Oregon angler hooks huge chinook on fly-fishing gear

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- A Grants Pass man made fly-fishing history this week when hooked and landed a fall chinook salmon that officially weighed 71 1/2 pounds.

Grant Martinsen's salmon -- captured on the lower Rogue River -- is more than 8 pounds heavier than the all-time record for fly-casters set 15 years ago on northern Oregon's Trask River. And once certified by the International Game Fish Association, the salmon and Martinsen will get global publicity.

But Martinsen avoided the press by immediately heading on a hunting trip in northeastern Oregon.

''He told me there may be some kind of interest in his fish, that it could be big,'' said Sharon Martinsen, Grant's wife. ''Then he said, 'Well, I'll see you later. I'm going hunting.'

''He has no idea,'' she said. ''This gives me goosebumps.''

The excitement has stretched all the way to Florida, where the International Game Fish Association already has fielded inquiries about possible fly-fishing records from Oregonians who have caught fish in the 50- to 60-pound range on flies this fall.

''Man, that thing is so impressive,'' says Jim Carey, proprietor of Gold Beach's Rogue Outdoor Store, where Martinsen took his catch. ''You would not believe the excitement this thing has generated. We're as proud of that fish as he could be.''

Known more for large numbers of salmon than for their individual sizes, the lower Rogue has collected a glut of salmon in the 50- to 60-pound range this year, including a 66-pound fall chinook caught in August by a bank angler casting a spinner.

Biologists attribute the growing chinook to a combination of cutbacks in ocean commercial seasons and excellent feed conditions in the sea.

The drop in commercial harvest creates a better chance for the genetically superior big chinook to escape four or five years of ocean fishing before they head back to freshwater. And those big-fish that do survive are putting on more poundage than ever before.

Martinsen, a retired biology teacher and football coach, told Carey that, as he waited for his fly to sink after a cast, he felt a bite and a few head-shakes before setting the hook. The fish chugged downstream and the fight was on.

Martinsen eventually won a lengthy tug-o-war when another angler in a different boat was able to corral the chinook in an oversized net, Carey says.

Martinsen immediately went to shore, plopped the salmon in his pickup and drove to Carey's seaside store four miles away.

When Martinsen dropped the tailgate in Carey's parking lot and the salmon's enormous tail flopped out, Carey heard tires screech along Highway 101.

''I snapped 24 pictures before the guy could ask if he could put the fish down,'' he said. ''People who saw it pulled out their cell phones, and the next thing you know, people were filling my parking lot.''

The fish, which measured 48 inches long, was weighed at a certified scale at a nearby store and paraded around town before Martinsen handed the fish to Carey, who plans to have it mounted and displayed in his store.

''He was like a big kid, really proud,'' Carey says of Martinsen. ''But I think it was a little overwhelming. We kind of took over telling his story for him.''

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