It was epic. Salmon bit off the canoe’s starboard side, off its port side, off the bow, off the stern.
Pinks, pinks, pinks. Surging, jumping, thrashing.
The humpers bit for hours.
They bit every chunk of glitzy bent metal Bell and I threw at them.
We were tapped into the mother school and could do no wrong on the Snohomish River north of Seattle that day in late summer 2001 when the world was still (reasonably) sane.
And it was among the 10 best fishing and hunting trips I’ve gone on this decade.
THE EDITOR WITH A SNOHUMPISH PINK. (ERIC BELL)
Other floats for pinkos on the river and Puget Sound during 2001 as well as 2003’s runs could easily fill out a top-10 list for yours truly.
Indeed, if it were up to me, I’d call the 2000s (officially known as the “International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World”), the Decade Of The Pink for how well they’ve returned to Puget Sound rivers, culminating in Humpfest 2009.
And then there were their sizes — Avis’s Humpzilla at one end of the decade, Adam Stewart’s 15.4-pound state record at the other. Heck, those weren’t pinks, they were Pinkosaurus Rexes!
But let’s throw some variety into this exercise, shall we? With the 2010s dead ahead, here’s one last glance back at nine other top fishing and hunting trips from the 2000s:
* EARLY 2000S, A RAINY, BLUSTERY DAY in the flooded Snoqualmie Valley that started out slowly for Bell, Olenik and I. We were barely concealed along a fence row at the very back end of “The Prison Farm,” an honor dairy farm for low-risk inmates from the jail at Monroe. Right at shooting light, a flock of teal came in and great shot that I am, I managed to bag one.
It helped that Olenik had shot it first and slowed it down.
But things improved, especially after Bell, in a colossal lapse of judgment, left early to go home to the Missus.
As the weather worsened, huge flocks of wigeons and mallards winged their way up the valley. Olenik’s calling turned many, and as the whoosh of wings lowered and lowered over our menagerie of decoys, we popped out from behind grass and sticks leaning against the fence.
So many birds came in that day that we almost ran out of shells before finally limiting and pushing overstuffed decoy bags back through flooded fields to our rigs.
* I’D SEEN WHAT A GOOD SILVER BITE could be like in the saltwater while fishing the Everett Coho Derby at Possession Point earlier in the 2000s, but those rod-yanking antics were nothing compared to what I experienced out at the CR Buoy with one of my writers last August.
There I was, wishing I’d taken the Bonine well before jetting out of the mouth of the Columbia River and grimly focusing on the stump of a volcano on the eastern horizon to ward off seasickness, but “the damned rods kept going off.”
Primarily it was the back two, both still running Divers, (Fish) Flashes and cut-plugs. The one straight out the back on my side would suddenly have a seizure, then the one on the other side would shiver. A 13- or 14-pounder grabbed my bait, circled the boat, tangling three lines, and when I set the line back out after bonking the fish, I managed to tangle up two more lines.
It was chaos, but that’s coho fishing, said (Andy) Schneider, aka AndyCoho — tangles, madness and lots of bites. Indeed, my second keeper was one of three fish that bit all at once and sent us into another frenzy.
One of the trio was on the rod of (an) angler whose name won’t be revealed. It bit right next to the boat. He lost it. He lost another at the net when the barbless hooks pulled out of the fish’s mouth. He leapt at his rod like a jumping jack only to be just a second too late many times. It became almost comical, and it was clear that while the Fish Gods were up against a pretty hot coho bite, they had some tricks up their sleeves for those who would flaunt the banana ban.
* THE SUMMER OF 2006 WAS one of the funnest and busiest of my life. Amy and I got hitched in June on the Oregon Coast, we toured Crater Lake and Germany, and the plan for our August honeymoon was a weeklong horseback trek across the Pasayten Wilderness that I knew would take me to many mountain lakes brimming with trout (oh, and fulfill lifelong dreams for both of us).
And then the Tripod Fire blew up in Okanogan County. It pulled our outfitter away to forest fire duty and put our trip on indefinite hold.
We pouted about it a bit, but ended up doing an overnighter up to Minotaur Lake in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness north of Stevens Pass. The fishing there wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but it was worth getting into the heights (though I don’t think I’ll ever get Amy to hike back up that trail again!)
About a week later we found ourselves way up in the sky again — on board a jet to Sitka to fish for half a week with Amy’s grandfather and one of his friends in the area. The day after we landed, we loaded the gent’s boat down with fuel, food, shrimp and crab pots, and all of our gear for two nights at a U.S. Forest Service cabin halfway back to Juneau.
