I saw the king salmon shiver into the lower pool and come to rest. He was 30 feet away,
with deep water and variant current speeds between us. The hunter’s challenge came to the fore, even though I knew that the traveling spawner, if subdued, would be released to die alone.
I didn’t want him for a photograph, to prove that I could beat a 25-pound wrestler. I didn’t need a victory to massage my hoary ego. All I consciously wanted was to make a good cast, to know I did my best, and to somehow assimilate a little of the salmon’s awesome strength.
He didn’t want the white Woolly Bugger or an olive Egg-sucking Leech. They didn’t irritate him enough to strike. “Dark flies for dark waters,” I recalled, so changed my pattern for a black streamer with a chartreuse head.
There’s no salmon ambience at such a moment. Everything outside the cast becomes unseen, unheard. The whistling of a white-throated sparrow fades; the cornfields and the willows disappear.
A lot of anglers disregard or hate Old Man Chinook. He’s not as classy as a 2-foot brown trout or a shimmering steelhead. And man, he’s dying; he’s about to rot and stink the waters; he’s a Great Lakes tributary runner at the end of his life’s cycle.
Even though we’re now two decades from the horrors of the snagging era in New York (which I gladly missed), a lot of guys still think that Old Man Chinook will not strike a lure. He’s only good for snagging.
I added one more split shot just above the streamer. It would get down to the proper depth, to eye level, and not be swept above him by conflicting currents, or be whisked to any part of that great body other than the lip.
Finally the old guy bit. And fought, and arced the 8-weight into worrisome bends. The fighting butt seemed to bore a hole into the belly of this grey-haired geezer, into me.
Ten minutes later I slid him to the bank, exhausted. Measured along the 9-foot rod, his length said 40 inches. Pushed back into the stream and gently rocked, the fish took something out of me, the way that a fair-hooked salmon always does.