I took a little walk along a favorite South Sound beach last week - mostly to hear the squeak and crunch of pebbles underfoot and to see whether a certain bald eagle has set up shop for winter on a towering, creaking Douglas fir tree.
I pulled on waders and carried a fly rod, but I didn’t expect much in the way of catching.
All our local rivers and creeks are pouring coffee-colored water into South Sound, and I’ve always had trouble finding willing sea-run cutthroat trout when the water is murky.
But this beach is a fair distance from any stream inflows, and all anglers carry hope in their hearts.
Besides, I had a nice sandwich to eat, and it looked like the rain would hold off long enough for a dry – if chilly – lunch.
I suspect I’ve fished this beach more than 200 times during my 14 years in South Sound, and it continues to baffle me. Sometimes the rips just off the shore are hopping with feeding cutthroat on the falling tide.
Sometimes not one fish shows up.
I hiked along the beach to a favorite rip, rigged up the rod, tied on a Muddler Minnow streamer and sat down to wolf down ham and Swiss on whole wheat.
The water was fairly clear, and the rip looked fishy.
A couple small sea-run cutts leaped out of the rip – that happy, fishy seam between fast and slow water – and my heart bumped up a notch.
I finished my sandwich in a couple of big bites, wiped my hands on my waders and picked up my rod.
Ten minutes later, a small cutthroat finned at my feet. I reached down, pulled out the barbless hook and watched the fish shoot back into the rip.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish ghosting along the bottom in the slow backwater between the rip and the beach.
The fish – a big sea-run cutt of 18 inches or so – ambled here and there, much like a dog exploring a new meadow.
Then the fish spotted me – and spooked back into the rip.
I crunched down on the beach, cut off the Muddler Minnow and tied on a size 10 scud fly, which is just a bunch of hare’s ear dubbing wound around a hook and ribbed with Krystal Flash.
I suspected that trout was rooting around for the little crustaceans that live in the bottom rocks and get flushed out as falling tide drops the water level.
The trout was back a few minutes later, and I gently cast the fly, which landed about 10 feet upcurrent of the browsing trout.
The trout spooked again.
I was disappointed – but not surprised. All trout – even ultra-aggressive sea-run cutts – are paranoid in shallow, clear water.
I sat cross-legged on the beach to think about this.
Then I remembered a long-ago day of fishing with my good friend Chris Hammond.
We were in our early teens, so it must have been 1974 or 1975. We were fishing a small private lake near our homes. We haunted the lake often enough that the local residents – who were far too busy making money to fish the lake – thought we were locals, and we didn’t do anything to correct that assumption.
Anyway, it was early spring, and some fat largemouth bass were cruising around in the shallows. The bass were getting ready for their silly, stupid days of romance, but they were still spooky enough to bolt away whenever we cast a lure in their general direction.
So, we sat there and stared at the fish.
Then Chris dug into the little shoulder bag that carried his tackle and pulled out a white Mr. Twister lure on a jig head. Mr. Twisters – which are still popular lures – are soft plastic grubs with a long, curly tail that undulates in the water like a hula dancer at a luau.
“Watch this,” Chris said.
Chris cast the Mr. Twister about 20 feet away and let it settle to the bottom. He then slowly cranked his spinning reel until his line was tight.
We sat for a few minutes – then a nice bass showed up. Chris waited until the fish was almost on top of the sunken lure.
Then Chris snapped his rod tip, and that Mr. Twister flushed off the bottom and started waggling.
The bass hammered the lure.
That was more than 30 years ago.
I cast out that little scud fly and watched it sink. Then I hoped that the trout would come back.
The cutt charged the fly when I twitched it off the bottom – but I set the hook too hard and broke off the fish.
I didn’t see the bald eagle that day, but I’m sure the bird will be back before Christmas.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226