(Excerpt from The Duck Hunter Diaries, published by AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.)

At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant” — Aldo Leopold

Off-Season Pursuits

February 18, 1974 — Day before yesterday I went steelhead fishing on the Green River below Palmer Bridge. The water thunders through a couple of narrowings, down a couple of rapids, with nice fishy-looking slicks over a solid rock bottom. I lost thirteen terminal rigs. It’s a good thing they’re cheap. I used the spinning rod with my Garcia 300 reel and toted my new long-handled landing net. All I landed was a lump of water-soaked wood festooned with other people’s tackle. I salvaged all the pencil lead and two plastic “Li’l Corkie” lures. I may have had one strike; hard to tell in that current. I saw a guy wearing a red plaid mackinaw and canvas Jones cap land one. He was insufferably casual, allowing it to thrash near his feet when any twitch could have freed it.

Five people passed me on the way back to the parking lot lugging the long dark torpedo shapes. One guy had to hold his fish at waist level to avoid its tail dragging the ground. He looked neither to right nor left, gazing straight ahead as if shell-shocked, marching along, that fish in a death grip. I suppose I have not lost enough tackle, frozen my feet enough, to deserve one. I did catch a cold. That water was so cold only its velocity kept it liquid. At one point I noticed traceries of blood on my hands where monofilament had bitten, like a series of razor cuts. I didn’t feel a thing.

One outdoor writer called steelhead a rainbow trout with the wanderlust and said scenery in Washington State is a drug on the market. Steelheading is almost a religion. It was quite a picture where the river hooked into that thundering turn across a steep rock face, with anglers in every manner of apparel, from heavy rubber foul-weather gear to bright ski parkas, elbow to elbow in silent devotion. First one and then another would chunk hardware upstream to drift back through, in (almost) synchronized ritual.

At the tail of the next run, a twenty-foot-long deadfall, so waterlogged it was below the surface, swept down on an unsuspecting angler. I called out above the roar of the river, pointed. The look on his face when he saw it was open fear. It hit a hidden obstacle and hesitated as he scrambled to escape, then rose majestically, branches reaching for him, hurdled the barrier in slow motion, and ghosted out of sight. I was out of pencil lead when a character sighted my surgical tubing tied to my fishing vest and offered to buy some. He had plenty of lead, so we traded and I had another six or eight inches of lead to lose before I had to give up.

February 21 — I finally emptied the boat of decoys jumbled in the bilges since the last Nisqually hunt. I swept up a pile of dried mud and marsh grass and hay stems. That fine dust, which flies off mud wet for ages before you tracked it into the boat to dry, hung in the still air. When it touched the damp inside my nostrils, the full musty odor the Nisqually salt flats bloomed to life. Nisqually is famous now. Duck Stamp money was diverted from Midwest potholes to purchase land envisioned as an oil super tanker port and refinery. The gas shortage cost me the job I wanted — the reporting job for that chain of weeklies — but I am glad Nisqually is for ducks, not oil — the weekly job did not come through because of the manufactured gas shortage; the managing editor did not believe I could find enough gas to drive to town every day. He seemed horrified when I told him I could siphon gas from hulks at the wrecking yard where Guy works…

On a happier note, the horns and hide from my whitetail deer arrived from Pennsylvania in a sturdy well-padded wooden crate. The hide-tanning job is nice and the highly polished hooves, mounted beneath the horns to hold a rifle if I choose, enhances the pitiful little curve of antler. Some trophy hunter I am. Never mind that, said Guy — how much did he weigh?

I should be keeping a regular writer’s log to enter things I see here: like the horses in the pasture across the street with spring fever in them; cavorting, heel-kicking, feinting at each other, bucking stiff-legged. They run in short bursts and then profile grandly as if they think they are mighty steeds — all with their hair matted and mud-caked from the long winter…

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.