his boat’s cabin. Only I’m sure he didn’t say “heck” and as he washed out the back of his boat and floated serenely down the river while his boat turtled and sank, he must have wondered what just happened. No one really uses the sticks anymore, which makes the advice of those who run the Snake all the time, even more valuable.

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We got a history lesson from Red as we made our way past the confluence of the Salmon River. We saw iron rings pounded into the cliff face that were used to pull sternwheel boats through the rapids and a boiler from one of the same that broke apart when the rope fouled the paddlewheel. We saw white marks high up on the cliff where engineers thought a new dam would be good. There are petroglyphs from long gone tribes, kilns from lime mines, and foundations of long defunct copper mines. There is even a tunnel through one of the mountains that comes out on a completely different river. We received a double education that day that sent us scouring the web for Hell’s Canyon history books.

We videotaped every single inch of the run up the river and with Red’s narration, Dave is getting it figured out. He’s studying the film like a third string NFL quarterback who got thrust into a starting position just before his debut in the Superbowl. The last trip we took with another guide and friend resulted in only a few tweaks to the way he runs the river. The test will be when he’s on his own, but he will do fine. I am getting more and more comfortable, but I haven’t yet been able to sit in the copilot seat as he’s running because I’m just too nervous, but that will come with time. The river and the canyon offer a new fishing opportunity that we’ve never had. Not only are there Steelhead and salmon, but there are trout, bass, white fish and Sturgeon. There are sandy beaches, deer and bear and big horned sheep, and the opportunity to river camp. Dave is figuring this whole thing out and that’s really cool and it makes me happy that I get to do this with him. It’s starting to feel doable and normal, which is why the hair stood out on the back of my neck as shivers went up my spine when I got a text from him last week.

“Hey, brother. Now that we’ve learned how to run the Snake, maybe it’s time to try the Salmon.”

The Salmon River is also known as… “The River of No Return.”

God help me.

Clackamax Drift “Whaler” For Sale – $9500

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Excellent condition, but does get a bit gamey in direct sunlight

Hi, I got your email address from Benson and I’m contacting you regarding your item posted on Craigslist.  My name is Dennis Petit! I’m a creative Underwater Photographer. I’m also a warrior who fights for the sake of protecting and saving sharks, whales and other creatures living in the earth’s oceans. I’m presently on assignment and I spent most of my working hours underwater, photographing scuba divers and marine life that is why I am unable to make or receive calls at the moment so I will be available via email, so can you assure me I won’t be disappointed buying this from you? I have a hauler that will be coming for the pick up and i also have a few questions for you about it.

 Any damages?
Are you the original owner?
Why are you selling it?
Send me some pictures of it
Do you have an account with PayPal?
Do you have any offers yet?
What is the final price of it?
 Looking forward to read back from you.

 Wow, Dennis, it sounds like you live an amazing life!  It is ironic though that my family is in the business of harvesting whales and sharks for the Asian markets.  We don’t really use all of the shark, just the fins.  We do catch, cut off the dorsal fin, and then release the shark.  I guess you could call us Eco-Warriors, too, since we try to practice sustainable shark harvesting.  We are in the process of developing an artificial fin that we can strap on the shark, post-harvest, that will eventually graft onto the shark’s own spine.  We are going to place a radio beacon in the fin so we can track its progress. We’ll also be coloring the fin bright orange so we know not to try and harvest the same shark twice. LOL.  The name of our new shark orthotic is called Addafintome.  Expect to see this sometime mid year.

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Beta testing Addafintome

 

We still haven’t found a way to safely catch and release whales for their parts, so we only try to harvest the sick and the weak. I mean, the whole harpoon thing sticking out of the side of the whale makes some pretty bad flesh wounds and makes it hard to remove AND release.  We have been trying out very large suction darts, like the size of a Volkswagen, and with some of the smoother whales we have had some success, but even then the huge hickie it leaves tends to make the whale really embarrassed and it wants to wear a turtle neck… I’m only kidding.  We have never tried the suction cup thing.  That’s just a little Eco-Warrior humor.  Culling out the weak is our way of trying to make sure that only the strongest gene pool survives, too bad your family didn’t practice some of that culling… haha.  JK LOL.

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Is this one of your pictures? No Shark Fins! LOL

My guess is that we have probably met at one time or another across the water and didn’t even know it.  Do you ever ride around in that Green Peace boat?  That thing is the bomb.  If I can get my boat sold I’m thinking about getting one of those… except not the one with all the unwashed people with long hair on it… that’s just gross.

