The sockeye salmon burst out of the water with a sparkling back flip.
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The silver-bright fish almost broke my line in its run toward an underwater log. It jumped again, thrashing in the air then twisting and fighting in the creek.
After a month of broken leaders, broken knots, broken flies and frustration, I actually landed one. It was so beautiful, I felt sick. Instead of pride, I felt shame. I felt like I committed a crime.
Then I ate it.
Legal fishing at a certain creek out the road just ended Saturday after a month of two-day-a-week access. Sockeyes on their way to a certain lake are safe now from the legions of anglers who tried to catch them.
More than one fish is swimming up with a nice collection of colorful flies stuck in its scales - that's the sad signature of snaggers. Some of those fish were studded with so many red and green piercings that they looked like punk rockers.
The pool was brimming with sockeye - and dozens of anglers with mutually squashed dreams of solitude. We all hiked almost three miles to reach the spot, with people fishing anytime from 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on the two days it was allowed. I wandered out with my neighbor one Saturday at 4 a.m. and encountered anglers as they walked to their cars after four hours of fishing.
We marched through masses of mosquitoes, through rain or sunshine. Feeling sockeyes take your fly is worth whatever challenges you endure along the way.
Fresh from the salt, they flew out of the water when you hooked them. I saw 10-pound beauties hurling themselves and bouncing over the surface of the creek like skipping stones. Shiny and muscular, they leapt out of the silt-gray flow then broke off your line on hidden crags. It's impressive. I spent two entire days out there without catching anything.
They gathered in a clear pool, refusing to bite - typical of fish on their way to spawn. I had some flies that looked so good I wanted to eat them myself, but I couldn't get any action.
I offered one glinting red fly, and I actually saw two sockeye look at each other and smirk. I made another one out of pink felt and silver tinsel, but after one cast, it looked like something you'd pull out of a bathtub drain. Meanwhile, a guy next to me was landing fish after fish using nothing but a piece of yarn.
I landed a sockeye on my third visit. After an admirable fight, it succumbed to exhaustion. I dragged the defeated fish onto the pebbly bank.
I bled, gutted it, cut out its gills. And then I started the walk back to the car, a little dizzy with a sense of wrongdoing. Catch-and-release is so much easier on the conscience.
Ken Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2263.
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