I COULD TAKE UP FISHING
I’m living here for a couple of years, so I suppose I better make the most of it. Nothing to do with me, of course, but I’m an obliging kind of feller.
‘Yes, my Love,’ I told her. ‘If you want to go to America for two years and get paid an absolute fortune, who am I to stand in your dainty little way? Seattle?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ And scuttled away to look it up on Google.
The thing was, she expected me to go with her, and be the house-husband. And a very smart house it is, too. Woody hillside, with rooms the size of a skating rink and views of trees, through the trees. So I’m the arm-candy in Seattle, Washington. She’s home most nights; most weekends. And I sure don’t miss my job as a sewage quality inspector for the council. So, yes… it’s okay. Except sometimes it gets a bit boring and I’m not the Solace-in-Retail sort.
So I took to walking and hiking, driving the area, local geology and history. The usual.
And this time, I’m doing a ten-day circle-trip along the Columbia River, while Low-raine – she used to be L’rraine – trots off to Waikiki for a conference cum team-building venture.
So here I am, nice little Chevy Sports – Camaro Coupe, nothing flashy – driving along the Columbia River. Through the Palisades region, where these great cliffs are piled up one behind the other, towering over the river. They’re basalt columns, so they look just like palisade fences one after the next, going about a mile high. Impressive stuff. And I come across this huge rock tower called the Giraffe. So I stop to look round, and it’s the middle bit out of an old volcano – the passage up the middle where the lava rose from deep down, and cooled, and went solid. All the rock stuff round it got weathered away over thousands of years, and left this straight-up tower.
Some folks were climbing it. Ropes and hammers and shouting and all that too-much stuff. So I took a pic and carried on.
Not that I got far: traffic was at a standstill about ten miles further along the winding road. ‘Been a cliff-fall ’bout a mile further on,’ says the deputy coming along the line. ‘Deep across the highway, and blocking the top end of the lake, too. It’ll take a few days at least to clear it. You turn round and go back home; or there’s the old road up over the plateau – wouldn’t try it in a coop, though.’
‘Down there?’ I pointed towards a side road just behind us, hardly visible for all the trees.
‘Down to the river. Lake’s that way. Try if you like – there’s a few fishing lodges and the like. Might get a room and wait it out?’
I shrugged – what’s time mean to me these days? Spun her round, and headed down the forest trail-road. Dense conifers. High, like being in a wooden tunnel, zig-zagging down, getting glimpses of the bright water below. And there, sure nuff, as they say, was a marvellous-looking just typical log-built lodge, hotel, whatever. Massive near-black timbers heaping four or five storeys skywards, with a man-high wooden carving of an eagle catching a salmon half-blocking the veranda.
‘Room, young feller? Course we got rooms. Been having guests calling in the past two hours – cancelling bookings; can’t get in.’
Great. Magical place. Who wants to be driving all day? This’ll do me for a time.
I got chatting with other guests. Nearly all fishermen, and full of the joy of it all. Enthusiastic and generous. ‘Plenty of room on our charter tomorrow, Bub. This place? Three Salmon Lake, it’s called. See the water level there? Slightly risen because of the landslide. Bout six inches so far.’
So I was well settled-in with Bub and Jake and Josh and Bub and Macky and Al and Bub. And the hotel rented me the waders and stuff – Three Salmon Lake Motel, it was called. Of course. And I got the drinks in and was one of the crowd.
The catching was great. I never caught salmon before. Even when I did go fishing down the Trent, I never caught anything bigger than gudgeon and sticklebacks; occasionally a few perch and roach. And I gave that up twenty-odd years ago, mid-teens.
But here. We were hauling in Chinook, Coho and Chum salmon, and Steelheads! They were the size of the ones they have in Morrisons! Massive. I was in hog’s heaven with it all – maybe more like Sockeye Heaven, I suppose. Knocking back the Buds, barbecuing the hot dogs – I missed the onions, though – Americans don’t seem to believe in them any more than they do in decent sausages, strong mustard or brown sauce – preferably all in the same dog. The bread’s a bit dry, too. But they’re fine soaked in Bud, and eaten with fish-scaley fingers.
