I professed love to a single river. From the age of six, I was going to live and die for the Rio Grande. Coming from Minnesota where rivers were plump, clear, and departing headwaters on long journeys, the idea of a pitiful little stream that gave all she could for growing peppers and pecans before dying out short of her destination was captivating. I have studied her, been to her humble beginning high in the mountains near where I live and to her humiliating dry bends in New Mexico. There’s more of her life cycle I need to experience, but I have become less devout to monogamous relationships with waterways.
I added the Snake, then the Uncompahgre, the Gunnison, the Columbia, the Merced, the James—my love is dramatically diluted. I am a serial river lover, prone to throw the next one I encounter on the love list.
The Hoh River is different.
Fly fishing has changed how my heart responds to a river. Now I must wade the water to ignite true passion. Looking pretty is one thing, pulsing against me is another. Our packing list for the trip to the Olympic Peninsula in August included a fishing kit for us to share. Our hope was to fish one of the beautiful streams within Olympic National Park. As we made our way around the 101, enjoying fish and mollusks caught by others and cooked on our tailgate, we took pictures and ogled several premier rivers but didn’t pull the rods out until we got to the Hoh River Valley. The whispers of those giant trees lured us to the water.
The Hoh looks nothing like most of the rivers I wade, at least not near the Hoh Visitor Center where we walked a distance through the woods to the gurgling riverside and unpacked my rod. The water’s consistency looked more like the milk left in my bowl after I finish picking all the cereal and marshmallows out of my very occasional bowl of lucky charms. Glacial milk favored the fish’s odds over my own, but there is something wonderful about just taking a chance on catching a fish in a national park. I put the biggest, brightest streamer in my box on the line, not a fly I have opted for back home, figuring either they would see the white monster, or the bead would bop them on the head and let the know to get out of the way of this novice Hoh visitor.
In August the water was shallow, but cold. I stood in the thick liquid, just enough to have it tumble over my sandals, and took my chances on the few pockets near the edge. It was giddy fun despite the minimal prospects of catching, but I wasn’t truly there to catch a fish on the Olympic Peninsula. I was there to experience a sampler of everything that chunk of land and water had to offer, and in that moment, it was the joy of watching the streamer splat in the milk and tumble downstream. I can say I have pursued fish in the Hoh River, not well, but passionately. Stephen, once a young and enthusiastic inhabitant of Washington, took his turn with my rod as well, harboring no delusions of catching but wanting the possibility to dance in his hand for a bit. Neither of us lasted long with the exercise of casting at hope. We had other Olympic memories to gather and an ocean to say goodbye to before turning inland.
We have fished in quite a few national parks now, but this was the most unique of the experiences. We will need to do some homework to seriously tackle the waterways of the Olympic Peninsula, but I am glad we took the time to get to know the Hoh River better than the visitors in the woods that morning that simply walked past on the nature trail.
There is room in my straying heart for more rivers, but I am withholding my love for the Hoh and her gorgeous glacier-fed sisters of the Olympics for a time I can go back and truly experience them. For now, I am just seriously intrigued after a seductive wink.