Depending on geography, the severity of "delirium piscatoria"
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We all know that fishermen are superstitious folks. And I´m no slouch in that department. I believe myself to be the most superstitious of all. It all started at 4:15 am. "Bang, Bang, Bang" on my door. "Get up its time to go fishing". Naturally the day began with getting dressed. I opened the closet door and picked a lucky fishing shirt. Not any one in general though. You see I organize my closet from most lucky to least lucky. That´s not the only thing I have in order of luckiness. We will get to that shortly.
So I don the most recent successful sweater and head over to the coffee pot and pour myself a nice thermos of coffee. Then I yell to my dad "let´s hit the road, early bird gets the worm". So we head out the door and hop into the truck. As we are backing out of the driveway I yell "Stop the truck, I forgot something". I run into the house and into my room. I stand staring up at my dresser top seeking out my most recent lucky cap. Today feels different. I´m going to take the least lucky cap and try to fool the fish gods. "Ha ha" I chuckle. "The fish gods-who am I kidding?" I thought to myself. Back to the truck and off to the boat.
We were headed down the dock with the gentle roll of the ground swell flowing beneath our feet. Today was going to be a good day. Dad jumped in the boat and unlocked the cabin as I began to wipe the dew from the windows and untie the boat from the mooring slip. With a little push we were off. I climbed into the captain´s chair which over the past couple of years had seemed as if it had become my throne. I put the boat into gear, Dad got busy fastening the downriggers and rods, while I powered up the GPS and turned on the VHF. I began first by looking at the current and tide chart function built into our GPS. We were one hour away from the top of the flood tide. "How far are we going to run?" Dad hollered from outside the cabin. "Not too far, I have an idea that just might work". I powered up for what seemed like only a few seconds and then pulled the boat out of gear and started the kicker motor.
We will start fishing here. My dad stared at me with a puzzled look on his face. "Drop the gear" I announced. "The bait should be pushed in tight here (Bedford Islands) at the top of the flood". Down went dad´s gear to 60 ft. He was using a purple haze UV flasher and a double glow green hootchy for the early morning low light conditions. This combo had proven successful a few times before and seemed like a good start. I got out my anchovies and loaded up my purple haze UV teaser, put a gentle bend in it and clipped it to my purple onion UV glow flasher. I tossed it over the side of the boat and was pleased with the action of my bait. I sent it down to 50ft and stopped the downrigger, tightened the rod down and waited.
No more than 5 minutes passed and my dad goes running out the back of the boat. "Fish on" he yelled pulling his rod out of the holder. With his fish not taking any significant amount of line I decide to drop my rod down to 60ft. "I think he´s a little bigger then we think" he says. His reel begins to scream out line, a good 250ft run. I´m rushing to untangle the net from within the cuddy when I hear "Your rod just popped, your rod just popped!" Just as the net frees itself I run to the back of the boat and grab my rod, by this time already peeling off line in the rod holder. "Double header" I yelled, our first double header of the season.
Ten minutes passed and we both had a good handle on our fish. The whole time we were fighting the fish the net handle had been hanging out the back of the cabin door. My dad looked over at me and asked "should we keep it". I peeked over the side of the boat keeping good tension on my fish. A solid twenty four pound Chinook salmon hooked clean in the scissors on a single barbless hook. The fish had a deep belly and a short dark head. A good friend of mine once told me that the early Fraser river run fish have a short head and would be getting dark already by middle of May on the way to spawn. "Let´s let him off to spawn, he´s not bleeding and looks healthy". With a quick slip of the gaff down the line the hook popped out and he splashed near a gallon of water all over us as he torpedoed down into the depths.
My fish had tired himself out by now with a few good 150ft runs. He was letting me ease him to the side of the boat and I saw he too was hooked clean in the corner of the mouth. A nice eighteen pound Chinook salmon. I grabbed the gaff and handed dad my rod. With a small pop of the gaff I watched the silver sides of my fish turn into a camouflage dark green snake and disappear across the surface of the water. We cheered and laughed with joy for a few minutes. "Let´s do that again" we both said at the same time.
