TYEE TALES – Harry Hemphill

The Fish That ALMOST Made It!

Well, tonight looked like my night! We had been fishing for a little over an hour, passing the time with idle conversation, my eyes focused on my rod tip, the reddish sun was just dipping below the western horizon. Roy Grant, my friend and guide (mostly friend) had made a couple of passes along the Tyee Spit shoreline in about 50 feet of water. He had just made a turn at the south end of the Tyee Pool, when “IT” hit and the fight was on! I pulled (struck) hard on the rod, lifting it from being parallel to the water, to the rod being 90 degrees straight up, setting the barbless hook well into its jaw (I hope!) Some guides call it “ripping its head off!” This Spring didn’t like it much so it pulled right back. And the brake on the reel started clicking real fast when the salmon decided to take its first run and I let go of the handles. The line was being hauled away from the stern of the boat towards the old Argonaut Wharf. My hand cupped the spool of the reel and acted as an added brake to try and control the tension.

All the other boats hear the activity of the ‘strike’, then Roy’s cry announcing “FISH ON!” They all row out of the way and the rodmen and women bring their lines in as they see my rod, now bent right back to the water while I am still trying to point to the sky in an effort to keep my rod tip up. They can all hear the unmistakable chatter of the clicker brake on the old single action reel. (You can imagine what it sounds like when you are actually holding it!) Just as Roy begins a turn to the outside of the Tyee Pool to try to coax the fish into deeper water so it is away from the other boats and easier (so they say) to fight, it jumps clear out of the water and my heart stops! It’s BBBIGGG! The fight goes both ways; I reel it in for a while keeping the line tight but not too tight. (?) There have been quite a few lost as they only allow us a single barbless hook tied to 20 pound test line. The Fish runs again, then there is slack! Oh, no! It feels like I lost it, Roy says “reel, reel, reel, reel” so I reel in like crazy. It’s swimming right at us, breaks the water real close to the boat, sees us and off it goes again. “Let it go, let it run, let it go!” Straight down!

My left arm is feeling sore from holding the rod straight up but Roy says “don’t give up, keep the rod tip up, keep the line tight, not too tight, reel it in, hands off the handles, let it run, he’s going down!” Jeez, make up your mind, Roy. He doesn’t want me to lose it. Just to add to our concern, there are two seals in the area. But the spring feels like it is starting to tire; (I know I am) and I’m reeling in more than it’s pulling out.

Next thing I know it’s right beside the boat on its side and swimming weakly. Roy says “keep your rod tip up, tension on the line, hands off the handles and ease it towards the bow of the boat” “NO, not THAT bow!” Roy is standing up, ready with the net and with a lot of splashing and commotion I can’t see, he captures it, flips it into the bottom of the boat right behind my seat and whacks it on the head. Still filled with fight and thrashing, my infamous guide gives it one final whack. I turn around in my seat and get my first good look. It is BIG!!

Roy says we have to hurry and get it to the Clubhouse to have it weighed. We even use the motor which I operate because I am in the stern of the rowboat. The rules say you have to catch the fish while rowing, but a motor can be used to get to and from the fishing pool as long as you don’t have a fish on or a line in the water. And, there is a certain corridor along the shoreline for motoring towards the Tyee Clubhouse. I didn’t realize how far South we had drifted while fighting the fish and with the flood tide, the trip back to the clubhouse was painfully slow. Roy quickly carried the fish up to the clubhouse and laid it on the gravel for the weighmaster to put on the scale. Many gathered around us is anticipation. All the ‘experts’ comment: ” it’ll make it”, or, “no, I don’t think so”, or “wow, I’ve never seen a fish that big in my life!”

Earlier today I had told you about the guy who missed the mark by two pounds. Well, guess what? My fish weighed in at 29 and 3/4 pounds! NNNOOO BULLSHIT!!! It was the last mark on the scale before the qualifying 30 pounds and after all these years, my membership into the Tyee Club. You cannot come any closer and miss! What a mixed emotion; the thrill of having caught the biggest fish of my life and then having it miss the bottom line by the tiniest amount. But, alas, a miss is a miss and I will just have to keep trying and I think Roy is just as determined to row me into the ‘Club’, as I am

By the way, smoked salmon is on the menu

Harry Hemphill

Note: I did finally get my Tyee!