It was a pretty dismal January day. The rain just would not stop. My hair was soaked under my blue baseball and stocking caps. At least I was dry under the oilskins and rubber boots. There was a hint of snow mixed with the never-ending rain now that it was mid-day and the temperature had begun to drop.
"How the hell did I get roped in this shit," I wondered as I sat in the beached bow of the eighteen-foot aluminum boat. I got colder and wetter by the minute. I had been waiting for almost two hours and the damn Japs had not shown up yet.
The boss had given me this "special assignment" the day before.
"Rent a boat and a guide for the Clackamas and take these guys fishing for salmon. Should be and easy deal," he said.
I flipped my cigarette into the swiftly flowing, green water of the Clackamas River. "Bastards!" I muttered under my breath.
Just then, a long, black limousine pulled off to the side of OR-224 just above me. Two Japanese men stepped out of the car and looked around impatiently. "Hey. Down here," I yelled at them. The two men waved and made their way down the bank through the rocks to the sandy beach.
By the look of things, this was going to be one crappy fishing trip. These guys wore their dark Brooks Brothers suits with trench coats. "Why weren't they wearing their fucking Tuxedos like they were going to a fancy dress ball or something," I thought to myself with a grimace.
"You must be Mr. Asagi and Mr. Yoshida, right?"
The two Japanese guys bowed several times and shook hands while they rattled off a bunch of Japanese stuff I couldn't even begin to understand. I soon got the idea these guys were "Englishly Challenged".
"Ok. Hop in the boat and take a seat. That guy in the back is Bill. He's our guide," I said politely as I guided my charges to their places. "Ok, Bill. I'm shoving off."
The boat motor started on the first kick and we were off. I was keeping watch for snags as we moved quickly against the current headed up river towards Carter Bridge. I noticed the two Japanese guys were looking in the bait bucket and talked excitedly among themselves. It was not English so I did not pay much attention until one of them dipped in and pulled out one of the baitfish.
"Hey. That's not for us. Hold your horses, dudes," I yelled over the sound of the motor. The Japanese guys looked at me like I was really dumb or something.
As we neared the rapids at the foot of Carter Bridge, Bill slowed the motor to idle and yelled at me, "Drop the hook here, Jenny. This is a good place. We caught a limit her yesterday." I slipped the anchor over the bow and let the anchor rode play out while we drifted down stream. Bill dropped a sea anchor over the stern and I tied off the anchor rode to a davit and attached a float.
I heard the Japanese guys going at it again in their funny sounding language and looked up at them. They both licked their lips and smiled ear to ear like two cats that had just eaten the canary. "I wonder what the hell got into those guys," I thought to myself.
Bill was busy pulling fishing poles out of the box along the port side while I was dipping into the bait bucket stringing the baitfish on hooks with long leaders. The Japanese guys looked really interested, so I tried to show them what I was doing. They both uttered something unintelligible, bowed, bowed, and smiled. It was obvious to me these guys never fished before in their lives.
Presently we had three lines out off the stern of the boat. The poles, stuck in pole holders, "worked" easily with a tell tail quiver caused by the current. The lead drop-lines held the bait at just about three feet off the bottom, which was perfect. Occasionally I could see a dark shape hurry under the boat. The Pacific salmon spawn was in full swing on the Clackamas River. I had hopes of a fine salmon on the grill when I got home. But this was not to be.
I watched the poles intently. Any movement of the poles outside the normal quiver of the current could mean a mighty salmon could be snooping around the hooked baitfish. It would have been a crime against every angler in the Northwest to sit and miss a fine silvery salmon through inattention. In fact, there was an unwritten law between fishermen that this was the greatest sin one could ever commit. The penalty for this kind of crime was never spoken due to its severity and humiliation.
For those who have never had the experience of a grown Pacific Salmon on the end of a fishing line, the fight is unbelievable. The pole bends almost of the breaking point. Line streams off the reel with a shrill ripping sound that can be heard for miles. The fish will first try and run away up or down stream, then turn and charge the boat. All the time the fisherman has to keep the line taught because even the sharpest hooks cannot penetrate the bony mouth of the big Pacific Salmon and they are easily lost. But the trophy was always well worth it. That trophy was thirty pounds of fighting fish and the undying admiration of your fellow fisherman.
