I drag my body out of bed and get on the internet to check Walla Walla River flow at Touchet. Conditions look favorable: 580 cubic feet per second discharge, gauge height 4.97 feet.
Outside the dining room window, juncos mob the feeder. Storm clouds obscure Rattlesnake Mountain.
Six foot-long daggers of ice hang off the roof. Two feet of snow is piled up in the yard. The porch thermometer reads 14 F.
It is apparent that our local groundhog, Hanford Hank, lied about seeing his shadow. Yet, just last week the familiar chortle of sandhill cranes rang in the sky. Go figure.
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Things could be worse than being bored. Like hiding from a tornado in Alabama. Or, standing in a frigid parking lot with a sign that says, “Need food. Anything helps.”
With nothing to lose and much to gain, I retrieve my 7-weight Cortland fly rod from the closet where it has resided in a coma since last fall — when the Hanford Reach closed to steelhead fishing.
Setting up next to the warm flame of our fireplace, I tie a pink maribou jig on 10-pound test leader below a Thingamabobber. Nowadays, this setup is considered fly fishing gear.
The morning is dedicated to checking on my 94-year-old mom. Once a week, I drive to Walla Walla to check on her.
Today I’ve got a quart bag of frozen prunes (her favorite fruit), smoked salmon (her favorite snack), two mystery books that Nancy recently finished (they swap books), and a slice of cherry pie.
It feels good to be on the road. Away from Netflix, Internet and sidewalks that require daily shoveling. An adult bald eagle perches on an ice floe at Cargill Pond waiting for a feeble-minded coot to make an ill-timed break.
The Boise Paper plume dips low where it crosses the highway. Whitecaps build on the Columbia.
I turn east at Wallula junction and cross Nine-Mile Hill. Farm equipment lies idle in fields covered with a deep blanket of snow. Cattle huddle around busted up bales of hay. The naked branches of locust trees remind that spring is still far away.
Thirty minutes later, I pull into mom’s driveway. She looks out the window from her favorite spot on the couch as I approach the front door.
After admiring her new corduroy pants, I pay utility bills, fill the bird feeders and fix lunch. Mom polishes off a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, a dish of fresh-cooked prunes and wanders off to take a nap. Time for me to go fishing!
My angling afternoon begins near McDonald Road, in a swift run of broken water where I once landed a 12-pound buck steelhead. Guess who left his waders hanging on the garage wall?
No matter. Deer tracks lead me through a band of willow to where ice-glazed cobble greets me. Soft powder snow reaches to my knees. The river runs fast and clear. A perfect “bobber flop” technique gets my offering to midstream.
I don’t anticipate a savage strike followed by a reel-screeching run. Late-season steelhead grab for your lure like a tree root and hold on like the tired fish they are. My weighted jig occasionally scrapes the bottom, but the Thingamabobber does not “go down.”
Snowballs gather where the cuffs of my jeans meet bootlaces. I dip my rod tip into the water to melt chunks of ice that choke the guides.
My hands, though, are not so compromised by chill I cannot tie a knot. Ragged snowflakes fall from the sky. The muffled trumpet call of a pair of high-flying swans competes with the twitter of song sparrows hiding in reed canary grass.
I recall a day when I successfully fished jig under bobber on the Methow River. One difference is steelhead were lined up by the dozen in deep, clear pools. Today feels like I am casting to an empty vessel.
One thing is for sure: jig-and-bobber fishing for steelhead is different than dangling a nymph below a strike indicator, and it’s definitely not swinging a maribou fly. The technique has its place in every fly fisher’s arsenal though.
Unfortunately, places where a steelhead might hide under overhanging alder remain well outside my best cast.
Two hours later, I rationalize that I could have caught a steelhead. That is, if one swam in the general vicinity and had inclination to grab a small pink jig.
Placing one foot after another, I trace footprints back to the truck where a thermos of hot chocolate waits.
To contact Dennis or read more stories about fish and fishing, please go to DennisDaubleBooks.com.