Money and time was the debt. I had borrowed too much of one and not spent enough of the other over the last year. I accepted when John offered to forgive those amounts via a short trip to our far north west coast. He demanded we travel there in the winter. I didn’t want to go.
We arrived in the dark after a three state trek. I was fried from the road. My creditor was excited. We both slept poorly for opposing reasons. John had arranged to meet a man with a boat in the morning that had skill plying the rivers of this place. I was going to pay the boatman a day’s wages in cash to retire my note to John. The fee was less than what I owed, so my only two gripes were the hour in which the tab was due, and the merciless rain that had rushed in with the stinging wake up call.
The cold drooling supermarket parking lot given to us as the meet place had advertisements for vampires and cheap beer. I learned later that five years ago a successful author had chosen this wet dark landscape to create a world called “Twilight” The successful series had inadvertently created a cottage industry of vampire tour guides. As the rain accelerated with no hope of a breaking dawn I understood why this world fit that author’s vision. I locked my truck door and turned up the heater. The need for beer here made sense.
The thin pale fiftyish man met us exactly on time in the soaking darkness. He was drunk. Neither my friend nor the man were surprised. He stumbled out of the truck, righted himself, and gave his name as Sunny, but preferred to be called Sir. I hadn’t yet connected this place to the Twilight series, so I brought up the vampires. Sunny laughed and told me to watch out for them and aggressive Sasquatches. He rolled his eyes and directed us to jump in his rig. Sunny’s plan was to drive us drunk to a wetter place. John winked and whispered to me “ What could possibly go wrong?” I grabbed all my rain gear, wished I had more, and jumped into the backseat of Sunny’s truck. Our destination was one of Washington’s rainforest rivers.
We drove faster than the speed limit while Sunny ranted with poor cell reception at the lone shuttle driver in the area. The river traffic cop was detailing the movements of a horde of other boats dripping through the darkness also headed to the rainforest rivers. Sunny was trying to get a shuttle to avoid them while heading to the same location. That part of the river was thought to hold fish.
Sunny navigated his hangover and the puddling highway as a driver well versed in both. Our last turn onto a two track through the mossy woods brought us to a homeless angler camp. Our headlights sprayed the fishing rod teepees causing a frantic groaning explosion of inhabitants who looked to be sufferers of chronic gut punches. Sunny drove faster through the camp as if they would cling to the bouncing boat. We narrowly escaped the launching of a wading boot from the fringe blur of an old man yelling at Sunny. The boot missed the driver’s side windshield and sailed into the wet undergrowth. Sunny did not flinch. The gauntlet ended when the truck and boat broke out onto an empty gravel bar with a rushing green blue river cutting across its far side. Driving rain had faded to a grey shifting mist.
Sunny was supposed to take us to a river to pursue a fish that is difficult encounter. The most prized specimens weigh over 20 pounds. They live in the hinterlands of the ocean and briefly return each year to these vampire infested rain forest rivers to mate. It is on the path to mating that the boatman and his passengers try to hook them. Over the years less of these fish were making it to the mating grounds. This cut dramatically into our boatman’s mood and success rate. Sunny begrudgingly filled us in on the theories of why the wild population was shrinking. The truck cab windows steamed with Sunny’s emotional points. I didn’t enjoy the smell of his voice but found the history depressing. One of the most devious culprits was The Blob. Which is a patch of ultra-warm Pacific ocean water just off the northern coast that was cutting off food supply. I didn’t know if the Blob’s power was more or less than that of the vampires, but I was excited about rain remaining a mist. The conclusion I came to was the odds of finding one of these fish were low. Sunny’s conclusion was “We can either fish or not. But I don’t offer refunds.” Sunny backed the boat up to the green water and started prep our gear.
Sunny was hit squarely by a wading boot when his head was down unbuckling the boat. The impact was low on his thigh, but it still caused him to drop to a knee. The source of the throw was the same hurler from the homeless camp. He had a good arm. The old man continued the assault aggressively limping akimbo with one boot on across the gravel bar. He was moving fast despite the lack of a complete set of footwear.
“Get out of my run Sunny!” he yelled.
“Launch your dirty nymph boat downstream of the tail out. Whore.” the old man continued.
“Son of Bitch, Randall I am just rigging up. You don’t have to get all riled up. You damn Swingcters think you own the river.”
Sunny picked up the boot and hurled it back at him. Randall did not return fire. Instead he quickly slid the wading boot over his waders and returned to a normal gait as he approached.
The old man turned his attention to John and me. In a much lower tone he asked, “Why in the world would you get in a boat with this derelict dredger?”
Before we could answer Sunny cut him off. “Randall please leave my friends alone. The last think they want is to waste fishing time with an addled two hander.”
Randall didn’t back down “Someone has to save these boys from the likes of you.”
Randall returned to addressing us as he tied his loose boots to his feet. “There is a right way and wrong way to fish here and I guarantee ol Sunny boy there is going to convince you to put all sorts of floats and weights on your rod. It’s not really fly fishing if that matters to you two.”
Sunny cut him off again to address us “Do you want to catch fish or just go casting?”
Randall only responded with a huff. Sunny completed readying the boat.
Randall chimed one last time before heading up stream with two of his long fishing teepee poles in his hand. “Good luck. You are going to need it.”
Sunny yelled back at Randall “Shit, I taught you how to cast.” Randall fired back “Only because you owed me money!” He waded into the head of the run that Sunny had now decided to avoid with a lower launch point.
As we pushed off the bank I saw a fast moving line of headlights reawakening the agitated homeless camp and heading towards Randall’s run. I heard more yelling from Randall as we slid further down the rainforest river.
Sunny frequently complained that he had to work so much harder to catch these now rare fish than the old days on these rivers. He would mix in curses of the Blob. We did what were told in both direction and gear. I’m not sure if we fished correctly. Sunny did put weights and floats on our line. We caught three of these rare fish. None were close to 20 pounds, but all were wild from the Pacific Ocean. They were wickedly bright and vital. John smiled when we hooked them and I took pictures of him with these wild steelhead. We did not encounter Blobs, Sasquatches, vampires, or more rain.