It was our very first salmon fishing trip, and my 9-year-old son, Cody, and I decided to try the South Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. After reading several pieces in the local newspaper, as well as every magazine article on fishing chinook salmon I could find, and quizzing local tackle shop regulars, we were ready.
Finally, the big day arrived and we jumped out of bed before dawn, loaded our gear--two rods, tackle, a brand new landing net, snacks and water--and hit the road.
When we arrived at the river, around 7:30 a.m., we were awed by the number of people already lining the banks. I'd expected crowds, but not elbow-to-elbow anglers. In search of solitude, we walked through the forest to another stretch of river, but anglers packed every hole we came across.
After hiking about an hour, we decided to try fishing the rapids. At least we wouldn't be in anybody's way, being the highly-skilled salmon rookies we were. After fighting several snags and losing a lot of tackle, it was back to the crowds. Rookies or not, we were there to catch fish.
As we scanned the river for potential hotspots, we both suddenly froze in wonder! In front of us were 50 to 75 giant salmon swimming in a pool with only one person on each bank fishing for them. Cody gasped, "Dad, I think this is where we're supposed to be!"
We climbed down the bank and started fishing. Thankfully, there was just one angler directly across the river from us, and one other just upriver. On my very first cast, I hooked a huge salmon, and as Cody looked on, I battled the big fish up and down the river. Finally, I had worn her down enough to where I could pull her within netting range.
I held the salmon as close to shore as I could and yelled, "Cody, get the net and try to haul her on shore!"
Cody gave it a valiant effort, but the salmon easily dodged the net and took off on another run. I fought the fish back to the bank and decided it was my turn to work the net. I reluctantly handed my rod to Cody after repeatedly asking him, "Are you sure you can hold onto it?" He assured me it was okay, so I grabbed the net and went after the fish.
Another gallant effort, but the fish took off again. Cody handed the rod back to me and picked up the net, hoping for another shot at landing the monster. I fought the fish back to shore once again and Cody missed with the net again.
At this point, I'm sure the two nearby fishermen were having a good chuckle over our antics. None of us knew they hadn't seen the worst of it!
I fought the fish to shore a fourth time, and I could tell it was getting tired. This was it. I was going to get that fish on dry land--no matter what!
I handed the rod to Cody, grabbed the net and jumped into the river. I got the net around the monster's head and began to drag him up onto shore. Just then, the salmon gave one giant swipe of its tail and ripped right through our new net. The barbless hook, of course, caught on the shreds of mesh and the fish was gone.
I now have a beautiful trophy hanging on my office wall from our first salmon fishing experience: a brand new net with giant hole in it!
Dominic McDaid lives in Boise, Idaho, where he fishes 50 to 60 days a year with his wife, Tina, and their five children.