Stehikan trail head
Finally October! Today was probably my favorite zero day of the entire hike. Slept in, had breakfast, did some laundry, didn’t shower, watched the sea planes, bought a very cheap rod and reel, then caught the bus up to the bakery around noon.
My resupply from Stehikan is probably the most unconventional yet by backpacking standards. The small camp store in town was out of pretty much everything, and had no plans of restocking since it was shutting down in about a week. So I bought what I could and decided to use the bakery for everything else. From the store I ended up with a pound of bacon, 2 pounds of cheddar brahts, 4 cans of kipper snacks, 4 small cans of tuna salad, 2 cans of beanie weenies, 2 pouches of instant mash potatoes, and a bag of triscuits. From the bakery I ended up with 3 huge cinnamon rolls, 2 sticky buns (I replaced the stolen one), 4 slices of homemade pizza, 5 jalapeño cheddar bagels, and some kind of chicken-bacon-ranch sandwich melt. On top of all this, I walked a ways down the street to a private residence known as “The Garden.” It was basically the equivalent to the town farmer’s market, except it was only one man running it from his own personal garden. I’ll elaborate more on the man and the garden later, but the whole setup was beautifully simple. I ended up purchasing a pound of homemade goat cheese from the man, as well as some homemade crackers coated in sesame and poppy seeds; deeelicious. Some other people were there too, and when they asked for certain vegetables, the man (Mark) walked barefoot into his garden, picked the specified vegetable right out of the ground, then washed and bagged it for them. This was freshness on a scale that I’d only experienced from the fruits of my own harvests(mainly fresh game and fish). It was wonderful to see this man bringing that kind of fresh “experience” to whoever stopped in.
While in Stehikan, I had picked the brains of some of the locals about the salmon in the river. The information I gathered basically amounted to this; the salmon just finished spawning; they’re no longer eating; they’ll sit in the river until they slowly starve to death; you won’t catch them since they’re not eating/biting; they’re scrawny and soft right now and don’t taste good.
My interpretation of this information went like so; perfectly good salmon are going to waste unless someone gets out there and eats them before they expire. Not biting? Not a problem in the slightest.
After catching the bus back to High Bridge and the trail head with 4 other hikers named Rocco, Ledge, Blaze, and Twang; I set to work. The five of us made camp at a small lean-to (not unlike an AT shelter) that had a fire pit just a little ways off the trail. They all stayed at camp while I climbed way down to the river in search of a good perch over the water. That entire section of river was surrounded by sheer rocky embankment, making it difficult to get close to the water, especially in the spots where the salmon were congregating.
I finally managed to get over a calmer spot that had a few salmon sitting in it. To be absolutely certain they weren’t biting, I cast the rooster tail down and dragged it in front of a couple salmon; they didn’t flinch. This was actually good news. They didn’t feel one way or the other about the lure. “This is going to be easier than catching them the conventional way.” I thought to myself. So for my next cast, instead of pulling the lure across their line of sight, I timed it with the light current of the eddy to drag it across the bulk of their body. This is a delicate process if you’re to not spook the fish prematurely. It was even more delicate and challenging in the fading light and distorted, rippling surface of the river. I tossed the lure just past the biggest salmon in the eddy, then strained to see the lure and the line through the swirling water. As I slowly pulled the lure across the bottom towards the fish, I waited until the instant the monofilament line touched the side of the fish’s body, then snatched the rod back as fast as I could. The salmon didn’t have time to react as the line quickly pulled across its body, guiding the hook of the rooster tail right into its underbelly and holding fast. I didn’t want to give the fish a chance to run into the main current and whoop me, so when the line came tight, I just kept pulling and dragged the fish onto some lower rocks. I’m sure if the fish had been in its prime, instead of starving itself to death, it would have been a more exciting fight. The fish still pulled and struggled, but it was no contest, even with my light line. I repeated this process and caught two more in about half an hour’s time. All of the salmon were no more than a couple pounds each, with bright red bodies, normal, dark gray colored heads, and that signature curvy salmon mouth with the hooked nose.
I took the catch back to camp to the great surprise of the others. I don’t think they thought I’d get one, let alone three. I gutted two of the salmon and filleted the last one with my folding knife, then laid them over the fire pit on the grate and some flat rocks. Less than half an hour later we had the best trail dinner if the journey. The salmon were a little scrawny, but the meat was moist, pink, and flavorful; couldn’t ask for a better beginning to the end stretch of the hike.