The boat is in excellent shape except for the blood.  Shark and whale blood is very hard to scrub off.  I’ve tried power washing it with Oxyclean, but even that doesn’t take it off (Don’t you love the Australian guy that sells Oxyclean? G’Day Mate! I just love that).  It doesn’t affect how the boat works, but it does tend to get sticky and kind of gamey smelling when it’s been out in the sun too long.  There are no teeth marks in it, but a slight rubbing where we’ve dragged the sharks over the edge of the gunnel – shark skin is really tough and sandpaper-like… as you well know. LOL

I’m the original owner

I’m not sure what PayPal is, having barely just figured out the whole World Wide Web and Electronic Mail thing.  It sounds like something my mother used to have to do when I was a kid… Pay other children to play with me.  Get it, Pay for a Pal? LOL. I’m on a roll today!  I wasn’t the most attractive kid or the most pleasant after the shark cleaning incident, but I think I’ve persevered pretty well for a person with only one good eye and half an ear.  My half ear is on the same side as my good eye so if I stand just right you can’t even tell I’m missing my other parts.  In pictures I can actually look pretty good.  If I comb my hair over the missing part of my ear I look almost as good as Jimmy Shirell.  Do you know him?  He works in the industry too.  I’m not a huge fan since he married my old girlfriend.  Oh well.  Stuff like that happens.

I’ve had an offer from my cousin, but he wants to give me his old Buick as a down payment and then make $50 per month payments for the next umpteen years.  He’s good for it when he’s working and not drunk, but I was hoping to get a lump sum payment and besides, who even drives Buicks nowadays?  I’m all for those Japanese imports. They are amazing and run forever.  If I can get him to throw in some of the elk he got this year I might consider it though, so you should act fast.

Since we’re on the opposite side of the whole Eco-Warrior thing my bottom line for you is $12,500.  Let me know when we can meet face to face and I can take your cold, hard cash from you.
Thanks,
Lefty

 

Thanks for your understanding and swift response,

I do appreciate the way you answered my questions!. I’m satisfied with it’s condition and i believe i wont be disappointed. I want you to know am serious in purchasing it and am sure he’s gonna love and enjoy it more than you did. Well it a very good idea to see what am buying my self but am a very busy type i have a private courier agent that will come for the pick up after the payment and sign all necessary documents transferring the name of ownership and signing of all paperwork will be done by the hauler agent on my behalf also i would love to assure you that it wont leave your side until the money is in your account and clears i will be patient with you as am an honest man and a man of my word so once all this is done then we can now both schedule the pickup time and date.

I would have loved to send the pick up agent with the cash or cashier check but they don’t deal with cash transaction between buyer and seller and i want you to know that PayPal is the best online payment and they protect their customer the both seller and buyer. My mode of payment is PayPal because i don’t have access to my bank account online, but i have it attached to my PayPal account. Since I’m requesting this transaction to be done via PayPal, I will be responsible for all the PayPal fees/charges on this transaction, if you don’t have an account with PayPal, it’s pretty easy, safe and secure to open one. Just log on to www.paypal.com. I hope we can make this transaction as fast as possible. As I look forward hearing from you with your PayPal information as requested below.

Your PayPal e-Mail Address :
Firm Price:
Home Address/ Pickup location Info:
Cell Phone#:

I am ready to purchase this, so you can take the add off Craigslist.

 Hi.  You sound so serious about this.  I really appreciate you telling me that you’re an honest man and a man of your word.  What I’ve found as I’ve gone though my short life is that I never know whether someone is honest unless they tell me so.  I’m also really glad you told me that you are a man of your word.  There are so many liars and cheats and scammers out there that I would hate to have someone take my boat AND my money and then be left with nothing.  Thank you for letting me know that I can trust you because I really do!

I have looked into PayingPals.com and it looks legit.  Too Legit to Quit if you ask me, so I’ve signed up and I’m ready to go.

However, it doesn’t sound like you’ve got a very good agent if he won’t work in good ol’ American Cold Hard Cash.  I have a friend named James Hoffa who is a good friend of mine, though he’s really hard to find sometimes.  If you would like me to contact him, I know he would be willing to to be the go-between us.  He would hold your cash and my boat and then make the switch for us, just don’t make fun of him… He does not like that, boy, does he not like that.

So, is there any way we can do a cash transaction?  I would even be willing to clean the boat some more to make sure the blood is off the oars.

Lefty

PayPal is the best option for me and I’ve been using it for several years without any regrets, I know you will be glad at the end dealing with me if you can proceed with me via PayPal. It is safe and secure for online payment, since you have set up an account with PayPal feel free to get back to me with your PayPal information as requested above so as to proceed.

