The Big Lebowski
Because chinook stocks linger in Rivers Inlet and feed prodigiously for weeks on end, they are among the strongest, most porcine chinook salmon to be found anywhere.
Like it or not, the monster mentality-the unapologetic lust for hooking stupendous salmon-holds certain sway over an inordinate number of rapscallions in the sportfishing community. That's not to suggest that even the most meek and mild angler among us would not thrill at the incidental hooking of a seriously large fish. But what it does mean is that for all intents and purposes, trophy angling requires a different mindset.
Targeting trophy salmon necessarilly entails hours and hours of utter boredom-a nearly brain-dead, persistent vegetative state-ainterrupted (if at all) by rare moments of blue-blazes pandemonium. What you can't help learning about fishing for big chinooks is that the main thing is staying power. Stay at it long enough and eventually you might earn the right to endure the adrenaline-infused agony of hooking a truly brutish fish. The crux of all this madness, of course, is time. No matter where you go these days, no matter what region or watershed, be it the Sacremento in California, the Rogue in Oregon, the Olympic Peninsula rivers in Washington, or even famed drainages in Alaska, you hear the same thing: decade by decade the fish are getting smaller. Old-timers in the Pacific Northwest (who themselves are a dying breed) lament that there used to be considerably higher numbers of large steelhead and salmon returning almost every system on the West Coast. Today there are way more anglers (competition) and far fewer big fish. Anglers must contend with an inarguable correlation between availability and duration: the fewer big fish around, the longers it's going to take to find one. Back in "the good old days" on the Columbia River, for instance, the average number of rod hours it took a savvy angler to hook a 30-pound or larger salmon could be measured in multiples of ten-10 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours and so forth. By current standards a more accurate reckoning would involve hundreds, if not thousands, of rod-hours.
In other words, if you live long enough and fish hard enough you might, just might, end up hooking a trophy-sized salmon. But don't dispair. There's light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, there exists an enlightened pathway whereby the true believer may both drastically foreshorten the time period and dramatically lengthen his chances for hooking a colossal king. And that pathway leads to Rivers Inlet.
In late July/early August schools of chinook salmon begin staging in those remote reaches of coastal BC lying almost due north of Vancouver Island. Of course, considerable numbers of these fish are your standard-brand salmon, including more or less generic, cookie cutter hatchery fish, which are headed back to nursery waters throughout the Northwest. While most of these transient fish are in peak condition and are worthy adversaries in their own right, they are not caliber of salmon that fuels dreams or, in some cases, nightmares. However, divorced from the pedestrian hordes of nominal salmon, there presides a distinct, indigenous, truly dream-inducing species-a race of broad-shouldered, wide-bodied, astonishingly bovine salmon native to the Wannock and Kilbeila rivers found deep in the visceral wild of Rivers Inlet.
Unfortunately, the alpha-salmon in Rivers Inlet are not exactly a closely guarded secret. Though the competition and inevitable jostling could be viewed as almost calm and copasetic by comparison with the melee that surrounds salmon runs in the Lower 48, the local lodges make no bones about targeting big fish. In fact, dedicated hawg-hunters-anglers with an almost deranged yearning to pursue oversized salmon-make annual vigils to Rivers Inlet with the sole intent to besting previous exploits or, better yet, of landing a much heavier salmon than any of their compatriots. There are wagers. Money changes hands. Considerable quantities of Crown Royal and displays of chest thumping help lubricate the process. But, whether they're aware or not, it's the transactions of ego that really count the most.
For example, the Herzog clan (including relatives, loyal employees and professional associates) who run a successful contracting business in Seatle, have been coming to Rivers Inlet for decades. Their sole purpose-besides engaging in the nightly boisterous, boys-will-be-boys drinking/gambling/howling routine-was to race straight out to a place called "The Head" (or that vicinity) and try to bag a hellacious salmon. The Head is a clearly defined piece of water, roughly a nautical mile in length, which lies at the very fringe of Kilbella Bay, a broad fertile estuary when both the Kilbella River and Wannock River fish stage prior to ascending their natal streams. With the possible exception of ppols on the Kenai, there's probably no place on earth that can boast a denser concentration of 30-pound plus chinook salmon than those precious few acres of water contained at The Head. Despite said glorious reputation, a small cadre of serious anglers, especially some of the more scrupulous locals, disparagingly refer to The Head as the "toilet bowl". Why? For one thing the water here is dirty, loaded with glacial till and tannic runoff. Plus annoying quantities of flotsam and woody debris circulates with the tide and collects in this part of the bay. And finally there's the grim concentration of boats, thus lending the scene a siege-like aura. On the other hand, when put in perspective-that is, when compared to typical scenes of combat fishing in the states-the gaggle of boats clustered at The Head may seem almost quaint, if not pastoral.
Besides, as Mick Heath, co-owner/outfitter of Legacy Lodge, pointed out, "There's plenty of viable alternatives."