Posted by: 1000fish | June 7, 2017

Chums

Dateline: November 6, 2016 – Skykomish, Washington

I’ve never been much of a salmon fisherman. Salmon fishing out here generally involves piling on to a crowded party boat, maybe catching two fish, and barfing, whereas a rock cod charter involves piling on to a crowded party boat, catching dozens of fish, and barfing. I get talked into a salmon trip with friends every seven years or so, and while I love to take pictures of the rail bunnies, I never seem to catch much. I have stumbled into quite a few king salmon while steelhead fishing in the Trinity River – these can certainly add an element of excitement to early-season backtrolling, when the weather is perfect but the steelhead are rare. I’d been up to Alaska and gotten the standard kings and squillions of pink salmon, and I got a sockeye in the Sierras about fifteen years ago on a particularly frigid morning with Spellman. My Atlantic salmon is the stuff of sad legend, as it took me about a dozen pricey trips over two years in Scotland, only to get one in Ireland. This left me two salmon species short of an IGFA Royal Slam – the silver and the chum.

Both of these species are fairly common up in the Seattle area late in the year, but this is of course subject to the vagaries of Seattle weather, which vagaries about as much as anything can vagary. Still, Martini and I decided that we should give this a shot before the holidays kicked in and I would be unable to leave the house for fear of missing a rebroadcast of “A Christmas Story” or other festive fare like “Arlo the Burping Pig.”

Yes, it’s real.

Martini and I got talking about a trip, and as always with the Arosteguis, plans got made quickly. November 5 and 6 were chosen, and we signed up with highly recommended guide John Thomas.

Highly recommended guide John Thomas on a sunny day. Sunny days happen every four years in Seattle.

United got me to Seattle on time, which surprised me. Martini was out with some supermodel, so I found a quiet German restaurant near campus and loaded up on sauerkraut, which is always a good idea before you are going to wear waders for two days.

In the morning, we got up to the river quickly – the same waterways that make traffic impossible also guarantee that there are plenty of fish within an hour of downtown. On the drive, Martini broke it to me that the chum fishery was closed – Washington continues to have the most pointlessly complex regulations in the United States. This did not mean we would not hook one by accident, as the two species inhabit pretty much the same water and will strike pretty much the same lures, but this now meant that we would not be allowed to remove a chum from the water, which could make for complicated photos.

We met our guide at the boat launch. I initially thought John was a big, friendly guy, but as soon as he started giving me a hard time about my never having caught a largescale sucker, I decided he was just big.

This is John and his contact information. Spoiler alert – he turned out to be a really good guide, except for largescale suckers.

We set up to backtroll. It was a dark, cloudy, and cold – typical summer weather in Seattle. The silvers and the rain came quickly – Martini got a nice one right away, and I was next up with a solid fish. I was one species away from another royal slam.

Martini gets the first fish of the day.

 

Steve’s silver. It had started really pouring. 

(I also have the trout slam, with Spellman in 2010, and the bass slam, with Martini on a memorable day in 2012.) John helpfully reminded me that I hadn’t caught a largescale sucker. I reminded him that there isn’t a sucker slam, but if there was, I would have it.

Later in the morning, I had a big strike and a spirited run. John expertly maneuvered the boat to let me fight the fish, all the while suggesting it was probably not a largescale sucker. A few minutes later, a chum salmon surfaced. We anchored near shore, but somewhere in the ritual of getting out of the boat and trying to photograph the creature in the water, I dropped the chalupa. Martini and John were kind and sympathetic, as soon as they stopped laughing.

The Fish Gods smiled on me moments later, and while the catch was unintentional, it counted and I had my third royal slam, as well as one of the more awkward fish photos I have ever seen. Still, I was pleased, and I could relax and focus on species fishing and trying not to die of hypothermia.

We call this photo “Brokeback River.”

You see, the weather was standard Seattle stuff – clouds and rain. But this did not concern me because I had brought my LL Bean wading jacket. It’s green, and it’s from LL Bean, so it is obviously waterproof. Only it isn’t. It’s “water resistant,” which means that it leaks, and by noon, I was soaked through. This is not an ideal situation, and there was no way I was going to say anything in front of these two, as I would be roundly mocked. It was, after all, my own stupid decision to leave a Gore-Tex jacket sitting in the closet at home.

To mix things up a bit, we tried ledgering some worms in slower, shallow water. Very quickly, we began catching what I believe are peamouth, a local cyprinid which had completely avoided me on the July 2016 trip.

Martini caught a bunch of them also. It was a good day, if you had a functioning raincoat.

We were fairly exhausted by the time we got back to Seattle, and Martini and I decided to eat some sort of legendary campus burger which turned out to be just this side of Sonic burger bad. Nursing unstable stomachs. we got me back to the hotel, where I laid out my sweater, which would dry sometime next spring.

The second day featured much nicer weather – we even saw a bit of elusive sun. But the water had clouded up, and fishing was tougher. We still got a few silvers to the boat, which made for great fun, but mid-day, because I have no attention span, I started playing around with micro-rigs under the boat. This resulted in a few more peamouth, and a bigger hookup and breakoff we suspect was a largescale sucker. John was ruthless about this, and began showing me pictures of the many largescale suckers he has caught.

