A Three-Pound Coho

wadin' boot

Donny, you're out of your element...
By Wadin' Boot

I met James McDonald on the water. He was anchored just off a small riffle that the tides had churned up, just off the current seam in a wood dory with a fly line trailing out back. He seemed busy with something else, inattentive towards his line. Despite that, the way he was anchored, the site he chose, and the shape and lay of his boat on the water told me all I needed to know. He knew how to read water. He knew how to stake a good spot, in a place that up until now, I had considered mine. I had no doubt he also knew how to fish.

I’d never seen him before, which is odd as at one point I knew pretty much everyone around here that took to the water let alone fly-fished it. Times change though, the familiar becomes unfamiliar. Stories become truths, and with age, the past becomes more real, or maybe more important than the present. He greeted me like an old friend, a broad smile, a wave.

“Nice kayak… you build it yourself?”

“No sir…..Any luck today?”

“Not yet, not really trying, though they’ll be here no doubt in about fifteen minutes.”

His reckoning matched mine, which irritated me. It took me weeks, maybe even years to figure this place out.

“I’ve seen you before. From shore.”

A motion to the house on the point that always looked dead, abandoned. The kind of beautiful place that seemed so wasted. A quarter of a mile away, it was the only house visible. The rest was trees and water, a band of fog yet to burn still obscured some of the distant northern shores. A small head of a seal three hundred yards down current sized us up.

“You live there?”

“Just moved there three months ago.”

“From where?”

“Nowhere and everywhere. I just retired from the service.”

“Place must have gone for a lot. How much did you pay? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Didn’t. Place was my Dad’s. He never used it, never went there anymore. In fact, we hadn’t been out here for decades, since I was a kid really.”

“The good thing is, he used to fish all over here. In this thing. Which amazingly enough, still floats… Truth is, I’m not much of a fishermen. But he was. When I saw you hitting this spot and matched the dates and tides and so on from his journal from years past, I figured I’d try things myself. Fishing is just pattern recognition right?”

He sure liked to talk.

“I figure things out myself, with a little help of course.”

And with that he stood in the dory, stripped his line to get out all the slack, lifted his rod and began several confident, efficient casts. With his line shot, he stripped and his rod soon bowed, a nice strike met with enough of a set to confirm what I suspected, he knew what he was doing. He lied about being a poor fisherman. He laughed. I shook my head.

“You mind if I fish a little down and off from you?”

“Of course not, I was hoping you’d fish here, with me. This is your spot more than mine.”

He brought a searun cutt to the edge of his boat, leaned over, pulled it from the water and unhooked it. He threw it back in.

“My name’s James McDonald. Yours?”

“Matt Stevens.”

“Matt Stevens….that sounds familiar. I think you know my wife…. Lisa McDonald? You may have known her as Lisa Fenton? Blonde? Pretty?”

“There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. Sure I know Lisa. I mean I knew her. We were friends.”

“She said that. Said she was going to look you up when we moved here. She wanted to move here more than I did- believe it or not.”

I didn’t say anything. Would I lie more than that to a man I’ve never met before? Why wouldn't I believe him?

“Guess she never did…look you up that is?”

I didn’t answer him, just smiled. It was one of those glassy days on the sound. No movement but for water and animals. Distant, very distant jets. Maybe heading to NAS Whidbey, or SEATAC. You couldn't see them from here anyway.

“Sure is a small world”

“Sure is.”

So this was the husband. This was the James McDonald. Tangible, real. Similar to me. A fisherman, a fly-fisherman. Same build. Same age, same weight. He looked a little like me, though he kept his hair military length and held his posture better than I did. He had a new rod, a Z-axis if I wasn't mistaken, paired with a Lamson, a bigger boat, and no doubt had no trouble putting two and two together, what with a journal and binoculars. A military man, an Army Ranger, she said.

She told me he’d be here. She told me he’d be here today. She told him to fish here.

