A SOUTH SOUND BEACH - I caught my first fish before I got a firm grip on the multiplication tables.
I've learned a lot about fishing - not so much about math - since 1969.
The one, always-true thing I've learned in those 38 years is that we anglers don't know that much about fish - and fish will always surprise us.
We anglers just stand there and go "Hmm..." We also try to look like we expected weirdness to happen.
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Anyway, I made a big mistake and tied on a Muddler Minnow streamer fly before I walked down to a favorite South Sound beach earlier this week.
That foolish move is how I got to thinking about those "Hmm ...." moments.
It's always bad mojo for me to tie on a fly before I actually see the water. But I tempted fate, as the Muddler Minnow has been the hot fly for the past couple of weeks on this beach.
I got down to the water without slipping and falling on the muddy trail. Cutthroat trout boiled and swirled as I made my first cast. Thirty casts later, the cutts were still feeding like hungry dogs, but none of them whacked my Muddler.
Hmm. I poked around in my fly box and tied on a size 10 olive wooly bugger, which is a great fly for sea-runs.
While I tied on the fly, I started thinking how fish can make our brains melt out of our ears.
Fish will do as they please, despite hundreds of books and thousands of magazine articles - and maybe a few newspaper columns - that all tell us exactly what the fish will do.
In 1988, I waded into Oregon's Deschutes River and started casting for summer steelhead. Millions - OK, a few hundred - fishless casts later, I climbed up the bank to sit under a tree and take a break from a drizzly rain.
I watched the water. It was a cloudy October day, and some trout were rising to a hatch of blue-wing olive mayflies. A doggone summer steelhead was rising near the trout.
Now, I had read about 1,000 books - OK, maybe 15 - on fishing for steelhead, and every writer had said that steelhead don't eat when they enter fresh water.
All the magazine writers said the same thing, and so did the famous anglers on the steelhead videotape I rented.
But there was a nice summer steelhead tipping and sipping away. My head actually started hurting. I couldn't believe that that steelhead was ignoring the facts on steelhead behavior. I actually walked away from that fish, which would probably have been a breeze to hook.
Five years later, I was still surprised when another summer steelhead sucked down a grasshopper fly I was casting along a grassy Deschutes River bank for big redside rainbow trout.
That steelhead was in about a foot of water and right next to the bank when it ate my fly. It weighed 12 pounds and is still my biggest summer steelhead ever. Experts will say that fish had no business being where it was. But there it was.
I was on a very popular fishing Web site last summer, and an expert said that Oregon's Deschutes River isn't a good place to cast a grasshopper fly.
That made me go 'Hmm'. That didn't stop me from bringing my usual box of grasshopper flies on my next float, and they caught fish - like they often do. I'm glad Deschutes rainbow trout can't surf the Internet.
Back to Puget Sound
A sharp tug on my line pushed "Hmm ..." thoughts out of my head. A nice sea-run cutt had eaten the wooly bugger. I landed the fish - a little skinny and with a healing puncture wound just behind the gills. I suspect - I can't say for sure - that the fish had recently spawned and also had escaped a heron.
Other cutts were still splashing around, and I thought Trout-O-Rama was about to start.
I made 20 casts and got some bumps - but no hookups. I got out the fly box again and tied on a little scud pattern. This little fly imitates the little crustaceans that flit around in the Puget Sound shallows.
I flipped the fly out in front of me to soak up water while I pulled line off my reel.
I watched the fly slowly sink in the clear, greenish water - it was about three feet away from my feet.
A cutt darted in from nowhere and ate the fly. I set the hook by pulling on the line.
I tried to look wise and expert and cool as I played that bold fish.
But my brain was buzzing like a busy bee. Hmm ... .
Chester Allen's fishing column appears Fridays in The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-4226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.