Friday, January 10, 2014

My big fish turned out to be a tarnished trophy.

In my younger fishing career I was not fully aware of the spawning history of salmon, but I would soon learn the real facts through an embarrassing incident. 

Chum Salmon in Spawn

The Miami River is a small stream that flows into the Pacific Ocean near Bay City, Oregon. It’s a year-round fishery with runs of Coho, Chum, spring and fall salmon, as well as winter Steelhead and Cutthroat trout. In the fall of one year, a friend and I decided to make a trip to the Miami River to fish for anything that would bite. Back in those early years catch and release was not a customary practice and catching a limit of fish was.

The first hole we fished produced a few small trout, but we wanted larger fish. We moved downstream to a large pool that looked like it could hold some lunkers. After only six casts my line stopped and I thought I was snagged. When it started moving upstream I knew otherwise. It was something bigger than anything that I had hooked before. Surprisingly, after five minutes I played it out and landed my first salmon, a 15-pound Chum salmon.

I was very proud of my big fish and when I returned home I couldn’t wait to show dad my trophy. However, when I walked in and showed it to him he looked at it and said,

Son, what did you bring home that ugly looking spawner?"

Well, Dad, it was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught.”

He put his pipe down and with a slight scowl on his face said, 

“Son, the only thing that fish is good for is fertilizer for your mom’s rose bushes!”

My spirits were completely deflated! However, I understood more when he explained that spawning fish were not good to eat and that they could have still been in spawn. Since they don't actively feed, they become weak from malnutrition and exhaustion, lose body mass and begin to darken. He also stressed that when salmon die their carcasses provide healthy nutrients in the stream for insects, young fish and mammals. It was a valuable lesson that I never forgot. 

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