Twelve of us on the boat… superb catching – all delighted… dropping them into the communal chest… Even the captain and mate joined in – all catching full quota. ‘Five each for the day.’ We kept being reminded.
Big ones, too, ‘Unusual on this stretch, above Buoy G.’
‘Must be to do with being ponded back by the landslide that’s blocking the flow further down… See? Water level’s up a bit round the trees.’
Great day. I could take up fishing instead of volcano-looking, I thought happily through the alcoholic haze.
At long sad last we had to trail in… calling first at the gutting shed next to the hotel where I was shacked up. There was a chest freezer on the jetty and we filled it with all the fish we’d caught – they’d have them gutted and flash frozen by morning.
I stayed there, and the Astoria Maid backed off in a flurry of turbulent back-wash as the twin Yamahas screwed in reverse and turned away, heading for the other jetty a couple of hundred yards away. All the other passengers would disembark for a meal together with their wives, and we’d meet back at the hotel for drinks later in the evening. Captain and mate would come too – they’d had a terrific day – none happier, friendlier…
Chattering with some other people along the jetty, I waited by the chest… checking the lock and turning to watch the Astoria heading towards the jetty.
Craaackkkk! Jeez – that pierced my head. Looked round for the source of the sound – still continuing. Now a rumble and crashing roar.
Immediately above the other jetty, a section of the cliff was slowly moving downwards.
I stared, not believing a cliff could move. It was a section of black basalt columns, each ten feet across. The whole moving mass must have been a hundred feet high, and just as wide. It’s half the bloody cliff, I’m thinking.
It slid downward, still upright for maybe thirty or forty feet before hitting a slight promontory. It crunched to a halt, and was thrust away, angling over the lake, through 45 degrees… Jake and Carlo with arms raised to fend it off. The detached cliff face hit the surface horizontally in a massive welter of spray and solid water. The Astoria Maid was gone in the instant. The wave silently swelled towards us on the jetty. No-where to go, I got half-way up the rusty beacon tower on the end before the water rose up round my feet… knees… waist and I was squawking and forcing upwards. And kept going another ten feet to the light.
It was a long. cold, evening, perched up the beacon, waiting while the waves settled down from their sloshing back and forth across the lake. Drying out in the hotel. Giving my account to the police and everybody else who asked. So there was no-one to re-unite with in the bar – the main ground-floor bar was still under water, flapping fish and mud.
I slept okay, considering. And went out next morning to check my Chevy. The guy from the bar called me over, ‘You were on the Astoria? Your fish are in here still – I checked. It’s chained down. Not been prepared, though.’
‘Course not.’ I could quite understand that.
‘You’ll be staying a day or two longer? We can get them all prepared up for you.’
‘That’d be great.’
‘Can store’em for you, if you like? If you‘re driving on? Coming back this way? Or post them anywhere in the world?
I gave it a moment’s thought. Didn’t want five salmon in the back my Camaro for the next week. ‘I’m doing the River Circle. Wasn’t figuring on coming back this way. How much would shipping to Seattle cost me?’
‘Hell; be cheaper to rent a freezer for the season; or get a U-Haul refridge trailer.’
‘What? For five salmon?’
‘Five nothing. There’s around seventy fish chilling in here.’
‘Huh?’ I was flummoxed. ‘Seventy?’
‘Sure. Nobody else to collect’em. Can’t store’em free for ever. Nobody else gonna pay their long-term storage or shipping. So they’re all yours.’
‘I… I…’ Had to sit down.
And that’s how come, along the whole 1250 miles of the Columbia River, plus 4,000 miles of tributaries, I hold the all-time record for the biggest catch in a single day.