This final answer rarely satisfies, and I could, I suppose, give others equally truthful—that I am checking on the runs, looking over the river bottom, testing the set of the currents, trying to solve a lifetime of mysteries. The real truth is that I am that anachronism, the simple naturalist, reborn with renewed freedom to observe and speculate. True, there are scientists underwater today, working hard and well to measure and define, but they haven't yet caught up to all the possibilities of their equipment—they haven't measured everything.
Until they do, the field is open to impressionistic observation and imaginative speculation such as mine, to a generation of making old wives' tales or inspired deductions or both. And I hope to take full advantage of this period of unmeasuring observation, for there is truth in impressions as well as in measurements, truth in a man's emotional interpretation of his world as well as in his more objective appraisals. But enough self-justification. Back to my river.
Much of the summer population of the Campbell below Elk Falls is made up of little fish—premigrant salmon and trout that are growing through their freshwater term. The fish in their first year are usually under three inches long and are descriptively called fingerlings—they may be young steelheads, cohos. cutthroats or king salmon. Fish spending a second year in the river are usually four to eight inches long and are almost certain to be steelheads, though a few may be cutthroats. Most cohos move to salt water about a year after they are hatched and most of the kings well before that.
These little fish are often a nuisance to the fly-fisherman, but they are also the future of his sport and I found myself immediately interested in them. Underwater identification, I learned, is quite easy. Young cohos are olive brown, heavily parr-marked and have orange fins; they could be mistaken only for cutthroats, and a long white ray on the side of the coho's anal fin makes this separation simple. Young kings have greenish backs, and long parr marks and little color in the fins. The young steelheads are quite silvery, with white-tipped fins that show very plainly.
Fishing experience had persuaded me that fingerlings were usually to be found spread out over shallow water of moderate flow, while the stronger yearlings would be feeding busily in deeper and faster water, often near the heads of pools and runs. My first excursions underwater seemed to confirm my previous impressions. Both fingerlings and yearling steelheads were scattered widely through the river, though the fingerlings showed definite preference for easier and shallower water while the yearlings took full possession of every kind of flow, not only at the heads of pools and runs but in the swifter water along the sides of the pools, along the edges of rapids and even to some extent in the deeper water in the body of the pools.
It was some while before I realized that the numbers of young cohos, even in the shallower and easier water used by the steelhead fingerlings, were disproportionately small: in many places where steelhead fingerlings were abundant there seemed to be no cohos at all.
I soon found why. At the start of the first long pool below the powerhouse in the Campbell's canyon there was a very large and closely packed school of fingerlings that held always in the same position, just beside the rock ledge around the corner from the powerhouse. There were probably 2,000 fish in the school and at least 95% were cohos. They were holding in very gentle How over a ledge, within a foot or two of the surface, but with the protection of extremely deep water immediately beside them.
A day or two later I was peering into a tangle of brush and saw the dim shapes of a few small fish, then more and more of them. Altogether there were several hundred holding steadily in the gentle current that flowed through the brush pile. With the exception of a few sticklebacks, all were young cohos. It was now obvious that the young cohos liked two things—very moderate flow of current and protection within immediate reach. This suggested two important conclusions: first, that the continuous high flow of the Campbell is not favorable to raising cohos and, second, that it should be possible to make cheap modifications that would help, including the encouraging of weed growth and construction of some simple stream-bed structures such as my own wing dam.
This watching of young fish was mere prelude, of course, to what I was eagerly anticipating, the arrival of the adult salmon from the sea. Never had I awaited the salmon run with more anticipation. It was toward the end of July that my patient diving instructor and companion. Stan Douglas, and I saw the first salmon. They were in the Long Pool at the lower end of the canyon—a school of 30 or 40 humpbacks. I was excited to see them, though they were not particularly impressive specimens. A week later Stan and I swam the Sandy Pool several times. It is a magnificent stretch of river, fully 400 yards long and 20 feet deep in its deepest places. We saw nothing in the swift water of the upper third of the pool, but in the deep part we came upon a school of 100 bright humpbacks that scattered under us. With them were some 20 or 30 great king salmon, nervous fish that swam upstream with enormous power and speed, easily passing the smaller humpbacks. The nervousness was a disappointment, but none of the fish ran far. The humpbacks re-formed their school almost immediately behind us, and I noticed that at least one of the kings seemed always to disappear around a big boulder near the mouth of the creek on the south side. I was able to work upstream near the shore, ease out to the boulder and peer over it. For a second I saw him clearly—a bright 40-pounder. In the same moment he saw me and was gone.
From then on I swam the river regularly and watched the runs build up. By mid-August there were at least a thousand humpbacks in the Sandy Pool, spread all the way from the bridge to the tail but mainly concentrated in two or three favorite places. The same 20 or 30 big kings were still holding in the deep water, already less nervous.