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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Salmon Fishing Heritage

Air Date: Week of

In the Pacific Northwest, sport fishing is both big business and a family affair. We hear from Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association, about catching her first salmon and how it changed her life.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Only a few generations ago, the rivers in the Pacific Northwest ran red with salmon returning from the ocean to spawn. Today, dams, development, and overfishing have wiped out many of the runs and landed others on the endangered species list. But not all salmon are in trouble, and sport fishers still flock to the best spots from Oregon to Alaska. And for many who grow up in the Northwest, their first catch of a salmon or trout becomes a cherished recollection of childhood.

(Flowing water; a reel is cast)

HAMILTON: I'd grown up fishing for trout, mostly. And as an adult, I decided to strike out on my own and try to catch salmon. And I fished and I fished and I fished almost six weeks solid. And could never manage to land one. I had several on but they always escaped. I had four or five Spring Chinook on, and they always escaped.

(Splashing; voices; a reel is cast)

HAMILTON: When they're biting, you have to be patient, and you have to let them take the bait. And you have a hold on your rod, and it's only eight-and-a-half feet long and it's very limber. And you're holding it, and you know that salmon is there, and you have to be patient. And you wait. And they take it a little more, and you're holding tight onto that rod. And they take it a little more. And they take it a little more. And finally, you can't be patient any longer, and you set the hook. And the fish will take off.

(Splashing; gulls)

HAMILTON: It's excitement. It's adrenaline. Your spool heats up from the speed of the fish pulling that line out. And your drag is set such that you can barely pull it with your hand. But that fish is peeling it off so fast, that if you put your thumb on your spool, it will burn a blister. That's how powerful they are. So there's this power and grace. And then they jump up into the air, and it's the most magnificent thing to see a 25-pound fish leap up into the air. And it's a magnificent struggle. And when they get away, you cheer. It's not a sad thing. You know, your opponent has won the day, and off they go.


HAMILTON: And finally, I was fishing with one of my girlfriends, and I hooked into a fish and fought it, and landed it. And it was a 25-pound Spring Chinook. Which is almost twice their average size. And so, that was the change of my life. Catching that very first Spring Chinook changed me so profoundly I changed careers. I changed interest. I started fishing regularly after that. I'd put my children on the bus, wave goodbye, grab the rod, and off I'd go. (Laughs)

(Casts a reel; voices in the background)

HAMILTON: And I have wonderful memories. Maybe my favorite is Mother's Day about ten years ago. I went out with both my daughters and my best girlfriend. And my five-year-old daughter caught her first Spring Chinook. And it was the only fish caught all day, with a boat of about six others. And we get on shore and it's time to take pictures. And she's five. And she's holding up a 17-pound salmon, all by herself. Smiling ear to ear, and won't let anyone else help her. That's probably the memory that sticks the most for me, is sharing that experience with my daughter.


CURWOOD: Liz Hamilton and her family live in Oregon City, Oregon, where she is executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association. Next week, Living on Earth begins a special series on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. We'll look at controversy over a series of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. They provide power and make the rivers navigable. But they also block the way for migrating fish. Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest starts next week on Living on Earth.



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