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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Blue Backs

This is a good time of year to catch some blue-backs. What is a blue-back? It’s not an easy question to answer. Most salmon have a blue back and a white belly when they come out of the ocean. There could be a reason. To a predator looking from above the blue back of the fish blends in with the deep blue sea. A predator looking at the same fish from below will have a hard time seeing the white belly against the light of the sky. This blue and white color scheme works equally well for predators trying to attack prey either from above or below. As the fish enter the river they endure an amazing transformation from salt to fresh water. Their salt water scales fall off. Fish change color to match the rocks in the river so they can be well camouflaged while they spawn. A fish that has a blue back generally means it just came out of the saltwater so it is in the best eating condition.

Some people call the sea-run cutthroat a blue-back and that is our right as decent Americans. Others call these fish the “Harvest Trout” because they run in late summer but they are wrong. Cutthroat will always be blue-backs to me. Like all anandromous fish Cutthroat come up the river to spawn but they do not die after spawning like the salmon. They feed on the eggs of the spawning fall salmon. The presence of the sea-run Cutthroat is an indication of the health of the salmon runs.

The Lake Ozette sockeye were also once called blue-backs but now they are called “endangered species.” The most famous trout on the Olympic Peninsula, the Beardsley of Lake Crescent was also called a blue-back. The Beardsley was named after Admiral Beardsley who brought the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron to Port Angeles for summer maneuvers in 1895. Admiral Beardsley was said to have spent so much time fishing at Lake Crescent they named the trout after him. The legend has been passed down that the Admiral caught three hundred and fifty trout on his very first visit to Lake Crescent. It is not my place to question the integrity of someone who was with Commodore Perry's landing at Kurihama, Japan in 1853, was on the monitor Nantucket during the ironclad attack on Charleston Harbor in 1863, carried the first U.S flag through the Suez Canal in 1871 and re-opened the Chilkoot Pass in 1880, no Admiral Beardsley's service record speaks for itself.  Still 350 trout is just a little bit too round and tidy a number and besides, reeling in a Beardsley trout is not as easy as it sounds...

E.B. Webster, founder of the Port Angeles Evening News which became the current Peninsula Daily News, wrote about the Beardsley trout in his epic book, “Fishing the Olympics.”

Webster estimated the Beardsley could hit speeds of twenty-five miles an hour when it struck and peel a hundred feet of line before jumping six or seven feet in the air. A Tacoma angler was said to have spent three hours and forty five minutes reeling in an eleven pounder. Beardsley trout were known to reach twenty pounds. Imagine catching three hundred and fifty of those blue-backs. There's not enough hours in the day.  Even if Admiral Beardsley was fishing two rods he'd be lucky to catch half that number in a day. This would confirm my theory of translating fish stories into English where you simply divide or multiply each number by a factor of two depending on who you are talking to.

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