TYEE TALES – Ken Enns
The Story of the 62 pound Tyee Caught on August 13th 1983
It was early morning and bright stars lit in the sky. Little did we know it would be a day to remember; a day that would make history. It was August 13th 1983. Barry, Tammy and I made our way in our rowboat towards the famous Tyee Pool, just south of where the Campbell River enters the ocean.
The original wood rowboat designed and built by E.P. Painter was then copied by Dr. Murphy with help from Joe Painter. Ten fiberglass versions were made in 1972. I was so fortunate to have the use of a first-production Murphy rowboat that River Sportsman owned. We were in it for its one true purpose in life – to search for the elusive Tyee, a Chinook salmon over 30 pounds.
In our boat we had the gear to fish under the exacting regulations of the annual Tyee Club of British Columbia tournament; the Club was organized in 1924 and incorporated in 1927. The season runs July 15th to Sept 15th annually, and the ‘old school’ tradition has continued. To become a member you have to catch a Tyee under all the Club’s regulations.
The morning was still dark when we arrived at my favorite spot-the south corner, which was passed down by veteran mentor rowers, Greg Cameron, R.D. Berger, then Clint Cameron. I had not slept very well the night before in anticipation as the tide was near perfect, fish should be taken. Then, all of a sudden, I had this feeling come upon me that morning. It was inexplicable, but I just lookedat Barry and said, “I want to go to Frenchman’s Pool”.
‘Frenchman’s’ is the name of a body of water just north of where the Campbell River spills into Discovery Passage. It has produced fish over the years, but not near as steadily as the Tyee Pool. The previous two mornings, there had been Chinooks taken at the Tyee Pool.The fish were known to be in the Tyee Pool, but Frenchman’s?
Barry was my boss from River Sportsman Outdoor Store and knew going to Frenchman’s would be betting on a long shot. After contemplating whether I might have a good hunch or I was completely mad, he relented and off we went. From the start, the 4.5 horse power Mercury motor strained against the flood tide. The shallows of the estuary lurked dangerously close below as we headed over it and through the river mouth to the north end of Painter’s Lodge. But we made it.
Barry shut down the motor, tilted it out of the water and took his seat beside Tammy. I handed them the rods, then began rowing and the lines were let out. (The guide rows the boat looking at the rods, while trolling an artificial lure with one single barbless hook, 20 pound or less line and no more than 6 ounces of weight.)
The dark receded just enough so we could see the rod tips. Two Lucky Louie shovelnose plugs did their magic behind a Gibbs four ounce slip weight. We were instantly into beautiful ‘water’ going against the tide as we headed towards the Dolphins Resort. Both plugs were beating perfectly, the lines hung deep. We had gone from frantic search to the peaceful lull of the row. I didn’t see exactly what happened with Tammy’s rod tip; it was just instinctual when I said, “Hit it!”
Tammy’s rod went down, and she swung. Nothing. Tammy reeled in her line, probably wondering if I had called a false alarm. Sometimes in this fishery, you never know. It could be a small piece of weed, it could be just a change in the currents, and it could be a small bottom fish. Or it could be……
We continued heading north, and it was so quiet the sound of the oars dipping into and out of the water seemed loud. There were only a few other rowboats in the pool. It turned into the most beautiful, clear morning. The sun had yet to come up. We had worked our way directly out from Dolphins Resort, just inside a riptide that had slowed down at the end of the tide. Barry’s plug got weed on it and stopped beating. He reeled it in to clean it. This was the moment Tammy was waiting for…..only one plug in the water!
I took the opportunity to be creative. Slowly I turned the rowboat and rowed its bow into the faster riptide. It pushed us backwards, yet the plug worked incredibly well, only 44′ from Tammy. It didn’t lose a beat, but actually seemed to intensify its action as it dug deeper and slid slowly beneath the boat.
Tammy’s 7 1/2 foot fiberglass rod slammed down on the wood gunnel. She swung instantly, hitting it quick and hard. The fish was on, running under the rowboat and heading to April Point across the Passage. As I pulled on the oars to straighten out the boat, I yelled – “FISH ON!!” This is traditional for the guide after hooking a fish, to alert the other boats.The 4 1/2″ Hardy Longstone single-action reel screamed “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz””zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”, as 150 to 200 yards of 20 pound maximum line peeled off it in seconds.
I thought for sure the fish would show itself as it ran just under the surface. But it didn’t. Luckily there were no boats in its way.Then it started to sound and went deep, there telegraphing its anger with big scary head shakes that magnified on the rod. Both Barry and I were coaching Tammy, “keep your rod up, keep it up, let it run, let it run, keep pressure on the rod, reel, reel, reel.” It was acting like a big fish, and the tide slowly took us towards the river mouth. Tammy played the fish like a pro, keeping her rod tip up at all times. It was a real battle.
The fish continued to take some great runs….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Tammy was using the palm of her hand as the drag for the Hardy reel. She played it calmly, even though her palm was burning and her arms were very weak. Then it was reel, reel, reel as I pulled on the oars to help her and it made some unreal moves towards us to try and free itself.
Then the most amazing thing happened. After a 40 minute fight, we started to drift by the deeper channel going into the river mouth. The Chinook turned and swam into the fresh/saltwater shallows heading towards the river in which it was meant to spawn. Then finally, it showed itself, and I couldn’t believe it.
Both Barry and I had seen big fish before. The previous seven years I had the dream job of working for my Dad at River Sportsman which he had started in 1964 so I had a good working knowledge of fish and fishing. But this fish? I knew it was big. But how big? I did not tell Tammy how big I thought it might be. I didn’t want to jinx it. Besides, I was nervous enough for all three of us. Finally the Tyee lay on its side 60 yards away, totally exhausted, and I was convinced it was over 50 pounds.
I then started backing up the rowboat with my oars, and kept telling Tammy that the fish was going to take another run. I backed up, backed up, and backed up, then netted it. The fish never moved from the surface and was one of the easiest Tyees I’ve ever netted…..and we did it as a team!
I then carefully grabbed the hoop of the net, and with a lot of adrenalin, lifted the silver beauty into the rowboat. We all turned to each other and then the hooting, hollering, hugging, and shaking of hands started. Now Barry and I were convinced that this ‘Big Fish’ was over 55 pounds. Barry then lowered the motor and started it up. We headed for the Tyee Club Clubhouse to officially weigh in this beautiful gift.
We went past some of the rowboats fishing the Tyee Pool and shared our excitement. Long-time rower R.D. Berger took some awesome photos of a lifetime while we were in our boat. We then pulled our boat up on the beach. All eyes were on us as Barry and I took Tammy’s fish out of the boat and carried it to the official scale. The celebration had started and this was the moment we were all waiting for. The scale went around and around and around, then stopped at….. 62 pounds!!!!!!