This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 19th, 2001

A Fish Not Caught

My husband JC and I have spend the past few late afternoons fishing for Chum salmon. The local estuary is about a 10 minute drive from our home, the walk from the car a couple of blocks at the most, and we have what appears to be a very good run this year.

Last year was disappointing, but not unexpected. There just weren't many fish returning. The specific age class was the result of the few salmon which survived a lengthy attack by Orca whales. The Orcas followed the run into Puget Sound, and ate most of the salmon.

The weather has been stinking, which is perfect for a fall salmon run. Without the rains, there isn't enough water in the small streams and creeks for the salmon to spawn. Plus the salmon follow the scent of their natal stream, so a drought year makes it very difficult for them to find 'home.' These are all native fish, not planters.

This past week has also been unseasonably warm, 56 degrees in the rain when we pulled off our waders yesterday. Not bad for mid-November. I didn't even take my gloves.

We are fishing 8 wt rods with floating lines on either a fast incoming tide, or the high slack tide. Our tides here are severe, this week's tides are about 12 foot. That of course changes as the moon phase changes. By Thanksgiving we will be fishing in late afternoon too, but on the low tide. (It is legal to fish at night here, but we prefer the afternoon low light conditions.) We do wear waders, and rarely get out deeper than hip high. Standing where the creek empties out and with the tide coming in can be tiring after an hour or two.

I took a break from fishing a couple of days ago, tromped back to land, and found a place to sit for a few minutes.

Watching the fisherman, the salmon swimming upstream, listening to the mallard flock in the near-by marsh was very enjoyable. Just being there. I saw a movement to my right over in the marsh grass about 30 feet away. The tide was still receding, and my curiosity got the better of me.

I got up, walked over and found a small salmon, probably a 'jack' maybe 6 or 8 pounds, stuck in the grass. It was upright, and very alive!

I checked it over for possible damage, hooks, wrapped leaders, anything which might have indicated it was someone's fish. Not a mark. It was just trapped because of the outgoing tide.

Carefully I put my hand around it's tail, (I'd heard it was possible to tail a fresh chum salmon) and the tail did not collapse. I picked it up by the tail, slid my other hand under it's belly and walked over to the creek, knelt down and gently aimed it upstream. I thought I might have to revive it, but it was gone in a flash!

Somehow it's a bit odd. We stand out in the water for hours, casting, playing and releasing fish. And here was a fish which no doubt would have died if I hadn't discovered it. Yet that one hand-landed released fish is more important to me than any I actually caught.

We do fish for these 'bikers' of all salmon species. They are tough fighting fish. We use barbless hooks (which is the law here), play the fish with adequate gear and land them carefully and as quickly as possible. We don't want to stress the fish to the point it is unable to recover. All of this is considered 'fair-play.' Fly fishing is a blood sport, and there certainly are those who kill these salmon for the table if they are still bright, or to smoke. (A piece of advice here, if you wish to kill a Chum salmon for food, take the male fish. The female's flesh has already become soft by the time they reach their spawning water.)

Our Chum salmon here in Puget Sound, Washington, are the best of what we have left of what once was the finest salmon fishery in the lower states. It is essential we preserve it.

I guess that's why the little lost salmon I found stranded is so important to me.

Hand-landed and released. I just didn't catch it. ~ LadyFisher

For a related story about fishing for Chum Salmon - with photos read Castwell's Chico Creek.

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