Squinting through heavy eyelids, I stirred my cup of tea. The sun would not rise for at least another hour. I slipped out the front door with my backpack over my shoulder and a fishing permit in my pocket and jumped into the car with my dad. Twenty minutes later, I was squeezing around the gate at the county park entrance and beginning the mile long trek down to the beach. With no street lamp and heavy tree cover, there was barely enough light for us to distinguish the path from the underbrush. The tip of my fishing rod bounced through the air behind me, occasionally rustling the leaves of a low hanging branch.
My uncle, an avid fisherman and a professional hydrologist and river expert, had promised that the last two weeks of August would bring millions of pink salmon to the shores of Puget Sound and the connecting rivers. Although I have caught dozens of trout while on family camping trips, I wanted to catch a salmon, a symbol of the Pacific Northwest. A salmon would be a bigger catch and felt more elusive than a simple stocked river trout.
The sun rose over the Olympic mountains and my uncle taught me to read the water. "This water is too shallow. See how the waves are breaking there? That is ankle deep water you are fishing in." Scan, scan, scan the water he said, work the beach. "You are hunting. Stay on the move."
His fly rod whipped the air as the pink feather and hook flicked the water. With practice, my spinner flew further and further out into the sound, but always a few yards in from where I could see the salmon rolling.
A generous teacher, when my uncle hooked his first fish, he called me over and handed me the rod. "Keep the tip up, always keep the tip up," he said, stepping a few feet back and letting me manage on my own. "This is good, he's tiring himself out, just let him go. Any chance he gives you, reel it in." The fish did not flail, it just leaned against the line, swimming to the right and then to the left, like a skier making its way down a mountainside.
Soon, the fish was in shallow water, its back glinting in the sun. "Just walk it up the beach," my uncle said behind me. The fly rod had no mechanical reel. My hand cranked in circles, wrapping the line slowly around the old reel, bringing the fish onto the beach.
I grabbed a softball sized rock and knelt beside the salmon. "I should kill it!" I said, the rock poised above the wide eye of the fish. My uncle laughed, "You will really have to bludgeon it with that," he said as he unfolded a knife and handed it to me. I leaned over the fish, holding it still with one hand and visualized the line of the spine. I cautioned myself not to hesitate with my cut, an unsure hand would only make a butchery of the kill. I positioned the tip of the knife beside the gills and plunged it in, finding the vertebrae and severing the spine, while dark blood covered the blade. I cut out the gills on both sides and finished bleeding the fish. I cut open its underbelly and cleaned out the fish, lifting out the egg sacks and running my thumb nail along the spine to scrape out the kidneys.
As I finished cleaning the fish, a commuter train rounded the corner and came down the tracks toward the beach. "Hold it up for them to see!" said my uncle. I hooked my finger under the salmon's jaw and hoisted it into the air. As I held it up proudly, its heart rested against my finger, still pulsing.
My catch now rests on ice in my fridge at home. Goal number eight on my list of one hundred and one is complete. Now onto the next goal: learn to smoke a fish.