Aug 9, 2015

Brookie's Chinookie

     Sockeye salmon in the upper Columbia River basin have made a huge comeback in the last decade or so thanks to habitat restoration and fish passage restoration to some key spawning grounds. As a biologist, this makes me very happy. As a fisherman, this makes me itchy to go catch some!
     We used to live pretty far away so I hadn't had a chance to try it before, but now we're about 45 minutes from arguably the best sockeye fishery in the lower 48! A couple weeks ago I got invited to head out and try my hand at catching some for the first time. My buddy (who's boat we were taking) understood the sort of action we were likely to encounter, so he suggested that I bring along my older daughter, who is almost as big of a fishing nut as I am. I don't know who was more excited as we readied our gear the night before. We got up bright and early at a mind numbing 2:30 to head to the boat ramp. I expected a groggy grumpy 8 year old at that hour of the morning, but I gently shook her shoulder only once and she popped up, grinned, and said "Let's go!"
     We got the boat on the water just as it was starting to get light out. We motored out onto the Columbia River just outside of the mouth of the Okanogan River where 100,000+ sockeye were patiently waiting for the Okanogan to cool down enough to continue their journey upstream. This pause in their migration makes for some absolutely silly fishing. We set out three rods on downriggers, usually about 20-30 feet down and began to troll.
Lake Pateros in the morning
We'll have to work on her rod watching skills...
     Being from the Pacific Northwest, I'm no stranger to salmon fishing. A normal day chasing salmon to me is mostly hours of boredom punctuated by a handful of spurts of excitement - on a good day. So never having experienced this particular fishery I had tried to give my daughter appropriate and realistic expectations about waiting for bites and not being disappointed if we didn't catch much. So as we began to troll I sat back and got comfortable, ready to wait it out.
     However, this was not typical salmon fishing by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe 10 minutes into our day, the rod closest to the kid started bouncing! My buddy set the hook and handed her the rod. I may be a tad biased, but I'd say she battled the fish like a champ! It made a couple little runs, and almost got wrapped in the motor, but she brought it in just fine! Soon the first fish of the day hit the deck. It ended up being a little Chinook, and my daughter's first salmon ever!
This is an important milestone in the life of a young fisherman (fisherperson?)!
      It then soon became obvious that our previous 10 minute lull in action, was actually the big dry-spell of the day. For the rest of the morning, no more Chinook bit, but it was literally nonstop action on sockeye. My daughter reeled in three or four, before I finally got my turn and brought in my first actual sockeye salmon. I've caught hundreds of kokanee, but never the anadromous version so I was pretty pumped too! The action slowed just a tad as the day wore on, but even so, we got several doubles, and even a triple hookup before calling it a day!
I wonder why they're called sockeyes. Their eyes look normal to me.

Apparently the sun was a little bright by this point.

Anyone want to play a game of 'Count the Boats'?
     We called it a day well before lunch time, icing down three limits of sockeye (that's 18 fish if you're counting along at home) and one bonus Chinook for the kid! Those, in addition to all the ones that didn't make it into the net (more than I'd care to admit...) made for hands down my best day of salmon fishing ever! I do however fear that the kid will be forever ruined, expecting salmon fishing to be like that every time. As we motored back to the launch, she (while sitting on an absolutely stuffed cooler) summed up our day pretty nicely, declaring "I just have one thing to say - WOO HOO!"
I'm pretty sure it doesn't get any better than that.
The aforementioned stuffed cooler.

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