Sep 19, 2016

The Best Laid Plans...

     I think I'm pretty decent at rolling with the punches. It takes a bit of prodding to really put a damper on my spirits, particularly on fishing trips. But every once in a while, the stars align ever so conspiratorially and the result is a perfect storm of kicks square to the shorts. I've not experienced many such storms, but a recent road trip to a family reunion in Idaho was definitely one of those storms.

     It all made sense on paper. We had plans to drive to southeast Idaho and stay in a cabin just across the border from Yellowstone National Park. That area is one of my favorite destinations ever (see Ol' Hank) so I was pretty excited about the fishing prospects. The plan was simple. We would stop at spot or two in Montana along the way, where I could get a couple new species. Then, while "at the reunion" I would hit some of my favorite spots both in Yellowstone and nearby. Then on the way home, I had a spot picked out where I was sure to finally get a white crappie with minimal extra driving. Basically it was to be five days packed with driving and fishing (see also "the perfect vacation"). 
     The first inkling that things might take a turn to the south was when Mrs. Bryanlikestofish suddenly realized she had to attend a training retreat for work at the same time as our trip, so she was bailing on me. No big deal though. My kids are old enough that they usually travel pretty well, and they're pretty fun to hang out with. And there would be grandparents and cousins galore to entertain them. Surely it would be fine.

