AND SO ANOTHER miserable salmon season in the Strait of Juan de Fuca passes astern.
Exact details of just how dismal the fishing season was can be hard to determine, but there were stories of guys catching nothing after three, four or five days on the water.
Due to the bizarre methodology with which scientific data about salmon fishing is collected, there are still no reliable numbers on how many fish were caught or were caught and released only to die from an as-yet-unknown catch-and-release mortality rate.
It’s the law: You are required to record on your salmon punch card every salmon of hatchery origin that you catch and keep.
Hatchery salmon are identified by having a clipped adipose fin.
This barbaric and cruel practice of maiming the fish and depriving them of their fins is designed to allow the identification of hatchery fish, but of course it’s never quite that easy, since many hatcheries refuse to clip the fins on the fish they raise for a variety of reasons.
You are not required to record on your punch card the number of allegedly wild or unclipped hatchery fish that you have caught and released.
That is where the fish checkers come in.
These dedicated professionals stalk the boat launches and harbors of our fair state, asking salmon fishers how many fish they “encountered” — that is, hooked and released, and/or kept, on their fishing adventures.
This self-reporting system of data collection has many obvious flaws.
Of course, it’s easy to tell if a fisherman is lying: His lips are moving.
Asking a fisherman how many fish he caught can be one of the most exasperating experiences in the great outdoors.
When asked how many salmon were caught, they will invariably say how many salmon they hooked, which is the same as being caught, according to the delusional psychosis of some salmon fishermen.
People who fish invariably employ a form of specialized fisheries-accounting practice whereby every number is either multiplied or divided depending on who they are talking to.
For example, if I say I got up at 4 in the morning and went out and caught two 20-pound king salmon, you would simply multiply the first number by a factor of two and divide the remaining numbers by two to come up with the actual fishing report, which would reveal I got up at 8 in the morning to catch one 10-pounder.
Two anglers can both go out and catch absolutely nothing in a hard day of salmon fishing.
When Angler No. 1 is asked by the fish checker how many fish he caught, he may have his own reasons for being less than truthful.
Some of the fish checkers are attractive young ladies.
Some of the anglers are lonely old men who will say they caught 20 salmon and released them all to impress the fish checkers.
Angler No. 2 realizes that every fish he says he caught and released can count against the fish quota for an area and shut the fishing down, so he tells the fish checker he caught nothing, no matter how many fish he hooked or landed.
Make no mistake: As bad as the salmon fishing was this year, you may take comfort in the fact that in the future, the incompetent mismanagement of our fisheries will have us all thinking that these were the good old days.
We’ll remember the summer of ’16, when grandpa caught a salmon that was every bit of 10 pounds!
And remember we actually got to eat it.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].