Humans understand the world that they live in through the lens of their lifetime – on average, the sum of their entire life experience will span 75 years or so, and what they know and understand typically is a product of the timeframe in which they were alive. Sometimes, it comes as difficult for us to believe that there are animals out there that have lived longer, and seen more than we have.
Yesterday, I caught a fish that was older than most people have ever lived to be. This fish has lived to see an amazing list of things that few living humans can claim to have seen, and it is only about halfway through its life, if its allowed to live for its full life expectancy.
For instance, this fish was alive when the Columbia River flowed free and undammed for its entire length. It knew a day when it could swim from hundreds of miles inside Canada, to the saltwater at Astoria, Oregon with no man-made barrier stopping its migration. Maybe it did just that once. Maybe it did it more than once.
Somehow, the wheels of fate and chance now have this fish stranded. He currently resides between the Dalles Dam and John Day Dam on the Columbia River, and there is no way for him to get past either. Who knows how he got stranded there, but what we do know is that he was, indeed, alive during the construction of both of these dams.
My buddy Isaac and I caught him this weekend.
Isaac holding his prize. Notice it looks bigger when he is holding it. Scale means everything in photography.
Me. Holding the tail of the biggest fish I've ever caught.
So Isaac was holding the rod when the fish came in. I grabbed the fish and held it
by it's lip and pulled the hook. Then, I handed the fish over to Isaac for him
to get his picture taken with the fish. Sometimes the process of handing the fish over
looks somewhat inelegant, as is the case here. Obviously.
The pictures don't really do it justice. It was HUGE. Part of the problem is forced
perspective - the fish is behind me so it looks smaller (look at the angle of my arm). Also, I'm
a very big person and so I sort of bias the scale of this photo.
It took him over an hour and a half to get this leviathan to the boat. It fought hard the whole time. He breached out of the water five times, tail walking in a manner more reminiscent of a marlin than something that you’d expect to find 300 miles inland.
When we finally got him to the boat, we measured him to see what he was all about, and the results were stunning.
This fish was over nine feet long. The internet tells me that a white sturgeon this size weighs 400 pounds. He is something like 80 years old, and he will live to over twice that if he manages to live for his entire life expectancy. He also has the potential to grow to over twice his current size – white sturgeon have been caught up to 20 feet long and weighing in at a ton.
You thought I was fucking kidding, didn't you?
We thanked him for allowing us to catch him and let him go, back into the murky depths of the river that he has known for as long as my Dad and I have known it, combined. Even if it was legal to kill it and keep it, I couldn’t have brought myself to do it.
This was a truly awesome experience.
Because I recognize that our photography was horrible, here is a pic of a lady holding what appears to be about an 8 footer - similar in size to the one we caught.