Friday, September 26, 2014


Damn! Instead of salmon fishing today as planned, I’m sitting here in a Les Schwab tire shop waiting for a leaky tire to be fixed. As I headed out two hours before sunrise, the low-pressure warning light on my dashboard told me that fate had intervened in my well-laid plans. Damn.

So instead, let me tell you about the big one I caught three days ago.

In the pre-dawn stillness, I had launched my boat and zoomed upstream. After years of navigating the river, I can run fast even in the dark and know just how to dodge the motor-killing ledges and rocks. I headed to my favorite spot where a narrow underwater slot in shallow rapids funnels any migrating salmon into a predictable run. But a light in the distance told me someone else had gotten up even earlier and already was anchored there.
I fished a few hours in the vicinity, but no salmon. That’s when I decided to move to a spot several miles upriver and give it a serious shot. It’s a hole well-known to the locals and fishing guides, but tough to fish, especially alone. That’s why I’d never spent much time there and never had caught anything.

Deep and fast water below some gnarly rapids, the hole requires motoring fast across the current and into a whirlpool right on the rocky bank, ramming the boat’s bow up onto the shallow rock shelf, then quickly throwing the anchor up on the shore’s rocks, tying the rope tight, meanwhile hoping the river’s back eddy hasn’t twirled the boat’s stern back into the current.
An hour into bouncing a gob of stinky, slimy orange salmon eggs weighted with an ounce of lead sinker along the bottom twelve feet below, the big salmon grabbed it right as it passed the back of the boat. Even though I’d not caught a decent-sized salmon since last fall, it’s kind of like riding a bike. You don’t forget the feeling.  There was no doubt this was a big fish.

The spinning reel screamed as line burned off its spool. “This is why we pay the big money,” I smiled to myself, enjoying the surge of adrenaline as my light, under-powered rod shuddered with the strain.
I tightened the reel’s braking drag to slow the salmon’s run but to no effect. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was fast running out of line.

With my left hand holding the rod high, line too-quickly vanishing downstream, I jumped to the front of the boat and undid the anchor rope, flipped it overboard, put a foot over the boat’s side and pushed off the shallow ledge into the fast current, then flipped the battery-powered trolling motor into place – all in seconds. Then the chase was on as I scooted downstream while reeling back line as fast as I could.

Time loses meaning when you're fighting a big fish, so I have no idea how long our battle lasted. Line in, line out – the z-z-z-z-z-zzzz music that anglers live for.
Netting a big fish alone can be awkward. With just one hand on the rod and reel, the other handling the big net, all kinds of things can go wrong. A tricky surge by a lightly-hooked fish, the net bumps the fish and it freaks out, the net’s mesh snags the hook and not the fish – I’ve managed any boneheaded mistake possible.

Not this time, though. “That is a nice fish,” I gushed out loud, admiring the fat, wild chinook salmon. Thunk! went the priest. Thunk!

I hoisted my prize from the scales – 20 pounds, 4 ounces. It was my first salmon over 20 pounds – at least in this, my home water. After taking a few selfies-with-fish, I strung it on a rope, sliced a knife through its gills to bleed it, and let it hang behind the boat in the current before bending it to fit in my cooler. Later, I confirmed it was a hen salmon, full of eggs that now are cured and ready to fool and catch her kin one day soon.
But not today.

As for that leaky tire that kept me home – the mechanic just informed me that there was nothing wrong with it. The wheel’s pressure sensor, which is affixed inside the tire to the valve stem, had come off (and was just bouncing around the inside of the tire). Ain’t that a pisser?
Fate decreed that somewhere in my river, at least one salmon that should have been mine will swim free today.

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