At First Light
John R. Sikes
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As stories go, this one sounds pretty fishy to me, except I was there when it happened. It is a story from way back, early in my career as a fishing guide in the Pacific Northwest. Before things like the Bolt Decision, habitat destruction, and over fishing destroyed the mighty runs of salmon fighting their way up the glacier fed rivers of the Olympic Mountains.
I felt like a young Daniel Boone turned lose in a hunting and fishing paradise. Learning things as I encountered them. I really didn't have this Northwest fishing thing figured out yet, but knew I had the bug. It was going to be a long time before I could get it out of my system. Not having built enough clientele to keep me busy guiding the rivers for salmon and steelhead, I took a job on one of the commercial fishing boats. We fished the salt water for salmon and bottom fish, when fishing was open, and dove for urchins when it was not. The urchin diving business was just taking off and we were learning it as we went along.
The Captain of the boat I worked on had shown an interest in doing a float trip down one of the rivers. There were many flowing out of the mountains not far from the marina where we docked the commercial boat. Wanting to impress the skipper, I offered him a trip down the Hoh River, which feeds out of the Olympic Park. It flows from the Hoh glacier to the Pacific Ocean. Having just bought my third riverboat, I was foaming at the bit to try it out. I destroyed the first in the same river, bought a second one, and decided it was too small.
Well, it wasn't long before we were on the edge of the river on a beautiful though unproductive day of drift fishing. I pulled the boat to the bank and made a pot of coffee about mid-morning when it all began. We finished our coffee and I stepped down to the water's edge to rinse out my cup. The cup was one of those back-packer specials, you know, the little ones fitting into a mess kit. This one was a kind of a dull orange color. Much like the little round plastic bait lures used for fishing, seen hanging from the tree limbs and snagged on the bottoms of the rivers. I own boxes of them, more than I'll ever use, have now carried up and down the waterways from that day on. The water was gin clear where a small stream entered the swift current of glacier gray runoff coming down the main river. The flow from the stream draining the surrounding foothills was not the same frigid water from the glacier feeding the main channel on its trip to the ocean.
I don't know if it was the clear water, temperature difference, or the orange flash from rinsing the cup that caught the King's attention. Which ever it was, I'll never know. What I did know was I just spotted the biggest fish in fresh water I have ever seen in my life.
I squatted down and started to rinse the cup out in the river. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a movement and spotted a huge dorsal fin as the King edged over into the shallower part of the current. Standing in awe, I realized the enormity of the fish. The dorsal fin stuck out of the water at least six inches. It reminded me of the torpedoes mounted on the sides of the old P.T. boats. The current seemed non-existent as it swam almost lazily up the fast flowing stretch where I was standing. For a moment in time, I froze as our eyes locked, his glazed over with a primeval lust as he searched for something in this foreign place. He had staked out this section of river as his space. Nothing was allowed to enter it except females of his species. My eyes got the size of paper plates. Everything about the females of my species was forgotten as my heart jumped time by a couple thousand rpm's, like a hot rod motor missing a gear in a full-fledged burnout.
"Get in the boat, get in the frigging boat right now!" I stuttered.