Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Beyond Catch Statistics
It is pretty normal for people who fly fish for Chinook salmon (or steelhead, trout, bass, carp, pogie, tuna bonefish, swordfish, jellyfish, or whatever) to enumerate their catch. They like to be able to tell anyone who cares to listen, just exactly how many fish of this or that sort they caught, and how many they lost on a given day, or over a week, a season, and so on.
Here is how it can sound. “Went 17 for 37 on the Siletz.” “Got six over 30-pounds last week.” “Eight summers by 9 AM; laid around camp all day and then went zero for 13 the same evening. ” And one of my favorites: “Packed 157 pounds of fillets home from Alaska last summer.”
Only a week ago, anchored in a great pool on the River Styx, I listened to a fellow salmon angler as he recounted, and recounted, and recounted – again – days on this same river when he had caught twenty-five kings, or twelve kings, or two forty-pounders on two consecutive casts, or days when it was a salmon on every cast. Every cast.
Sometimes we miss the point entirely when we do this.
I have a friend who invested eleven days into his first chinook on a fly.
He had seen many salmon over those eleven days. He fished and fished, cast and cast, tried and tried. Different pools. Different rivers. Changed flies. Went home and tied new flies. Sunrises on the water. Sunsets. Giant Maple leaves drifting to the river’s surface. Great blue Heron squawking. Kingfishers chattering. Sea run cutthroat romping on his Comets. Silvers following all the way to the rod-tip or just rolling to let him know there were sharing he river.
He experienced eleven days of genuine soul-time on the water, and finally, he caught a king salmon too, a fish he will remember forever.
One day this season, I was alone on the river at daybreak. Kings were waking into the pool below me. They cruised over the shallows into the bucket where I cast my fly.
My heart raced. I had just the right anchor point, just the right fly line, to show my fly to many chrome salmon that morning. Chinook stormed toward me in groups of three, six, and over a dozen or so; some settled into the pool under my fly. Some turned to glide across the shallows and continue upriver.
The day brightened slowly, monochromatic grey of dawn blossoming into a scene splashed with greens and yellows and red and browns; the hull of a sunken blue boat radiant in the morning sun.
Eventually, the salmon calmed, refusing to show themselves.
My day on the river ended without a grab. I had no catch to count on that day; only a precious memory of excitement, anticipation, and an image of salmon all around, preparing to complete their circle of life.
May we all learn to hold these “fishless” days precious as those when we have a catch to count.