Wow!  Good!  I thought for a minute that our deal had fallen through.  Oh, I forgot to ask.  Were you the one taking pictures of the whale that saved the swimmer from the Tiger Shark?  If you were, then we have met because that swimmer was me.  It’s a weird story, but we had just attached a prototype of the addafintome to the Tiger shark and released it back into the water (Tiger sharks look nothing like real tigers, BTW LOL).  Well, the fin wasn’t quite straight and the shark kept leaning to the right.  It had this terrible list and I felt bad.  Well, dad pulled the boat next to the shark so I could straighten the fin and the stupid thing turned and bumped our boat really hard (I guess it couldn’t tell I was trying to help it) and I got knocked out.  Well, I still had his real fin in my hand and when he saw it he tried to get it back from me.  I’m not sure what he thought he was going to do with it since it was already severed from his body, but he wanted it.  He came at me and was about to bite my leg when out of nowhere this enormous Humpback whale (that’s kind of a dirty name I think, don’t you?) took me in it’s baleen and pushed me out of the way.

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Me falling in

I grabbed the harpoon sticking out of its neck and held on as tightly as I could until the shark went away.  I felt really bad harvesting the whale, but I guess man is supposed to dominate wildlife, right? LOL.  Haha.  I just realized that you might not like that story, because you are an Eco-Warrior.  Sorry.  What I meant to say was that after the whale helped me, I released it and it went back to its homeland.  You can write that in your papers.  Haha.  I’ll take a 1000 off the price of the boat for killing the whale that saved me.  Does that make it better?

Do you still want to make this deal even though I’m a whale killer?  You’ll probably put the boat to better use I guess.  Haha LOL JK.

I’m ready to send my PayingPals.  Are you ready for it?  I just want to make sure because my cousin said he would give me half his elk if I sold the boat to him.

Sincerely,
Lefty

Yes!  Send me Paypal information now. I am ready.

Okay. Whew.  Thought I might have made you mad.  Okay.  My address is a little weird, but I’m an honest guy and a man of my word (We are so much alike! It’s like we could be brothers).  I’m just saying that it’s all legit.  Also, if your agent tries to call, just let him know to keep trying and that my number sometimes takes a few tries to go through.

The Phone number is actually for my sister Jenny Jenny (we all have two first names, my name is actually Lefty Lefty) since she’s the only one that knows how to use the Flipper Phone.  Her number is 867-5309. I’m glad she’s got this phone, because she’s the only one I can turn to in situations like this.

My new PayingPal address: mommadidntraiseafool@gmail.com
Price $11,500 ($1000 less than I said originally because of the whale incident).

The boat is at my mom’s diner.  The address is:

new-orleans

Lefty Lefty Hekknow
C/O Your Mama’s House
2020 Hindsight Lane
GottaBeKiddinme, CA 90015

 

I Fish! Dr. Marvin, I Fish! I’m a Fisherman!

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The boy in the boat

A little bead of wetness clung to the end of my dad’s nose like a drip of golden honey – only it wasn’t honey.   Light refracted through it giving it the look of a droopy diamond as we sat under the canopy of our Glasply in the bitter cold sunlight and watched the end of our poles drag herring through the black water out by the old Ketchikan pulp mill.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  The tension was killing me.  It felt like the time I watched my great aunt Hazel smoke a cigarette down to the filter without flicking the ash.  No matter how many times she brought the gasper to her lips, completely covering the filter with old woman lipstick, the ash valiantly held forth.  When she finally flicked the ash into the tray and blew the last remnants from her lungs, I breathed a second-hand-smoke sigh of relief.

Fishing for King Salmon has been described as hours and hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror, but I think this is a gross overstatement.  It wasn’t as if we were harpooning whales from a kayak.   We put little fish onto a little hook to catch bigger fish.  I guess if our big fish got eaten by a bigger fish, like, say a Killer Whale, that would be terrifying, but sitting in a boat, eating Snack Pack pudding and Zots and reeling in a fish now and then wasn’t terrifying – it was actually, a little slice of heaven.

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Dick and Peggy and bait

My sister, Betty, hated fishing almost as as much as I loved it.    The problem with fishing was that it required her to spend hour after hour with my dad in a small boat.  It’s also a lot more fun if you actually catch fish, and, no matter how much she tried, my sister couldn’t catch fish.  I  would reel in three fish from the starboard side of the boat and dad would make us switch sides.  Then I would catch two from the port side and we would switch back.  Then we would switch poles and switch lures, but none of it helped.   If Ketchikan had had a county fair, I would have come home with ten goldfish and she would have had a bag of wax lips.   As I got older I realized there were other reasons Betty dutifully sat on her side of the boat catching nothing: chocolate bars.  The little bar of Hershey goodness was enough to keep her coming –  that is, until she realized she could stay home, with a good book, and eat the bars in complete comfort.

