The Calawah

John L Lesea | Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Years ago I worked with the Quileute Indians on a flood estuary survey to return trapped trout, steelhead and salmon back to the river. The Calawah would run dry in summer months and the fish would become trapped in pools called ‘flood estuaries”. We would net the fish (mostly fry and smolts and transport them downstream to where the river was running well again.

My co-worker was a young Indian by the name of James or “Dink”. We had driven my pickup truck miles up the Calawah and then hiked a few miles to the river. When we arrived, there were several pools that were left standing with no flow between them. We immediately started to take notes and look for trapped fish. At one particularly large and fairly deep pool we spotted a beautiful, large, bright steelhead about 8-10 pounds (est). The fish spotted us and started to dash around the pool looking for a way out. We had no way to capture it. Then James said “you have your fly rod in the back of your truck, I’ll go get it.” I said the truck is too far away and this fish is too scared to be taking a fly. James said we need to give it a try. He said “I’ll be back” and took off running. I watched as he disappeared into the distance, running at what seemed like a very fast pace. I couldn’t believe how soon he returned still running at full speed with the fly rod.

The stranded fish had settled down somewhat and was trying to find some cover to hide by. I rigged up my fly rod and tried casting to the fish. My casts were on target but the fish was not in the mood to eat. Undoubtedly if we had caught it James would have run with it downstream until the river flowed again. We decided to head back to the Fisheries office and report. Hopefully they could return with the necessary nets or equipment to capture the fish. It was that or wait until some rain to bring the river up again.

On the way back I asked James about his running and stamina skills. He said “that’s nothing, when we play basketball we have one hour nonstop quarters. You ought to come and watch us play”.

I never found out about the fish’s future but it did rain some the next few days.

Support the protection of 5,000 new miles of wild and scenic rivers