PACIFIC OCEAN - Saturday my brother and I each had caught a keeper coho salmon, a hatchery fish with its adipose fin clipped three years earlier. We had released a couple of "shakers," two under-sized Chinooks, and two native coho, one being about 15 pounds, a real beauty.
At about 8 a.m. and close to 15 miles southwest of the tip of the South Jetty in about 270 feet of water the starboard pole took a lunge toward the Pacific. My brother was running the boat and I was on my familiar perch atop the big ice box.
I removed the rod from the holder, felt the fish's unmistakable tug, and firmly set the hook. Since it was Lyle's turn, I held the pole and he took it from over my shoulder and began fighting the fish. I slapped the "kicker" 10-horse motor into neutral, grabbed the nearest landing net, and moved aft to be ready to net the fish.
Some 25 feet to the stern we saw the characteristic swirl on the surface of a coho and judged it to be about four or five pounds. It was a typical boil from a hooked silver salmon that appeared to be a bit smallish for this time of year. Certainly there was no reason to think that this fish would make our Salmon Fishing Hall of Fame from our over 1,000 trips across the Columbia and Grays Harbor bars during the past 50 years. After all, we had caught Ilwaco derby winning Chinook and silvers pushing 18 pounds in the past and we had one coho literally jump in motor well of the boat while it was caterwauling to escape the landing net a few summers ago.
Then we saw another fish following the salmon on the end of Lyle's line. This one had almost a two-foot dorsal fin that sliced menacingly through the water and a tail fin about half as high and maybe four feet behind. Its snout pushed a wake as the shark moved stealthily toward the fighting salmon. When the shark's stalking became a charge, the coho took off to the right, no doubt forgetting the pain of the barbless hooks in its jaw.
My brother tightened the drag and began cranking the reel like a mad man. I beat the water with the net and yelled at the shark, like that would do any good? The shark closed to within inches of the salmon and Lyle began yarding it across the surface. Three skips over the waves and Lyle had brought the coho to within netting distance. I stopped beating the water and quickly moved to where the salmon was being drug in by Lyle.
I scooped and had the fish in the net in an instant. Like we've done thousands of times, I began to check whether the salmon was a hatchery coho keeper or not before removing it from the salty brine. Lyle yelled, "Get the net out of the water!"
In a heartbeat I realized why. Not three feet from the back of our 19-foot Olympic boat the shark, likely a blue of 10 feet or more, was surging toward the salmon, net, and me. I lifted, the net and silver salmon cleared the gunwale, and the shark disappeared with a twist of its body and flip of its sharply-pointed tail.
After a few seconds of surprised relief, we determined the coho, by now firmly entrenched in our Hall of Fame forever, was indeed a keeper and that we were very lucky fishermen to still have all our digits, all our gear and a tasty fish to boot.
About that time the other rod took a violent dip downward from another hard strike. I fed line, hoping for a comeback strike, but feeling none, reeled in to check the bait. The three-foot long leader was cleanly severed about half way below the diver. Immediately we both knew that that pesky shark had settled for our four-inch anchovy bait and a set of mooching hooks after its serrated teeth had parted the line.
We decided to let the shark fish that stretch of the ocean and we moved about half a mile south to catch our last salmon. "You should have taken a picture," my brother remarked on the trip in. I said, "I was thinking about grabbing the camera, but you horsed the poor salmon in too fast. Or maybe you could have gotten a shot of the shark tearing up the net if I had left the fish in the water a couple of more seconds."
Neither of us laughed and that's no fish story.
Kevin Heimbigner writes about sports and other subjects for the Chinook Observer. he lives in Klipsan.