Reader's Casts
May 25th, 1998
A Salmon in a Sweatshirt

by Al Reust

I have a friend Bob of about two plus decades and he owns a boat. He's the skipper and I'm the engineer. During one of the salmon seasons in Washington State he called and asked if Saturday I was available for a trip. He said that he was bringing two people and wanted to know if I could be there. I said yes, but knew the boat would be crowded.

Saturday morning I got up early and drove over to Bobs'. The boat was hooked up to his truck and ready. We put four people in the Ford and headed for the landing. Now, what I did not say was, a 26 foot Cabin Cruiser is a two person job to get it into the water or out of the water. Both Bob and I have worked this as a team many times. So when you unload a 26 footer before first light in the fog, then add two inexperienced people, it can be fun. This was a typical fall fishing morning in Washington State.

Now as the boat was in the water, all the misc sandwich bags, coolers and personal gear were loaded . We headed out of the Marina running on the compass, sipping hot coffee and chatting about the area we were headed for. As normal, I was in the pilots chair. I looked at my watch and got the boat up on the step, running against the clock to a narrow passage into the Puget Sound.

At the right time I shut the engine down and we listened for the Bell on the buoy that would tell us I was headed in the right direction. With the Bell clanging and the light not yet visible, we started creeping towards the narrow passage we had to move through. It takes about about 20 minutes to creep through the passage in low light. We were at the point in the morning where the sun was making the fog white, you still could not see.

Morning was definitely coming as we worked our way through the passage under the bridge. I turned to a new heading on the compass, once again looked at my watch and put the boat back up onto the step and headed with only the compass to guide me. I had about 15 minutes of running at a set speed to get into the area we were going to fish. This would put us in line with tide changes to hopefully put a few fish in the boat.

The clock ticked down as I slowed and started watching the fathometer to find the 90 feet depth line; we moved eagerly into the area. The depth finder said 90 and I shut down to start our drift.

The style of fishing normally used during this time of year is called "mooching;" you rig a herring on about three feet of leader with 8 oz. of weight and let if bounce along the bottom.

The first early hours of 'mooching' were not quite as productive as expected. We had looked at the tide tables and our timing to make sure we were in the area during "prime time." As the morning broke onto the Sound and the fog started lifting we were still happy to just be away and talking about what might persuade the salmon to become a bit more interested. There was enough light to see and the depth finder was doing it's job. We moved to another area that had produced fish before. As I crossed the 90 foot line again, we shut down, again.

Once again lines went over the side and we "mooched", hoping for a bit of interest. We had full canvas over the back of the boat, and three people in the back made it a bit crowded. I moved up to the bow of the boat. The sun was warm , the seat cushion soft, a my hook was baited. As I stretched out, letting my line fall to the bottom, I heard a whoop as one of the guys got a hit and managed to set the hook. ( Salmon fishing in Washington requires the hook be barbless ). So once it's hooked you have to pay attention. I reeled in and moved back to where I could start the engine and move the boat to make sure that lines were not fouled. I heard another whoop and another fish was caught I re-started the engine and with it idling, put the boat into and out gear to make sure the boat was in a position that both could play the fish without wrapping lines around the prop or losing the fish. A monofilament line across a prop normally means 'Gone Fish.'

A short time later two fish were landed, we picked up the third line and I moved the boat back over the area to drift on the running tide again. I shut down, lines went into the water, and I moved back to the bow of the boat for a bit of peace and quiet. My line went over the side and I stretched out in the morning sun. I barely got comfortable when I heard Bob holler that he got a bite and had hooked a fish. I reeled in, again, and moved back to start the boat and assist as needed. Bob got his salmon on board and we drifted for a few more minutes. I called to have the lines picked up and moved the boat back to drift the area on more time. I shut down, once more, lines went into the water, and I went back to the bow to stretch out. That lasted for about 10 minutes.

Once again, I heard the whoop that meant a fish was on a line. I reeled in, one more time, and went back to start the motor. One of the other fishermen, Chuck 'off-handedly' mentioned that he was having fun, and it was strange I was not having much success. I calmly replied that it gets to be a pain in the butt to drop a wet sweatshirt over that side that has my name on it. It's a bit heavy when wet. He said, "sweatshirt"? I said, " yes, it's only for the fish that can swim in the bottom and not be able to swim out the neck of the sweat shirt that I am interested in. When that happens, its mine. There was a chuckle and lines went back into the water.

I moved to the bow of the boat and once more let the line over the side. All was quiet for the fifteen seconds it took the weight to hit the bottom. As I reeled up about three feet of line to get the herring to drift just above the bottom, something 'swam into the sweat shirt'. Now, it was my turn to give a giggle and let them know I had a bit of interest. As I whooped, Bob peeked around the side of the boat to see my rod bent double and hear the drag running like crazy. He knew it was a fish not to be lost, and told the guys to reel up and started the boat. He also knew my 450 foot leash of 12# mono line was running out. He put the boat into gear and started following the direction of my rod tip.

So there I was, checking the drag on my reel and reeling as fast as I could; listening to the sound of a fish ripping off line. Bob was running the boat as I would have done for him, and I was just leaned back on the bow of the boat, laughing and reeling for my life. This is one of those pleasures that seem too far between. There is just you and the fish, both with a purpose. Only one will win.

The fight continued for twenty minutes as I worked to get the fish closer to the boat. The runs get shorter and my rod tip whipped back and forth so quickly at times it was hard to see.

Finally I triumphed, as I got the fish alongside the boat to the point we can quickly get a net under him. Twenty-eight pounds of wild-eyed salmon could not get through the neck of that sweat shirt.

It was a good day. A good trip. And, it did really happen just as I said. But, things have changed now. The numbers of salmon have declined, the times have changed, friends have come and gone, life has moved on; and so must I. Things slower seem better now, less hectic seems better, less 'macho' appeals and feels more natural. Life has taken on a new slant. More peaceful, perhaps mature...

I fished with a fly rod a few times in the past long ago, but vivid dreams; I am going to go again to those times, not just in my dreams...

Al Reust


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