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
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.