PAT NEAL COLUMN: The last day of salmon

My name is Pat.

I am a fishaholic.

It has been 24 hours since I caught a fish. I remember it like it was just yesterday.

It was the last day of salmon season.

This can be a traumatic time for anyone with a fishing problem.

Or those of us who believe that days spent fishing are not counted against your lifespan.

Conversely, days spent cursing the government types that close the river to sport fishing while leaving it open to commercial gillnetting will take years off your life.

Maybe that’s what makes the last day of salmon season so special. You can’t keep another salmon until next spring.

I wanted to catch one more.

It is a sad fact of life on the river that any fish you catch could be your last.

For example, this year the rivers of the North Olympic Peninsula had a good run of salmon.

There were very few kings but a lot of coho that were so big people thought they were kings.

Most of the coho came from a fish hatchery. You could tell from the clipped adipose fin. Many of the hatchery fish were bigger than the fish with adipose fins.

Currently there is a big debate over the future of hatchery fish on our rivers.

The hatchery fish are perceived to be inferior to the native fish.

The anti-hatchery cabal claims that hatchery fish are too retarded to spawn, or that they will spawn with native fish.

Either way, shutting down the hatcheries is argued as a possible solution to the salmon famine.

Native American stories tell of a time before the salmon. That would have been shortly after the Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago.

The salmon colonized streams uncovered by the melting ice sheets by straying from one watershed to the next until they had adapted into the “inexhaustible” runs described by the first European visitors to the area.

With the invention of the tin can in 1810, salmon could be preserved for shipment.

In 1891, a salmon cannery was built in Port Angeles just west of the Boat Haven.

It was one of the largest employers in town.

A fleet of set-netters, gillnetters and purse seine fishermen supplied the cannery, but the real harvest came from the fish wheels.

These were stationary traps.

The wheel’s inventor claimed it could catch 14,000 fish a day if anchored in the right spot.

When fishing was good, tons of fish had to be thrown away since the cannery couldn’t handle them all.

By 1895, the output of canned fish — primarily king salmon — began to decline.

They started processing smaller species like coho, sockeye and chum.

People began to suspect the salmon would soon be as scarce as the beaver that were once so plentiful in our streams.

The first fish hatchery on the North Olympic Peninsula was built on the Dungeness River in 1905. Since then, billions of hatchery fish have been planted into nearly every creek, lake and river.

Which begs the question:

After a hundred years of fish hatchery planting, how can you tell the difference between a wild and native fish?

There should be no difference.

A properly run hatchery system can mitigate the over-harvest of our salmon and help recover threatened populations of threatened or endangered fish.

As a fishing guide, I have never heard of anyone complaining about a hatchery fish when it was on the end of their line.

I just wish I could catch one more before they shut down the hatcheries.


Pat Neal is a North Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and humorist. His column appears every Wednesday.

Pat can be reached at 360-683-9867 or, or see his blog at

The “Pat Neal Wildlife Show” is on radio KSQM 91.5 FM ( at 9 a.m. Saturdays, repeated at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

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