Portrait of the Chinook as an Old Man

I saw the king salmon shiver into the lower pool and come to rest. He was 30 feet away,

w/ chartreuse fly

w/ chartreuse fly

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.

quick time-out

quick time-out

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.

we'll buy a little time

we’ll buy a little time

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.

the traces

the traces

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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8 Responses to Portrait of the Chinook as an Old Man

  1. lesterkish says:

    Well done Walt. I took a photo yesterday, along the Clearwater River in Idaho. It was of a Nez Perce saying, inscribed on a rock. “If we take care of the salmon……they will take care of us.”

  2. Long says:

    Well done Walt. They are such a great fighters.

  3. argosgirl says:

    So much respect for that fish. Wonderful!

  4. hey, Argosgirl, thank you for using the word “respect.” The king is, undeservedly, the Rodney Dangerfield of salmonids.

    • Bob Stanton says:

      Walt, that is an immpressive fish by any measure, any species. Nothing like having a large fish on a fly rod to remind you that you are connected to the whole river.

  5. “Connection” says it, Bob. The big fish take something out of you and replace that something with an anchor for the river.

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