He lifted his line again, threw another cast, deeper, further this time. Out where the Coho liked to school and wait for the bait to push over the shelf's drop-off wall. He retrieved slow, much slower than I did, against the current, and as with this last cast he was on again, this time some weight in his rod and his reel spinning out. He laughed again, the fish was leaping.

“You should anchor up and fish Matt.”

“Will do.”

“Set that anchor tight, the tide is stronger than I thought it would be.”

I undid the cleat rope and took the anchor from between my legs. A fifteen pound bucket of concrete set in its tub with an eyebolt and a carabineer linking it to my rope. 50 lb test of braided nylon. Thin enough to easily cut with a diver’s knife in case of an emergency. You ever try swimming with fifteen pounds tangled around you? I have. Seal training.

I watched the bucket drop into the sound, towards the just visible garden of rocks six foot below. Mounded in places, like graves just filled. Like a smaller underwater version of the Mima mounds. Give ‘em enough rope. I run the anchor trolley so I’ll hold parallel to the current. Just 30 yards from James McDonald, closer than I really want, but hell, the fish were here. I cinch the cleat hard, make sure it’s tight. The simplest of knots, just a wrap really. He’s right, the current is strong today.

He must have released the fish because he was casting again. Three fish later, I was finally throwing my own casts, towards where I knew the fish should be, swinging in the current a little, running the tiny clouser in fits and starts. Nothing happened. I cast again, and again, nothing. Ten minutes pass. In that time he landed three more fish, he made it look easy. Reeling some of his line in, he sat in the dory, rested his rod against an oarlock and retrieved the oar and held it in his lap.

“What do you have on?”

“Can’t tell you that Matt. Wouldn’t be fair.”

“Let me ask you a question though.”


“What did you have on?”

“Clouser, brown and white. Size six. Fake polar bear.”

“No Matt. Not what I meant. I don’t care what you have on now, I mean what did you have on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh I think you know.”

“You know, when you slept with my wife last week?”
“Or the week before that for that matter?”

His voice carried perfectly clearly over the waters separating us. Thirty yards and dead quiet. No wind, perfect casting weather. I was halfway retrieved, I turned to look at him. She had described him as unpredictable. “Volatile” was the word she used. Cradled in his lap was no oar. Instead, a rifle. With all the calm of a man used to his gun he slowly loaded it. Lifted it a little, used one hand to point with it. A lightweight high velocity sort of gun, I couldn’t quite tell what it was. I should have worn my glasses.

“You should cast a little more to your left, to your blind side. That’s where they are holding. Go ahead, don’t mind me. Don't mind the gun.”

“Such a nice day isn’t it Matt? No-one to bother us but that seal. Maybe a bald eagle or two.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see him playing with the safety. Sighting things on shore, up towards the bluffs and then bringing his rifle back down.

“You never answered my question. What did you use?”

“I didn’t use anything James. She’s 45. She knows what she wants. Just like you and me.”

I could tell I hit a nerve there. Which is why I put my rod into its holder, line still out, mended a little so as to have some slack, maybe dead drifting was the way to do it. I watched him seethe a little. In the rod holder is my 6 weight TFO, nothing fancy. Between my legs there’s an M4A1 carbine rifle. The kind used for missions. It is loaded, the safety is off. I know this rifle very, very well. Like James McDonald, I have also done my twenty years of service, fifteen of it with the Seals, I know he does not know this.

“Why the gun James? If you’ll forgive me the cliché, there’s plenty of fish in this ocean for the both of us.”

“She didn’t tell me you were funny.”

“She told me you were crazy….nearsighted…abusive”

"She always could lie...I hope you've realized that."

"She's not lying about that. She's leaving you."

I thought that might get him to squeeze off a round. Rifle to his shoulder he lined me up and for a moment I thought I had overplayed my card, he had me sighted well, blind or not, his bead looked good. Do the nearsighted get better with age or is it the farsighted? Seems like a lame last thought but that’s all I came up with.

"Over my dead body..."

