Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal
August 7, 2010.
Sea Run cutthroat are in; thirty-plus fish day; King salmon grabby on small flies.
That is how the headlines read.
Wow. Every word is true.
But – – – – – –
Sometimes the truth has little twists and turns that could be sorted out, if one wished to sort them out.
On the other hand, maybe the nuances of the truth should be left to lay, because that’s how legends are made, or so it seems.
August 7, 2010 was indeed a legendary fishing day. A legendary day fly fishing for sea run cutthroat in oregon. A legendary day fly fishing for chinook salmon in oregon. Please allow me to set the record straight, by filling in the details behind the headlines.
Steve and I were going fly fishing for sea run cutthroat. We decided to sleep in (Steve) and do some work on the computer (Jay). I was to meet Steve at his home at 7 AM. at 6:45, I’m about to ump in the truck and the hone rings. “Take your time,” Steve tells me. OK, this gives me another half hour to multi-task.
We head for the coast. It’s been waaaaay to long since we have been fishing together and especially fly fishing for sea run cutthroat. Usually I anchor in the rock hole on the South Santiam and make Steve fish there for 6 hours straight. . We blather. Mostly I blather. I relate many stories about my expeditions chasing sea run cutthroat, the elusive blue back, the harvest trout.
By the way, please excuse my inconsistency in capitalization of all these fish names. Sometimes I do, sometimes I do not capitalize common fish names. I suppose as a fish scientist I should be consistent and proper. My friend Rob constantly chides me, rightly so, but what the heck. Time is short, my mind wanders. I am inwardly conflicted about whether or not these fish names should be capitalized, so I wander around doing this and that, not worrying about it. Rob will edit our books and get it straight when the time is right.
So we’re driving to our sea run cutthroat fly fishing destination, and after every story I tell, Steve says: “really”? As if I was making it up. Sometimes he asks if the storied fishing trip occurred during the most recent two decades. I act appropriately offended, laugh, and tell another story. So what if I exaggerate. So what if the story relates to a fishing trip in 1967. Who cares, really?
We go fishing. We hook 4 honest-to-goodness Sea Run Cutthroat. See what I mean about capitalization? Three of the 4 fish are larger than usual. One is an honest 17”, measured against a tape on the boat. We have a great time and drive home in the afternoon sun. It has been a great day fly fishing for sea run cutthroat, because any day when you find a Blueback or two that is willing to rush your fly is a great day.
I go home and email Chris Daughters a photo of the 17″ Sea Run Cutthroat with a caption that reads, “Sea runs are in.”
It is about 5 PM.
Jackson, want to go up to Foster? Sure dada. Will we get root beer floats? Nah, I say, a big smile on my face.
We stop for a to-go burrito, a kid’s quesadilla, and it is on the road for the South Santiam. Think about it. Head west in the morning. Fly fish for sea runs. Catch a few. Catch one big Blueback, fresh from the sea. Then load up your son and your pram and head east. Life is good.
Jackson and I arrive and get the Pram in the water by 7 PM. We have seats in the Pram now. Joe Koffler has leaned out the interior for me, just as I requested. No fish box – don’t keep fish any more. Cut off the slide for the fish box – one less fly line hang-up gizmo. grind off the anchor bracket I never use in the center of the transom. Weld up the various holes I have drilled in the transom over the years. Cut off one rope seat. This leaves one bench with a rope seat and one bench that I will equip with foam so that one or two passengers will have a comfortable place to sit. I can row from either seat position. Strengthen one of my Dirks anchor cleats so that it doesn’t bend over when the rope catches while the anchor is descending at mach three.
Jackson sees a fish rise, and he tells me we are going to catch a lot of fish tonight. I say, maybe yea, maybe no. He wants to know why. I am distracted and give several conflicting answers, each is greeted with another question and each question answered with internally contradictory rationale. He laughs at me and we row the pram out from the boat ramp to anchor.
Jackson is dragging his fly and has a fish on before I get the anchor set. An hour and a half on the water allows us to hook and release over thirty fish. The vast majority are hatchery Chinook juveniles that never migrated out of the river when they were released in the spring. These little Chinook are all fin clipped (adipose fin), are starting to turn yellowish, indicating that they are approaching sexual maturity. We catch two wild cutthroat and two wild steelhead juveniles, plus a few residual hatchery steelhead that, like the hatchery Chinook, never went to sea like they were supposed to.
Last time Jackson and I fished here a Hare’s ear soft hackle (#14) was the hot fly. Tonight it is a #16 Renegade. What a great fly. The fish are wanting the fly on top, with a dead drift, as often as they want it skittering on the surface or raising to the surface from a wet swing.
Jackson casts and catches fish. He hands me the rod to cast. I pass the rod to him, sometimes he passes a fish to me. He constantly jibes me about whether or not fish feel pain and don’t I feel bad torturing the fish. I finally ask him to not spoil it for me, after going through the science and the genetic fact that we men are hunters, and the respect-for-our-prey rationale. He sees all the loopholes in my defensive answers and enjoys needling me.
There are twenty or so guys fishing for steelhead at the hatchery deadline, a hundred yards upstream. We hear lots of cussing, and they are foul hooking a lot of fish. One fly fisher wades into the water at the deadline on the south side of the river. He hooks a fish and looses it.
Jackson and I talk about cussing and bad angling ethics and hatchery and wild fish, and how can I tell that they are foul hooking fish, and why it is bad to try to foul hook fish, and why would anyone try to foul hook fish. All of my wisdom is impaired by the fact that I am having fun concentrating on the fishing. Jackson is messing with the oars, trying to see if he can scare the fish off, paying only a little attention to our conversation.
Shall we go now, I ask at 8:15. Let’s make a few more casts, my son says. He really is having a good time, and I smile.
We pull out after dark, Jackson winches the Pram on the trailer, we call Lisa to let her know when we will be home, and we are ready to hit the road.
Chris Daughters and I have a quick email exchange before I pull out of the parking lot at Foster.
My email to Chris reads like this: “30+ fish up at Foster with Jackson.”
I talked to Chris the next day. He told me how he related my amazing day fly fishing for Sea Run Cutthroat to a mutual friend. Chris said he knows how rare it is to hook close to three-dozen Blueback in a day.
I laughed. I cried. Yes the Sea Runs were in. Yes I caught some. Yes one was 17”.
But – – – the 30+ fish part of the story was about trout-size hatchery fish up at Foster, not sea runs. Chris was laughing too, by this time, and we talked about how missing a word or two in a conversation or an email can really change the message.
Imagine if I had emailed that we had caught close to thirty Chinook on flies (all true) that day?
These are the truths and half-truths that legends are made of.