Sep
14

Adventures in Salmon Catching

As you may recall, we spent Labor Day Weekend chasing ocean torpedoes—albacore tuna—with Captain Rob out of Ilwaco.  The drive to, and from, Ilwaco took us through Claskanie and a chance to visit with friends Steve and Sue Souvenir.

Over the last few years, homeys Bill Boyum, Kirk Johnson and I have squandered much of our remaining and vanishing youth in fishing activities with Steve and Sue, and in this cosmic turn of events, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to introduce some of my family.  I figured they could use some fresh tuna, anyhow.  Somewhere in there, Steve issued an invitation I could not turn down.

This friendship started with a small bidding war during the 2009 annual meeting of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) in Spokane.  I’d been invited to give a talk about dealing with difficult people in difficult times (I’m a pro, since I have been one most of my life), and someone suggested I come to the evening’s event.

The annual auction raises money for the WACD Evirothon, education work, and other association activities.  I was being lulled by the rhythm of the auction and the bidding, and visiting with a couple acquaintances, when I heard the MC mention the 2010 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip to the Lower Columbia with fishing nut Steve Souvenir.  I asked how many people could go on the trip and got three different answers, any of which was enough to get me fully into the war.  By the time it was over, I was the proud owner of a certificate entitling us three homeys to time with Steve on the big river.

Howard Jaeger had passed away less than a month before the WACD meeting.  He was an interesting fellow—one of those volunteers who truly makes a difference in some area of interest.  After a 25-year Army career, he “retired” to a tree farm in Cowlitz County.  Almost immediately he volunteered with the Cowlitz Conservation District, eventually serving as an elected supervisor, associate supervisor or board member until his death.  Somewhere in there, he became president of the WACD and served as a region manager for the Washington State Conservation Commission.  Throughout his volunteer conservation district career, he worked to create the WACD Plant Material Center, and made it happen.  Friends called him tireless.

Howard loved fishing.  And he particularly loved fishing with Steve Souvenir, who happened to be married to Howard’s favorite niece.  They worked the Columbia for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.  As Howard failed, Steve thought a Lower Columbia fishing trip would be the perfect tribute to the man he loved so well, and selling it at auction would support the work for which Jaeger had been so passionate.

Thus, we got to know Steve.  We learned about “hog lines,” and even caught a few fish along them.  We tangled with steelhead.  We learned where to find blueberries and huckleberries.  We laughed, we grumbled and then we laughed some more.  We developed a pretty rich friendship.

Even with those cool fishing episodes, I experience periodic urges to squander yet more of my waning youth in a small boat on a big river. Thus, given that Steve has a commercial license, and my fellow Homeys of Paradise were otherwise occupied, I made the drive to Clatskanie a year ago to spend a night on Steve’s small gill net fishing boat.

I had always wanted to experience the work and anticipation of laying out a hundred fathoms (a couple hundred yards) of net, and jumped at the chance to climb aboard his boat on one of the relatively limited nights allotted to small gillnetters.

At dusk, we laid the net out into the stream, returned to the dock for a barbecue with a couple other small-scale gillnetters and double-checked our crawfish traps.  Over a glowing grill, we shared stories and experiences (does truth really matter at such times?), and listened for the thrashing which might signify a salmon in a net.  At some point, we crashed on the boat and waited for dawn.

We awoke at first light to a very still and misty dawn and pulled the net.  We drew the net, laughed and had a great early morning.  The net held enough fish for the fish buyer to make Steve’s work almost worthwhile.  I said I would gladly work the net again—the acid test, I think, for successfully squandering waning youth.

Steve’s post-Labor Day Weekend invite was to come play deckhand for another night of working the gill net.  I jumped at it, and went down a week ago.  It was hard work and good times.  Maybe he’ll invite me and the Homeys again.

Of course, we will be bidding on the next fishing trip.  This year’s WACD annual meeting will be at Suncadia, December 2-4.  Find out more about that meeting and the amazing work of our conservation districts at http://www.wacd.org/.

P.S. If you hope to be fishing with Steve during the 2014 Howard Jaeger Memorial Fishing Trip on the Lower Columbia, be prepared for a bidding war.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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