I read the email message from my son, “If dad had a time machine, this fish would be a lifer, for certain!” When I opened the accompanying link, I learned of a salmonid I had never heard of before. And I was curious.
Oncorhynchus rastrosus, the saber-toothed salmon, lived a long time ago in a region known as the Pacific Northwest. It lived through the late Miocene geologic era of some 13 million years ago until the Pleistocene of four million years past. The fossil record, recently discovered by scientists, certainly took its time becoming known. It surely took a while before I got an email on the subject– on what has to be the largest salmonid that science has yet to unleash for an angler’s dreams.
The saber-tooth, named for impressive canines on the upper jaw, is said to have grown upward of 2.7 meters, or about nine feet long. The large teeth were useful for the males competing on spawning grounds, since studies suggest that rastrosus was a plankton eater and had relatively few teeth compared to its modern relatives. Fossils found on upland sites in Oregon and California reveal that the huge fish was anadromous. Like its closest living relative, the sockeye salmon, the saber-tooth grew to adult size in the ocean and then traveled to the rivertops to spawn and die.
This salmon is an inspiration for the poet and angler, as well as the everyday icthyologist. It doesn’t take much for imagination to get suited here… Can you see it? A seven-foot salmonid with a kype to kill, leaping through autumn riffles, rocketing over average waterfalls on route to the forested mountain heights, resting in limpid pools, and dropping into redds the size of Suburus!
What size fly rod would I need for rastrosus? A 12-weight? Something more powerful, certainly, than my 8-weight chinook master. What flies would I use? But wait… Isn’t there a more basic question to ask before we deal with tackle? Like, how would I get to saber-tooth country in the first place?
Okay, so I’d need a time machine of sorts. Since I can’t even figure out computers, let alone an updated vehicle of the H.G. Wells variety, I’d need to find some ticket yet unknown, something so basic and “unscientific” that it’s probably right before my nose. Something like another swill of Porkslap Farmhouse Ale or a shot of Old No. 7. Better yet, a long-gone 60s psychedelic maybe, or perhaps a straighter route like teleportation. Maybe with proper concentration I could enter that oil painting in the living room, the one my mother gave me, the one she had hung on the living room wall in the houses where I grew up as a kid. Why not?
If I could travel back to boyhood through that picture of Bavarian Alps, that scene I’d witnessed often as a very young visitor with my parents, that image now in my possession, I could probably travel anywhere. If I could shape-shift through that moody work by a Berlin artist named E. Rossler, I might travel into any period of planet time. If it worked… if I could take one single step… I could then negotiate a move back to the Miocene, by god, and do it with a fly rod.
Clogged by hubris and a warped ego, the human brain is a sad affair, a hopeless thing, and so we give our thanks to dreams.
But hey, if we can’t get beyond ourselves with a saber-tooth at the helm, what’ll it take?