Ladyfisher
Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 15th, 1999

A Little Guilt



I went fishing in a flood yesterday. Really. It is salmon season out here on the Washington coast, and unfortunately we have had too much rain. If there is too little rain the salmon have problems 'smelling' their home stream and they hang off the beaches waiting for enough rain to let them know where to go. The rain of course washes into the streams and rivers and the scent is carried out to the ocean.

It really was an amazing sight to see. The stream was over its banks, very muddied, and really pouring out. At one point the water looked like someone had taken a photo with a slow motion camera and looked like a frothy marshmallow. Unreal.

Just below the first bridge in this raging boiling water, were hundreds of salmon. Jammed in against the banks on either side, trying to grab a little piece of sheltered water before they made another run upstream against the horrendous current. We have fished this fall run for several years, and have never seen anything like this. All the way down to the mouth and estuary fish were holding, (resting?) tight up against the banks.

This area is closed to fishing - so they weren't fair game for the snaggers. Snagging is illegal too, but some of that does go on. I'm told the enforcement budget is next to nothing, so more goes on than might if an officer showed up. In all fairness, there was one last year as we came off the water - right at the road where the path comes up from the water. Nailed people with too many fish, no licenses, and in one case a guy with huge treble hooks. Obviously he wasn't 'fishing' with that rig.

We all caught fish, JC and I didn't keep any, but Mamma Kate and searun are both smoking fish, so a few were carried out.

Frankly, I guess I felt downright guilty even fishing. Understand I bought a license, was fishing legally, and all that.

But.

These fish are at the end of their cycle. The culmination of their lives is to make it back to their natal water, and spawn. Then they die. Their dead carcases become food for another life cycle. In a so-called normal year, the fish make a rather easy run upstream. This year it is far from easy.

I've fished steelhead in rivers with ice floes, (even swam unintentionally in one) waded high water streams with Spring run off, and fished in a blizzard with no problem.

I was not going to keep any fish, and we release them without removing them from the water, really are careful and considerate of the fish. So why was I, and why am I bothered?

Maybe because the fish I caught might not be strong enough now to make the run under these terrible conditions. Even though I brought the fish in very quickly, in my heart of hearts I can't convince myself that I did not weaken the fish enough that it might not make it upstream to spawn. My six salmon probably won't make a dent in this years spawning run. It did make a dent in my mind set 'tho. Unless the water really drops dramatically, I probably won't fish it again this year.

As I was casting to my last fish, a spent female, blotched with white but still alive, was carried downstream and ran into an obstruction - me. She laid against my waders for a few moments until I stepped aside to let her ride the current out to the saltwater.

I said, "Thank you," and reeled in. ~ LadyFisher

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