Sometimes I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I get to live right on the river. Of course, the great thing about Spokane is that we all get to be pretty much right on the river. From most places in the city, you are never more than a few minutes away from a stretch of rocky shoreline. Being so close, the river calls to us to go boating, angling, swimming or simply walking along its banks. If you’re willing to get right out in it, wading a mellow stretch or along the water’s edge, the river will push you like some old Sensei. With a little awareness, rambling the banks and riffles is a simple, safe and special way to explore our urban river and learn a few river lessons in the process.
It all starts by busting down the bunchgrass banks towards the glitter of moving water. When pines have given way to willow along the bank, you’ll teeter along on basketball-sized basalt cobbles and granite boulders, perched like Jenga blocks without sand and gravel to keep them stable. Here, three points of contact are a good thing. Four is even better – my dog is living proof. I suggest using a wading staff. Many times I’ve gone without one, only to get caught up in my own version of high-speed Tai Chi atop the rollicking river rocks.
As you move, keep your eyes where you want to put your feet and prepare for the cobbles to play games with you. Rolling here, sliding there, and shifting in strange ways. Our venerable teacher can quickly humble the nimblest among us. I have fallen countless times. Ruined more than one phone, broken fly rods and lost gear among the rocks. Cut the conversation as you rock hop. Go inward and focus. Oh yes, also remember your 8th grade geology. Basalt rocks are smooth and as slippery as a trout’s back. Stick to the rough granite as it will not betray your grip.
Use the right footwear. If you are fishing, use felt soles and studs. Avoid flip flops like a bad case of giardia. They fall off, become river flotsam and leave your feet helpless against the unforgiving river stones. I once fished across the lower river in open-toed sandals and experienced the unique pleasure of mashing all of my toes into cracks between hard boulders. Last and most important, never challenge the river. Sometimes the place you want to go seems so close. Just across that hole or those waves – learn to stop and check in with your common sense. Always ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” Imagine the answer and remember our river is lovely and lethal. I have lost one friend to its waters and have had two near misses myself. At high flows, this teacher can be old school enough to hit you with the big stick for being stupid. //
Jerry White Jr. learned to fly fish at a young age and has been exploring Northwest rivers by boat and on foot ever since. In 2014, he signed on as the Spokane Riverkeeper, turning his lifelong passion for our local river into a full-time job.
Editor’s Note: “River Rambles” is a new column by Spokane Riverkeeper Jerry White Jr. that will explore the twists and turns of river people, river issues and the good times to be had on Spokane’s rambling river gem. Look for more of his rambles in upcoming issues.
International Fly Fishing Film Festival—March 25
What’s better than hanging with friends, talking about fishing and watching very cool films all while supporting the Spokane River? On March 25 at the Bing, downtown Spokane, the 2015 International Fly Fishing Film Festival will feature short and feature-length films from all corners of the world that showcase the passion, lifestyle and culture of fly-fishing. Enjoy a beverage and fantastic raffle prizes and auction items in support of improved boat access on the Spokane River. The festival is presented by Silver Bow Fly Shop in partnership with Spokane River Forum, Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited and Spokane Riverkeeper. Doors open at 5 p.m. for the auction/raffle and films start at 7. Advanced tickets are $15. More info:
Spokaneriver.net/film. // (OTM)