by Scott Sadil
Part of what makes a great fishing town is that nobody thinks of it as such. Granted, there’s plenty of good water around; doesn’t that go without saying? But the qualities we come to appreciate, if not actually long for, are never quite so simple as someplace you were staying when you whacked a flood of good trout – nor even that all-time, best-ever, life-changing lunkeroony.
And in the annals of steelhead, especially winter steelheading, where bad weather, high water, and “O so long and dreary brumal nights” can test the patience and temperance of even the most disciplined sport, the attributes of an esteemed fishing town almost certainly transcend the ready availability of hamlets anywhere offering multiple venues to saturate or obliterate one’s sorrows.
What are we looking for? No doubt, places where fishing is woven into the lives of locals, not just doled out on silver platters for out-of-town thrill seekers, is somewhere to start. I’d suggest, as well, any place that has escaped the blight and escalations of gentrification, especially the insidious practice of city folks acquiring real estate cheap and then attempting to cover the cost of renovations, and the mortgage, via Airbnb or Vrbo.
Isn’t it a pleasure, too, to find yourself in a stop on the highway that, for reasons too complex to explore here, hasn’t been trapped within the parenthetical confines of chain-store strip malls leading into and out of a dying town center?
Or, thank your lucky stars, is not yet home to a single drive-thru food outlet with a name repeated in the next town in either direction?
How about, instead, the Sockeye Inn, The Crow’s Nest, or even the Barnacle Bistro?
Seem unlikely? Well, let me go one further: I am steelheading this week, hanging out in a place, when I’m not on the water, that meets all of the above requisites for what I think of as an admirable fishing town. But admirable isn’t great.
What makes this town special, and rare indeed, is that it also features a pair of estimable and increasingly rare establishments: a used-book shop — and one that serves coffee, at that — plus a genuine hunting and fishing (not just fly fishing) store.
Am I gloating? Maybe a little. The chance, however remote, for a winter steelhead will always place one in fortune’s favor. A day in January spent poking around a coastal creek, where full moon tides push and pull on the spawning needs of ripening sea-run trout, belongs to a rather short list of seasonal pleasures. I could, I guess, identify waterfowl in the nearby estuary – or launch a kite from the beach on the chill afternoon wind.
Or how about, instead, squandering an hour or more after fishing, talking about the elk mounts on the walls of the hunt/fish store before springing for $3.89 worth of Deep Red glo-bug yarn?
Or a cappuccino, in a ceramic cup, before heading upstairs to wander the stacks, finally settling on an Edna O’Brien story collection just in case Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge doesn’t last through the week.
Now that’s living.
Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil hopes that, unlike his own days, those of steelhead, used-book shops, and hunting and fishing stores aren’t numbered.