The Beach is Back

Narrows Bridges

Well, to be honest…the beach never went anywhere. What’s back was me on the beach. Today, I finally got out to the beach to get my waders wet and cast my fly. It was the first time fly-fishing since last year – before my daughter’s wedding and before the medical adventure.

I could not have picked a better day.

It was sunny with scattered clouds. Neither is notable, except for the notable fact the sun has been scarce in these parts for many months. And the amount of sunlight did affect one’s comfort, as the temperature swing was notable as the sun played hide and seek.

Still, with only zephyrs for wind and an ebb tide this was a day to go fishing. I had planned to go to Purdy. But as I came to the parking area the seven cars there were enough to suggest that it was already crowded. So I made a beeline for Narrows Park.

There were a few fly fishers and spin casters on the beach, but given the length of the beach between Point Evans and Point Fosdick, crowds are never an issue. Starting with a pink shrimp pattern I began casting as I worked my way to the bridges. The chum fry are moving out of the creeks but I thought it might be a bit early for them to have made it to the Narrows so I kept my chum baby flies in the box.

I did need to focus on my casting for fishing. Don’t hold the rod too tight. Lengthen the casting stroke as more line was out. Let the rod do the work. Focus on a good back cast. Those are easy to remember in the backyard – less so when standing in the water hoping to catch a fish.

I made progress in putting them all together again. A few more times and they’ll be back in muscle memory. Then it will be time to work on the fishing double haul.

I made my way past the Narrows Bridge, casting along the way with nothing to show for the effort. No hits and definitely no fish brought in. And it did bring back a truth about fishing in Puget Sound – the only consistency is inconsistency.

But there was nothing to complain about.

The day was beautiful. Lots of boats were passing both down and up the Sound. Gulls were overhead. And out in the middle of the Narrows – where the currents are the strongest a couple of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) were playing.

I sat on a log and watched the world for a time, thinking about how lucky I was to be where I was. As my hunger alarm clock went off, I switched to a chartreuse Clouser tube fly and began my trek back to the parking lot – stopping again at the places where trout or resident Coho can be found – if they’re there. As on the walk out there were none. And I wasn’t the only one, no one I spoke to was having any luck.

Looking around one last time as I got back to the path up to the parking lot I had the same regret at leaving I always do. Why that is will be for another time.

For now, it was only the first time out this year – it won’t be the last. Fish on.

Beach Fishing 101

Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound
Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound

When starting something new, one of the first questions to be considered is how to begin? The choice at the extremes comes down to plunging in or taking a class.

In my case, I’ve always believed one can never know too much or learn too much, so I opted for a class; assuming I’d pick up the needed technical information, local knowledge about where to go, and get some instruction on casting (for which too much instruction doesn’t exist).

Given I’d been fishing fresh-water rivers, I already had most of the gear I needed. I did pick up a Winston BIII-SX (more on that in a later post); and bought a few flies for the species of choice: sea-run cutthroat trout (bought a few more the day of the beach session).

There are a number of outstanding fly shops in the Puget Sound. But I chose Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s class. I like the area a lot and there are tentative plans to move there when I can cast off the harness of corporate America. The shop’s location overlooking the harbor borders on the sublime. And I was impressed with the shop staff in both past online orders and talking to them in the store.

Their Puget Sound Beach Course (Fly Fishing 1.5) was held in two sessions: the first was three hours on a Wednesday night followed by a four-hour session on the water.

Taught by Blake Merwin, the owner of Gig Harbor Fly Shop, the course was a great introduction to fishing in the salt water of Puget Sound.

The three-hour classroom session, taught with slides and a lecture that was interspersed with tales of trips local and afar, was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I scribbled notes furiously as the course covered equipment, target species, food sources, tides and winds, and where to find good fishing. When I reread my notes I was surprised how much ground we covered. One tip: if you take the course please bring beer – none of the five students in our class did and it’s a shop practice!

The Saturday session was held on a sunny Saturday morning on a local beach near Gig Harbor. The tide tables called for a -1.3 foot low in the afternoon so we were in prime time to fish the ebb.

Driving over the Narrows Bridge earlier, the winds were calm and the water smooth. By the time we met at the shop, bought a few last remaining items, got down to the parking lot and got into our waders, the wind was up. A very visible back eddy in front of the beach matched the strong ebb.

Blake took some time to explain the beach and where good fishing should be found as well as tips for fishing different types of flies.

We five students separated along the beach and sought to catch a sea-run. Unfortunately, the back eddy never dissipated allowing a rip to form close to the beach. The bottom line is that no one caught anything.

And it wasn’t just the five of us. Water birds on the water weren’t diving for anything; a seal that poked his head up out of the water disappeared; likely finding better fishing elsewhere.

But I wasn’t disappointed. One doesn’t go fishing to only to catch fish. As Haig-Brown consistently alluded: fishing is more about context than practice. Standing on Puget Sound watching the sea birds and a bald eagle circling overhead, and feeling the chill of the wind and the warmth of the sun more than made up for getting skunked.

The course gave me the tools and information to head out on my own. And we did get some good information on where to go on our own. But you’ll have to the class to find out where.