This quote from the movie “oh brother, where art though?” always makes me smile. It makes me smile, because I live in the geographic steelhead fly fishing equivalent. Hundreds of thousands of steelhead swim less than 10 blocks from my house on their journey up the Columbia river to spawn, yet the closest steelhead fly fishery is over an hour away. Talk about frustrating. Frustrated as a one armed man hanging off a cliff with an itchy…….. well, you get the picture.
Well, maybe not quite that frustrated. But frustrated enough to head to the bar. Not a sleezy dive with cheap beer. Not the “dirty thirty” where nude women do obscene things to brass poles…… No, the bar I’m talking about is made of sand. Preferably, with a point or other obstruction that causes fish to hug the shore closely. This is the type of place retirees frequent. The men (and women and kids) fishing here use “poles”. Beer is often the drink of choice. Talk is often about the government and how the guys fishing are gonna fix it. The poles, lures, bells (more on that later) and pole holders are all necessary, but almost secondary fixtures along the river. Often a weenie roasting twig will hold the attention of the fisherman more than the act of fishing itself. On the most extravagant bars, shacks will be erected. Not just a shack, but the kind of structure that would have hobos and vagrants jealous. Stoves, bunks and cooking areas cobbled together from anything and everything that happens to have been found in the drift line along the river is fair game for construction of the shack.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the fishing and bars I’m talking about is what we locally know as “plunking”.
The condensed version goes like this: You find a beach (usually of sand) on the lower Columbia river with a feature that causes the fish to swim close to the shore on their journey upriver. (this feature is usually a point or wing dam) You cast your lure and bait into the river with a heavy enough weight so that the current will not wash it down stream. While the lure and bait are stationary, working in the current, you place your “pole” in a “pole holder” on the beach. You place a bell on the “pole” so that when a fish strikes the bait, it rings the bell , alerting you of a fish on. This type of fishing lends itself well to social gatherings. Usually we have kids, pets, strangers and who knows what else kind of people fishing the same bar. Usually there is fire to warm up next to if the weather is cold, and as mentioned earlier, the best bars have permanent shacks. When the bells ring, everyone gets excited and gathers around the lucky fisherman with the fish on, usually shouting encouragement and giving advise weather it is needed or not.