End of 2009 Salmon Season
December 5, 2009. I called it quits for the season today. Not that there aren’t fresh Chinook still to come. Not that I’ve really had enough for the year. It’s my intuition telling me that I have stretched myself, my family, about to our respective limits.
This has been a good year. An exceptional year, in fact. Not because of the number of kings I have caught. Come to think of it, every salmon season has been a good season, in one way or another. One year I caught only two chrome kings – two fish for two weeks of effort. That was a good year too.
Each salmon season, in some way, has brought some new gift. Each salmon season has brought disappointments, joys, learning, friendship, and increasingly, appreciation of how deeply I am connected to salmon. The connection is, at the very least, deeply spiritual, and borders on physical.
Calling an end to salmon season is a big deal. Big deal.
My last day on the river began, as my days often do, in the dark, alone at the boat ramp, sliding into the water an hour before any reasonable human would. The moon was full three days ago and wasn’t quite as bright as it was then. Still, I had enough light to make my way downriver two hours before daylight. It was dead calm and the morning’s dew fell as ice. A mist hung over the river. Three beavers slapped the water in a pool as I rowed past.
I dined on Quickie-mart coffee and a cinnamon roll as I drifted through pools. My coffee was already cold. I took my heart meds early, knowing I was likely to forget after daylight when I focused on fishing.
An hour downriver, I reached my first anchor point, carefully chosen during daylight, marked by a weed patch as an anchor drop and a tree stump where my bow needed to line-up.
Dawn broke. No fish showed. No nervous water. No wakes. The morning sun was glorious on the hillside.
Did I mention that it was cold? Now and then, I tried to warm my hands in pockets or on my neck. My Prototype Burkie, still fishing with thirty feet of line dangling in the current, was iced up.
I fished and fished; hung-up on tree branches, broke off leaders, moved anchor points, and fished on. Still no fish showed. Today was not like yesterday, when I caught three kings and had fairly consistent encouragement from rolling chrome.
Eventually, I called it quits and pushed downriver.
In tidewater, I saw a school of kings waking to the head of a pool, turning when they hit the shallows, and returning to the pool below. It was clear and sunny, the water raising with an incoming tide. I positioned my self at the head of the pool, hoping to intercept grabby fish as they turned.
Then I saw a big bull seal and two companions, herding salmon around the pool. That was enough to dissipate any remaining hope, so I pushed out against a harsh wind blowing in from the ocean.
The gravel bar where I usually take out was under six feet of water, and whitecaps swept in from the lagoon. More seals prowled the estuary as I winched the boat onto the trailer.
Heading for home mid-afternoon, I ran out of gas just south of Bandon, perhaps symbolizing my final day of this salmon season. I napped in the truck until a tap, tap, tap, from the tow-truck driver woke me. A triple shot Mocha at the coffee kiosk in Bandon, a fill-up at the gas station, and I was back on the road.
December 6th. My tackle is piled in the garage, stacked against my drift boat. Cleanup time. My reels protest with embedded sand and silt. My rods have Tillamook Bay mud, Nestucca grime, and Elk River beach sand in the reel-seat threads. I have who-knows-how-many half-used leader spools scattered among different bags, pockets, and vests. Clean-up will take time – dealing with bent hooks, dulled points, frayed running lines, nicked shooting heads, half-empty fly boxes, and a pile of clothes that I practically slept in. Actually, some days, I did sleep in them.
Today, though, the 2009 salmon season is over.
Note to self: look at tide book to begin planning for 2010 salmon season.
PS: December 10, 2009. The rivers have remained low for a full week now. My gear is still in a heap in the garage. I wonder if I could get away for the day Saturday. Nah, we’re getting a Christmas tree Saturday. Sunday? Maybe.