Autumn anglers put the 'hook' in hooky

Drive past the Puyallup River on any weekday this month, and you'll see hundreds of anglers flinging cast after cast after cast into the murky water.

It looks like Saturday morning seven days a week on the Puyallup - and on other fishing spots all over Western Washington.

That epic run of 780,000 pink salmon into the Puyallup - and hot fishing on other waters - is hammering worker productivity throughout Puget Sound.

You'll see work trucks loaded with materials and tools parked by the salmon rivers. I've seen bakery delivery vans and soda pop trucks and gleaming luxury cars nosed together in a democratic mix next to the roadside blackberry bushes.

Isn't it amazing that blackberry thickets are like barbed wire - but there are always angler paths through the spiny mazes?

Anyway, these sights are symptoms of an epidemic of a classic early fall illness - call it Fall Fishing Fever - and worker/anglers are calling in sick all over the place.

Each morning, phones ring and bosses hear vaguely familiar tales of human suffering - and brave promises to try to come in on shaky feet the next day - or maybe the next.

Seconds later, that rumbling, gurgling case of food poisoning vanishes and the miraculously cured angler diddy-bops off to the river or Puget Sound!

All of this is good news.

These sudden illnesses - and even quicker recoveries - show that anglers remain sane in an insane, work-addicted nation.

Yes, a "mental health day" casting to the swarms of sea-run cutthroat trout lurking in the Cowlitz River has long-term benefits for our society. And if the lucky angler hooks a bonus summer steelhead, well, don't we all win?

The angler goes home, washes off the thick coat of sunscreen - it's bad form to go back to work with a tanned face after a sick day on the water - and feels the afterglow from a day on the water during the best fishing of the year.

The partially recovered angler gets up the next morning and arrives at work early - maybe to brag about the terrific dry-fly fishing on the Yakima River near Ellensburg.

There is no doubt that that happy worker more than makes up for that day on the river.

De-stressed anglers are unlikely to blow up into a bad case of road rage - unless they're trying to catch the right tide on a favorite sea-run cutthroat beach.

Happy workers are healthy workers, and anglers probably don't get sick at all during the winter - unless they are addicted to winter steelheading, which is a true illness all to itself.

But there is a danger of taking all of this too far.

I'm not talking about quitting that regular job and spending the rest of your life fishing your brains out.

Being a Trout Bum - or salmon bum or bass bum - is a state of grace that few achieve.

No, I'm talking about becoming careless and using the same old illness symptoms at the same time every year.

A smart boss - they do exist - could leaf through the calendar and do the mental math.

"Hmmm. Chester is calling in sick with gout, so summer steelhead must be rolling into the Kalama," muses the boss.

Then you have to endure an hour or so of B.S., which is short for Boss Sermon.

Why not figure out new illnesses and injuries? The best ones are painful enough to keep you out of work - but allow you to sit outside and ice things down.

Whatever you do, don't rub poison oak on your back - I saw a steelhead-addled friend try that years ago, and the results were convincing - but painful and oozing - for days afterward.

Another friend actually took a dose of ipecac - that syrup that makes you immediately vomit - at work.

The results were immediate and spectacular, but my friend spent the rest of the day actually being sick.

The goal is one or two days on the river when the fishing is fabulous - and you've run out of vacation.

I don't need to call in sick because going fishing is part of my job.

Yeah, I'm lucky.

I was sick two days this week - really - and I didn't go fishing at all.

It was really weird.

Chester Allen's fishing column appears Fridays in The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-4226 or