YAKIMA, Wash. — Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to fish in some actual fishing contests. I have fished in two or three walleye tournaments here in the Northwest, and back in the late 1990s was invited to fish in a big-time bass tournament down in Northern California.
And over the years I have volunteered my services via donated fishing trips to some of the local charity auctions.
I tell you this because it is through these experiences I learned pretty quickly how glad I am I don’t have to make my living by being a successful fisherman. As much as I enjoy fishing, the thought of knowing I have to catch fish to get paid would take all of the fun out of it for me.
And I might starve to death.
A good reminder of how much I could dislike fishing when the pressure is on was this past weekend. I REALLY needed to catch some fish. Not to get paid so I could stave off the bill collectors for another month. I needed to catch fish to feed about three dozen family members coming to town for a big family reunion this weekend.
Several of my cousins hinted around that they would enjoy some fresh caught salmon for the big barbecue on Saturday evening, and I opened my big mouth and said, “No problem, I can handle that.”
This was several months ago, before the spring salmon season turned out to be so tough. I have a few nice fillets in the freezer still, but I was really worried I wouldn’t have enough for the whole fam-dam-ley.
With that in mind, and knowing the reunion was approaching quickly, I called up friend Greg Wilson and begged him to go up to Brewster with me to try to catch a summer chinook or two and maybe a few sockeye to feed all of my mom’s kin folk.
It didn’t take too much arm-twisting with Greg, and on Friday we threw our stuff into the boat and off we went ... into the sweltering heat!
We arrived at the Brewster pool on the Columbia mid-morning and fished, and fished, and fished and fished. No luck.
Hmmmm, I thought, I wonder how the cousins are going to like eating chicken.
Long story short: After many hours on the water, I finally got a good bite. A few minutes later I slid a nice, fat summer chinook into the net.
“Welcome to the picnic,” I said, breathing a bit of relief.
The next morning things went a bit better. Greg was hot on the sockeye, landing and releasing several small salmon before getting a couple of four-pounders for his own family barbecue.
A short time later a good one hit one of my rods (with a two-pole endorsement you can fish with two rods on this part of the Columbia River). After a good tussle, a chunky 14-pound chinook joined the celebration.
I wiped the sweat from my brow and felt the pressure gauge slowly drop. With that fish, it looked like the Carlsen Clan would be dining on fresh salmon, as planned.
That’s when I started thinking about some of my buddies who guide. Bob Barthlow, Brian Roberts, Shane Magnuson — those guys are out there for weeks, every day having to put fish in the boat for paying customers who are, if not expecting, at least anticipating catching a fish.
I have been fishing with Bob several times when he has literally become a different guy after the first fish is in the boat of the day. He breathes easier. He is more jovial. He is enjoying the day more. Bob is one of the best anglers I know and while he catches fish with regularity, he still feels the pressure of getting fish for his clients.
Again, I have volunteered a day of fishing for some charity auctions. People have paid good money to sit in a boat with me all day. And sometimes that is all it is: a boat ride.
I feel horrible taking someone who has expectations, but I can’t make it happen. Luckily, most of the time we’ve been fortunate enough to catch a fish or two, and sometimes the fish gods really smile down on us. But to have to do that day in and day out, would take the fun out of fishing for me.
The same goes with the tournament fishermen I have known. Those guys have to really love what they do, because to me it was never an enjoyable day on the water. It was work — with plenty of pressure to catch a fish or two.
The stress of providing salmon for the reunion is off now. The two nice chinook in the freezer should go a long way towards feeding my extended family on Saturday.
Now all I have to do is make sure I don’t overcook it! Good thing I’m not a cook, I’m not sure I could handle that pressure of making sure everything is cooked to perfection each and every day either!
• Rob Phillips is a freelance outdoor writer and partner in the advertising firm of Smith, Phillips & DiPietro. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.