by Stan Fagerstrom
I remember it like it happened yesterday.
I had finally managed to get home again after World War 11 finally ended and I had the "Fishin' Itch" so bad it was about to drive me bonkers. I couldn't begin to count the number of times out there in the jungles of the South Pacific when I'd been wondering if I was ever going to get the chance to even get home again.
But the war did end and once I finally got out of the hospital and was discharged from the Army I almost immediately began working for The Daily News in Longview, Washington. The city editor of the newspaper at the time was a man named Gordon Quarnstrom. He was one of the sharpest and most talented newspapermen I was ever blessed to encounter.
What that man didn't know he sure as heck suspected. It didn't take him long to realize just how deeply I was hooked on fishing. I'd only been there a couple of months before he asked if I'd like to start doing a fishing column for the newspaper. He even suggested we call it "Nibbles & Bites".
Writing about something I love as much as I do fishing and it's almost more like fun than work. One of the fringe benefits was to get to know many of the area's leading experts in the different fields of angling. One of those men was named Blaine Albert.
Old time anglers from that area and that time will remember Blaine. Blaine was one of the most knowledgeable steelhead anglers in Southwest Washington. I also knew the Kalama River was one of his favorite steelhead rivers, especially when when the first of the summer run steelhead was just making its way into the Columbia's tributaries.You'll never walk away from the river with a beauty like this until you learn to be sure your rod and reel are ready to do what's required of them.
If you're familiar with Southwest Washington you're aware the Kalama dumps into the mighty Columbia not too far downriver from Portland. It's also only about a 20 minute drive from the Longview-Kelso community where we were living at the time on the Washington side of the big river.
I'd known Blaine for quite some time before I actually got to fish with him. What happened when I did is why you see the title of this column---You Better Learn To Look.
I hadn't yet earned sufficient bucks to put together much of a steelhead fishing outfit. The early day type of spinning reel I owned isn't even made any more. I still recall very clearly what Blaine had to say when he first saw my gear.I don't care whether it's crappies or chinook salmon, check your gear between casts.
At the time monofilament line had just made its first solid entry onto the fishing scene. The first of those then new lines don't bear much resemblance to the variety of excellent lines available to us today. Those first mono lines could kink and break in a heartbeat and that was why Blaine said what he did when he saw it was one of those then new lines I had on my reel and was using as a leader.
"Stan," he warned, "these new lines cast all right but you've got to be really careful with them. Check your knots and the last couple of feet of your line or leader between casts. You're going to wind up busting something if you don't."
Today, more than a half century later, I know just how solid Blaine's advice was. Unfortunately, I didn't realize just how soon the prediction he'd made about busting something would happen. It's as important that you follow Blaine's advice on the fishing trips you make tomorrow as it was way for me way back there in the middle of the last century.
Blaine knew I didn't have a car to get to the Kalama. He invited me to join him and said we'd be hitting the Kalama in the late afternoon. He'd already told me that just before dark was one of the best times of the day to hook one of those energy loaded new springers.
It didn't take long for us to reach one of Blaine's favorite drifts on the lower river. He told me we'd both be using salmon eggs for bait. He had me wade out into the river a ways, then cast on out toward the far shore and let the drift sinker attached to my leader take my eggs down so they'd drifted along the bottom with the river's current.Got a little guy or gal you're teaching how to fish? Stress the importance of keeping a sharp and careful eye on their gear.
I'd made only a half dozen casts before my lead stopped bouncing for a couple of heartbeats and I felt a slight movement out there under the current I'd not felt before. I set the hook but without any result.
Remember now, I was brand new to drift fishing for steelhead at the time. Even so, I was almost certain something had picked up by bait of eggs and then let go. I couldn't wait to cast out again. When I reeled in I thought I could detect a tiny white spot several inches up my leader.
Did I take time to check it out? No way! I couldn't wait to get my eggs back out there again. I'd been told it wasn't uncommon for steelhead to grab a bait more solidly the second time around. As I cast again I managed to get my eggs right where they'd landed the first time.Lots of bass anglers use a little snap like this to attach their lures. Always check now and then to be certain they are closed the way they should be. You can lose a dandy if you don't.
Did I hook my first summer steelhead on that second cast? Should I have taken time to check my leader before I got my eggs back out there? I'll be providing the answer in my next column. You'll find it right here beginning April 1.
-To Be Continued-