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Mom and Dad and BIL Pat

My mom, on the other hand, liked to go fishing, but I never once saw her reel in a fish.  She hooked hundreds, but as soon as dad realized that she had a fish on he would take the rod from her.  Exasperated, once again, she would say, “Earl!” and then go back and make sure Betty had enough chocolate bars.   It seemed her only jobs aboard the boat was to hold the pole until dad took it away from her, dole out chocolate and hold my belt loop when I needed to pee over the edge of the boat.

“Dad,”  I said after watching the drip roll back and forth with the rise and fall of the boat for what seemed like hours.  “You’ve got a drip of snot on your nose.”  I reached my finger up to my nose to show him where.   In an instant his tongue came out and the drip vanished like a chameleon catching a fly.  In that moment I felt my personal space bubble expand to exclude hugs from my dad and I also felt the urgent need to wash my mouth out with soap.

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Dad and his best friend Clarence

The Clearwater River is about as far away from Ketchikan as it is from New York City, but as I sat in the cold metal drift boat hooking plugs to snap swivels and arranging my gear for the day, I had a strange feeling like I had done it my entire life.  I blew on my fingers to get my 50 year old circulation going, but I felt 12 again.

I moved to Idaho when I was in my third year of college and never had the desire to fish.   I went once with my roommate and that evening he went on and on about the 13 inch trout he had caught that day.  After about ten minutes of his diatribe, I told him that in Alaska we used fish like the one he caught for bait.  I’m sure it was a nice fish, as far as trout fishing goes, but I could not see the enjoyment in reeling in a fish the size of a woman’s slipper.

Little did I know that only an hour away flowed a river of milk and honey, bursting to the banks with fish – real fish.  Fish that a man could be proud of.  Fish that broke the water when you hooked them and danced and flailed in the air trying to spit your hook.  Fish that battled you and fought you and tired you and tested you and needed to be knocked out with a stick when you got them in the boat so they wouldn’t damage anything.  Fish that bled on you and that you had to strain to hold as someone took your picture.  These were fish you hung on the wall.

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Freaking wild Steelhead!

It only took 30 years for me to discover it, but less than an hour to fall in love.  The Clearwater isn’t a misnomer.  It’s big and wide and clear as air.  It’s old and thinning in places where you need to lift your feet and hold your breath as you float over it so you don’t scrape the bottom, but deep and dark in other places with channels and holes that hide big fish that strike out of anger instead of hunger.  Angry fish, who knew?

“Keep your tip up!  Don’t loose it!  Let it run!  Check your drag!  Don’t give it slack!”   Every new fisherman gets on the job training.  I knew these words by heart and smiled warmly when I heard them.  When your body reacts independently of your mind and heart you have become, if not an expert, at least very comfortable and in tune with what you’re doing.  I hadn’t caught and landed a really big fish in 30 years, but holding the pole as the fish tried to rip it from my fingers felt natural and homey like wearing an old baseball glove or a favorite hat.  I felt relaxed and in charge.  The fish didn’t stand a chance.

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Dave’s lunker.

Catch and release is like dating in highschool.  You chase, you catch, you have a short relationship, then you release.    The hook fell out as the Steelhead flailed in the net.  I reached carefully in and grasped the fish by the tail and throat and lifted it up for its photographic debut.  He smiled and I smiled.   He was beautiful and bright, a wide band of color running down both flanks.  I knelt by the stern and carefully lowered him into the water to let the oxygen flow through his gills and bring him out of his stupor.  After a few moments of lolling from side to side his wits came to him and he fought out of my grasp, powering back into the depths.

The yuppie with the Spey Rod and the Orvis fly vest looked on with disdain as Dave and I thrashed around in the drift boat like a couple of school kids, hollering and high fiving like we had just won the lottery, which in a way, I felt  like I had.  I knew in that moment that I would be buying walnuts for Dream Crusher at Costco (you’ll have to ask her about this) and getting a boat.

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Man, I was unattractive, but boy could I catch fish. Dream Crusher and me before we were married. She only agreed to marry me AFTER I caught these beauties.

When the poles were once again dancing above the water,  Dave touched his nose and nodded in a way that confirmed, without actually saying anything, that I had a bit of snot dew clinging to the end of my nose.  Without thinking, my tongue shot out and firmly lodged into the corner of my mouth as I searched my pockets for a Kleenex.  I blew my nose and as I put the tissue away I thought to myself that maybe I was not my father’s son after all.

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The Clearwater and Dave.