I left the office last week with intentions of going to the gym - and then shopping for much-needed groceries.
Somehow, I found myself at a Puget Sound beach.
Maybe the pull of the outgoing tide drew me to this beach as hundreds of golden leaves rode the current. The tide was flowing quickly – the inlet looked like a big river.
And life was everywhere.
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Gulls, ducks and shorebirds banked over the moving water. The ducks looked like water-skiers as they slid from the air into the water.
Chum salmon – olive-and-magenta backs breaking the water – rolled in a slot near the shore. Big, ocean-run coho salmon jumped for reasons only they know.
Dozens of sculpins – google-eyed and big-mouthed – scuttled around on the rocky, shelly bottom.
The breeze mixed the musty scent of fallen leaves with the sharp tang of cedar and saltwater.
Trees glowed in orange, red and yellow on the hillsides above the inlet, and I was glad to have a warm fleece pullover under my waders.
The whole world – at least as seen from this little South Puget Sound beach – seemed clean and new and fresh, even as wet leaves helicoptered down from maple and alder trees.
And, underneath it all, was the low, breathing sound of moving water.
I turned off my cell phone and strung up my fly rod.
The barnacled rocks squeaked and crunched under my wader boots, and beach clams squirted water into the air.
I felt the gentle tug as my fly line straightened out on the backcast, and the line whispered past my shoulder as I flexed the rod forward.
The line landed on the slick water just above a rip – that fishy seam between fast and slow water.
The current immediately put a belly in the line, and I watched my hot pink Knudsen Spider drift over the bottom rocks toward the rip.
My right index finger – the one with the stiff, rough patch in the first joint – caught the line, and I started stripping with my left hand.
A small fish -- a sea-run cutthroat trout or coho salmon –chased the fly out of the rip and almost to my feet. I flipped the line backward – over my shoulder –and the hand-sized fish darted around in the shallows in a quick, frantic search for the food that just vanished.
Then the fish darted back into the safe cafeteria that is a Puget Sound rip.
I heard a whoosh of compressed air, and spotted a seal taking a long look at the weird human waving a long stick and string.
The seal stayed well clear of the rip as it stole a few more looks – and then vanished in a big, swirling boil.
I made a few more casts, but not one fish followed my fly – or ate my fly.
Just as I was starting to think about tying on a Muddler Minnow – a streamer fly that is a pretty good imitation of the sculpins on the pebbly bottom – when a hard strike pulled the line out of my left hand.
A bright flash lit the rip for a second, and I felt the head shakes of a nice fish. The sea-run cutthroat trout darted out of the rip and hit the rushing current. Line peeled off my reel in long chirps.
A nice sea-run cutthroat trout can pull off a nice run when they ride the power of the outgoing tide.
But I use heavy leaders when fishing our Puget Sound beaches, and 17 inches of wild beauty was at my feet about three minutes later.
The fish showed the healed scars of having been hooked and released before, but my eyes were drawn to the olive-green head fading to gold and then to silver. Hundreds of tiny, black spots peppered the fish, which glowed in the fading light.
The trout’s fins carried a yellow glow and a white border.
The barbless hook slid out easily, and the fish eased through the shallow water and back into the rip.
I thought about leaving right then, even though there was still an hour or so before dark.
How could anything top this?
Then again, leaving beauty when there is still light to see just might be a crime as we slide toward the short, dark, drizzly days of winter.
And the gym is open 24 hours a day.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226