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A day of wading and casting normally produced a fish or two, but none were of any real size. This wasn't surprising, because with any species of fish the smaller ones are always easiest to bring to flies. By mid-July I had landed at least 20 Chinook, the best of them 12 pounds. It was good enough sport, but I felt I needed one large fish, a 20-pounder anyway, to prove my point.
In September I moved to another river, the Klamath, for the fall run. Results were similar, though I did land a 14-pounder. Then the steelhead moved upstream behind the salmon, and I stayed with them through late fall and winter.
The next spring I went at it again, and what I had been hoping for finally happened on a windless evening. The pool on the upper Rogue in which I was fishing was in quiet shadow. I had made perhaps 500 casts that day. Salmon were showing everywhere, rolling and jumping, some of them too big to believe, but none touched my fly.
Then out over the deep water the fly simply stopped. I raised the rod to tighten the line, and it felt as though it were snagged on a rock or a log. The fish didn't move for three or four seconds. I slowly increased the pressure, and then it jumped, throwing a sheet of spray, and came back down on its broad side with a splatting crash.
I didn't see the fish again for an hour and 45 minutes. I put on all the pressure that the eight-pound leader could take, and the Chinook fought doggedly, making a run of 40 or 50 yards downstream, holding for five or 10 minutes, then running 10 or 20 yards upstream to hold again, and so on. Its downstream runs were always longest, so I ended up a quarter of a mile from where I'd hooked him. He stayed on the bottom the whole way. It was nearly dark when I felt the angle of the line changing, felt him coming up, which meant that he was beaten. But I would have to swim to see him, for he was 90 feet from me, near the opposite bank, and there was no way even a beaten fish of that size could be brought back across the current on eight-pound-test.
So I swam the chill water, crossing below the fish. When I was in knee-deep water, I tightened the line and drew him slowly down and in to where I stood. I'll always think of that Chinook as a 40-pounder. Subtract 10 pounds if you want to, for excitement or exaggeration, it still leaves quite a fish. I wrapped the leader around my wrist and snapped it off at the fly. He held there for a minute or two, steady over the gravel, gaining strength, then drifted out and down, gone with a pump of his thick tail.
Large Chinook can be caught on flies—big flies on sunken lines and small flies on floating lines. They can be caught near the mouth of a river or more than 100 miles upstream, just so long as they are fairly fresh from the sea. In the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Atlantic salmon fishing is restricted to flies only. The Chinook will never be afforded such protection, but perhaps it's not too much to hope that someday, if enough of us demonstrate its feasibility, a few select sections of the most suitable streams at the appropriate times of year might be limited to fly-fishing. What with commercial trolling, Indian gillnetting claims, fleets of guide boats, pollution, dams and excessive logging, it's clear that the Chinook—the largest salmon on earth—will need whatever help it can get to survive in significant numbers.