Pipeline memories: Family friend remembers Liam Wood's passion for fishing

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 9, 2009 

Liam Wood first came to our house in early spring of 1994. For weeks our son, Evan, had talked about a boy in his class who tied flies and liked to fish. Evan was in eighth grade at Fairhaven Middle School. We lived near Lake Padden, swam and fished there during the summer, walked and explored the hills behind it in the winter. Evan had friends, but none of them were avid fishermen like he was. When Liam came to dinner, he talked about Oregon, from where he had moved. All of his stories were about fishing. He was slender in build, cheerful and enthusiastic.

The boys became friends. Evan went on a rafting trip down the Methow River with Liam's family. At our house, the boys set up fly tying vises in the living room, and there were feathers and yarn strewn everywhere. They talked about different fly patterns, about woolly buggers and nymphs.

In early summer the mayflies (hexagenia sp.) began to hatch at Lake Padden. Each evening we took the boys down to the boat launch with the old Livingston, a slow rowboat, but so stable that both boys could stand without tipping it over. They rowed off to the cove on the far side of the lake. Around dusk one of us drove down to meet them. If it was my turn, I would stop in the parking area near the swimming area. On the far side of the lake the boys could be dimly seen standing in the boat, their arms flashing as they cast again and again, and their voices drifting softly across the water. It grew darker. Finally the casting stopped, and they rowed towards the boat launch. Fishing was done for the night, although the talk went on about this strike or that strike, or how this fish they caught and released was different from the last.

There were many fishing trips in the next few years. Fly fishing for bass at Lake Terrell, bluegill and perch fishing at Fazon Lake. A few times we trailored the boat to Lummi Island and found a place to launch it. We motored to Lummi Rocks and spent the day bottom fishing for sole and rockfish. The three of us in the little boat never caught much on those long summer days, but the boys talked for hours about the girls at their middle school and they compared their teachers. They made plans for future trips. They talked about fly patterns and told of fish they had caught or had almost caught. The fish in the stories grew larger. When the day ended, we slowly motored back to the launch site and headed for home.

After the start of school, we only saw Liam on the weekends. December found the boys fly fishing for salmon in the Samish River, usually in the rain. Winter was a time to tie flies and plan for the spring.

One year the boys decided they had to go to Rocky Ford Creek near Moses Lake, because they heard that it was a premium fly fishing stream. They reasoned that if they went early in the year, there would be few other fishermen and they could get good locations along the bank. On a Friday evening in late March, we left Bellingham and drove across the mountains. We reached Rocky Ford Creek after midnight and just beyond it found a dirt track leading into the sagebrush. We followed it. A coyote crossed the trail in front of us, and his eyes reflected in the headlights. At an open spot, we laid out our tarp and sleeping bags. The Eastern Washington sky was bright with stars. The boys talked about the flies they were going to use the next day and how many fish they would catch. We fell asleep. It was bitterly cold when I woke. Dawn was visible in the east, but it was still dark. The boys were dressed and they talked softly as they found their fishing gear, while the beams of their flashlights bobbed around the campsite. They took off towards the creek. When it was light, I went down to the stream. The boys were working their way up the stream, fishing at likely spots. There were no other cars or fishermen to be seen. No competition, but also no fish. "We must have come too early," said Liam, "The water is too cold." We spent the next two days visiting lakes, walking in the Potholes and watching hawks and coyotes. No fish were caught, but it didn't matter. Fishing gave the boys a reason to be there.

The cycle of the fishing seasons returned each year. The boys grew more independent. They walked up and down Whatcom Creek roll casting flies into each likely hole. In November they went to the mouth of the creek and cast flies for salmon from the bank across from the crowded jetty. December saw them at the Samish River, fishing for salmon and sea run cutthroat trout. Spring was trout season, sometimes hiking in to Lost Lake on Chuckanut. Summer was always the mayfly hatch at Padden.

I seldom saw Liam during his final two years of high school. The boys were busy. They talked of girls and had constant activities. Liam often fished alone. He was growing into a tall, well built, young man, cheerful, sometimes brash and outspoken. Once in the summer of 1998, he and Evan showed up at the house and asked me to come along with them. Liam drove out Mt. Baker Highway to Mosquito Lake Road, where we parked near the Nooksack River. I followed them upstream until we came to a side channel. There in the shallow water, hundreds of salmon were milling about. The water boiled with the activity of their spawning. Liam had found this spot and had returned to town to get us. For an hour or more we watched and talked softly. It was a wonderful sight, once so common in the Northwest, and one that could be again if we restore our streams, and manage the ocean stocks of fish. It was the last time I saw Liam out in the woods. He had grown into a thoughtful and caring young man, and he liked what he was doing.

In 1997 and 1998, Liam fished on the Skagit and Nooksack Rivers and sometimes sent fishing reports on his experiences on the rivers to a website on fishing conditions. These can be read at www.nwfishing.com. On December 5, 1998 he wrote:

"Fished the Skagit above the Big-Bend pool for hatchery fish I must've walked miles and miles of riverbank. I fished so many different pools, I can't remember them all. Somewhere above big-bend and downstream from Marblemount I had a tremendous take. Ten minutes later a ten-pound, chrome-bright fish was landed and released. I hooked it on a purple/pink Marabou Spider, fished on a slow sinking sink-tip. Looks like the fish are finally coming in!"

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