Like most people raised in the Northwest, I have had some sort of contact with sports fishing nearly all my life.
Over the last two years I have renewed my interest in trout. Not a mania, mind you, but an interest.
Last spring, as I pulled all of my old gear out of the barn, I knew it was time for a trip to the outdoor store.
It was a real eye-opener.
Where once there were only two dozen poles and reels, there are now hundreds, with rows of hooks with bizarrely colored lures, shiny spinners and elaborate feather lures to choose from.
The sheer volume and variety are truly enormous, but I was able to choose a little pole that would accommodate my 45-year-old Mitchell 300 reel that somehow survived.
I chose two small lakes on Washington State Department of Natural Resources land near Naselle as my targets.
The lakes are stocked with catchable-sized rainbow trout four times a year by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Randy Aho, hatchery operations manager for Region 6, said up to 3,000 12-13 inch trout are planted at once. There are an unspecified number of pole-bending jumbo trout, too, that measure 14-17 inches in length.
Surprisingly, I could still cast, reel, tie lures and do all those fishy things as if I had never paused.
I fished both lakes and had a generally great time until the final trip that year.
I piled the poles and other gear, lunch and my companion into the bus and headed for Naselle. After driving three miles of washboard-like road we arrived at the lake. We checked to see that we still had all of our teeth. I parked where my companion had a view of the lake from the vehicle.
The lakeshore is deserted, quiet and disarming, lulling me into the rhythms of the surrounding forest.
Arriving at the lake’s shore, I’m blessed with the spectacle of an osprey diving like a rocket to snatch up a trout.
The wind is calm and the waters like glass.
My lure flies across the calm water again and again, splashing down amongst the snags and stumps until the pole bends and a sparkling rainbow trout dances across the water. I bring it to bay.
After a few more casts, another strike. And then another a few minutes later. Soon I’m standing on the shore feeling right proud with a stringer that’s just one short of the limit.
Now I’m determined to leave with one of the jumbos. I reach into my pocket and pull out a big dry fly.
“They’ll never be able to resist this secret weapon” I say as I risk blowing out my arm with a cast of champions.
The bubble splashes down and the fly floats delicately to the surface. Wham! The pole bends and a jumbo flies out of the water like a Trident missile. One jump, two jumps, three jumps. Finally, I coax the reel to move the monster in.
As I’m reaching for the trout, I hear my companion in the vehicle screaming. I figure she’s screaming in delight for me and my catch. Something taps me on the right side of my head. I turn to see what hit me and whoosh! The osprey grabs my prize in its talons and darts away. My companion is still screaming in the vehicle and I’m so stunned that all I can muster is a wimpy, fist-shaking “You…You…You… Aaaaaah.”
Suffering the scourge of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s and 1960s, the osprey began to spring back after DDT was banned in 1970.
Today, the bird is increasing its range with new nests established on the Columbia and its tributaries.
Power companies have taken to providing nesting poles with platforms near places where nests could interfere with power lines. Still, a few birds are killed every year.
A second encounter
Flash forward to this spring. I have again gone to the lake several times, bringing home a respectable catch after each occasion. However, on one recent evening, I was treated to another spectacle in the woods.
The light was starting to turn that golden shade that only comes near sundown in the West. The wind quieted and I stood there armed only with my trout net and a stick and watched the osprey circle overhead.
“Not this time,” I shake my fist at the spiraling bird.
Suddenly, it swoops down to the surface and nabs another jumbo in its talons. Now it’s struggling to lift the monster toward the trees lining the |bank.
I hear the osprey chirp loudly twice. I thought it was complaining about its chore, but then a bald eagle swoops into view, colliding with the osprey, creating a puff of feathers and throwing the rainbow into the air.
The eagle grabs the fish with one talon and pushes the osprey off with the other.
Before they both hit the water the eagle rights itself and slowly, powerfully, rises above the trees and flies west.
At this point I expect to hear the eagle scream in triumph but then I remember that’s just in the movies. The eagle’s sound is instead more like a wounded mouse.
I have spent many days in the wilderness and witnessed many amazing things. Now I can’t wait until next year. How will it surpass this?