MOSER ISLAND CABIN. (USFS)
I thought I had left this world once when I camped alone at Roosevelt Grove of Cedars in extreme Northeast Washington — signs warned hunters that not only were grizzly bears in the area, but so were caribou. CARIBOU! — but Moser Island, tucked up in Hoonah Sound was out of the solar system to me.
Our cabin’s log recorded bears on the beach (Ed’s friend’s dog growled at the cabin’s door at odd intervals in the night), mountains and trees towered over us, and the Dungies were huge — HUGE, like dinner plates for a king.
The fishing was so-so — we didn’t haul in any barn-door halibut like Ed and his friend had the year before — but what made the trip all the more memorable was the shrimping. Ed’s friend’s devotion to shrimp made Forrest Gump’s buddy Bubba look like a bush leaguer.
We literally hauled four garbage cans — the big 55-gallon jobbies — worth of spot and coonstripe shrimp out of 300- and 400-foot-deep waters, and believe it or not, peeled three-fourths of them! I wore my left thumbnail down to the quick.
* BELL AND I WERE HUNTING NORTHEAST of Mt. Spokane, hard up against the Idaho border, on a mix of DNR and private land during the late season one November. And while we did see deer — and my first cow moose — the really cool thing was the place we were staying at and the land itself.
A friend of ours, Olenik, used to seasonally work for the Forest Service up there, and he made friends with coworkers. One of those guys — Ken Bancroft, now deceased — built his place by hand, as I recall, and it had tons of exposed woodwork and a self-composting toilet you threw cedar chips into after pooping.
But what made it particularly cool was that it was literally built into rock that’s a minimum of a third of a billion years old — some of the oldest in Washington.
Officially, it’s the Newman Lake Gneiss, dark but sparkly and riven with laminations. Cretaceous stuff, über-alt rock, right there in the living room next to the TV.
It not only backed part of Bancroft’s house, but we wandered over it as we coursed the woods and rounded knobs in hopes of shooting Bambi. We occupied but the barest, most infintesimal flicker of a moment in that rock’s extraordinarily long time on this planet. Lord only knows how many glaciers have tried their best to shave it down, how many rainstorms have tried to wear it away, what sort of dinosaurs must have grazed upon it.
I can’t say that I’ve ever hunted cooler terrain.
* BUT I HAD A SLIGHTLY MORE SUCCESSFUL whitetail hunt on even older rocks, like Precambrian, billion-year-old material, several years later.
It was early November 2006, and Dad and my modus operandi was a whole lot different than what we’d done just weeks before for muleys. Armed with antlers for rattling and wearing brand-new insulated boots trailing a cotton swab doused in doe-in-estrus scent, I hunkered in Westside-dense woods. Bell and Olenik alleged they’d been successful here other times.
Dad was hunting with me, but was a ways off. I had found an area that seemed pretty bucky — rubs, beds, poop, etc. — so I sat down, waited and rattled. And rattled and waited.
Then waited and rattled some more.
There was a moment when I could hear something 40 yards or so off through thick brush. Nothing ever showed itself in that direction, but my rattling did bring in a coyote from the opposite side, which I texted Dad about.
"YO, YER RADIO BROKE? NO DEER, RATTLED IN A COYOTE." (ANDY WALGAMOTT)
The afternoon wore on. The sun clouded over. Despite the boots, my toes began to get cold. So did my butt. The woods were barren.
Typical Walgamott luck: Rattling’s never this unproductive in all those other articles and TV shows, I thought. Maybe it was time to head back to Kelly’s bar and grill down in Newport, or the hotel to see how other hunters had done.
I gave it another hour, and whether my now-half-hearted rattling actually did the trick or not, a gray buck suddenly appeared 20 yards away to my left. He was moving through and I figured I had one chance to slow him down, so I banged the antlers. He stopped, turned and came towards me. There was nothing but fur in the scope, but I dropped him with a shot to the neck.
I had felt kinda silly with that special hot-doe mojo, muley rack and oversized boots, like an Alabama Bubba or something, but it had all worked.
We dragged the small 4×5 out over the snow to the truck and hung it at the Golden Spur to clean.
* MUST’VE BEEN THE WINTER BEFORE DUSTY DIED. Mr. Routh, one of his friends and I were down at the Lincoln Creek Hunt Club, sitting in a waterfowl blind on a flooded field.
We had a jug of Admiral Nelson, and it must’ve done something to our calling because the ducks sure were uncooperative and the geese stayed high.
In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.
But it was only later, after Dusty had a heart attack while covering a high school basketball game out in Forks (probably got a wink from one of the cheerleaders), that I realized how stupid I’d been to not take him up on more of his invites.
Heck of a fun guy to get into the outdoors with.
