Fishermen outnumber salmon in Pulaski

Oct 25, 2014

Thousands of anglers have been dropping hooks into the Salmon River in Pulaski to catch salmon swimming upstream to spawn. These past weekends, the run hasn't been thick enough to see the salmon in the water . WRVO reporter  Julia Botero spent a Saturday in Pulaski when there seemed to be more fishermen than salmon.

It's early morning and it's been raining on and off for hours. Still, the river and the river bank are crowded. There are clusters of coolers and water jugs on the bank. Tarps have been set up and underneath them a couple of woman are napping, bundled up against the wet chill.  Anglers and fly fishermen stand knee-deep in the rushing water less than an arm distance apart. 

Where I'm standing, I count 18 fishermen. There are more on the opposite  bank.  Most are quiet, listening to the sounds of lines being cast into the water and feeling for a bite.

A young man in a neon green cap and rain pants sloshes out of the river and onto the bank to take a break. He says his name is Eric Labelle. He and a friend drove down from Canada last night. They've been here since 5 this morning.

"It's my first time here. All i know is there are some big fish down here.  That's pretty much all I expect. Something big. "

Fishing poles angle out over the window. light pick up fishing lines glisten like spider webs.

Brian Wilmoth is standing in the water  just a few feet away. He comes ever year for the salmon run.  He says he was expecting company on the river, but he's still surprised.

"The crowd has tripled. It's a lot more crowded," Wilmoth said.

"Have you seen anyone catch anything?" I ask.

"Oh yeah. all over the place..."

He points to fishermen across the river and further down, where the river bends.

”Over there they are doing pretty good. Steelheads, some kings, decent sized ones. 30,35 pounds. Maybe 40..."

But he says compared to years past, the fish aren't biting.

"Normally, this place has four to five people in this hooked up at a time, that's what's I'm saying. This year you only got one guy," said Wilmoth.

That one guy is Eric Labelle's's friend. Labelle shows me a salmon secured on a stringer in the shallow water.  The fish is so dark in color it blends in with the river bottom. When we get close, its tail  thrashes in the water.

"Wow!"

The fish is big -- but not as big as they come. Eric guesses its about 2 feet long.

"Yeah. It's about 2 feet long.... 15 pounds.

"It's so big," I say.

Troy Koons from Pennsylvania is kneeling on a rock by the river bend.  It's his third year on the river and he's already caught two fish this morning.

"'I'm putting a hook on my line," said Koons.

"What kind of bait are you using?" I ask.

"I'm just using a salmon egg. You can have a salmon egg  and this cloth. i have two of them on there....you can have either or just you can't use a bare hook. so that way you can't say that you're foul-hooking 'em. "

Koons explains that because salmon are spawning, they're mostly likely to go after bait that looks like a loose egg, rather than a worm. When they see a pink or yellow egg on the floor of the river, their instinct is to protect it. They suck the egg up in their mouth and ...they're hooked.

Oh man he got a fish over there..haha!"

Just downstream from where Koons is standing, a  fly fisherman has hooked a fish. Its a fighter.

"It is a bit of a rush when you catch one.

Did yours put up a fight?

Ohh man! They wear your hands out.”

He looks down at his hands.

"See how black my hands are from holding it? Just gripping it? haha. "

"Coming through!"

The fish is tired and slow. A man nearby grabs his net from the river bank and stands over the fish, ready to scoop it up.

"Yay!!"

David Gomola from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania is smiling. A walkie talkie inside his vest pops and hisses.

"I got the salmon! It looks like a female....I'm about out of breath! "

Its a Chinook or King salmon, and the name fits. Its the largest of all Pacific salmon.  The fish isn't native to the river. They were introduced into the Great Lakes in 1968 and people have been catching them ever since. The fish is so heavy, Gomola has trouble holding onto it.

"My wife says if I caught a fish. We're going to make steaks."

It's still morning. He picks up his rod and ties on another hook. Every fishermen is allowed to go home with three fish a day. There's enough day left to try and catch two more salmon by sunset. 

Fishermen can still expect to catch salmon swimming upstream to spawn until the end of October or first week in November.