I noticed that the Japanese guys were chattering in their funny lingo again so I turned to look at them. They were both hunched over the bait pail intently. One dipped into the pail, grabbed a baitfish, and popped it in his mouth. His grin was amazing. He chewed up the baitfish, swallowed and jabbered again at his companion. Holy shit! They were eating the bloody bait!
I took the pail away from them and tried as best I could to explain using sign language, pointing, mime and grunts that this was not for food. This was for the salmon.
About that time, the center pole took a really big dip and the reel began to scream.
"Fish on!" yelled Bill.
I jumped up and grabbed the center pole. Giving it a might, sudden jerk, I set the hook. The reel continued to scream. The fish was pissed.
"Son of a Bitch! It's a monster!" screamed Bill as the salmon broke water and headed west as fast as it could go. Then the fish decided running away was not the best idea and turned to run at the boat. I cranked the handle on the reel as fast as I could. The fish ran under the boat and took off on another run. The reel screamed again.
Now, the problem at this point was half the fishing rod was under water with the tip pointing east under the boat. The fish was heading for parts unknown behind me as fast as he could swim as he took hundreds of yards of line with him. To make matters worse, the Japanese guys were chattering louder than ever and jumping up and down like kids on Christmas morning. About that time, Bill ran past me, grabbed the anchor line with the float attached and dropped it over the side. The boat was now drifting free. Bill ran past me again and cranked the motor. It refused to start.
Meanwhile, the fish had pulled the boat around 180 degrees and the fish line had become hooked over the bow eye. I was leaning over the free it when the fish decided he liked the idea of the boat better than parts unknown and turned around again, heading straight back at the boat. The line popped loose from the bow eye, I cranked the reel handle like, and insane person obsessed.
As the fish went under the boat for the second time, I caught one of the Japanese guys peering over the side to watch it. His body extended over the side. His eye was intent on following the fish.
"Get back," I screamed. But it was too late. The fish snapped the boat around 180 degrees again and with a splash, the Clackamas River gained one big piece of Japanese flotsam it did not have before. "Can he swim?" I wondered. "Really fucked up a nice Brooks Brothers suit."
Eventually, the fish got tired. He still fought, but nothing like before. I cranked the reel and soon had him next to the boat. A single quick swipe of the net and Bill had him. He was nice. Beautiful silvery scales that gleamed rainbow colors. A big strong, full bodied male. Fully some kind of record catch for this part of the Clackamas River.
Bill did finally get the motor started and we went looking for our lost Japanese guy. We found him clinging to a snag about a quarter mile down river, cold and wet. As we hauled him into the boat, I could see my entire career going down the toilet.
All I could hear was the boss screaming, "You did WHAT? Are you just STUPID or WHAT?"
The guy was definitely cold, but he was jumping up and down with the other guy, pointing at the salmon. Both guys were ecstatic over the fish. "Maybe I would have a job tomorrow after all, " I thought.
Bill had had enough and turned the boat up river to retrieve his anchor. With that back on board the boat, we headed back to the boat launch. The limo still waited for my Japanese guys. They picked up the fish and merrily headed for the car. I don't think the limo driver thought too much of a full grown, forty pound salmon flopping around in the back seat, but that was his problem.
I helped Bill tidy up the boat. I noticed the bait bucket was empty. They must have had a fine meal of the bait. And I hoped they did not get sick on the way home. The limo driver was upset enough with a wet Japanese guy and half dead fish in the back. He probably never did get the smell out of that limo.
The following day, back in the office, I sat at my desk shuffling the papers from the day before. I hated being away on a workday. The pile of paperwork looked like a mountain.
Just then, a man in a brown uniform came in to my office. "Are you Jenny Jackson?"
"Okay. Sign here." I signed. The guy left but came back with an enormous bouquet. The card read, "Thank you for fishing trip. We enjoy so much. Lunch good too." The note was simply signed, "Yoshida."
I sat back in my chair and laughed until I cried. I swore I would never go fishing again. I lied.