     So the day came, and off we went. I had high hopes for the trip. If my plans came together like they were supposed to, I had a very good chance to catch at least 5 new species, and some bonus fish to boot. So off we went. Destination: middle of nowhere Montana under a certain bridge to catch a certain species. Everything went fine for the first 20 minutes of our 10 hr drive. Then the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics began. My younger daughter, normally a cute little ballerina, decided to tap into her inner Linda Blair. I looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see her head spin around 360 degrees and pea soup come rocketing out of her mouth. Luckily, I had brought a small garbage can to serve as a pea soup receptacle just in case, but still... Yuck was the theme for the next 8 hours. I thought there might be hope in sight as we drew nearer to the certain bridge, but by that point we were running very much behind schedule and the 35 mph winds didn't look very promising. We stuck it out for a half hour but didn't catch any of the three species I was counting on there. One tiny brown trout was all I had to show for my efforts. Oh well, on to the reunion. The kid was feeling better after the fresh air anyway. Maybe there was still hope. Roll with the punches.
Don't let the cute little smile fool you. She's planning something! On a side note, this is probably the most cheerful face I made on the whole trip.
     The next day, the kids were feeling much better, so I headed off to do a little redemption fishing. I'd check out a couple new spots, and hit some old favorites. Sure to be a success one way or another.
      I decided to start the day by checking out Red Rock Creek just over the Idaho/Montana border since I hadn't ever been there. This beautiful little creek is home to some nice size arctic grayling, and is accessible via a long gravel road which includes Red Rock Pass (Elevation 7,120 ft.). The drive was beautiful, but when I got there, the water was very low, and there were a bunch of people, none of whom appeared to be catching anything. So I decided to chock it up to a bucket list scenic drive and head to the next spot.
The Red Rock Creek Valley. It's pretty or whatever.
     I enjoyed the drive anyway, and was in a pretty good mood as I drove past all the snow-capped 10,000+ ft peaks. Then right as I got to 7,120 ft elevation, at the very crest of the pass, my low tire pressure warning light started to warn me of some low tire pressure. Upon closer inspection, the warning light wasn't joking at all, and I was thrilled to discover that I had not one, but two flat tires. TWO! I can handle one just fine, but two is sort of a game-changer, especially in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain! To make a long story short, I ended up pulling both tires off the car, hitching a ride with a VERY nice gentleman who happened to be heading back to town anyway. I then had to get a ride from my mom to the tire store (an hour away). Both tires ended up being beyond repair so I had to buy 4 new ones. Yay. I bummed a ride from an uncle with a pickup back up to the top of the mountain that evening to put on my two new tires, then I had to limp back to the cabin, and wait till Monday to go get the other two new tires put on.
Ol' Betsy wasn't looking her best...
     Now I don't know how your fishing budgets typically look, but having to spend 700 unplanned bucks REALLY put a damper on my plans. Plus I couldn't drive my car for the rest of the weekend. Oh well, I still had the trip home. I had a couple spots picked out along the way in southern Idaho if I went the long way home.
     But wait! There's more. Monday morning at about 0400, I heard the oh so familiar sound of gastrointestinal pyrotechnics, yet again, this time coming from the bathroom. Not what you want to hear on the morning of a 10+ hr drive. I gave up. There was obviously not going to be any taking the long way home, or fishing whatsoever on this trip. I went and had my other two tires put on, stopped and picked up some Dramamine, tucked my tail between my legs, and began the odyssey back home. I'll spare you most of details of the trip. It went about as you might expect, with one kid who gets carsick, and the other just plain sick. We did have one near miss in a gas station in Butte where I was at the counter buying some snacks, and I looked down just in time to see my 9 year old dry heaving and bug-eyed. I shoved her out the front door just in time, but still.
     We all made it home safe, and everybody has since made a full recovery, so I suppose I should be grateful for that, but that trip certainly left a sour taste in my mouth (figuratively), and also in my nose for that matter (literally). 
     Don't go yet. I told you that story so I could tell you this next one!
     The next week, my wife, who was about to reassert her claim to the title of Best Wife Ever, suggested that I recover some dignity and go catch some fish. So I packed my things and headed to Puget Sound for a couple days!
     This was my favorite kind of trip; no particular destination, just a few leads on some potential new species here and there, and some time to wander. I did have flashbacks as I gained elevation and drove over the pass on the North Cascades Highway, but this time I made it without even one flat tire!
Fwew! Made it over this pass without any flat tires!
     I did have a close call in a gas station bathroom somewhere along the way though. Thank goodness it was clearly labeled, or that would have been embarrassing!
Good thing they put up the sign because I was going to use that one!
     By the time I got to Puget Sound, my daylight was fading fast, so I quickly chose a destination. I ended up on the pier at Oak Harbor hoping to catch a few "Forage Fish" as the state of Washington classifies them. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the hoards of shiner surfperch to anything more interesting. It was fun trying though.
     As night approached, I picked out a particularly comfortable picnic table on the pier and settled in for the night. I fished through the night hoping for a ratfish or some sort of new critter.  Nothing new was captured but there were plenty of dogfish that were willing participants. These are not a very popular fish, since fishermen often catch them while fishing for other more "desirable" species. But I still don't get that. Even if it's not what I'm fishing for, I can't say I've ever reeled in a fish and wished I hadn't. These dogfish put up a great fight on light tackle and they certainly kept me entertained.
Spiny Dogfish. I hadn't seen one of these since I had to dissect one in ichthyology class in college. And yes they do have spines. On both dorsal fins. If you look closely you can see a drop of blood on my left arm caused by one of them.
Not exactly a man-eater, but still, probably shouldn't stick your finger in there. Come to think of it, "probably shouldn't stick your finger in there" is a just a good all around rule to live by in general.
     I left the pier early the next morning and continued my wanderings along the Strait of Juan de Fuca (I'm still leery of the pronunciation there...). I heard a rumor at a tackle shop of a spot where I could catch a surf smelt, so off I went. I made a couple random stops and fished along the way.
Here's a random Kelp Greenling.
      Then I found the surf smelt spot! I always love catching new species, and I definitely like learning new ways to fish. There were obviously smelt in the surf (duh...) as they could be seen running up onto the beach then splashing their way back into the surf as the wave receded.
I tried really hard to get a picture of them in the surf, but this was as good as I could do. If you look closely there are about four or five in this picture swimming back out toward the waves.
     I tried to catch some on hook and line, but there was too much seaweed, and they weren't interested anyway (they had other things on their minds...). However, there was another guy and his wife there using a "Forage Fish Dipnet". It took me a while to plow through the jumbles of terms and definitions in the fishing regulations to make sure it was legal, but in the end, it was on the up and up, so I went over and watched (secretly hoping he'd let me give it a go). It was a pretty fascinating, if uncomplicated, process. The dipnet had a frame on the end with netting inside. So they waded out into the waves a bit and put the net down, then when the fish tried to swim back out, they got caught in the net.
Like so. Just plop the net down and wait for the fish to swim in, or pull it back through the water.
Here's a typical scoop, lots of weeds and a few fish.
They were quite successful at it. I was told that they are very good to eat when smoked.
      He graciously gave me a couple turns with the net and I quickly added species 107!
The mighty surf smelt
Cute little critters.
     Having added to "the list", the trip was instantly worth it in my book. I thanked the guy and his wife and headed on my way.  I ended up on the Port Angeles City Pier following another hunch that there might be some squid fishing possible later that night. I had tried, and failed, once to catch squid in Seattle (see this post for details), so I figured I was due. Sure enough, once it got dark, the lights of the pier seemed to bring the squid in by the thousand. I've never seen so many squid in one place. They were a lot smaller than I expected, and it took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but soon I was bringing them in no problem.
My first market squid.
Watch out, they ink!
     I squid fished until early in the morning  after which I began the sleepy process of getting home on very little sleep in the last 72 hours. I use a tried and true method which requires alternating treatments of undisclosed amounts of caffeine, rolling down the windows, and yanking out bunches of nose hairs as needed to stay awake. 

     As redemption trips go, this one was pretty decent. I added a new species to the list, with some bonus fish and squid on top of that; and to make it even better, nobody even barfed, or got flat tires. I'm not sure it quite made up for all the kicks to the shorts during the previous week's shenanigans, but it was a good start for sure!

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