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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