This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

October 11th, 2004

How to (Avoid) Swim in Saltwater

My husband, JC/Castwell, and I are looking forward to the Salmon season here in the great Northwest.

The Chum salmon run usually starts around Halloween and runs into December. There will be fish around long after we've decided it's just too bloody cold to fish for them anymore.

I was talking to a friend about fishing the salt up here (he is a Florida fisherman) and mentioned our huge tide swings. We can have, especially on a full moon, as much as a 13 foot tide change. That gives real meaning to fish coming in on the tide!

Fishing for Chum; they mill around in the estuary, usually in large schools or smaller pods. Once they head for their natal stream, their numbers are such that you can see the wake caused by the mass of fish - many of which will have their dorsal fins out of the water. It is exciting to see, especially if you are in a position to cast ahead of the fish as they approach.

Sometimes there are too many spin fishermen aiming their big, heavy 'buzz bombs' at them as they approach and the fish will veer off away from the stream. Almost always the fish will circle, clockwise, and make another run at the stream. These fish are really tough fighters and if they have room to run, they will exit the estuary heading for open water. They can empty your reel very quickly. I've been 'spooled' more than one time by the same fish before I landed it. I should mention these fish run from 10 to 30 pounds.

One of the places we fish changes quite a bit from year to year. The freshwater stream cuts a new channel to the estuary, or several over the course of the year. It pays to make a scouting trip before the season to figure out where it's safe to wade (or not). You do this on a low tide of course.

I have a personal problem fishing here, especially on an incoming tide. For some reason I want to take a forward step each time I deliver the final cast. More than one time Castwell has either grabbed my wader straps and suggested I take a couple of steps back - or at least mentioned it out loud. I've been so involved in the fishing I just didn't pay attention to how deep I was actually getting. It's called water over the top of your waders. Considering the temperature of the local saltwater is generally 52 degrees or less, one gets pretty cold, fast!

One of the funnier things I've seen over the Chum seasons is a friend who knew there was a bad hole in the estuary, but because he was so tuned in to the fishing, he simply walked right into it. That didn't even slow him down, much less faze him. He walked out the other side, pulled off his hat and sweater, rang them out by hand, put them back on and continued to fish! Trust me, it was not a warm day!

Besides being aware of how much the tide may change while you are fishing (also so you don't get stranded somewhere either) there are other problems. With the huge tide change, a very large portion of the 'bottom' is exposed for many hours. The exposed bottom might be sand, shells, rock, gravel, covered with eel grass or a very slippery coating of green slime. Really slippery. Now you have to make a decision of what kind of soles for either wading booting or waders. Felt? Cleat? Either one is going to wrong at some time. Careful is the word.

If the weather is really bad we'll probably fish anyway - we have rain gear and will stay reasonably dry - but big waves caused by container ships or tugs hauling big loads - can knock you off your feet. We kid about watching for a dark line that suddenly appears - but it isn't anything to laugh about. It means head for the beach, fast. I've seen several guys knocked off their feet and 'swim' under that situation. Gratefully it hasn't happened to me yet.

I did take a swim a couple of years ago, but it was at least in part my fault. Some little kid came running up behind me just as I was going to make the final cast, and instead of taking a chance on hooking her with a big fly, I dropped the cast behind me - as I did, turned to check on her and a big dark line appeared and I was swimming. No harm done, at least that was a somewhat warm day.

There are some things you just can't avoid - you can try, but sooner or later you going to go for a swim in the salt. ~ DLB

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