A million coho are expected along the Oregon Coast, and the Buoy 10 fishery is starting to deliver on an expected 905,000 forecast to enter the Columbia River. For most of August, a huge school of salmon was reputed to be offshore while warmer water flushed out of the river. With recent rain and cooling, those fish are washing in now on every tide.
We were a bit early in our anticipation of the record run, but we caught two limits of fish and two limits of Dungeness crab to go with them.
The early run, due in the mouth of the river in August and September, is thought to number close to 545,000, with another 360,000 expected in October and November.
“Kla-how-ya.” It was early and that was how I greeted my friend, and our fishing guide for the day, Austin Moser.
The word is a lot like the Hawaiian “aloha.” It is a simple greeting used upon meeting or parting in the Chinook trade language that was the common form of communication between Indian tribes and white traders along the Columbia.
In the early light of an August sunrise, we motored out of the harbor. Austin Moser introduced Stevie Parsons, a Hawaiian islander turned Oregonian and salmon angler. This was her ninth time to Buoy 10 already in the young season.
Although Northwest tribes lived close to each other and traded furs, salmon, slaves, shells and cedar canoes, their languages were as different as Russian is from English.
A jargon of composites evolved with about 500 words gathered from tribes like the Chinook, Chehalis, Nootka and Salishan. When white men began to trade on the Columbia, many English words were added to the living lexicon.
At its peak, around 1870, the trade language was in use from Alaska to California and all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Many of these words are still in use today.
Indians referred to Americans as bostonmen, while the English were kinchautsch (King George’s men) and French were pa-si-ooks.
Gold was pil chik-a-min and money was dolla. Olallie was the word for berry. The word skookum meant brave. Piah was the word for fire. If you ate too many berries you would be sorry, which was translated sick tum-tum.
Water was called chuck. Skookumchuck might mean strong water. Piah-chuck would be alcohol, and saltchuck, of course, would be the ocean.
It was fun talking with Stevie, who, like a lot of relocated Hawaiians, has made a home in the Northwest. Hawaiians added a lot to the culture of the Pacific Northwest, as trappers and crew in early Astoria and in the Cascades and beyond. Their words also mark the landscape. The Kalama River was named for Hawaiian trappers and so was the Owyhee.
On the Washington side, downstream of the bridge, we put our baits in the water and entered the fray among a hundred other boats.
The tide was washing out, and as the river current gained momentum, we drifted faster toward the mouth and then ran up and started again.
For a few moments, I fought a small salmon that took the bait and then threw the hook. Around us, anglers fought fish, but it was obvious the main body of the run was still offshore.
An hour later, I let a salmon chew the bait before I reeled down and the fight was on. This one was a lower Columbia stock hatchery chinook, probably 7 or 8 pounds. An hour after that, Stevie hooked and landed a coho. My coho, a 5-pounder, came after that and then another chinook for Stevie.
Moser reported to me this past week that the coho bite was ON! Fast action for silver salmon should continue through mid-September. After that, look for coho in the Sandy and the Clackamas. Some 20% of those 905,000 Columbia River coho are destined for waters above Bonneville Dam.
See you on the skookumchuck. Klahowya.
—Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “Fishing Central Oregon,” “Fishing Mount Hood Country,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.