Olympic Summer . . .
My wife and I visited the Olympic Peninsula of Washington for the first time this summer. We planned to visit two good friends, Mara and Stephen, who had moved to the region from Arizona last year. There was also the possibility we could explore the angling within this storied trout, salmon, and steelhead destination. When in an email our hosts made mention of the fact they had taken up the sport of fly fishing, I thought: What a happy coincidence!
The first morning of our stay in Port Orchard, Washington, revealed we had landed in a new landscape. As we sat with new friends around the dining table of our bed and breakfast, the Cedar Cove Inn, I paused at one point during the meal to absorb a view I could never see in Manhattan. The snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Range emerged through a cool fog dissipating on a July morning. I excused myself and walked outside. The Cedar Cove has a lovely wraparound porch, and the building and grounds are situated on a point overlooking the town harbor and the gunmetal gray ships moored along the Naval Base Kitsap across the Sinclair Inlet. The weather felt like early October in New York, but the view was fully Pacific Northwest summer.
The Kitsap Peninsula where Port Orchard is located resembles an arrowhead on the map. To the east is Puget Sound and Seattle. To the west lay the Hood Canal and Olympic Peninsula. The western slope draining into the Pacific is the land of the famous temperate rain forest and steelhead rivers such as the Hoh and Elwha. The eastern slope, which is somewhat drier, though just as forested, supports a number of other rivers that are better known for coastal cutthroat trout. Several of these, the Skokomish, Duckabush, Dosewallips, and Hamma Hamma, were within just an hour’s drive of our friend’s home beside the Sinclair Inlet.
The Hamma Hamma name I had encountered before through my love of oysters. The Hama Hama oysters found on restaurant menus, (note the slight discrepancy in spelling), originate from the delta of this river. For that reason I suggested we explore the main run during the two days we had set aside for fly fishing.
My Ebisu was ready to try this new and adventurous angling environment. I had successfully fished with the rod both in Manhattan’s ponds and the Pennsylvania trout streams near my in-laws home in southeastern Pennsylvania. What I did do new is add to my fly box. I selected a few steelhead flies from the bins at The Urban Angler. I had prepared for the trip in part by reading The Color of Winter by Doug Rose, and this book with its color plates of classic steelhead patterns inspired me to select both the white and purple Bead Head Woolly Bugger, the Jock Scott, and the Rusty Rat. I knew that our chances of encountering a steelhead in July were slim, so I invested in smaller size 8 and 10 patterns to perhaps lure two species neither of us had ever encountered: the Dolly Varden and the coastal cutthroat trout.
We drove to the Hamma Hamma River on an overcast Friday the 13th. We skirted the rim of the Hood Canal and passed through the Skokomish Indian Reservation. It took nearly all of my fishing excitement to prevent a detour into the parking area of the tiny log cabin casino there on the tribal land; a casino not much larger than a family restaurant, which, I’m sure, would have provided an interesting if not lucrative experience. I was feeling Lucky 13, and literary as well, knowing I was near Port Angeles and the legacy of Raymond Carver, one of my favorite fiction writers, who was also a passionate fisherman. Part of me wanted to pull out a notebook and just write all of this into something new right there, yet I knew fishing, and tenkara, would be the basis of the day’s real story.
We eventually followed a logging road that snaked through thick forest. A small sign pulled us toward the parking area of a small wooded camping area adjacent to the Hamma Hamma. We hiked a narrow trail surrounded by a canopy containing an infinite variety of green punctuated by bright orange salmonberries and pale yellow banana slugs, some nearly a foot in length. The water’s steady call drew us easily to its banks.
A thin row of alders separated a cobblestone bar from the river. The water was clear and cold, so cold that a mist hovered over the glacial melt. I could see the reason for the temperatures at work when I looked up and saw snow fields on the high slopes of the steep valley through which the Hamma Hamma runs.
Distant thunder could be heard and a spattering of rain that had followed us on our drive came and went. I have rarely been so excited to fish. Tenkara made setting up so much easier despite the emotional distractions inherent in enthusiasm. The telescoping rod, the lillian, the level line, a slip knot, and a size 10 Rusty Rat were assembled, tethered, and tied in seconds rather than minutes.
The gentleman in me handed the Ebisu to Maryann. I said I would rig up the 5-weight while she warmed up with the gentle casting action of the light tenkara rod. She asked if I was sure. Her smile and green eyes made a “Yes!” as easy as breathing.
Of course the first tapered leader I removed from the convenient 3-pack recombined into a bird’s nest after I had looped it onto the end of my pale green floating fly line. Maryann and Stephen were knee-high in the creek and casting when I turned to survey their progress. Both looked comfortably situated, throwing their patterns well upstream.
The second leader slipped on smoothly and I added a Jock Scott to its tip. I gathered up, zipped up, walked toward Maryann’s position. I paused beside the water to watch her. She raised the limber rod, made a cast, and followed the fly downstream. She lifted the line off the water again; I turned away to look at an especially pretty stone. That’s when I heard her say: “Am I snagged?”
There was a deep bend in the Ebisu, that’s for sure. I followed the line’s trajectory into the water with one swift look to the left. “No, you have a trout!” I exclaimed. Above the jade and milky quartz collage of the stream bed, resisting both the rod and the stiff conflicting currents of the cold Hamma Hamma, maneuvered a living band of silver and white. She brought the fish to her side and used her new net before my own boots had graced stream gravel. Held within the damp black mesh was a steelhead parr. The rosy band, leopard spots, and vertical namesake marks of this strong native were more vivid than any eastern brown trout or stocked rainbow I have ever seen, more pastel than the earth-toned brookie. We photographed the fish for posterity and then twisted the little steelhead fly from the top of its jaw. The fish slipped away and Maryann, smiling, breathing heavily with excitement, held out the tenkara rod to me.
I shook my head. “Keep the line in the water.” And with that said I realized I had another kind of line. The ending that, as it so often happens, became another magical moment of conception.
– rPs 08 31 2012