The Chinook of Monterey
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
" Here, when the labouring fish at the foot arrive, And knows that by his strength but vainly doth he strive, His tail takes in his teeth; and bending like a bowl That's to the compass drawn, aloft himself doth throw ; Then springing with his tail, as doth a little wand That bended, end to end, and flirted from the hand, Far off itself doth cast ; so doth the salmon vaut. And if at first he fail, his second somersaut He instantly assays, and from his nimble ring Still yesting, never leaves until himself he fling Above the streamful top of the surrounding heap."
There are many reasons why the sea-angler is a very lucky personage. One is, that often, when fishing, he has the charms and delights of both sea and forest, and nowhere is this better exemplified than at Monterey, the old California town so rich in historic associations. Here, or in the adjacent waters, is the true home of the chinook salmon, the gallant high jumper, the ultima thule of the angler's dreams and hopes, the Oncorhynus tschawytscha of science. No more attractive country can be imagined than that contiguous to the waters, of the bay of Monterey where it reaches north to Santa Cruz and south to the bay of Carmel, of happy days, with its old mission, its trout streams, and charming coast line, a natural park, to linger long in the memory. It appeals to the angler in. many ways, and one can readily understand why the old Spaniards selected this spot as their stronghold in the north.
It is generally believed on the Pacific coast that, as a rule, the salmon will not rise to a fly, and it has passed into angling history that we owe our possession of Alaska to this fact ; for did not a certain British admiral of sporting proclivities say when the question was being discussed by the nations of the world, " Oh, let the Yankees have it, the salmon won't take a fly!" And did not the English press immediately drop the show of opposition to the purchase which it had made? If angling history is to be believed, it did. Dr. Jordan states : " The chinook salmon does not take the hook [probably meaning fly] when in fresh water, though it is occasionally taken on the trolling spoon ; " and the dean of this particular sport on the Pacific coast, Mr. J. Parker Whitney, writes : " None of the Pacific coast salmon take the fly. There may be isolated cases, but few and far between." One of these cases fell to the luck of Rudyard Kipling, who acquired merit in the eyes of all lovers of angling in an article to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, writing delightfully on his experiences : " The next cast, ah, the pride of it, the regal splendor of it, the thrill that ran down from finger-tip to toe. Then the water boiled. He broke for the fly and got it." Not alone with fly, but with spoon, did the genial poet conjure the gamy chinooks. Listen: " How shall I tell the glories of that day? Again and again did California and I prance down that reach to the little bay, each with a salmon in tow, and land him in the shallows. Then Portland took my rod and caught some ten-pounders, and my spoon was carried away by an unknown leviathan." Ah, that you and I could have been on the Clackamas when " Portland held the gaff and the whiskey," and Kipling held the rod. Happy " Portland " ! lucky Kipling ! what tales he must have told at night to " California," of the mighty Mahseer and the heathen but gamy Rohu ah, the very thought of it! May good luck always avert calamity when he is fishing, be it on the Clackamas, Indus, or Irrawaddy.
Despite this unbending of the chinook to Kipling on the Clackamas, the sport with the fly on the Pacific slope is so uncertain that few anglers attempt it, and the principal salmon-fishing is in the waters of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel bays, where the splendid fish is certainly at home and affords sport of an exalted kind. Who landed the first salmon here is unknown to fame ; but the angler who has made the sport the closest study is Mr. J. Parker Whitney of New York, who well deserves the following encomium from some appreciative brother angler, which I find in the Forest and Stream of Sept. 2, 1893: "Salmon fishermen the world over owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. J. Parker Whitney for his extremely interesting accounts of sea-fishing for salmon on the Pacific coast. Though that fishing has been known for years to a limited number of anglers, Mr. Whitney, as the first one to exploit the sport in an adequate description for the benefit of the guild, may fairly lay claim to its discovery. Others may have known of it as the Norsemen knew of America ; Mr. Whitney has been the Columbus to proclaim the discovery to the world, and to command for it the attention it deserves."
As salmon-fishing the world over is in streams, from the beautiful pools of Canada and Maine to those of Scotland, the fish has come to be known as a fresh-water denizen. It is rarely thought of as an inhabitant of the ocean, yet the cool water of the Kuroshiwo, which sweeps down the northwest coast, is doubtless its home, and it goes up the streams but to deposit its eggs and die. Salmon-fishing par excellence, with the fly, as well as the habits of the fish, is fully described in another volume of this series, hence I shall merely refer to the sport as it is found in salt water. The salmon live somewhere offshore all winter, — exactly where, is not known ; but it is the belief of anglers that they do not stray to any great distance from the shore, probably haunting some bank where the herring and anchovies roam in winter. In spring they move north, or in, and by the last of May,— sometimes sooner, sometimes later, and generally about June 25th, — they enter the bays of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel, chasing in the great schools of herring, squid, and anchovies. For weeks the professional fishermen have been on the lookout for them, and when the assurance is given, telegrams to San Francisco, New York, and other places are sent, and anglers, devotees to this sport, are soon speeding to the various points, and the season begins.
