Soapbox Update: Springer for the Barbie by Bob Rees April 20th, 2017

Springer for the Barbie

Something about fresh sport caught spring Chinook makes your day go better. We have an incredible bounty of opportunity for sport fishing in the state of Oregon, but for good reason, when one comes home with a spring Chinook, particularly a Columbia River caught spring Chinook, it seems nothing can go wrong.

Such was our day on Thursday (4/20). The fishing has been fair at best, flows were high, river was raging, and it might even rain on us today. To top it off, I only got a few hours of sleep before hitting the already crowded highway at 5:37 a.m. What was I thinking?

Upon greeting my friends in the parking lot, I didn’t come into the day with high expectations, and I made sure to plant those exact seeds into the minds of my friends from Pew. At least I knew I was going to be in good company, we’d have plenty of time to think about saving fish and fauna for our next harvest.

With only a few days left in the season, I figured the river would be packed with boats, especially after hearing the test nets were catching ample numbers of them just downstream. Well, much to my surprise, that wasn’t the case and we selected a random place in about 9 feet of water, to drop our anchor.

I about fell over when the first rod buckled over, with maybe just 35 minutes of effort underway. Of course it was the new kid on the block that hooked the fish, Ken, who seemed more intent on snapping pictures and taking notes than tending to his rod (which is a good thing when fishing plugs on the anchor).

I can’t say the springer put up the fight of its life, rather it came to the boat quite quickly and was swiftly subdued with the net. Most of us don’t care about how these fish fight, they are too valuable to lose so it’s a small sacrifice to pay. Early season spring Chinook often fetch north of $40.00/pound in the upper echelon stores, and for good reason, there’s no other better tasting salmon than a Columbia River spring Chinook, BAR NONE! Sorry Copper River kings, you’re sewage by comparison.

After counting the sea lion scars on its side, we quickly cut the gills and got the rods back in the water. Before long, another 2 springers made it to the boat, one was wild, requiring release, and another made it to the fish box. Two other hits and that was our day.

Nic Callero with a 12-pound Columbia River spring Chinook from 4/20

We weren’t fishing in the most aesthetically pleasing location. I think every airplane that landed at Portland International flew directly overhead. It made for a couple of interesting conference calls. But again, you make small sacrifices for spring Chinook.

After we carved up our fish, split two salmon 5 ways and said our pleasant good-byes, I know we were all beaming with pride that we were going to be taking fresh spring Chinook back to our families for the grill tonight. These fish don’t go in the freezer, nobody and I mean nobody, puts spring Chinook in the freezer on a year when returns are mediocre at best.

Three of us were taking fish back to feed our daughters, a few of us old salts still have wives, and I even took a piece to my Dad for dinner tonight. Although my Mom doesn’t eat any fish that isn’t cooked at Skippers, she’s equally gleeful so she doesn’t have to figure out what she’s cooking for Dad tonight. She’s going with a hot dog so she says.

Salmon have been the iconic species in the northwest for well over a decade. We’ve fished them down, destroyed their habitat, modified their rivers and made it easier for sea lions to feast on them. All in a short 100-year time span. How many times have you said, “If only I knew way back when, what I know now, I’d do things differently.” That time has come and gone for salmon, we’ll be paying the price for our sins for a long, long time to come.

It’s not too late for all our favorite fisheries however. We’ve only been screwing up groundfish for half that time, and, we’ve gotten better about learning from our mistakes. It’s enough to give me hope for the future of our fish tacos and deep fried fish and chips if Mom decides to take part; I do buy her (and I) Skippers tartar sauce.

A successful reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act will keep our ocean fisheries intact, including the critical forage food base that feeds our lingcod, sea bass and even our spring Chinook. There has to be a reason my BBQ caught fire tonight, these spring Chinook must be eating those deep swimming eulachon smelt that are also oil laden and an important part of the forage fish base the Magnuson Stevens also protects.

Tip of the week: Use the M2 Fickle Pickle Flatfish, they’re tearing it up!