You row facing forward in a drift boat. This isn’t a lake, where you don’t need to see where you’re going. On a river full of rocks, turns, downed trees, and other potential boat-eating obstacles, you don’t want to turn your back on the view.
I rowed us out into the main current, then repeated my mantra. “Main rule, stay seated unless I tell you otherwise. We fish when the river runs high because that’s when the salmon come in, but that can make the Sol Duc one mean river. If you fall in, chances are good we won’t see you again until your body floats up somewhere.” I’ll never be able to say those words quite the same again.
When we were well onto the river, I had Spencer and Emerson drop the plugs I had already fastened to the ends of their lines. It’s called letting the river do the fishing. The current takes the lures downriver, I row against the current to keep everything flowing smoothly, and when the lure bumps into a fish, the fish might get annoyed and bite it. Not having the clients cast protects us all – a hook in the head is nothing to laugh about – and saves losing a ton of gear. Take a float down any fishing river around here and you can admire all the sparkly spinners, plus, and lures hanging in the trees. They don’t call this region a temperate rain forest for nothing. The trees grow right to the river and often arch over from both banks, and are dripping with “moss” (actually, not moss, but that’s what the tourists call it). I once brought a pole pruner out to the river and harvested a whole season’s worth of shiny lures, just from the places where you could reach over the water. If you put a second person in a drift boat with a pole pruner and made your way down the river, you could probably rake in four figures worth of fishing paraphernalia.
“Watch your rod tip. It’ll bounce as the plug goes over rocks, but if it really bends, you’ve got a fish on. Pick up your rod and try to keep some tension on the line. Do NOT jerk the rod to set the hook. You’ll pull it out of the fish’s mouth. Let the fish dictate the action and just keep a steady tension. If the fish runs toward you, reel as fast as you can. If it runs away, let it take out line.”
“So we just sit here and wait?” Emerson asked.
“Enjoy the scenery.”
I took to watching the two in Jack’s boat. They were casting spinners, something you don’t usually see on a guide’s oat. And they were good, but they weren’t having any luck either. I went back to scanning downstream for any obstacles to dodge, with my peripheral vision on the rod tips on either side of me. And hallelujah, the one on the right have a downward jerk, rebounded, then dipped down again.
But the action of the rod and line just wasn’t right. Though the name Sol Duc is a corruption of the old Klallam “Sol’ll Tak,” meaning “sparkling water,” I couldn’t see a fish or anything else through all the riffles. I waited a little to be sure, but whatever he was hooked to wasn’t moving up or downstream. I sighed.
“You’re snagged. Break it off.”
“You’re wrong.” And he proceeded to crank harder on the reel. Which I knew would end up with the line breaking anyway. “See! It’s pulling back. It’s a monster.”
The water at the edge of the rootball changed pattern. Damned if he wasn’t right.
“Just keep tension. Don’t try and horse him in or you’ll lose him.”
“Oh my God.” And I scrambled to grab the anchor and throw it over without ceremony. “Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap.” As soon as the boat held firm, I yanked the rod away from Spencer. “Jack, get over here. Now!”
“Hey, what the hell!”
But I was done paying attention to Spencer or Emers or even Jack. Because as the tension on the line had increased, the hooked object had appeared. And it wasn’t a root, or a fish, or anything customary in my world. It was a sleeve, with the pale, pale hand coming out of it waving horrifyingly in the current.
Read more about Cheryl at "The Cutthroat Business of Writing" on Writers & Other Animals