The professional fishermen have no sentiment, and it seems a carnal sin to see hundreds of the finest fish jerked in with literal ropes and beaten about the head with sinkers weighing a pound or more. They troll for them with heavy lines down thirty or forty feet, where the gamy fish bite eagerly at smelt or herring; and the men in the course of the season reap a rich harvest. The sportsman will have none of this ; he approaches the game with all the deference worthy the king of game fishes. The angler who would take the salmon in its home must discard all the preconceived ideas he. may have had from experience or reading regarding salmon in the rivers of the East, as it is another matter here and to all intents and purposes another fish ; and the non-multiplying salmon reel, the delicate line, and long, beautifully bending rod are worse than useless, though it would be an interesting experiment to try this tackle on the fish in its haunts in the open sea. The tackle I would suggest is a rod of split bamboo almost identical with that used for yellow-tail, or a good noib-wood rod and long tip not to weigh over twenty-six ounces and between seven and eight and a half feet long, a number twelve or eighteen cuttyhunk line, with a 7/0 O'Shaughnessy hook and short wire leader with two swivels, baited with a three or four inch sardine or smelt. The angler trolls slowly, with bait twenty or thirty feet down, or at times he may try the surface with good luck ; but a sinker, as a rule, is an essential. Mr. Hermann Oelrichs, a well-known expert in this sport, who has landed four hundred and fifty pounds of salmon in one fair. morning off Monterey, representing thirteen fish, uses a seven-foot rod with ample reel. Mr. J. Parker Whitney, according to the Sunset Magazine, fishes with a steel Bristol trolling rod seven and a half feet in length, weighing but eleven ounces. His line is a linen sea-bass, number eighteen, with a large multiplying reel holding five hundred feet. His hook is a large Kirby soldered to a brass wire with a linked wire leader about a foot in length, all connected by swivels. The sinker weighs four ounces. With this outfit, with smelt bait, fishing thirty feet down, Mr. Whitney has had phenomenal luck, averaging eight salmon a day the weight of his first sixty-nine fish, according to the authority quoted, being eleven hundred and thirty-three pounds, or an average of sixteen pounds each. The smallest fish weighed two pounds, the largest fifty-four ; and that Mr. Whitney's methods are eminently successful it need only be said that his catch to date numbers four hundred salmon. Such are typical outfits by well-known anglers who have fished these waters for years, and many others may be seen on the grounds ; all of which points to the moral that the typical fly-casting salmon rod is out of place.
Thus equipped, we may steal out of Monterey some morning before daylight, tool down the seventeen-mile drive to the melody of the surf as it piles in upon the rocks, finally reaching Carmel Bay before sunrise, or just as the sun is coming up over the distant Sierras, a ball of crimson. We have made arrangements for a boat, and the boatman is waiting; and in a few moments we are drifting over as fair a sheet of water as I have seen, one that with the charming surroundings must appeal to the most phlegmatic nature. The open bay is like a lake, save where some affrighted anchovies are rushing, or some vagrant finny sun-worshipper rises in air to greet its mistress. A shining sardine is fastened on the hook; the line twenty feet from the hook is looped fora few inches and held in place by a thread upon which is hung a pipe sinker, — that is, a sinker two or three inches long, slender and perforated ; the loop and thread should be very little longer than the sinker. The philosophy of this is apparent when the strike comes, as the full force will come upon the thread, which, when it breaks, liberates the sinker, giving the angler the fish alone to play without the leaden annoyance. Mr. Whitney has made an improvement on this device, often used in sea-angling, which is as follows, and which I take the liberty of copying from his valuable article in the Sunset Magazine : —
" I have lately adopted a better method of attaching and liberating the sinker, by having the four-ounce lead round in tapering form with a small ring soldered in one end; up the line six feet from the hook and part of it I tie in two swivels nine inches apart. I then tie a short piece of weak cotton twine to the bottom ring of the upper swivel and to the upper ring of the swivel below, having threaded the cotton twine through the ring of the sinker; shorten the cotton twine to four inches in length between the two swivels, which loops up four or five inches of the regular linen line. The salmon, striking and holding the baited hook and giving the consequent strong pull, breaks the cotton line, and the sinker, liberated and of light value, drops away in the sea, leaving the salmon free and unimpeded for his vigorous and gallant fight, except for the fine line and rod strain."
