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Home Again from the Pacific

Joel La Follette - Wednesday, July 05, 2017
From The Sunday Oregonian September 28th, 1919

The automobile has been named the annihilator of distance. Vacation haunts that were removed by long days of travel, not so long ago have been brought near to the city, and their enjoyment is no longer occasional. The length and breadth of the land is veined by new highways, routes that penetrate the wilderness at a thrust and place the city within an hour or so of forest and stream. Vacationing has been made various and easy, through the necromancy of the motor.

Yet distance is not all that dies when the invading motor-car reaches its objective. Before it the game falls back, seeking safety in more impenetrable seclusion, vastnesses that are not yet tapped by constant travel. The hill streams, stocked with myriad trout, come to know well the swish of the line and the splash of the lure. Depleted and discouraged by daily toll, the trout become scarce in a few brief seasons, and the white water and the deep meditative pools hold but fingerlings or an occasional wary old warrior who has escaped capture through a blend of luck and sagacity.

There isn't an argument permissible over the statement that most of those who toss the duffle in their autos, and whirl away to forget business and town for a day or so, are bent upon fishing. Nor can there be any controversy over the frequently repeated assertion that "fishing is not what it used to be." So it is that the streams near at hand, those most readily reached by an hour or two of travel, have lost the glamor of the days when every cast produced its suicidal rush and flurry of tossed foam. Faster than the hatcheries can put them back, the rainbow and cutthroat are taken from the streams of their nativity. Were it not for the fact that the fisherman never lacks a friend more potent than a dozen commissions for the restocking of Oregon rivers and creeks, the full creel would have gone the way of the dodo long since. That friend, never failing, is the Pacific ocean, from whose illimitable reaches the replenishment arrives season after season.

It is to the so-called salmon trout, prey of the salmon-egg angler when the fall rains swell the coast streams, that the debt of replenishment is in large measure due. When streams grown quiet with drouth, denuded of sport by the constant demands of the summer angler, feel the rush and vigor of the first rains of autumn. The tingle of an urgent message races down to the sea. And weather-wise fishermen, looking with approval at the pouring skies, remark that the salmon trout will be running soon. Nor do the trout fail them. Up from the Pacific, drawn to the veriest trickle of fresh water that enters the breakers, the lusty sea-trout begin their pilgrimage to the spawning beds. Fat and full of fight, gleaming with the brilliance of newly minted silver, they follow the running salmon inland. On riffles brown with silt, riffles that were barren aforetime, there springs the radiance of leaping litheness again. The trout have come home!

Like to the salmon, whose nests they raid with the sangfroid and enjoyment of so many small boys in melon season, the salmon trout are answering the matrimonial urge. Late in the winter, or through January or February, they will drill their own noses into the gravel, deposit their own eggs, and charge the hungry grayling with all the vengeance of alarmed parenthood.
Thus is the stocking of Oregon coast streams accomplished, in large part, at least. With the coming of the salmon trout nature laughs at the inroads that men have made upon her larder, and struggles to maintain the people of the streams. That she does so successfully is attested by the fact that the winter brings always its quota of finer fishing, and leaves for the spring an abundance to delight the early angler. To the average fisherman the sea-run trout is always a "salmon trout," a fish of unknown and mysterious genesis, sent from the bountiful sea for the delectation of anglers. His simple name suffices, and the silver mail that sheathes him that fairy gleam of tiny velvet scales is sufficient to mark him as a species apart. But close observers agree that the salmon trout, in most instances, is merely the adventurous cutthroat or rainbow whose girth and spirit sent him down to the ocean the season before, wild as any sailor for salt water. He is the piscatorial "tar" of the coast streams, back from his cruise, when he returns.

It is significant that the smaller creeks tributary to the Columbia, entirely drained of large trout during the summer months, become by mid winter, well toward their head waters, the residential quarters of large cutthroat trout, black of spot and vivid of throat slash. Whence came the replenishment? The only answer is that these are the silvery "salmon trout" who passed upward a few weeks before, and whose inherent markings have been restored in full beauty by the caress of their native waters. As a matter of record, the actual test has been made. Sea-run trout, typical of their kind, have been imprisoned for a fortnight on their return to fresh water. The observers agreed that the transformation began almost at once, that the tribal markings passed from faint blotches and hints of color to the full regalia of the spotted cutthroat. Tests of this character, it goes without saying, have nothing whatever to do with actual infant salmon, possessing the evident characteristics of the salmon, and which are in some localities referred to as salmon trout.

So long as trout run to the sea and they will run to the sea while there is a trout to answer the call the coast streams of Oregon are assured of annual replenishment, and anglers may look toward the morrow with a reflection that nature, like mere mortals, has a tolerant regard for the fellow who fishes.

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