Two bottles

I don’t fish with people who waste the mountain air talking about work
cutthroat trout release
Photo: Chad Shmukler

A few years ago, I got a job at a local exercise equipment company. Always on a quest to work off the occasional pint, I figured that I should avail myself of the on-site gym, starting on Day One. I was doing cardio and reading Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine when an older gentleman came up, introduced himself as Paul, and asked my name. After exchanging pleasantries, he allowed as my name sounded familiar and then nodding to the magazine asked if I wrote for it. I begrudgingly admitted that I had written an article, one on fishing in downtown Seattle. I made my admission begrudgingly because while I thought that outing ditch fishing in town would keep people out of my favored mountain streams, apparently some people felt that mentioning the carp in the lake in the center of town was going too far, even though they are so plentiful you don’t need a license to fish for them.

One of the other places mentioned in the article was a slough dug to connect two local lakes, creating what turns out to be an impressive spring creek. It was only about a mile from the factory, and the article had piqued Paul’s interest, so we agreed to meet there the next day before work.

The next morning just after dawn, I met him on the best 200 yards of the river, a little riffle where a small creek joined in, creating the only structure in what was otherwise essentially a large ditch. The slough has a rich, dizzying array of aquatic life and game fish, including salmon which course the stream on spawning runs. I lived on the slough for a while and used to watch schools of cutthroat rise there every morning like carvings on a mechanical clock, accompanied by a football-fat rainbow which would rise every afternoon. I never could catch that fish, but a few years later my friend landed it – a 29″ ‘bow. And this is under a bridge that 100,000 people traverse every day, somehow missing the dozens of rises just below them, despite my outing them.

Perhaps nobody fishes the slough because it is a maddening place to fish. Once, my friend Craig, a much more technical fisherman than I, flipped over a rock and named a half-dozen trout foods: caddis, mayflies, scuds, and other stuff I cannot remember at the moment. We matched every one of them and still not a bite. I’ve seen my friend Mikey catch cream-colored mayflies in his hat, sit down and tie them on the bank, and still have no luck. It wasn’t until I gave up fishing technically and moved on to a particular streamer pattern that I finally started having some success.

So, it was with much hard-earned experience that I stood at that riffle with Paul in the morning mist, fish rising all around us to loud splashes. “Paul, I know you’ll want to use a dry fly, but trust me you just want to tie this on,” I said offering him a Spring Creek Special. Paul looked at me and said, “Thanks, but I think I’ll try this.” And proceeded to tie on some little brown fuzzy thing which was too tiny for me to identify.

Ever the gentleman, I smirked and replied “I will buy you a bottle of single malt if you catch a fish on that,” leaving him to work the riffle first while I tried in vain to make impossible casts to the prehistorically dark and deep pool upstream of us and below the trestle. Sure as hubris, Paul hooked a fish on his third cast and I promptly lost my bet to a two-and-a-half inch smolt so small you couldn’t even identify the species.

I nursed my pride while Paul continued through the run, but followed and pulled about six fish behind him. The first four were whitefish from the the school at the head of the pool which you have to clear before you can catch the cutthroat behind them, but I petulantly left him with the impression that they were all trout. At the end of the stretch, I pulled out of the run and said, “I have to go to work.”

Paul replied, “Well, I don’t. Give me that fly.”

Later that day I did my walk of shame to the liquor store. The next morning, I came in and began asking around. “Do you know this guy Paul? Tall, fit, gray hair?”

“Paul B.?” Asked the PM.

“I don’t know, some guy I met in the gym, lost a bet to him, owe him a bottle of Scotch."

“You’ve been here two days and you are betting with Paul B.?”

“Do you know him?”

Eventually, I was directed to a corner office where the territorial administrative assistant blocked my way like Cerberus guarding Hades. “Is Paul in?” I asked in my most naïve and self-deprecating manner.

By the look on her face I was clearly the first, the very first, the one and only person who had ever walked up and asked to see Paul without an appointment, and I was pretty sure I was not going to be the first one to succeed at actually doing so. I smiled and thought charming thoughts. She looked at me like she was trying to decide if she should start calling local circuses to see if they had an escaped clown. At that point I hear “Jon, come in.”

The administrative assistant and I exchanged looks. I’ve been in business long enough to know I’d just made a career-long enemy. Heavy sigh. I just want to go fishing, how do I always get in so much trouble?

By now I’d figured out that Paul, in his autographed-sports memorabilia-decorated corner office, was the CEO. I looked around. “I guess I work for you.” Paul smiled as if he had played some private joke on me, so I continued. “Well, I just wanted to let you know the kind of man I am. I made a bet and I’m here to pay up.” I looked him in the eye to show my sincerity. “I feel like an idiot losing a sucker bet I made. On the other hand, while I realized I didn’t specify the size of the fish, I also realized I never specified the size of the bottle.” I pulled my hand out of my pocket and put a single malt 1.7 ounce nippy on the desk.

I guess Paul must’ve told that story to a lot of people, because I never met an executive there who didn’t already know my name. Only, fishing with the CEO also killed my career. It seems I had inadvertently social-climbed past my peers. I ultimately got laid off, despite my assurances that I don’t fish with people who waste the mountain air talking about work. In retrospect, I only wish Paul and I had spent more time fishing and I’d spent less time politicking.