Jan 8, 2000

King of the American

     Many people remember important milestones in their lives: first car, first date, first job, etc. However, most fail to recognize truly important events such as first salmon, first fish over 10 lbs, and first fish in a new state. Not me; these are things to take note of. 

     When I was a kid we had yearly Jones-Family reunions. We rotated each year between aunt's and uncle's houses in various states. I remember bits and pieces of most of them, but there was one that still sticks with me in vivid arm-throbbing detail. 
     My Uncle Fred lives near Sacramento California and is a bit of a fishing nut. In 2000 the reunion was at his house and the Chinook salmon happened to be running while we were there, so Fred offered to take me fishing (and immediately shot up the leader board in the uncle-of-the-year contest). 
     We set out early in the morning, and after stopping to get me a license, we unloaded the boat into the American River (a tributary of the Sacramento River). As we motored to his lucky spot, Fred readied the gear; which, by my small-trout-fishing standards at the time, seemed almost comically over-sized. I couldn't see why a fish would want to eat a four inch long silver blade spinning around a gaudy string of pink beads; though I was pretty impressed when I learned that Fred had made the spinners himself - even if they were obviously WAY too big to actually catch anything. He was pretty meticulous about polishing the blades of our jumbo sized lures till they shone just right. He seemed confident, so we sent them overboard and began to troll up and down the river.
      As we trolled, I considered our prospects for success. I had tried my hand at salmon fishing at home in Idaho on the Clearwater River, but I of course had never caught anything, nor even had so much as a nibble. I considered salmon to be somewhere in mythological status between Bigfoot and the Easter Bunny. I knew people caught them, but only seasoned veteran fishermen, not a rookie like me. So I expected this fishing trip to be as (un)successful as my previous attempts and amount to little more than a fun boat ride with my uncle (which, don't get me wrong, was still awesome). However, we certainly didn't have any chance of actually catching anything.
     The morning progressed and we began to see a few salmon jumping out of the water, seemingly at random. I entertained myself by trying to guess where the next fish would jump, only occasionally remembering that I needed to pay attention to the rod in my hand. The monotony was suddenly broken when from the seat behind me my uncle yelled, "Fish on!" Before long he had the biggest fish I had ever seen flopping at his feet! I was forced to reconsider my pessimistic prognosis from earlier; they evidently could be caught! I was pretty pumped since this was the most action I had ever seen while salmon fishing. We checked our spinners and after finding them in working order, sent them back down again. I was watching for more jumping fish when somebody started pulling on my rod. I remember it taking half a second to register what was going on. It couldn't be a fish pulling that hard could it? Finally it dawned on me to set the hook and I started fighting the biggest fish of my life! I'm sure I sounded giddy with excitement while doing my best to bring it in. Things were going fine as far as I could tell until the fish headed for a houseboat that was anchored nearby. I tried to stop him but he eventually got tangled in the anchor rope and broke off.
     We were both pretty bummed that I lost the fish, but Fred got another fish shortly thereafter and that brightened the mood. Now it was Fred: 2, me: 0. But now I kind of knew what to expect, and I was ready and waiting for a chance to redeem myself. Luckily I didn't have to wait too long for that chance! I set the hook, and this time there were no houseboats in sight! 
     I don't remember how long the fight took; I just remember finally seeing the beast, and being amazed at how big it was - making a mental note to suggest to Fred that he get some bigger lures if we were going to go after such huge fish. The salmon made one last desperate run directly under my feet so I put the rod tip into the water as instructed and coaxed him back to the correct side of the boat. I couldn't hardly believe my luck when Fred slipped the net under it and brought it into the boat. 
     My monster Chinook weighed in at a whopping 12 lbs - not big by Chinook standards, but considering that my previous biggest fish was a 16 inch trout, my salmon looked impossibly huge to me!
Uncle Fred and I with my biggest fish ever, my first salmon, and my first fish caught in California!

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