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The Biggest Salmon

November 12, 2021

Years ago I lived in Eugene, Oregon and regularly fished for salmon with a fly rod. My choice then was a 9 ½ hand build specialty rod with an 8-weight line. It was often used with a weighted shooting head.

I fished most of the well-known rivers in Southern Oregon including the Rogue, the McKenzie, the Willamette, the Umpqua, the Smith and the Lake Creek. The latter was always my favorite as it was close to my house and had a decent run of fall Chinook salmon. Every year, when the first wooly caterpillars appeared in the first week of October, the show was on and I was one of the first on the stream.

At this point it would be worth noting that even in a good season, one or two landed Chinook constitutes a major feat. This is not like trout fishing where you might hook and release 20 fish a day. Chinook are hard to hook and even harder to land. Unlike a lively trout, Chinook tend to hug the bottom and the whole contest is much like a tug of war. Either the fisherman or his prey will eventually wear out. Sometimes the equipment can wear out as well. Many an expert fisherman has “blown up” his rod on a big Chinook.

One afternoon in 1995, I took off for Lake Creek with the faint hope of a salmon. I’d already landed two nice fish that season: A 26-pound hen and a 30 pound buck. I felt I’d probably hit my quota but I forged into the water anyway. My traditional spot at Indiola was full of fishermen so I moved a mile or so up stream where there is a long series of slots. I waded in and started plying my skills.

After about twenty minutes, I felt that maybe I’d gotten hung-up on the bottom. I did a hook set just to be sure. Then the line started peeling off my reel like a buzz saw. I didn’t see the fish as he screamed upstream but I knew it was a big one.

The big buck played me up into the next hole and I followed like a child trying to keep enough brake on him to slow him down. Every time I got a few yards of line on him, he would turn toward me and then suddenly upstream again. I followed into the second hole. By this time, some 15 minutes had passed and I was tiring out but not the salmon. This was surely the biggest salmon I’d ever hooked so I was intent on keeping him on and landing him.

Another 15 minutes passed as we moved together into the third hole upstream. I was all wet at this point as I had to wade to my arm pits at several points. I finally made it into some shallower water and started to play the boy for real. There is something exhilarating and scary about seeing half your line sail off your reel in just a couple of runs. Finally, he turned downstream toward me and I thought I just might have a chance. I waded to the left side of the stream and carefully took up line with every step. I slid on my tailing glove and played the fish closer to me. Now I could finally see him. He was huge!

Almost an hour had gone by from the time I hooked this salmon. He was tired out and I was even worse off. I went to tail him but saw instantly that my hand wouldn’t come close to getting a grasp on him. In desperation, I nudged him onto the left bank. I then rushed him and scooped him to shore. I had a large fish scale with me and weighed him – 61 pounds! That was well over any record for me.

Then I did what I always did. I revived this monster and released him into Lake Creek to continue his journey upstream.

PS – As I released this Chinook, a local fellow rushed down from the road above where he’d been watching me and bawled me out for letting the fish go. He called me all sorts of names and said that to spend an hour playing a fish just to release just proved I was a “dumb ass.” I just smiled and said, “When you get one on this big, you can do whatever you like.”

This and other stories can be found in my book, The Blackest of Canyons and Other Micro Tales of Fly Fishing.

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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From → America, Fly Fishing

4 Comments
  1. I am very glad you released him but I am not so sure he enjoys your “sport”. If you were a fish would you like or enjoy the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good comeback to the guy who railed on you for releasing the salmon. Let the loudmouth hook his own fish and decide. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Okay, okay; I’m jeajous! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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