The small aluminum boat bounced in the ocean’s light chop and I slowly dozed off to the motion.
In the bow of our 12-footer, I sat with a bulky, red life jacket offering me warmth from the wind and floatation should I need. In my 12-year-old arms I cradled one of my father’s fishing rods.
Soon a mighty coho or maybe a big chinook would surely be attracted to the lure at the other end of my line.
At the stern, my father stationed himself beside the arm of his reliable 18-horsepower Johnson outboard motor. He would guide the Johnson through the waves as we trolled for the salmon we promised to bring home for dinner.
Ever watchful, my father scanned the sky and surface for salmon signs.
Our boat earned the nickname “Meatpot” from my uncle, an avid fisherman who marveled at the catch we regularly came home with.
When I would inevitably doze off, my father’s favourite prank was grabbing my line and giving it a quick pull.
Zingggg went the line as the reel let loose four or five feet, just like the hit of a big fish.
He let loose a laugh and grin when I woke suddenly from my sea-induced slumber and stumbled for a firm grip on my rod, fearing it would be dragged into the dark waves.
Realizing he had caught me again, I gave him my best attempt at a glare.
“I am not amused,” my squinty eyes and tense frown said.
Now awake, my eyes turned to the near and far horizon. It had been a good hour since we had a bite.
My dad was always the first to spot the salmon signs—a quarter mile away gulls were flying around a small patch of ocean.
“Pull it up,” Dad said as he ramped up the Johnson. In seconds we reeled in our lines and dashed across the waves full throttle.
We slowed to trolling speed just before the noisy gulls, now diving into the water. Moments later the lines were in the water and our anticipation grew.
This patch of ocean was boiling with thousands of herring, their vast schools driven to the surface by salmon.
I readied myself for a salmon to bite.
Anything less than 10 pounds wouldn’t be worth bragging about.
Perhaps the salmon had similar thoughts about the herring.
As they gobbled up their catch, they leapt into the air—these silver-scaled Nureyevs celebrating their catch of fat herring.
While distracted by all of the commotion, a fish hit my line.
This time it wasn’t a prank. A salmon took off with the lure like an Olympic sprinter reacting to a starter’s gun.
When it slowed I began the slow, muscle-aching job of reeling it back—only to have my fish race away over and over again.
When my arms could stand no more, we would finally net this silver spirit of the ocean. Then marvel at its size and natural beauty as it lay at the bottom of the boat.
These are my childhood memories from fishing off Vancouver Island. They came back to me last week when it was announced the federal government would launch an inquiry into the dwindling sockeye salmon returns to the Fraser River.
In my lifetime I have witnessed the loss of our salmon through the fishing trips my father and I took.
The catch we brought home has also dwindled. Today, we no longer fish for salmon because there are so few to catch.
It seems those happy childhood memories are turning bittersweet.