Author’s note: The following column, shortened slightly for brevity, first appeared in the Clarion on June 14, 2002. Nothing has changed.
Salmon season is here, finally. And before we know it, salmon season will be gone.
In their determined drive to reproduce, salmon give the entire summer a sense of urgency. What a boring place this would be without them!
Salmon season, which runs all summer and well into fall, is a time for establishing priorities. What’s more important? Painting the house, or being in the right spot during a 5 a.m. high tide in early June? The house has needed paint for two or three years, and it’s still standing. Obviously, it can wait. On the other hand, the salmon are available for only a few days. Enough said.
Every year, I tell myself I’m going to be ready when salmon season comes, but I’m never ready. If anything, I’m a little less ready with each passing year. In March, I had serious intentions of tying a few dozen flies. The early-run reds are due any day, and I’ve yet to tie one. I meant to give my boat, motor and fishing reels a good going-over in April. It’s now the middle of June, and the going-over has yet to get going.
It’s not like salmon season sneaks up and surprises me. Having fished Kenai Peninsula waters for about 30 years, I have a fair idea when the first kings show up off Deep Creek and when they hit fresh water in fishable numbers. Yet, no matter how many reminder notes I make to myself, I end up on the back side of the 8-ball.
The first salmon of the year has a great deal of significance to me, and to a great many others. If you’ve ever gone through the seemingly endless months of winter without salmon in the streams, and then watched the king salmon return in the spring, you can’t help but feel a spiritual connection with these fish. Their yearly return is a reminder that we, salmon and humans alike, are connected in a great web of life.
It’s relatively unimportant who catches that first salmon of spring. This year, a friend caught my first fish. My family and friends felt thankful and blessed that he shared his bounty.
Wherever salmon are found, the first of the season has always had special significance. In Canadian researcher Hillary Stewart’s wonderful book, “Indian Fishing: Early methods on the Northwest Coast,” she writes: “Sustenance for most of the people of the Northwest Coast was dependent on the return of the migrating species of salmon, and there were prayers said on the occasion of catching the first of the season, or of the run. The ‘First Salmon Ceremony’ was a ritual of reverence and respect expressed in many different ways. Some people had a ceremony for the first of each species to be caught, some for just the first of the season; with some it was a family ceremony, with others the whole village participated.”
That one fish can elicit so much reverence is not something to take lightly.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.