King Salmon on the Columbia River

Columbia River Chinook Salmon

The early morning on the Columbia River started early and in a fog from the night before. As the rocket fueled gas station coffee began to lift the cloud over my brain the voice of our guide instructing us all to reel in the lines just at the moment the king broke free. “Damnit!” our guide, Mike, shouted to the heavens, just as he was putting in another chaw and prepping another herring plug to replace the one that just got away. “Look” he said, “we’re going to get this right and if you want to land fish into this boat, when there’s a fish on we’ve got to get all the lines in so they don’t get tangled. I know you’ll have this down by the end of the day. Just as I start to train new people tomorrow.” Some might think comments like this are rude, but in fact Mike is speaking the truth and I appreciate that super blunt honesty.

As the morning bites waned and we trolled around the mouth of the river we found ourselves with only one fish in the boat. I was there with a buddy and in our boat were four others: a father & son, and a couple from the eastern side of WA state. The woman in our boat was the first one to land and net the first fish of the day. The really funny story behind that fish is that is was actually caught using the rod that my buddy had been using, but he got up from his seat to use the head and while he was gone. BAM! fish on. Just like that.

Our day trip was originally planned from 6a – 2p and as the hands inched closer to the 2pm mark we had only had two fish in the boat and so our guide kept at it and kept us out and I know I’m so thankful that he did. He might be super salty, full of some great jokes that I’m not sure I’d ever repeat, even though I chuckled at them, he is one hard working dude who really wanted to make sure that his boat produced. As the day chugged along and the tide was shifting it was time for us to slowly start working our way back to the launch and then my rod tip jiggled a bit and then it just went off. I fought that fish, had the king salmon in my sites, while the guide grabbed his net and got into position to net this king and with one slip of the wrist, line tension lost and the fish was free. The last thing I saw was the preverbal fish middle finger, which was his tail and the chinook gave it a wag and disappeared in the deep recesses of the river. As I turned to the sky and shouted my profanities, the guide razzed me and said “you had that already on your dinner table” I responded and told him, “hell no, it was already in my belly”. We both let out a chuckle, I cracked a beer and settled back into my chair to lick my wounds.

At this point, we knew there were fish down there and with the tidal changes the bite was turning back on. I kept the faith and then a mere 20 minutes later I had another bite and fish on. This time, no mistakes. It’s double overtime and I had to land this fish. Sure enough I played him out enough to tire him and and we landed this fish in the boat. I was shaking with adrenaline and pleased that I had a won a hard fight with a 15lb chinook salmon.

After my fish was in the box we reeled in the lines and motored for the boat launch. I learned from this trip that fishing is a lot like hockey. Anything can happen at any time even if the last remaining seconds the game is not over until you’ve reeled in all the lines.

King salmon on plate

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