* I’M PRETTY SHORT AND scrawny — I played nose-tackle in junior varsity football with rolled eyes — so when it took the guy I was sitting next to over an hour and a half to bring an oversize sturgeon to the boat, I found myself fervently hoping to only catch a shaker as we set up again below Bonneville Dam in September 2004.
Yeah, I know, not very manly, but the angler, a Cabela’s PR man over 6 feet tall and around 200 pounds, was literally shaking and spent after battling that 10-foot-long beast for over 4 miles down the Columbia. He could barely hold up his beer can.
Heck, with my spaghetti arms, I had visions of being yanked over the side of the boat and disappearing into the tailrace of the dam by Leviathan. I think that if our guide, Louis McMinds, had looked away for a second, I might have rubbed some eau de armpit on the shad bait as a repellent.
An 8-footer bit instead.
* THE SPRING OF 2002 WAS WHEN we “discovered” bass.
The green meanies were all over the place — not just the big-name lakes.
Washington and Sammamish and Spanaway and Stevens get the ink for their stellar fisheries, but not so well known is that every little podunk pond the Great Glacier left behind in Pugetropolis has bass, and how.
Chain Lake, an unremarkable 23-acre bog north of Monroe, has bass.
Lake Ballinger, partially ringed by green fairways, has the green fish.
Bosworth? Bass. Cottage? Can do. Wagner? Woo yeah, buddy.
Bell and I hit a mess of them. I hit a mess of them.
It was fantastic. We didn’t have to get up super early. There was barely any competition. We could hit a couple three lakes in a day. We didn’t have to buy a glittery boat (in fact, that pink-salmon-slamming canoe worked just as well on largies). Our rods and reels were really for trout and steelhead. We caught sweet bass.
Yeah, we were pestering the fish on their beds. Yeah, some might consider it unethical (true, I wouldn’t pester salmon or steelhead on their beds).
Yeah, it was a hell of a lot of fun, and one that spawned one of my favorite articles for F&H News: The anti-basser’s guide to bass fishing.
All this bassing culminated in two noteworthy hook-ups on Storm Lake.
One day while cruising its woody northeastern shoreline, I spied a great behemoth of a Mama Bass, she saw me, we eyed each other for three hours, she saw everything in my tackle box. Bell and I came back and I hooked her — briefly.
And then I came back alone and … hooked myself. For some reason, old netting hung in a tree near the bass’s bed, and somehow my lure got tangled in it, and for some reason my thumb got tangled in the hook which was tangled in the net. Good thing I had the pliers handy, otherwise I might still be there.
Never did hook her again, but the lily pads at the lake’s north end later yielded a pretty good-sized bass.
The next state record is out there, and somebody fishing a backwoods pond in Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston or Lewis county in a jonboat or canoe or rowboat will catch and report her this decade.
* A FLOCK OF GRAY BIRDS erupted from the trees on top of Rainy Pass off Highway 2 and dove into the old growth below. What in the heck are those, I wondered.
They didn’t glide like blue grouse. In fact, they started flapping and gaining elevation and flew away over the ridge!
They were too big to be camp robbers, and for that matter, too small to be wildly lost Himalayan snowcocks or German auerhahns.
In all my time in the highlands, I hadn’t seen anything like them. But they looked tasty.
Turns out they were bandtailed pigeons, among the Northwest’s wildlife comeback stories. Once nearly shot out of existence, strict protections have helped bring the species back. Washington’s hunt reopened in 2002 with a narrow season — just eight days in mid-September — and low bag limit of just two.
Bell and I were among the first several hundred or so hunters to get the special permit required to hunt the birds, and it led us to the mountains high above Swede Heaven and Darrington.
We bumped up and down Siegelson Ridge, scoured the clearcuts above the North Fork Stillaguamish’s South, Middle and North branches for the flighty buggers. We’d climb up to the knife-sharp ridgelines and set up for the every-half-hour passage of a flock … usually just out of range.
SIEGELSON RIDGE. (ERIC BELL)
The pigeons — the breast meat is red and slightly bigger than a doves — were there to feed on cascara and other ripening berries before winging their way south for the winter. With an ocean of peaks and meadows, they didn’t have to stick to one place.
But we found that there was one particular old snag they really liked. It was leaning out over the void and you had to be careful when you shot because if you only wounded a bird, it would glide into a bowl 1,000 feet below. Bigfoot country.
All in all, it was a pretty good way to enjoy the outdoors, and an example of how all is not going away when it comes to fishing and hunting rights.
I have to admit to not having gone bandtail hunting for several years now, but Bell has continued, either driving up to Siegelson or hiking into DNR land near his home.
And on more than one occasion, he’s come back home empty-handed only to find a flock on his feeder in the backyard.