Rivers Without Salmon – July 8, 2007

Rivers without salmon?

Of late, I was thinking about why I fly fish for salmon.  Amongst all my rationalization, I was trying to convince myself that catching salmon onthe fly was really secondary to the hunt, the pursuit, to time on the water, dawn and dusk in the estuaries, the low clear water of autumn and the gentle river raise that follows a spring freshet.

I just about had myself convinced that all these things were enough, that it didn’t really matter whether I ever caught another salmon in my life.  fter all, I reasoned, I have fished days and weeks on end without so much as a tug.  Why not whole seasons without hooking a king?  I would still have my art to practice, the river sounds and smells.

Then it came to me, and it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.  I can devote those days and weeks on end as long as I have the genuine hope of hooking a salmon.  I always see salmon, at least every other day or so, sometimes every day.  I may or may not be able to draw the tug, but I have solace knowing that I am fishing among salmon.  My time on the estuaries and rivers is special because I know that salmon live there.  I know that I have a chance to catch a fish.  I can see their wakes, see them rolling, glimpse the  shadow of salmon in pools.

What is it about salmon fishing that I love, if not the salmon?  could I love just the rivers, just the waters?  As much as I love swinging a fly through the water, my ritual would be empty, farcical, if I knew that no salmon were there to see my fly.

Returning season after season to familar places, exploring new pools and tide flats, what joy would that hold if not for the salmon?

None.  None at all.  learning the proper tides to fish, the salmon’s habits, the flies they will take, the lines to fish, how the weather and river flows affect their movements – all of this would be irrelevant.  The anticipation of tying a fly, of planning a trip, of seeking the perfect anchor point – would be pointless if not for salmon beneath the waters.

So after all, it is not enough to feel the power in a good cast, focus on packing flies neatly  in  fly boxes, change lines at the end of a season, dream of a new rod, or be the first (or last) on the water.  None of the joys I feel while salmon fishing matter the slightest without the salmon beneath the surface.

I have been confused for years, thinking that loving the art of fly fishing could sustain me.  The art of the fly. Camaraderie and the weather and the river’s song.

Now I know with certainty, that the salmon are the ingredient that flows through everything else.  Without salmon, the rivers are uninteresting to me.  I acknowledge that this is irrational and unfair to the ecosystem that could still survive without salmon.

But still, rivers without salmon hold no interest to me.


8 thoughts on “Rivers Without Salmon – July 8, 2007

  1. wise words….wise man….rivers without salmon, we are kansas, as we now have all the strip malls and the corn.

  2. The question of why I continue to fish for salmon is a difficult one indeed. It is even more confounding those rare moments when one directly intuits their life or death struggle at the end of your fly line. So what is that I really feel when I release such a one?
    Science and technology cannot fix what has gone wrong for salmon, only a change of heart can help the salmon now. One’s heart must be broken for the truth of the salmon’s plight to enter inward – it cannot be placed there by one’s faulty reason alone.

  3. A good fisherman is also a steward ofbthe waters he fishes. Stewardship implies not only the responsibility to watch over the river but also to selectively sample it’s bounty so that you can better understand and promote the fishery. MB

  4. And yet, here we are fishing over a hatchery run of spring salmon, where wild ones are on the brink, thrown to the dogs, written off by even our best biologists. We know the one thing–maybe the only thing– ODFW could do to help the wild fish is to get rid of the hatchery program.

    Would you rather maintain the current artifice for the gratification of anglers like you and me? That’s the question worth asking here. Because, my friend, whether you acknowledged it or not, you were always there for the fish. And the way your essay is laid out, it can be read as a rationalization for otherwise harmful hatchery programs.

    ODFW needs to get serious about the protection and restoration of wild coastal spring chinook, and the finger is being magnetically attracted to you, big guy.

    With love and respect.

  5. In the week since my comment, I’ve been very fortunate to hear from ODFW leadership on the issue of wild spring chinook conservation. Thanks to you and your fisheries partners for taking these wild salmon into consideration as you work toward a compromise.

  6. Thanks Jay –
    My context due to the places i live and fish, are in steelhead. Same issue, just a different stripe. I’ll add…..Idaho feels like the stone age, when compared to Oregon, when it comes to the appreciation, or lack there of, of wild fish, vs. hatchery hotdogs… But that is another discussion….
    It is frustrating to be in the minority when it comes to the appreciation of anadromous salmonids in our rivers, and the NEED to have them there, and in abundance…..

  7. While your words are about your love of salmon and the rivers that hold them, it is no less true of many of our fisheries. Thanks for putting things in perspective and reminding us of whats important.


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