We had the lines set and were ready for round two, with the usual lines being muttered after such an event-"Who´s next?" "Was that a fluke?" "Mine was bigger!" What seemed like only a few minutes was probably more like an hour later. We had a good strike on my rod but it didn´t stick. "How can one´s pin pop and the fish not stick?" I bantered to my dad. And like a blur he ran past me grabbed his rod and yelled "FISH ON". With my line already out of the water, the fight was on. I entered the cab of the boat and slid the engine into neutral. When there are no other boats around I prefer to fight the fish with the motor out of gear. I went back to the cab of the boat. The line was down at a steep angle and the rod bent. "He´s on the bottom, he sounded all the way down" says my dad. I glance over at the sounder and notice a small streak angling down all the way to near 300 ft. "You have a long ways to come up". Slowly my dad gained on the fish until I could see the shine of the flasher and another bigger streak of silver not far behind. As the fish came to the surface amongst all the splashing and head shakes I noticed this was a hatchery Spring with a longer more slender body. I grabbed the net and gently scooped up the fish and brought him into the boat. "Nice fish" we both say while giving a high-five. "Grab the scale and weigh him" says my dad. I insert the hook under the gill plate and lift up. "Twenty three pounds" I shout. Into the fish hold he goes. And quickly down go the lines. Maybe my bold but risky move to wear my least lucky hat was paying off.
We trolled for a few hours missing a couple more strikes along the way. I was about to suggest heading home figuring it had already been a highlight trip of ours. Then my dad announced he would let me have both of the rods. Since he had already landed two fish bigger than the eighteen I got earlier, I thought this was fair. I quickly looped the boat around for another pass across the reef. Immediately I began to mark large arches down eighty feet on the fish finder. I run to the back of the boat to drop my gear down to them. I look over and the other rod pops in one solid bang. I grab the rod and set the hook. The fish sat there headshaking and I knew it was a good fish. "Bring up the other gear, this is a solid fish" I yelled. After holding down for about 30 seconds the fish quickly began to speed towards the surface. "It´s going to jump! It´s going to jump!" I yelled. Only 30 feet behind the boat the flasher and fish broke the surface at the same time and a slab of silver that seemed two feet thick rose out of the water for a jump. Not any ordinary jump but one that did and still does remind me of the end of the first Free Willy movie-.when he jumps clear over the breakwater!
I look at my dad with a grin from ear to ear. "He´s a monster, probably your biggest Spring ever". The reel begins to spin violently. The fish is peeling line at top speed. The handles of the reel merging into one blurry ring spinning in the opposite direction. The line on the reel was quickly disappearing. "Turn the boat around, we have to chase him. Hurry he´s going to spool me"! Staring down at the reel with the line still peeling out at a rapid rate, I could visibly see the bottom of the spool. Suddenly out of nowhere the line goes slack. Reeling as fast as I can, I´m trying to gain line back on the fish. This was my monster, I couldn´t lose him. But soon the adrenaline rush was over. Off in the distance I can see my flasher dragging across the surface with no fish in tow. "I lost him, he´s gone." "Maybe next time" I hear my dad say from within the cabin. I finally get the flasher to the boat and identify the problem. The leader was chewed through and the hooks gone.
I sat home on my bed staring up at my dresser once again, pondering my lucky hat/shirt ritual. Today was a day full of good luck and bad luck. But hey isn´t that what fishing is all about? It´s not always about how good of a fisherman you are, or what hat/shirt you wear. Fishing is a sport and lifestyle that I live by. I am privileged to have had my grandfather and father introduce it to me.
I will never know how big that monster was. I will continue to visualize that jump over and over but nothing will get it back on my line other than hard work and determination, and.. oh yeah, a little luck.
Whether it be landing my dream fish or picking out my lucky hat I always remember the big picture!