The Orca

June 22, 2011

The orca raised a tall black dorsal fin and followed the salmon in towards Bird Rock where about a dozen boats were fishing.  One guy had a salmon on and you could tell the orca could hear it, but he passed in the wrong direction and came towards our boat.  The fisherman hastily hauled his salmon out of the water.

The creature surfaced close to our boat, opening a big hole in the water, then he slid out of sight for a few minutes, to appear a hundred yards away on his side with a slashing motion which left one pectoral fin high in the air.  Brian, our guide, said that that slashing motion with his head is how the orca kills salmon, though he can’t understand how they catch them.

It wasn’t that the orca wasn’t aware of our presence.  He had sought out the concentration of fishing boats and salmon coming in to feed on the tide, and he acted utterly fearless around man.  I realized that for the first time in my experience I wasn’t the top predator in this environment.

I had asked Brian if I could see some whales yesterday.  A half-hour later he pointed out a humpback whale about a mile away.  Another rose.  “I think there are four or five in that group.”  Surely enough, they were soon all around us, though they kept their distance as we jigged for halibut.

Ten minutes before he appeared I’d asked Brian if we would see a killer whale.  Then this one appeared.  But the orca was different than the humpbacks.  He sought us out.  Brian told us he’d done the same thing on Sunday, taking a salmon from a bemused fisherman.  This time he came into 50’ of water, right near shore.  No wonder people worship these creatures.

After the orca left Tony and I hit into our first double, with a pair of chinooks knocking the lines off the downriggers at the same time.  We released the fifteen and seventeen pound fish to keep room on our limit for “better” fish.  I was a bit skeptical about this, but deferred to Brian’s opinion.  He hasn’t been wrong so far.

Then I hit a good one.  I’d landed a 23 pound Chinook the first day, and this fish looked to be the same size, but it had easily twice the strength, energy, and endurance.  Things got quite busy at Bird Rock as Brian and Tony tried to keep lines and cables out of the “wanna-be-tyee’s” way.  I had thought the tyee title for a 30 lb. or heavier fish was just tourism.  Now I wasn’t so sure.  The fight went on and on, but the fish tired first – most likely because of the superb mooching rod on which I was playing him.

This fish wasn’t much heavier than the one on Monday, but it was in another order of magnitude for sport.  I could now see what Brian meant by “waiting for a better fish.”

Then we ran out to 184’ and dropped herring to the bottom to fish for halibut.  Brian clearly dislikes bottom fishing, but allowed Tony and me one each to fill our limits.

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