Friday, November 26, 2021
Nov. 26, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: Fishing for rogue on Rogue River

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Sitting in the stern of the drift boat, it was an easy matter to let my mind wander about the tonnage of lead that must litter the bottom of the Rogue River. Easy because, for the fifth time in the last hour, I had snagged my salmon-rigged line on some submerged obstruction. After five full minutes of pulling, pumping and swearing, I left the carefully tied mass of eggs looped around a barbed hook, four feet of leader, and a large sinker lying on the bottom with all the rest.

I felt guilty over my constant snags because I was the guest of an old friend. Walter and I had worked together back in the 1970s in Washington, D.C., and he had won a guided fishing trip. Sam, the guide who took us on this trip, worked for Walter, but most of his spare time was spent on the Rogue and he knew it well. Walter was even less experienced than me at salmon fishing, but Sam was a master.

We spent the morning in Sam’s drift boat, moving from one deep hole to another. Sam handled the oars with Walter and me at either end. Sam had pulled in several small salmon, in the 12- to 15-pound range, and threw them back for something larger. Walter and I were still fishless. We finally anchored out of the current near a large hole. There were six other boats nearby, and many bank fishermen on the opposite side of the river.

All of a sudden, Sam reared back on his seat, throwing his rod back over his right shoulder. We knew he had another. He quickly felt the weight at the end of the line and handed his pole to me, saying, “Here, this one is too large to land in the shallows. You bring it in.” He raised the anchor and began maneuvering us into deeper water. The other boats saw we had fish on and began reeling in their lines to keep from becoming tangled.

I was trying to get a measure of Sam’s fish, which was suddenly mine. The pole was bent almost double and the line was so taut, it was making a pinging sound as it stretched. I began adjusting the drag on the reel to minimize the fish’s runs and try to tire him out. He felt my tinkering and began a fast run upriver, and I was sure the line would run out or break. But almost as quickly, he reversed direction and roared downstream like an underwater rocket, with me reeling in frantically so there would be no slack. Then he twisted and lunged in several directions.

I somehow managed to bring him within a couple feet, allowing us to see what we were dealing with. He was like silver torpedo, about a third the length of one of the oars, and his huge gills were pumping like bellows.

“My God, that thing is an easy 45-pounder, maybe more,” Sam wheezed. With that, he began instructing Walter on how to net that huge fish. Walter was grumbling that he’d never used a net before, but it couldn’t be that difficult. With that, he took a swipe at the fish — and missed.

The fishermen in the other boats and alongside the bank let out a collective gasp and we all watched the spooked salmon peel off, back into the deep water. I forgot about being Walter’s guest, made a few choice remarks about his technique, and continued cranking. I finally maneuvered the fish alongside again, and Walter took another swipe.

Once again, he missed. This time, Sam and I were considerably more vocal about his efforts, all the time trying to recorral that wild thing. My shoulders were throbbing, but I finally brought the fish back alongside, knowing Walter couldn’t miss a third time. But, yes, he did.

Sam, whose reputation as a guide on the Rogue was probably ruined for life, seemed ready to strangle Walter. In between cranks of the reel, I threw in a few testy comments on Walter’s low IQ. As I wearily brought the fish up to the boat for the fourth time, we both told Walter he would be swiftly removed from this life if he missed again.

So, he didn’t. Instead, he made a forceful lunge with the 6-foot net, this time striking the fish in the nose and knocking the hook loose. The last we saw of that prize was a huge spray of water and a triumphant flip of the tail as he headed downstream.

Sam was slumped over the oars and I couldn’t imagine the murderous thoughts dancing in his mind. I was thinking of the merits of keelhauling when Sam decided to call it a day. We silently drifted down to our camp. Not much was said that evening between us, so we were grateful when a couple of fishermen nearby invited us over to their campfire for a drink.

As we passed a jug around, Sam asked how their fishing had been.

“Not worth a damn,” one said, “but we did watch three total idiots lose a 70 pounder!”

We just listened, shook our heads in wonder, excused ourselves and silently went off to bed.

Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, I think those fishermen must have been right: It probably was a 70-pounder!


Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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