Fifteen Days of Failing, Falling, Finding Fish, Making New Friends

I have spent 15 out of the last 31 days on the Cowlitz River at the Barrier Dam Boat Launch. In those 15 days I have failed and fallen, found plenty of fish and made a lot of new friends.
I will forever remember October 2011 as the Month of the F-Word.
FAIL: In last week’s Outdoors feature you may have read the headline, “Cowlitz Silver Salmon Run Could Set Record.” It actually should have read, “Cowlitz Chinook Salmon Run Could Set Record.”
Senior fisheries biologist Mark LaRiviere of Tacoma Power set me straight about that fact a few days after publication. Though perhaps we still disagree as to how I came to write “silver” rather than “Chinook” (he says I didn’t take accurate notes, I say he misspoke), the fact is, I failed to report the accurate figures for the fish counts. It doesn’t really matter who is to blame, failure is failure.
FAIL: In my follow-up question to LaRiviere’s record salmon run statement, I asked him why — if there were so many coho coming through the hatchery — why have I failed to find my own silver beauty and why so many of my fishing friends have also struggled and failed to fetch a chrome-clad coho out of the Cowlitz waters.
He didn’t have an answer for me, but he did tell me that the coho run still had “a good three or four weeks left to the season.” We’ll see.
I haven’t seen a decent haul of silver salmon since Oct. 18. There have been a plethora of boot-black kings hauled out by their toothy mouths (or chewed up rudders and fins, some fish sporting up to six hooks as they are hauled onto the shore), but the coveted coho has made itself scarce amongst the anglers plying the waters near the Barrier Dam.
I’ve been keeping track of each day’s haul on the river, my own and that of others.
I have managed to land 34 kings and one silver salmon in my 15 days of fishing. Every one of the king salmon, except one lone jack, were either sporting the dreaded adipose fin (making them illegal to keep) or were long past their expiration date (boot-black, spent, and ugly as sin). My only silver salmon, taken on Oct. 19, was an unmarked fish that I had to send back out on his way.
Tacoma Power recovered 5,724 coho adults and 406 jacks last week; they took in just as many the week before, and the week before that. Where are they and why aren’t we catching them? The lack of silver success on the river is leaving even the most experienced angler going home empty-handed, shaking his head in confusion and disgust.
FALLS: I have seen a lot of falls in the last 15 days — and I don’t mean the kind of falls you see trickling down a tall hill, I mean the kind of fall that makes a big splash when a fisherman loses his footing as a monster king pulls him downriver.
I took one (or three) of those falls myself — I even have a large rock that I have named “My Sitting Rock” where I sat and spent a good 30 seconds gathering my feet back under me while I held onto my rod for dear life, watching my spool empty as the fish headed for the boat launch.
Standing shoulder to shoulder in the front lines of the Barrier Dam combat zone tends to make any angler act foolishly and make false steps when he or she has a fish on and needs to move down into the frogwater — quickly — before the other fishermen lose their patience with them.
FISH (Then Fowl): I made the decision this summer that if I was going to remain your Chronicle Outdoors writer that I would have to immerse myself (no pun intended) into my work. Spending 15 days on the river has not always been fun, but every moment I have spent there I have found to be invaluable to my growth as a fisherwoman.
If I can gather enough energy to spare (the winter steelhead run is nearly upon us and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it!), I plan to head out into the fields to learn about waterfowling. I’ve tagged along on plenty of hunts, I can shoot a shotgun, but I have yet to point a gun at a duck and shoot. I’m looking forward to giving it a go.
FRIENDS: I have made plenty of new friends out there on the river. I post pictures of many of my new friends and their fish on The (Almost) Daily Bird blog on chronline.com.
The camaraderie of the river is one of the reasons (besides the challenge of hauling in a 35 pound king salmon all by my lil’ ol’ self) I enjoy river fishing as much as I do.
There are always those characters that act in a way that makes me want to punch them in the nose, but for the most part, fishermen are a happy and generous folk. After all, they’re outside doing one of the things they love best.
Bill Ford is one of the new friends that I most admire. At 67 years of age, Ford went fishing for the first time this summer. His son-in-law introduced him to the sport during the pink salmon run on the Puyallup River.
“The first fish I ever had on was a big king salmon. He jumped into the air four times and I was hooked,” said Ford. “This is a lot of fun. I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I’m having a great time.”
Monday afternoon I met Ford and we exchanged our beginner’s enthusiasm as he was hauling his second king salmon of the day out of the water.
It’s friends like Ford that make fishing the best F-word there is — Fun.
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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in her own backyard in Cinebar.  Visit her wildlife and outdoor encounters photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird, at http://blogs.chronline.com/dailybird. Follow her on facebook and twitter at ChronKim. Contact Kimberly via email at kz@tds.net or call 269-5017.