Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Days 124 & 125: Twilight and Steelhead - Fishing in Forks

4/12 – 4/13

The small town of Forks, population 3,532, is known for its rainfall as well as its rainforests. It receives over 106 inches of rain a year, making it a contender for the rainiest town in the continental United States. But it’s not the rain or the rainforests that draw the majority of visitors. Most folks flock to Forks’ in search of Twilight.

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series of books, set in this sleepy town, have sold over a 100 million copies. Twilight souvenirs and movie memorabilia line the dusty shelves of the quicky-mart, the local bait shop, and even the hardware store.  Tourist-catering storefronts like, “Dazzled by Twilight,” have replaced the five-and-dime along the town’s main street.

I asked several townspeople, including a few shop owners, if they read  any Twilight books. The answer was always, “No.” The Forks-Twilight phenomenon reminds me of when I lived in North Bend, Washington and the TV series, Twin Peaks, became a hit. Irritated by increased traffic and detours in the roadway to accommodate film crews, I never watched a single episode. International tourism, especially from Japan, flooded the streets of North Bend and stretched long lines outside the Mar-T Café, a spot touted in the series for its cherry pie and damn good coffee. Business at the Mar-T got so hectic that the “homemade” cherry pie morphed into great cans of pie filling dumped into pre-made crusts. Tourists, none the wiser, lapped up the pie and praised the fresh picked cherries and impossibly flakey crusts. I know the cherry pie debacle as fact, because at the time I happened to be one of Mar-T’s pie makers and hash-slinging waitresses.

Unfortunately for the local restaurants of Forks, Twilight characters don't have a favorite pie. Serving an O+ milkshake or Bloody Belle cocktail  seems kind of out of the question. The local diner must continue to rely on the banner, “Edward ate here,” to reel-in famished Twilight fans.

I didn’t come to Forks in search of Twilight. Like the townspeople interviewed, I haven’t read a single book in the series or watched the movie. Instead, I came to Forks for the second-best tourism draw, the steelhead. Pre-Twilight, Forks was made famous for its winter and early spring steelhead runs along the Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Calawah, Quillayute, and Ho rivers.

Each year the Lions club of Forks sponsors a derby for wounded and/or disabled warriors. This year, I was invited. Local fishing guides volunteer their time, boats, gear, and talent to the cause. Area businesses, hotels, B&Bs and eateries donate food, shelter, and merchandise to make the event a success. It was amazing to be part of this year’s event, to witness such small-town patriotism in a time that seems like national indifference to the ongoing dangers our service people face daily. For most of America, military conflict has grown stale, but not in Forks.

My guide was Captain Tuck Harry, an Alaskan native who comes south for the steelhead run and one of the original founders of the event. He volunteered to take me, the only woman warrior and her dog, on a private float down the Ho River. Jasper had never been on a river or in a drift boat, but this was my third trip. I warned Tuck that I’m not only an unskilled fisherwoman, but I’m also very unlucky. I also warned him that Jasper does not swim, or at least does not know that he can swim. Jasper goes to the beach with me to dig clams and gather oysters, but he never wades past his tummy.

Tuck assured me that when it comes to fishing, skill would overcome bad luck. He would teach me a few things that should improve my fishing. He also assured that Jasper, a black lab and born waterdog, surely could swim.

Tuck was right about Jasper. Hoping to retrieve a casted cluster of orange steelhead eggs attached to my line, Jasper leapt from the boat and into strong current. I nearly panicked, but Tuck promised that he hadn’t lost a dog yet and didn't plan to start. He followed Jasper tumbling along in the gentle rapids. Jasper cut diagonally across the river to escape the current and paddled expertly to the rocky shore. He shook the water from his black fur and barked a few lines as if to say, “Hey, Mom. You see that? Jasper swims.” He wagged his tail, looking pleased with himself.

Tuck rowed to shore and Jasper hopped back into the boat. I tethered him to a bench seat, not wanting to test our luck with the lady river a second time. Jasper, Tuck, and I floated another 10 miles down the Ho without further excitement. When I say that, I mean Jasper didn’t jump back in again, and no steelhead struck my line. Tuck had been wrong about my bad luck. We had drifted a total of 13 miles and received one hit, a strike from a wee Dolly Vardon trout about 7 inches long.

The Dolly Vardon is an endangered native fish. I reeled him in without a fight, and without touching his sensitive scales with our hands, Tuck pulled him up, at my urging, for a photo op. I snapped a picture of my Dolly Vardon and disappointed guide, before Tuck leaned over the boat to teach me how to snip the hook and set the little guy free.

I had no fish to take back home and eat, nothing tangible to further my killing spree. But the trip was not a loss, not at all. I did learn that Jasper could swim. Tuck also taught me to tie a fisherman’s knot and how to create a special loop to hold the egg sack just above my hook. These are skills I’ll keep forever. I stayed in a room decorated with over 50 teddy bears at The Fisherman’s Widow Bed & Breakfast on the Sul Duc River. I ate dinner and drank beers with fellow veterans, wounded warriors, and Lions Club members. I ate breakfast in the same café that Edward of Twilight dined. But best of all, I witnessed a brand of small-town patriotism that seems as endangered as the Dolly Vardon trout.

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