A misspent youth, salmonflies, and brown trout tales...
Before I learned to fish, the Spokane River was a fearful strip of danger that I was repeatedly warned away from. Where the Sandifur Bridge now spans the river there was once a towering trestle that crossed the deep gorge formed by the rivers current. My oldest memory of that trestle is still fresh, even though it's forty plus years old. It was the infrequent playground of wayward boys skipping class from Havermale Junior High. Each end of the trestle was blocked by eight foot high chain link gates that were chained and padlocked shut. Hardly worthy of mention as a barrier to young boys intent on misbehaving. We would scale the gates playfully and then dare each other to walk to the center over the river and sit triumphantly dangling our feet thru the ties at the trestles highest point. No small feat when you know that several ties were missing or, even worse, damaged and splintered. You needed to be discerning and nimble while at the same time, in my case at least, simultaneously concealing your abject terror from all the other guys.The trestle was gated for a reason.
Not even ten years later I was reintroduced to the Spokane River by a crusty old curmudgeon of a man that taught fly tying classes in his attic just a few blocks north of its banks. Everett Caryl ran a business from his home on N Jefferson street called the Feather Vendor. He sold fly tying materials, custom wrapped fly rods and every winter beginning in January he conducted fly tying classes one night a week for twelve weeks. The phrase politically correct was still decades in the future so Mr. Caryl's teaching style was regarded either as a matter of course, or in the worst case, horribly off color, depending on your point of view. I've never enjoyed anything as much as I did that class. I found the ad in the back of the long defunct local sporting paper the Outdoor Press. I had never even heard of fly tying but a recent bad break up made it look supremely attractive.
Along with Everett's encyclopedic knowledge of all things fly tying, he would regale us with stories of local legends and fishing tales long past. The names Cap Godfrey and Joe King were spoken in reverence, and the Spokane was nothing short of Holy Water. I loved that class so much I took it two years in a row. I don't know how many times in 24 weeks I heard Everett speak of the Spokane, but it was a rare night that he didn't.
The one story I'll never forget, and to this day fills me with longing, was Everett's favorite. It's no secret that the Spokane once had salmon runs that yearly approached a million fish up to eighty pounds. But many anglers would be surprised to hear there was once a salmon fly hatch that rivaled the best on any river in the West. The way Everett told it, for a week every year the salmon flies were so thick that trolley cars struggled to ascend the short grade from the Monroe St Bridge to Broadway as the tracks were too slick from the sheer number of bugs covering them.
Whether this description finds you horrified, or enthralled, it's a graphic testament to a once thriving waterway that served only to inspire me. Made all the more exciting by its first hand account.
My own favorite fishing story on the Spokane involves the far more frequent caddis hatch and a brown trout. I was a fairly new angler whose days were gauged by 30% knowledge and 70% luck. This day would only serve to reinforce that. The river was low enough to wade out to the island on the upstream side of the TJ Meenach Bridge and then fish the run on the upstream end.
I hadn't been there long and had landed a couple trout when a caddis hatch began. I tied a caddis dry and cast upstream. The fly only floated a short distance before being engulfed by a large trout that broke me off on what could well have been a heavy handed hook set. It was a LARGE trout! It's also worth considering that my knot tying could use work. The break occurred far enough up the leader that the taper was cut back pretty severely. Couple that with the fast approaching darkness and a prolific caddis hatch left me with just one option. I tied on the new caddis without tippet! There was simply not enough time. Two casts later and a large fish rolled on my dry. The heavy leader helped bring him to the net quickly. I looked down into my net at what was then, and still to this day, the largest brown trout I've ever landed on the Spokane. I'll try not to exaggerate it's size other than to say I could not lift him from the net with one hand. The double prize happened when I removed the fly and noticed tippet material hanging from its mouth. A quick inspection revealed my first dry caddis in the other side of its jaw. The river's rarely been that generous since!
Thirty five years later I still find inspiration on it's banks and in it's course. As many days as possible will find me seated between the oarlocks guiding anglers to hopefully enjoy the gifts of the Spokane as much as I do. It's not lost on me that a misspent youth coupled with a fair measure of hopeless romantic and idealist are perfect prerequisites for a fishing guide.
The only time that I am happier than I am while fishing, is when it makes someone else as happy too.
- Jake Hood
Spokane River Guide
Source for Spokane River photo: http://bridgehunter.com/wa/spokane/union-pacific-high/