There's a haunting song about a wind they call Maria. It's a nice song, and Maria is a nice-name, but when I think of wind it usually brings other names to mind—names better left unspoken in polite company. You see, I'm a fly-fisherman, and to me there's no greater enemy than wind. Give me rain, hail or scorching sunshine—I'll take them anytime.
Thanks to sudden gusts of wind I've had to remove flies from my hat, coat, the seat of my pants and once even from my neck. Thanks to wind I've spent countless frustrating moments trying to pick hard knots out of cobweb-thin leader tippets. The wind has blown more promising fishing trips than I care to remember.
The Columbia Basin of central Washington state is one of the windiest places anywhere. The west wind howls across the Cascade summits and down into the canyons and coulees of the basin, swirling around in cruel and unpredictable patterns. Sometimes it seems to blow from several different directions at once. Unfortunately, the Columbia Basin is also where some of the Northwest's best trout fishing is to be found. It's a dangerous combination, and it led to one of my worst confrontations with the wind.
It had been blowing hard all day, but I had braved the wind in my small wooden rowboat to fish a favorite lake and had taken a few trout despite the gale. Rowing and casting all day in a strong wind is tiring, so I was dozing in the passenger seat, and my wife was at the wheel of our station wagon as we started home.
June 23, 1985
Suddenly I was awakened by a loud popping sound. I opened my eyes and saw we were in the middle of the Vantage Bridge over the Columbia River, and the wind was positively screaming. I looked in the side rearview mirror just in time to see my 10-foot boat lift off from the car-top rack. I watched in horror as it sailed gracefully upward through the turbulent air, then fell to the bridge deck squarely in the path of an oncoming semi.
The truck driver somehow swerved and missed the boat, and my wife pulled over and stopped. We got out and hurried to the boat, bracing ourselves against a wind that threatened to knock us off our feet. I could see that the hull was badly cracked, and pieces of the main brace were strewn around like kindling. My first thought was to push it over the side of the bridge and forget it, but my wife persuaded me to try to save it. So, dodging traffic, we loaded the remains into the back of the wagon and took the boat home. I patched it up well enough to keep it afloat another couple of years.
Later we bought a camper, and one of our first trips was to Dry Falls Lake in the Columbia Basin. We spent the night in a nearby campground where the wind—great howling, screaming gusts of it—buffeted and shook the camper all night long. Sleep was out of the question and so was fishing the next morning. A local radio station reported the wind speed steady at 63 miles per hour, with higher gusts. When I opened the truck door, the wind blew it shut so hard it sprang the lock.
My worst experience with the wind in British Columbia was on Hihium Lake. My wife and I had been fishing in a sheltered bay and didn't realize how strongly the wind was blowing on the open lake. When we started out on the long run back to our cabin on the far shore, we suddenly found ourselves heading into the teeth of a terrific gale, with four- and five-foot waves crashing over the bow of our boat. We hadn't gone a hundred yards before the boat was half full of water, and it was obvious we wouldn't make it. I circled back into the bay, and we beached the boat and bailed it out.
By early evening the wind still hadn't abated, but we decided to try again to make the crossing before it got too dark to see. The second attempt was no more successful than the first, and once more we retreated to the shelter of the bay. It was nearly dark by then, so we left the boat and hiked to a nearby vacant cabin whose owner we knew, and forced the lock to gain entry.
Once inside, we took stock of our meager resources: a jar of peanut butter and some crackers. The cabin itself had firewood and a coal-oil lantern, so we built a fire, pulled a mattress from a bunk and placed it on the floor in front of the stove. Then we "dined" on peanut butter and crackers and settled down to spend the night.
By morning the wind had gone and the lake was as flat as a pane of glass. We returned to the boat and made the crossing to our own cabin in record time.
Sometimes I feel like the comic-strip character who is forever shadowed by a rain cloud—only it's the wind that follows me around. If I ever had the opportunity to trade places, I think I'd welcome it.