Before I met Rich, oh so many decades ago, my idea of fishing was hanging a worm from a hook and dangling it off a dock into placid waters. I did that at Girl Scout camp when I was a kid . . . those were fish that gobbled up bread crumbs and leftovers from lunch in the mess hall. Not exactly sport fishing. Then I met Rich and blah, blah, blah . . . we moved to Alaska where wild fish were plentiful, and we could get away with hurling all sorts of contraptions at them and still land fish - salmon KINGS, and flashy silvers, and (unfortunately) humpies. It was all fun (except for the endless humpies for which I earned the name, The Humpy Queen). I attended a “build your own fly rod” class through the community school program, and - yes - I built my own fly rod. A sorry affair if I do say so, with lots of gaudy orange guides and which couldn’t cast worth a dang. Or was that operator error? I suspect a bit of both. But it was cheap and I was poor and it did catch fish.
That said, I had yet to learn the intricacies of fly fishing. Rich, of course, was good – good at knowing where fish lived, what they ate, how to attract them, and how to haul them in. I was game for anything having to do with being in or near water, so I became his favorite fishing buddy. And I liked it – a lot! We had many adventures on remote Alaskan rivers – just the two of us flown into the wilderness, landing on a lake or river in the middle of the tundra – alone with the quiet of Alaska settling around us. It was one of the best parts of life (there being so many good parts, but ranking among the best, well . . . that’s special). Still, I never developed a fly fishing style or mantra. My zen-state came from soaking in the sky and the mountains and all those river sounds.
And then Rich decided we’d take up spey fishing.
Well, talk about feeling inept. Floating heads, Skagit heads, sink tips, grain weight, single spey, double spey . . . yikes! I caught my hat, my waders, the back of my head, the overhanging trees, you name it. If it wasn’t a fish, I landed it. And if I managed to hurl the fly out to where the fish actually lived, sometimes I was lucky enough to catch a steelhead. But the beauty of a good cast captured me. It’s a dance. It’s a flight into the stars. And it can be elusive. A good cast makes you think you’ll catch a good fish, and there’s no better fish than a steelhead. So I worked through the frustrations and learned to tie the knots and learned to cast (well, that remains a work in progress), and found fish on my own, and I love it. I love almost everything about it. I’ve fished in blazing heat, drenching rain, sub-freezing temps, and unexpected snow. I’ve never NOT liked it, though some fishing conditions are better than others. I’ve fished to river music and silence and birdsong and my MP3 player (I usually resort to that when my casts go to hell and I need to get my mojo back. Steelhead seem to like Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler a lot, but that’s another story and one worthy of an article all its own).
For Christmas this year Rich set me up with my own fly tying bench, my own tool caddy, my own vice, and my very own tools. Again, fodder for another story. He wants me to crank out the flies, mass produce them, etc., but each one is so pretty and there are so many color choices, and I’m learning about hackle and marabou and bunny boo and ostrich feathers . . . there’s just no end to it. So I can’t mass produce them. I just enjoy each one as it comes into creation.
Like each different riffle or tail-out or cast into the evening sunset. Magical…
Janis and Rich live just over the bridge in Underwood, Washington. Between her time spent keeping Rich in line, there's a good chance you'll find her skiing powder up on Mt Hood, or stepping through one of her favorite steelhead runs.
The Gorge Fly Shop
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