Wednesday marked a milestone and it couldn’t be a bad trip unless I sank or otherwise messed up the dory. See, Oregon’s fall salmon returns were in a serious trough, a downturn of epic proportions. Coming off the huge runs of wild chinook and coho it seemed the good times would never end but . . . ocean conditions crapped out worse than the only time I ever went to a casino and the salmon disappeared. I mean, we are talking going from over 100,000 salmon in the Siuslaw to probably 15,000 fish and even what we considered huge was was down from historic returns of 300,000-450,000 fish.
So, I made what I considered a self-less decision. Well, almost self-less (I did hope my decision would please the fish-gods and bring me good karma in years to come). I decided not to fish for salmon until we started to come out of the trough. I figured the fish I would likely catch were more needed on their spawning grounds than in my gullet, a decision made easier by the plain fact that there weren’t very many fish to catch anyway. I did fish for salmon once last year on a river that has a hatchery run of coho and I caught a wild fish that was released by my nameless net man who contrary to instruction took a stab at the fish while it was still hot. Whatever. It would have been released anyway.
So it has been a full two years since I really fished salmon. But everything indicates that we are climbing out of the trough and recent heavy rains brought the Siuslaw up a boatable level. The environmental conditions all indicated a bonanza, a salmon stampede. I called my friend Mike, “It’s gonna be on like Donkey Kong.”
“Count me in.”
It was then I realized how my self-imposed exile was effecting me. As soon as I decided to fish my mood improved.
We put in just at first light and floated down to the Forks. I noticed right away one of my enemies in the Mckenzie wild fish fight on the water and I wondered if he noted my “elitist” fly guy gear: plugs, spinners and a bobber and jig set-up. Whatever. Strangely, there weren’t any fish around at the beginning of our float, we weren’t even seeing any “rollers” and no one was catching anything. The first salmon we saw was the buck Mike hooked:
This was Mike’s first salmon! A very respectable buck chinook, nice work, Mike! I think he was happy about it:
I’ll be darned though if the fish weren’t doing what the textbooks said they should. We kept working. Most boats and bankies had zero fish. Some had one. We worked down the second to last pluggable run on our drift and the left rod popped off in some heavy current. Fish on! We manuvered into some slack water and dropped anchor and the hen chinook took the fight to me. She kept using the heavy current to the river right to her advantage making repeated runs with the help of the fast water. The first time I saw her, she had the whole plug in her mouth. A few minutes later when she surfaced again I saw that only one tine of the rear treble was between me and a broken heart. But things went my way and we landed her. A quick inspection revealed why it had been such a battle, she still was strong with her sea-spirit:
We had to really work for our fish but it was great day on the water, not in numbers of fish, but it’s awesome to be back in the game!