The fog was thick that morning. So thick, in fact, that the lights of the ferries docking not 200 yards away from us were completely invisible. The only sign of their presence was an occasional fog horn blaring and the sudden arrival of waves crashing through an otherwise silent morning. Our entire world was comprised of the 20 yards around us, and the hope of a fish crushing our fly in the salt. My friend caught a nice silver that morning.
The rain fell hard and cold that morning. It was 2005, and my life in the Pacific Northwest was only a month old. A housemate and I set out to pursue a fish we knew nothing about, other than the fact that they were, in fact, swimming heavily into the rivers. We fished for a few hours in a cold pouring rain, me with a fly rod and some flies a guy at a store handed me, and my friend with a spinning rod and some lures that a co-worker told him to buy. The fish were in the river pretty heavily alright, but none of them were removed by us that particular day. We caught nothing that morning.
The sunrise was especially amazing that morning. As a pewter sky transformed into a wide range of oranges and reds, I walked down the beach towards a spot that I knew fish would be moving through at this particular tide level. Shortly after stepping into the water and pulling line from my reel, a giant salmon launched itself from the water, landing with the smack of a belly flop. I briefly came tight to a decent salmon a few minutes later, but it threw the hook on a subsequent jump. After another hour or two of nothing I was on the verge of calling it a day, when I noticed an odd shape out of the corner of my eye. Turning to my right I realized that the shape was that of the dorsal fin of an orca whale. Suddenly the dorsal fins of an entire pod of orcas broke the surface, and I stood watching for a few minutes as the pod cruised around the waters a long stone-throw away from me. Just as suddenly, they were gone. I didn’t mind not landing that salmon that morning.
Chasing salmon in the waters of Puget Sound with a fly rod is a pursuit that takes you through a multitude of conditions. It can mean walking away from or back to your car in the darkness of an early morning or late evening. It can mean tolerating the cold rain or warm sun of a Pacific Northwest September–that shoulder season where Summer has started retreating but Fall hasn’t fully arrived. It can mean an endless amount of long casts from thigh-deep water, scanning the water for signs of life, waiting for that sudden surge on the other end of your line.
Granted, the salmon of Puget Sound aren’t nearly as large or powerful as the fish that once returned here…or that still return to some of the waters to the north or south. Hooking one of these salmon still initiates a fight between man and beast, but it is a fight that isn’t so much an intense street fight as much as it is a Middle School recess fight: a couple of quick blows exchanged before the principal intervenes and the fight is done. Even still, it is a fight we continue to search for, and it is a fight that signals a time of transition in the areas these fish call home.
At the end of the day, chasing salmon is about something more than just catching a fish. It’s about connecting to a thousand mile journey that we still don’t understand, but that has sustained human life in this region for thousands of years. Days that come and go with fish caught and days that don’t still connect us to something bigger than ourselves. There are no unsuccessful days in this pursuit.