Tales of Oregon

A Day of Destiny

Friday, November 7th, 2014 - 11:46 AM

The Lords of Fishing demand that you work – and work hard – before they’ll let you have your first salmon.  Thousands of casts.  Hours studying the water.  You have to persevere through days of disappointment.  You have to work for a salmon, and you never have to work harder to be given a salmon than you must work when you’re fishing the small coastal rivers of Oregon.

There aren’t that many salmon left in these small rivers.  It looks like a lot when you stand near the shallow riffles during the height of the spawning run and watch them go upstream, but compared to the unbelievable numbers that were once in these rivers, there aren’t many that still come back to spawn.

The Lords of Fishing demand that the effort be greater and the humiliations be more complete and more humbling if you want to catch salmon in the coastal streams.  When you prove worthy, then, and only then, will they give you a fish.

I’ve put in the time.  I’ve fished these rivers year ’round and have learned how the waters flow.  I know the channels the fish move along and I’ve learned where the fish like to lurk.  I’ve been hot and I’ve been cold and I’ve been wet.  I’ve tossed thousands of casts into groups of salmon that steadfastly ignored my best efforts.  I’ve watched one of our puppies catch a salmon and I walked away humbled, but with my spirits and my determination intact.

I’ve passed through every trial and tribulation the Lords of Fishing have put in my path.

A couple of weeks ago I caught a tiny salmon.  Tuesday this week, a salmon grabbed my bait before the Lords of Fishing took the fish away from me.  Was I discouraged?  Never!  I’d never felt more encouraged.  They were signs.  It meant that I was almost at the end of the pilgrimage demanded of me.  I had learned where to find the salmon.  I had a clue about their patterns of behavior.  I was proving to be worthy.

Yesterday we went fishing.  I was definitely going fishing, and about a half hour before Fishing Time, Chris called and said he’d come along, too.  Chris, as you may recall, is someone we know and with whom we occasionally have a chance to go fishing.  I wouldn’t say we’re friends, yet, but Chris and Kathy are fine folks and we might be friends sooner or later, but for now, we’re “fishing friends.”

I was glad that Chris and I would meet up on my Day of Destiny – the day I’d catch my first salmon – not only because Chris grew up here, in Port Orford, and knows these rivers; and not just because Chris has been having an uncommonly good salmon season this year – it seems like wherever he goes and whatever water he’s fishing, he’s been catching salmon; and not because Chris is a just fine fellow.

It also meant that I would have a witness.  It’s fishing, people!  It always best to have a witness when you tell a fish tale.

Five minutes before fishing time, Barb decided to come along too, and the party was perfect.  Barb’s a good angler and she can bait her own hook.  She’ll keep up with the best of ’em and she’ll still be fishing long after I sit down to start watching clouds – my second most favorite hobby.

I knew I would catch my first salmon yesterday because the Lords of Fishing had come to me in a dream and showed me a vision of me lifting a salmon from the stream.  And hey! before you start huddling together to decide whether I need professional help, I fall asleep thinking about fishing.

Can anyone watch a golf tournament on television and not fall over in a comatose stupor?  Well, thinking about fishing is nothing at all like watching golf on television except that, if you close your eyes and think about where you’ll cast, how you’ll retrieve your line, you’ll be asleep in under 90 seconds.

But it was the first time I had a Fish Dream and I woke up knowing it was a sign that I had a date with a fine salmon.

Chris, Barb and I met up at the Pool of Destiny at the big rock just up from the hatchery.  It’s a lovely stretch of the river and I go there often in the summer because it’s a tricky place to fish – you have to be doing everything just right to catch a fish in that pool – and because it’s more than lovely enough to give me a fine, fine day even if I don’t catch a fish.  But more importantly, the bank looks exactly like the bank in my dream – the bank onto which I would triumphantly carry my very first salmon.

The stage was set.

I stood upstream from Barb and Chris and made short, perfect, casts into the current to let the bait drift down into the fishy water.  I made my fourth or fifth cast when the whole day turned into a disaster after Barb said, “I could use a little help” and I saw, right away, that Barb didn’t need help because she’d fallen into the river but instead, because she’d hooked a salmon.

She played it well, staying perfectly calm as the big fish pulled and thrashed.  There were no hoots of triumph, no stupid chortling and cackling.  No grunts or heavy breathing.  Just a stern resolve and undeniable poise until she lead the fish up to the bank where I lifted the fish from the water and Chris started taking snapshots.

I lifted the fish.  Me.  And as I did, I realized that the Lords of Fishing could pucker up and kiss my ass, in front of God and witnesses, right then and there on the bank of the stupid Pool of Disappointment.  Yesterday was the first time, ever, Barb had tried fishing for salmon.  The first time!  Son of a bitch!  The Lords of Fishing can kiss my ass twice!  While whistling “Dixie”!

It was a wild-born fish, weighing more than 20 pounds and looking all shiny a bright and just unbearably lovely, and after Chris, our Official Witness, had snapped enough photos, Barb told me to let it go; so I stepped back into the river and gently revived the excellent salmon-that-I-hadn’t-caught until she swam away to do her part in keeping the wild gene pool intact.

It was raining.  The wind was blowing.  I was a soggy mess, soaked all the way down through my tidy whities.

It was a very good day.  It just wasn’t mine.

P.S.  After we got home, it took exactly seven hours and forty-two minutes before Barb started chanting “I caught a fish, I caught a fi-ish!”  Lord, give me strength!