Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 6th, 2000


Something really neat took place this past week. My husband JC and I were attempting to fish for Chum Salmon locally on Puget Sound when our friend Al Roberts walked out to the estuary. He didn't have a fly rod in hand, he just stopped to visit. ( Hmmm, friends must know us pretty well to know where to find us at various times of the year.) Al brought a friend, Hugo, along. Hugo was interested in learning about fishing, and he had never seen salmon in his native land, Mexico.

Fish were very few and far between. A couple of spin-fishermen we know from other places were there, and we had chatted during the afternoon. They weren't having any luck either, just no fish. Finally, a very small group of four fish made the run for the stream. I kidded the spinning guys about not doing their job as the fish got by.

About the same time, Hugo makes a run upstream on the bank trying to get a look at the fish. We waved him farther upstream and he got there just in time to see the rooster-tails caused by the four salmon streaking upstream through some shallow water. There is a deeper pool above the shallow stretch where they can rest before making another upstream dash.

Hugo had a smile from ear to ear! He commented he had never seen anything like it - what a marvel it was. When JC saw Hugo the next time he had rod in hand. Thanks Hugo, appreciate the visual reminder!

Those who have seen this performance, a dance all salmon do, sometimes forget the absolute marvel it is. Those four fish, just in the time they waited in this little estuary were targeted not just by the sportfishers, including a group in a driftboat, but the gill netters who practically fence off every possible piece of water on Puget Sound with their killing nets. Nature throws a few more killers in the salmon's path, seals, sea lions, and a couple of years ago a large pod of Orca Whales!

JC was at Chico Creek that year, and backed out of the water when one Orca was almost within casting distance.

It is a minor miracle we have any salmon here at all. I don't wish to get into a long dissertation on the mismanagement of the Northwest Salmon by the State of Washington, but I will say the State like many other groups and individuals, made the assumption there were so many salmon they could never be extinct.

We know now that was a large error, with some salmon on the threatened or endangered Federal listings. Some of the elections here in Washington , (Governor and Senate) have had major confrontations on behalf of the salmon this time. It will be interesting to see how that all works out.

But this column isn't about politics. It's about the fish.

What a wondrous thing! These salmon, unlike steelhead and Atlantic Salmon, go to sea, spend anywhere from 2 to 7 years there and return to their natal freshwater stream, spawn and die. Immature salmon, called 'Jacks' usually males, can and do return before they are mature enough to spawn. The theory is they hang around with a group of mature fish and go where they go.

I mentioned 7 years on the return of some salmon. This isn't the 'normal' time period for a fish to return, but some King Salmon have been caught, scale samples analyzed, and their ages are far in excess of the 'normal.' These fish are often the very huge Kings seen in photographs. The normal cycle runs between 3 and 4 years depending on specie.

These survivors who return have traveled thousands of miles! Made it through all sorts of ocean conditions, availability of bait fish for food, deep sea long-line commercial fishing, illegal phantom nets, trawlers, and every known predator in the ocean.

A year ago we had tremendous rainstorms, flooding, road closures at the time the salmon were coming back to spawn. Our local creek, Chico was well over it's banks, about the color of chocolate milk, and the water deep and heavy. A grown man could not stand in the flow. Yet there were the salmon. Huddled and pressed against the edges of the banks, seeking out what very little slack water they could find. 15 or 20 pound fish holding in water a person couldn't stand in!

All Pacific Salmon are thought to have originated in the Sea of Japan, long before our understanding of time. They migrated over the eons, probably in search of food to almost every coast on the Pacific Rim. Only one didn't make it to North America, the Cherry Salmon which is found only in northern Russia. Look at a map of the Pacific Ocean, what an undertaking! That is incredible in itself.

However, in the last hundred years, we have decimated 80% (or more) of the total Pacific Salmon population. Man in his technological superiority has done what thousands of years of nature could not.

The ugliest hook-jawed, toothy Chum Salmon has more history than our entire civilization.

All of the salmon deserve better than they have received from us - the tribes - or our lawmakers. The Federal Government is involved here now, and the attention which was missing is very visible. Watersheds, clear-cutting, de-watering of streams and rivers, un-regulated urban sprawl, pollution are all under the microscope. Commercial gill-netting is still a problem, but even that can be handled with some real leadership. One of the candidates for Governor has proposed closing all salmon seasons, commercial and sport, a moratorium of sorts while proposals and programs are put in place. At least the attention is being directed to the fish!

All Salmon are truly magnificent fish. With a little help, they will out-survive us. ~ LadyFisher

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