As in white sea-bass fishing, the game is often discovered by the birds, shags and others, which are plunging down and swimming through schools of anchovies, playing havoc with the small fry, beneath which the hungry salmon often lie like these bass, picking off the stragglers, or at times chasing and driving them in upon the rocks or into the surf. On this day the fish bite well, and the angler's patience is not exhausted. The strike comes, and if you are an old salmon fisherman from the Restigouche country or elsewhere, this doughty chinook will treat you to some remark-able surprises and possibly to a new sensation. What is the splendid creature that seizes the bait and shakes and worries the line like a bull terrier, giving blow for blow this tremendous surge down, down, deep into the heart of the bay, with irresistible force ? Surely this is not the fish, or its cousin, that you have cast flies for in some Eastern pool, but a deeper sulker, a down-plunger, as there is water in which to plunge, calling to mind the yellowtail, and illustrating the point that almost any fish when hooked will " sound " if the water is deep ; and I venture the statement that if tarpon were not taken in shallow water they would not leap so well or so continuously. They leap partly because they cannot go down to any great depth; and if the tuna could be taken in water twenty feet deep I am confident that it would dash into the air and take its place with the ten-pounder, tarpon, leaping shark, black bass, kingfish, and others which leap at the strike. Mr. H. Gray Griswold endeavored to test this with the tuna by towing one into shallow water, but doubtless the fish by this time was too fatigued to leap.
Our sulking salmon is raised by pumping and other means, and when it nears the surface bears off, running and making a gallant fight. But possibly a soupcon of disappointment enters the soul of the angler at the few leaps of the salmon, but wait. As the noble fish comes up and the gaffer fingers his weapon, the salmon springs into activity, the reel screams ze-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e, a long wail. Did ever a salmon of the pool make so splendid a rush ? Your line is melting like the snow on the distant Sierras in this morning` sun. You have been playing the fish for ten minutes, but the sport has just begun, and two hundred feet, perhaps three hundred, away, after a desperate leap, the chief of the chinooks is hammering away, dealing you lusty blows, and preparing to dive deep into the azure waters. Down it plunges. You feel the throbbing of the line, and reel and lift, making line slowly against this marvel of game fishes which, when again at the surface, alternately rushes and plunges, and sometimes — tell it not in Gath ! — hurls the hook from its jaws, to eye you a second and slowly disappear. But you wear the talisman of good luck, and the gallant salmon comes in, fighting every inch, a splendid quarry, the type of all that is best in the angler's score, a perfect game fish in play and edible quality.
On such a day and in this very place, Mr. Whitney took twenty-seven salmon from daylight to five o'clock in the afternoon, weighing four hundred and eighty-two pounds, a record which if it has been exceeded in the beautiful bay of Carmel has not been recorded. I can conceive of no more attractive salmon fishing ground than this or Monterey bay, and in the vicinity are some of the finest trout streams in California, Carmel River running up into the Coast Range with sixty-five miles of fishing, and entering the bay near the old mission. Not far away is the Del Monte preserve of twelve thousand acres for sportsmen, well stocked and well protected, and along the upper banks of the Carmel one finds the Potrero, Garcia Creek, the San Clemente, the Dionicio, the Cachagua, the Chupines, — all suggestive that the salmon angler has but to row ashore at the old Carmel mission, and in the same day transfer his allegiance to the trout, the gamy cousin of the salmon of the deep sea, and wander through some of the most charming regions of northern California, sylvan scenes so opposite to those which form the background of salmon-fishing that one may well doubt that the limitless Pacific rolls and stretches away so near that its voice blends with the song of birds and the rustle of forest leaves.
Santa Cruz, an attractive town several miles north of Monterey, is equally famous for its salmon, and near one of the noblest forests of the world, while the bay of Monterey is an attractive and prolific fishing ground, better known and more often fished than Carmel. The salmon in its habits presents many remarkable features—living in the ocean in its adult stage ; taking to rivers to spawn ; impelled by a marvellous instinct to seek the high waters of streams; leaping high falls ; swimming up cascades which would be considered impossible had not the leap been seen, photographed, and measured; overcoming all obstacles, to reach at last a spot hundreds of miles from the winter home, to deposit their eggs only to die. The movement of these fishes, their remarkable ascent of streams, in fact, the complete cycle of their lives, with their many conditions, constitute one of the most fascinating pages in the history of game fishes of fresh or saline water.