Hovering above the clear glacial waters of the Nisqually River, 34-year-old Perry Statham, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and his son, 9-year-old Ian Statham, fix up their lines on a sunny Labor Day afternoon among a couple dozen other anglers wading the river banks.
This was the duo’s second trip of the day (they were called back home for a short lunch) and they couldn’t stay too long, either. Ian would start school the next day, so it was all about knocking out a quick hour of fishing and seeing if they could walk away with another salmon.
“We’ll try and knock it out as quick as possible,” Perry Statham said. “They’ll be in here, it’s just slow right now.”
And slow-going it was for many fishermen last Monday out on the Nisqually River. Dozens of cars lined the road around the Nisqually Drive bridge in the morning and throughout the afternoon.
Nets from the Nisqually Indian Tribe lined many sections of the lower river, which runs from the mouth to the military tank crossing bridge. Trout, salmon and other game fishing started July 1, according to an application published by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife.
Anglers are restricted to two salmon, with a minimum size of 12 inches each. Most large-sized trout are game except for cutthroat and wild rainbow.
Payden Scogin, 30, and Nicholas Shaw, 29, sat on the Thurston County side of the Nisqually Monday afternoon fishing for coho salmon.
“It’s been pretty slow. We heard they were catchin’ ‘em this morning,” Scogin said around 4 p.m. during the heat of the day.
Like many anglers out on the rocky banks, Shaw and Scogin also found challenges snagging rocks and large wooden logs in the shallow river. Scogin said they planned on staying on the water well past 6 p.m. to see if the high tide and cooler waters would bring fish in.
A short ways downstream, over on the Pierce County side of the Nisqually, 59-year-old Tod Hottel and 48-year-old Ed Shields were just wrapping up a days-worth of fishing.
“Wait, you’re retiring next year?” Shields asked after Hottel told of his age.
“Yeah, I’ll be out fishing every day. Calling you everyday like, ‘What’s happenin’, dude?’” Hottel teased.
With foldable chairs in hand, the two left the banks of the Nisqually without a single fish, unfortunately.
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way,” Hottel said.
The two were on the hunt for Chinook salmon, and Hottel said he did get a few decent bites.
Upriver, Perry and Ian Statham waded into the river and cast their lines. Perry said it can be a challenge fishing the slow, shallow waters of the Nisqually, but he enjoys it. And while many people complain about fishing being closed on Sundays due to the tribe, Perry Statham said it’s all a matter of perspective.
“These guys put $4 million into their fishery. It’s their cattle,” he said. “It’s a privilege to fish their fish.”
Despite the low number of bites, Statham said he counted quite a few salmon. According to officials from Fish and Wildlife, the season is supposed to come to a head in late September.
Over at the Sixth Avenue Fish and Wildlife Access site, 70-year-old Patrick Gordon walked back to his car after about three hours on the river. His sleeves rolled up and sporting a duopa pump around his waist to treat his Parkinson’s, Gordon disassembled his pole and put it in his back seat.
“Didn’t catch any fish, but I caught a bird’s nest,” Gordon said with a grin.
The Lakebay, Washington, resident said he didn’t expect to fish the Nisqually on that day, but after seeing all the hubbub down at the Nisqually Road crossing, he just had to grab his poles for his first excursion down on the Nisqually River.
“I’ve driven by a million times driving to Portland, thinking, ‘I should check that out someday,’” the 50-year-old said.
Gordon said he describes his trip as “exploratory and very educational.”
“You have to get to know a river before you know how to catch anything,” he said. “It’s all a science and an art.”
And as far as walking away empty handed? Well, there are worse ways to end a day on the river.
“I’ll be OK. I’ve got plenty of fish in the freezer,” he said.