I’m doing some desk work, and found myself thinking about that hog I hooked last year, a king so big I had to move over while the captain conked her and hauled her aboard, groaning. I cheered and danced, gloated and grinned at this monster who hung out both sides of my cleaning tray. I sliced her open and used two hands to scoop out the skein of roe.
Later in town I bragged and in bragging brought out everyone else’s biggest fish story.
I wish I had let her go. The more I learn about how important the big kings are to the future of all kings the worse I feel. In the time it took me to clean and haul that big mama around I could have caught 3 more 18 pounders and our overall catch total would have been the same. And that giant mother of future hogs could have had a chance to make it back to her home river, laid her eggs, and been part of building a strong season of big kings, ready to hook in 2020 or so.
As penance, I’m going to let some big fish go this year. Probably when the captain isn’t looking. It will be hard but if I am in awe of the size, and the hook looks easy to pull, I’m going to send a few back.
I just finished reading Charlie Campbell’s contribution to the recently released anthology Made of Salmon. His piece, Size Matters, focused on the decreasing size of kings returning to the Yukon River, and it made me regret that big king salmon of 2015. In fact, it made me regret big fish stories in general.
Campbell’s piece is a great read for a variety of reasons, but what I found especially interesting was the idea that the biggest kings, with their pure strength and power, dig the deepest redds. These deepest redds, sort of “nests” for salmon eggs, offer extra protection to these precious future kings, and increase their chances of survival. The biggest kings are also producing the healthiest and most robust roe. Additionally, the very ability of the biggest kings to move big rocks out of place means that, according to Campbell, the can “expand their range on swift-running creeks—they can exploit locations where smaller fish can’t."
Maybe it’s time to take a break from Big Fish Stories. Or refocus them as stories of the biggest salmon we ever let go. The joy in watching it drop deep and silver back into the sea. I’m looking forward to telling that one.