There’s nothing like swinging a fly through the bucket, knowing you’re in the zone, then feeling that solid pull. The more you swing, and the more big grabs you feel, the more you learn to recognize those fleeting moments for what they are: pure potential. “That grab, and the first head shake,” says author John Larison, “That’s why I fish anadromous.” John says this as he’s muscling a twenty-plus-pound salmon to the beach. After ten minutes of strenuous battle, the fresh chinook rolls over and comes to hand. “What a fish!” he yells out. John is beaming, his heart racing. I snap the photo and offer my hand in congratulations.
Just moments before the big grab, he and I were swinging flies side by side through a deep pocket in the bay. “It’s coming across just like those slow, deep-water winter steelhead swings,” he noticed. “God, I love that!” On the next swing I saw his line tighten up, saw him feel the take and intuitively set up and strip tight to the fish. The ten-weight rod doubled over with a big slow head-shake. John set again and his reel started to sing. The salmon ran to the other side of the bay, turned and made a big lap around the two-acre pool, then shot upriver with the tide, into the wood-strewn shallows. “Oh Jeez,” I thought, “time to get on the sticks!”
We fought the fish across the tidal flats for several minutes, then I rowed John to shore for the final tug-of-war. Earlier in the day, as I was beaching my own fish, John asked about the net. “No net!” I said with a smile. “I leave it at home now unless I’m fishing with kids.” That seemed really noble and high-minded when the first fish eased onto the beach. It seemed a lot less cool when I broke off my Dad’s chromer a couple hours later. And it was seeming quite stupid as John led his first-ever chinook salmon to the bank, veering over snags and clumps of tidal grass. Like so many of my brilliant ideas, this one was stirring up some doubt. But our doubt vanished when the big flashy buck came to shore. This was a fish we would all remember, taken on a swung fly, on a single handed fly rod, with 12-pound leader, no net. For me, the best part was watching John put it all together. He knew the fish was coming. He wasn’t even surprised by the take, even though it was his first time swinging for king salmon. I had started the day suggesting he fish by intuition. “The tidal currents shift so much, you have to trust your instincts,” I recommended. “You need to sense where your fly is and swim it through the swing. If you can feel it, you will know when you are fishing.” Imagine my surprise when it actually worked!