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In search of our lost salmon, Part 6

Part of this project was to include my observations of an ice-fisherman and a native Nez Perce subsistence fisherman, both of which are not difficult to find in the McCall area. To gather these perspectives, my dad tried calling a few of his friends and as a last resort offered to drive me thirty miles north to Riggins, where subsistence fishermen are known to cast out from the side of the highway. Dad thought there would be some steelhead fishermen in the area, but the weather was bringing in a blizzard and I was losing hope of accompanying someone on an ice-fishing day. Dad can’t understand why I would want to observe ice-fishing. “It’s a lot like watching mud dry.” But I was determined to find someone who wouldn’t mind me tagging along and answering some of my questions.

When the blizzard blew in, I found myself standing in single-digit temperature, knee-deep in snow and shivering in my quadruple layers. When the wind blew shards of ice into my face from the lake I started to question my desire to “get someone to answer my questions”. I was looking for ice fishermen who were just dumb enough to set up next to the banks during this kind of weather. After pacing back and forth to stomp feeling back into my aching toes and fingers, I begged myself, “Why can’t you be smart and choose to blog about organic personal care or fair trade clothing? Why did ice-fishing sound like a good idea?” I was so cold and miserable I was convinced I might stumble upon Mike Rowe filming an episode of “Dirty Jobs” or “Deadliest Catch” (the thought of running into him or listening to him narrate my inner thoughts warmed me a little). I promised myself the next time I try a stunt like this I’m bringing a giant, insulated bean bag chair and two camouflage Snuggies- one for the front and one for the back. Not being able to control weather patterns has irritated me since early childhood.

I went skiing instead. On the ski lift, I talked to Keith, the oldest ski instructor in Idaho, about my little research project. “You know it’s the dams, don’t you? That’s what’s hurting the fish here in these parts.” So I’m the last to know. But I still want to hear from recreational and subsistence fishermen.

Luckily, as we drove into town, hungry after skiing, Dad spotted a friend’s truck in the parking lot of the Italian restaurant. “What do you know? Mark Perez is inside. He’ll talk your ear off about fishing.” Mark Perez was seated alone with half of a mushroom and pepperoni pizza in front of him. He wore a Carhartt hoodie and a ball cap from a local store. He was perfect.

When I told him I was disappointed about missing out on ice-fishing, he told me disappointment was most of fishing. “It’s like always- you shoulda been here last week and you should be here next week. Take a look at this picture my buddy sent me.” On his cell phone was a photo of 15 fresh-caught perch laying on the snow. They caught them two days ago, before the storm hit.

Mark seems weary of the dam debate, but was more animated when I brought up the hatchery’s integrated brood stock; a concept Mark does not agree with. “They’re making a different fish.” While the hatchery exists to conserve the Chinook salmon in the McCall area, Mark believes their current efforts are “counter-productive”; that they’re not conserving the fish at all, just creating a new one to withstand some of the stress through the dams. Resiliency as a genetic trait, Mark believes, should be naturally propagated. “This is the hatchery’s answer to the dams and decades of depleting fish stocks. What should they do instead?” I asked. No one has the answer for this one. The hatchery is trapped in a Catch-22, and there will always be fishermen pining for the days when fish were plentiful and safe to eat.

In the end, I got an ice-fisherman’s perspective after all, but I still want to go ice-fishing. Someone, please take me with you. I promise not to whine about the cold weather and I’ll help you clean all the fish you catch, if you show me how.  

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