It was a fine day for fishing and the river seemed in perfect shape. The current carried my fly down through a long, deep, promising drift. No trout took hold, but as I followed the progress of the fly I noticed a metallic glint underwater.
Wading downstream to investigate, I could see the outline of a large object on the river bottom, mostly hidden by a layer of fine gravel swept over it by the current. I kicked at the object with my waders until enough gravel had fallen away to reveal what it was: a penny gum-ball machine.
It wasn't the only one. In a short stretch of river I came across four others. Each had its coin box pried open, its pennies long gone. A thief apparently had collected them somewhere, rifled their coin boxes and then dumped them off an upstream bridge.
The gum-ball machines were in the Cedar River, southeast of Seattle. The Cedar remains a fairly pristine river, but because it is close to an urban area it inevitably attracts some of society's debris.
In fact, it's a rare river anywhere these days that doesn't contain at least a couple of rusting automobile hulks, a few old bedsprings and lots of beer and soda-pop cans and other miscellaneous trash. Some of it is dumped there on purpose and some by accident, and sometimes rivers scoop up a lot of it on their own when they overflow their banks.
One result is that if you fish rivers a lot, you come across some pretty odd things. A friend of mine once noticed a shiny object on the bottom where he was fishing. Thinking it was a marble, he stooped to pick it up. It turned out to be a glass eye. Another angler I know reported finding a trombone in a river, perhaps disposed of by a student who had grown weary or frustrated with practicing.
Most of the odd things I've found have been in the North Fork of the Stillaguamish, a famous steelhead river north of Seattle. I own a small fishing cabin on the North Fork and spend much of my time there. One day I was wading the river near my cabin when I noticed a round green object on the bottom. It was a pool ball—the No. 6, to be exact. Within a short time I found 10 other object balls, plus the cue ball.
I don't know what happened to the four missing balls; being round, they were probably washed downstream, perhaps as far as Puget Sound. If I pick up a newspaper someday and read that a fisherman has landed a big Chinook salmon with a 13 ball in its stomach, I won't be surprised.
Sometimes things get into rivers out of plain stupidity. One summer weekend an intrepid camper drove a brand-new truck onto a Stillaguamish sandbar and parked it. It was a customized pickup with a roll bar and a gleaming finish, complete with a spectacular flame painting radiating from the wheel wells. The camper pitched his tent on the bank overlooking the sandbar and, satisfied that all was well, settled down for the night. It rained hard that night and the river came up rapidly. Next morning the camper crawled out of his tent just in time to see the river closing over the hood of his new pickup.
Some years ago the North Fork acquired a manure spreader. It was either dumped into the river by a farmer or was swept up in a flood. Eventually it became lodged in the Deer Creek Riffle, one of the most popular fishing spots on the river.