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

Salmon Fishing Heritage

Air Date: Week of

In the 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: Each year the Pacific Northwest reels in more than $2 billion from sport fishing. In Oregon alone, if you count up all the hours folks spend casting hook, line, and sinker in pursuit of fish, you'd be counting until you reach 200 million. And if you grow up in the Northwest, your first catch doesn't come long after your first step.

HAMILTON: The earliest memory I have of my father is fishing with him.

CURWOOD: Liz Hamilton was three years old when she caught her first fish. Now, she's executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association. She lives and fishes in Oregon City. And once or twice a year, she still spends a few days on the river with dad.

(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. And it’s, 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 resumes a special series we've been running on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. We'll look at commercial fishing and its impact on endangered salmon species. Some people want to ban commercial boats, but others say even taking that drastic step won't help.



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