I caught this fish yesterday, only because of...
I met Randy Johnson (the guy holding the fish) and his family a couple of spring Chinook seasons ago. They're a great bunch of guys who take their hunting and fishing damned seriously. They catch a lot of fish, shoot a lot of elk and a lot of ducks and geese. My kind of people!
Yesterday, Kyle and I were working on the Willy's and Kyle's CJ-7, when Randy shot me a text message inviting me down to his boat and crew - to fish and hang out a bit. I grabbed a rod and hopped in my boat and headed down river.
I set anchor and slid up next to Randy's boat, jumped in and got caught up on all the local river gossip, fishing reports, upcoming plans for this fall's hunting and fishing - and all the other great things we share in common.
I was having trouble keeping my spinner blade spinning in the lower flows, so Randy handed me a smaller, lighter blade and suggested I give it try. I put his spinner on and put it out behind my boat and noted that it was working great. I put the rod in the holder and returned to our conversation.
A short time later, Randy exclaimed "HEY, you got a fish on!" I turned around and saw my rod nearly being jerked out of the rod holder! I reached down and grabbed the rod like I'd done countless times before, and as I started to come up tight on the fish, it turned hard in the current and with a violent head shake, ripped the rod out of my grip! I watched in what looked like SLOOOW MOTION as the rod sailed several feet off the back of my boat and splashed into the waters of the Umpqua River. I immediately went from total elation from hooking a fish to "AW DAMN!, I REALLY LIKED THAT ROD AND REEL!" That was one of the worst sights I've ever seen, my expensive (and favorite!) salmon rod splashing into the water five feet behind my boat and racing down stream at the speed of sound, as a spring Chinook headed back to the ocean with Randy's spinner in its mouth and my rod attached by a leash of 50 lb. "tuff-line".
"Well Hell!" I thought. That was that! I finally hooked a springer that I was going to get to fight and keep for my family (as a guide, I RARELY get to fight a fish, let alone get one for my family) and now the unthinkable has happened...I hooked a fish and not only lost it, but also my rod! This fish, if its not able to throw the spinner will surely perish. "YOU SUCK!" my mind screamed! I was so embarrassed. I felt awful for the fish I've doomed. I felt like a such a total idiot. I've heard of this happening to others, (twice already this season) but I've never had it happen to me, until now. Well, there was that time ten or so years ago, when a customer had a fall Chinook strip him of my rod and reel down in the bay. That happens. You feel bad for the customer, the fish, bummed you lost an expensive rod and reel, but until now, that was all I really felt. I always carry extra rods and reels, so if this happens we can keep fishing. This was different. I'm a GUIDE for crying out loud!, this doesn't happen to me! Before I could lick my wounds and assuage my destroyed ego another second, Garrett Johnson shouts "Dean, we can get that rod and fish back! toss your anchor and lets go get it!" Garrett leaps across from his dad's boat and lands in my boat with a solid thud with his rod in hand. I stare at him in disbelief, but reluctantly start my motor and began backing down towards the rapids. HOW are we EVER going to get that rod back? its gone forever and so is that fish!
Less than a hundred yards below us, is a fairly formidable set of rapids. That was the last known destination of my rod and the fish. No way are we EVER going to see either again, EVER!
Undeterred, Garret is shouting directions to me "head over that way, I know that fish is going over there". I move that way for a bit, then Garrett's dad, Randy shouts directions for another search pattern, closer to the main channel. Randy is thinking like I am, that fish headed straight back down the rapids and both are gone forever.
Not Garrett, he's self assured and full of confidence. I admit I'm an idiot and embarrassed and sorry for loosing their spinner, and he says "no way, we'll get that rod and fish back, head over that way!"
I follow his directions and move to the north side of the river, directly ahead of the rapids. Its all over in my mind. I've likely killed a magnificent fish for no good reason other than my own bumbling ineptness, I deserve to loose a great rod and reel. I just hope the fish was fortunate enough to pull away from the spinner and continue on its journey a little wiser for the encounter with this dork!
Like he knew he was going to see the rod any second, never a doubt in his mind, Garrett points and screams "there it is, there's your rod!" Sure enough, tip pointed down stream towards the rapids in five feet of water, I see my rod laying solidly in amongst the ledge rock - 20 yards above the start of the rapids. Garrett has already made a cast with his rod and drug the spinner across the area roughly at the rip of my sunken rod. I see the bend start to form in his rod as he reels and lifts - and I begin to see my rod lift off the bottom, as I start to spin the bow of my power boat away from the head of the rapids. For a moment it looks like I'll at least get my rod back, when suddenly it begins to slip back into the current. I quickly reach down and barely grab my rod tip, before it slips back under the surface. Garrett is all grins as we "high five" each other for the unbelievable good luck and fortune of not only finding the rod, but actually being able to get it hooked with another rod and dragging it off the bottom and back into my hands!
We were all laughing, hootin' and hollering about finding the rod and getting it back, Garrett and I in my boat (with my dog Molly barking in the background because of all the excitement) but also Randy, Tyson and Garrett's young son Hoyt, we were all screaming and yelling and laughing hysterically about what just happened.
I started to reel in the line and when it came up tight, I first thought the spinner had just hung up on a ledge at the head of the rapids, but then I felt weight that began to move! unbelievably the Chinook was still on! Neither Garrett or I could hardly believe the fish was still there.
Honestly, the poor thing had little fight left after dragging my rod to the top of the rapids where it hung up in the ledge rock. I simply brought the fish to the side of the boat and then realized, I didn't even have the presence of mind to throw a net in when I came down to visit the Johnson's! NO NET!!! I shouted to Garrett, as I started to drive my boat towards their boat (and net) so that we could finally, once and for all put this poor fish out of its miserable encounter with me! Garrett never missed a beat, he simply reached down, grabbed the leader and hoisted the 12 pound springer over the side of my boat and let it land gently in the bottom.
Unbelievable! If there hadn't been witnesses, I would have NEVER told this story! I simply would have drove my boat home and shared this amazing fish with my family, maybe mentioning a great battle, that I caught it on a spinner loaned to me by Randy and his family, not a word of what actually happened. But there it is! this is how I came to land my only fish of the 2016 spring Chinook season (so far) Yes, others have caught fish in my boat this season, this was just MY first, and if I get another takedown on my rod between now and the end of the season in early June, I hope its not as stressful as this one was.
Thank you Johnson family for a memory of a lifetime!