Then his reel began to pull, and his rod rattled off its position and danced towards the back of the dory, heading for the sound. He was on again, a dead drift hookup. (I’ve thought about this moment a lot, was it reflex that he dove for his rod, or was it some hierarchy that he had in his mind- that his rod was more valuable to him than teaching me a lesson, possibly a permanent one?) In any case his rifle dropped, his hands gripped the rod, barely, he stood up, set the hook further, overset, the fish dragged into a violent cartwheel from its leap, and he turned to smile at me.

“Well ain't that a kick in the pants, huh Matt…hooked another one…how many you catch today?”

The M4A1 in competent hands at close range is an extremely accurate rifle. The impact of that bullet in a trash-talking man standing in a wobbling dory while fighting what looked to be a 2lb resident coho sent him over the edge and into the waters. His was a chest wound, the kind that meant I wouldn’t have to swim after him.

I undid the cleat knot. Pulled my anchor, and paddled over to James McDonald, and his father's dory. Mostly in the water, he'd managed to hold the gunnel, too short of breath to speak, too weak to reach for his gun. I clipped my anchor trolley to his oarlock, secured his rod in my second holder, fish still on, moved into his boat, and retrieved my anchor.

James McDonald did not look well, he was ebbing fast. My anchor rope wrapped under his arms once, twice, three times. I tied it tight.

“You know James there’s some things that bother me about today. And Lisa is not one of them. See I have known Lisa a long time. A lot longer than you, believe it or not. No it’s more the courtesy of it all that bothers me. The sort of petty things that can irritate a man and cause him to act irrationally."

I pried one finger from the gunnel.

“One, you took my spot.”

Finger number two off.

“Two, you don’t release your fish while they are in the water.”

All of his left hand off.

“Three, you should have shot when you had the chance, like a Ranger, no hesitation, take the shot, shoot to kill, you know that...”

All of his right hand off. I press the concrete bucket to his chest, he reached to hold it there. Then he slipped away, down with the current, towards the dropoff where the Coho schooled and where the seals and squids lurked.

I would have to take care of some things. I would need to land this fish. Figure out what to do with his gun. Row the dory back to the house, moor it. Paddle back to the launch. What was it that Lisa wanted me to get at the grocery? Fennell? She was going to make me something fancy that needed fennel. And Bacon too. She said fennel was a spice, she said variety was the spice of life. But then again she’s always said that, long as I’ve known her, true or not, I don't know. I reeled the fish in, the Z-axis sure performed well, not as good as XP mind you, though still admirable. I made a mental note to cast it some before the day was done, really put it through some paces. The fish was a three-pound Coho, I took the hook out, revived him as best I could. McDonald was using a brown and white clouser that looked like one of my ties...I’d have to ask Lisa about that...
Superb read as usually:thumb: However, you always leave us "hanging" with the rest of the story! When are you going to be writing a" best" selling book?



the Menehune stole my beer
Boot knows dark......you need to read his award-winning "Shining Path" story or the one about the guy on horseback getting ambushed by two sasquatch and getting his head torn from his body......this is light saccharin compared to that! nice work Boot....this would make a good Twilight Zone story..........or Night Gallery.......I can hear Rod Serling narrating it...........

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Way to drop that sucker for not keeping his fish in the water! Nice read Mr. Boot. Hope your upcoming trip and this story don't run parallel lines!


Active Member
Boot knows dark......you need to read his award-winning "Shining Path" story or the one about the guy on horseback getting ambushed by two sasquatch and getting his head torn from his body......this is light saccharin compared to that! nice work Boot....this would make a good Twilight Zone story..........or Night Gallery.......I can hear Rod Serling narrating it...........

hmm you're right, I've only been following for a few years. i'll have to dig up the other works....

keep it up Boot, always look forward to your work...

Nate Dutton

I'm a teacher, I fish to eat!
Awesome!!! Reminds me of one of my favorite authors David Morrell. Highly Capable military men, the out doors, fly fishing no less, and Matt doesn't blink and eye when he has to do what he has to do!! Awesome story Boot!