The guys before John started really razzing me. You can tell because I look so cheerful. That IS my cheerful look.

Late in the day, I had a small hit and lifted a curious minnow-looking creature into the boat. We put it in the photo tank, and Martini started thumbing through the Peterson Guide to Freshwater Fishes, as he tends to frequently. Wonderfully, and pointing toward universal justice, the beast turned out to be a longnose dace, a species that Martini had caught in morally difficult circumstances.

A year of suffering rewarded.

To close out the day, Martini and I took turns irritating each other. While I was innocently trying to catch a sucker, I accidentally caught a whitefish. Martini has not caught one of these, but hey, it’s not like I did it on purpose.

Martini gives that exact look when he realizes that Dairy Queen is the only restaurant open.

Moments later, on purpose, Martini caught a coastrange sculpin, which I have not caught.

The beast in question. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he caught it, he also corrected my draft when I called it a “coast range” (two words), when it’s actually “coastrange” (one word.) Talk about adding grammar to injury.

John thought this was pretty darn funny, which I thought was unnecessary and mean-spirited, mostly because I didn’t think of something clever to say. I was ahead a few of species and a Royal Slam, but it had taken an emotional beating to get there. I thought this would be pretty much the end of my fishing year, and with 1630 species on the list, it had been a good one. Little did I know that the holiday season would hold several surprises, and I’m not just talking about my famous Christmas pants. See postscripts for details.

Steve

AN UNEXPECTED POSTSCRIPT

Speaking of barfing, I had the good luck to be invited on an NOAA/UC Santa Cruz deepwater rockfish research trip in November. Captain Tom Mattusch of Huli Cat Charters runs these from time to time, and I got invited partly because I have a bunch of deep drop equipment and partly because I begged. The purpose of these trips is to gather information on deep water species which are normally out of bounds, to determine how California’s Byzantine deep-water closures are helping rockfish stocks rebound from devastating commercial overfishing. I knew I had a chance at some interesting species along the way.

The downside to all this is that we went in November. The San Mateo coast is known for sloppy water, and we were going 30+ miles offshore in between storms. The seas were a steady 10+ feet, and that was enough to make a couple of the graduate assistants go rail bunny for the entire 10 hours.

Steve and some of the research crew. My hat is off to the grad students – while some of them were desperately seasick, there was not a single word of complaint.

While conditions didn’t allow us to fish super deep, we did get to ply some medium depths up to 500′, and I ended up with two new rockfish species – the chilipepper and the greenstriped.

I am the only person my age who grew up in this area who had not caught a chilipepper. 

I didn’t even know these were available.

A big thanks to Tom and the group for inviting me out – they’re a great operation and I look forward to fishing with them again, hopefully in calmer seas.

 

AN EVEN MORE UNEXPECTED POST-POSTSCRIPT

The perch fishing in San Francisco Bay typically starts heating up in December, but as we are usually busy watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and similar highbrow fare, there is not much fishing, especially because I am usually wearing my famous Christmas pants, and I don’t want to get slime on these.

My famous Christmas pants.

However, the day after Christmas – “Boxing Day” to the British and all fans of Muhammad Ali – I was able to slip out for a few hours to Tiburon. I got some of the usual suspects, but late in the day, I had a huge hit on a a pileworm bait and managed to land a positively monstrous Pile Perch. At two and a half pounds, this fish would reclaim that record for me.

I’m sure there’s an even bigger one out there.

And I wasn’t done. On New Year’s Eve, Marta kicked me out of the house for the afternoon so she could visit with some of her clever, artistic friends without me embarrassing her. I headed right back over to Elephant Rock. It was a blustery day, and while I certainly had great fun catching 10 or so assorted perch, there was nothing large or beastly to report. Late in the day, I switched over to a sabiki to see if anything unusual was patrolling the base of the pier. I pulled up an assortment of local kelpfish, small rockfish, and dwarf perch – and then a stunning surprise. I knew the moment I saw it that I had gotten a rockpool goby – a common fish in Southern California that isn’t supposed to get this far north.

A very lost Blenny. Perhaps he was looking for the Jets.

It was species 1633, and was the perfect ending to a huge year. I smiled the whole way home, and met Marta for the wild things that old people do for New Year’s Eve – maniacal party activities like ordering a pizza and building a puzzle and going to bed shortly after midnight.

 

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Responses

  1. It was during this infamous trip you broke the world record for Pile Perch – previously held by ME! – oh well just means we need to try again. There must be a bigger one out there. Here Fishy Fishy Fishy.

  2. […] It was a perfect, sunny, warm day, we had cold beverages, and the fishing never slowed down. I was just certain that the next fish was going to be a bridgelip, although Martini kept having visions of heading off to some other venue. Perhaps due to my whining, perhaps because it was a beautiful day and the fish were biting, or perhaps because his butt was asleep, Martini stayed. And for once, my approach paid quite a dividend – late in the day, Martini landed a mountain whitefish, a species that had eluded him for some time. […]


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