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Some of these newcomers have been bold enough to challenge the sacred tenets of tradition. They have created new fly patterns designed to imitate the natural food of the fish rather than blind them with dazzling colors. A few even have demonstrated that cutthroat—and other species—will take dry flies in salt water. Some also found that fishing the ebb tide is often just as productive as fishing the flood, if not more so. These developments represent real progress, but they have yet to win very much acceptance among oldtime sea-run cutthroat fishermen, who are displeased by any discovery that is likely to make their sport any easier.
Sea-run cutthroat may be caught easily by anglers casting from shore, but in Puget Sound most fishermen prefer to fish from cartop boats powered by small outboards. This enables them to cover more water than could be reached on foot, but there is another more pragmatic reason why they use boats: owners of private oyster beds have been known to shoot at loitering strangers, and they seem to regard people with fly rods as oyster poachers in disguise. If you show up in a boat, they generally are a little more inclined to believe that you really are a fisherman; in any case, a boat with an outboard provides the angler a fast means of escape.
It's not unusual for a sea-run cutthroat fisherman to go a full day without seeing a single fish. This leaves the fishermen with plenty of time on their hands, which possibly explains why so many of them carry a drop or two in their boats. I once watched a well-oiled angler turn his outboard up to full throttle and steer his boat under a dock at high tide. Luckily, only his hat was knocked off. Later, trying to beach the boat, he misjudged the distance to the shore and stepped over the side into waist-deep water.
One of the favorite haunts of sea-run cutthroat fishermen is the Belfair area of Hood Canal, a giant natural fjord that separates Washington's Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. The attraction isn't so much the fishing, which is not especially good, as it is the North Shore Inn, a tavern perched at the water's edge where anglers can beach their boats and pause for lunch. Dressed in dripping rain gear and waders, the fishermen are readily accepted by the regular clientele, most of whom look and smell as if they worked in the woods and all of whom are perpetually damp.
The North Shore Inn has a great stone fireplace, and on most winter days it's loaded with wet alder logs which, with a great deal of patience and persuasion, sometimes can be made to burn. It's not unusual to find several slightly blue anglers holding their hands over the struggling flame, trying to regain some feeling in their fingers. Some fishermen make a point of celebrating Christmas at the inn, where there is always a large fir tree decorated with empty beer cans.
There is only one problem with the North Shore Inn. If an angler decides to have lunch while the tide is going out, his boat may be a quarter of a mile from the retreating water by the time he returns to it. That's a quarter of a mile of soft, clinging bottomless mud. It's enough of an obstacle to make a fisherman forget about fishing until the next high tide refloats his boat, up to six hours later.
By April the number of sea-run cutthroat anglers begins to thin out as, one by one, they start to rest up and dry out in anticipation of the opening of the freshwater trout season. It's possible to catch sea-run cutthroat in the spring and summer, but hardly anyone ever fishes for them then. Somehow, it just doesn't seem the same when it isn't raining, and anyway there isn't much point in standing around a fireplace warming your hands on a summer day.
So winter is the season for sea-run cutthroat fishermen. If you look closely, you may see them on the water, looming like ghosts through the drizzle and the mist, running their boats full-tilt under low-slung docks or tilting a bottle to their rain-puckered lips.
Just don't be surprised if you don't see them catching anything.