Tight Lines: Saving salmon, a stroke at a time
Nine hundred miles of river, 40 days and eight dams. If you think it sounds daunting, imagine what a juvenile salmon or steelhead must feel like trying to reach the Pacific Ocean from the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho.
By undertaking the journey, Bill Erickson hopes to bring attention to and raise money for wild salmon restoration efforts on the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers of Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Here's the kicker. Erickson, a river running guide who splits his time primarily between Utah and Idaho, has never experienced the amazing rush of hooking or landing a sockeye salmon or steelhead, the fish that make the epic trip not once, but twice during their lifetime, downriver to the ocean as juveniles and up the river to spawnas mature adults.
"My first fishing memory is catching a [chinook] salmon on Puget Sound with my dad when I was 4 years old," said Erickson. "He passed away when I was 18 and my fishing memories of him became even stronger. I hold onto them tightly."
Warren Erickson instilled a deep sense of appreciation for the fish he helped his son catch and respect for the water the animals need to survive.
Those are lessons Erickson kept even though he stopped fishing when his father passed away more than a decade ago. Working as a river running guide in Idaho on the Snake and Salmon rivers, Erickson listened carefully to the talk centering around salmon and steelhead and their decline.
"I was aware of the issues and I was in the wilderness areas where salmon are supposed to thrive and I never saw one," he said. "Then I went to Canada and saw them everywhere."
There were about 4,000 sockeye salmon returning to the Idaho's Redfish Lake back in the mid-1950s, according to Erickson. Only 24 sockeye made it back in 2004.
So Erickson came up with a way to raise awareness for salmon restoration, honor his father and fulfill a lifelong ambition.
"I always wanted to do a big trip - bike across the country, hike the Appalachian Trail, something physically and mentally challenging," he said.
"The first time I saw the headwaters of the Salmon River it popped into my head that it would be cool to see the river all the way to the ocean. That I can bring awareness to the salmon makes it all the better."
On Aug. 6, Erickson will launch at Redfish Lake Creek for the Pacific. The biggest challenge will not be the occasional whitewater he will find on the trip. The most difficult part of the journey will be the huge reservoirs behind the eight dams - just as it is with the young fish.
Erickson will walk around seven of the dams, pulling or pushing his kayak on a cart. He will ride in a boat with members of The Association of Northwest Steelheaders through the locks of the Bonneville Dam, the last human-made obstacle before the ocean.
If all goes well, Erickson will reach the Pacific on Sept. 27. Erickson will keep those interested in his trip updated with occasional additions to his blog - http://salmonto sea.blogspot.com/. Erickson will also be providing weekly updates to the Utah Outdoors radio show on KSL 1160 AM on Saturday mornings.
You can help Erickson's cause by submitting a tax-deductible donation on the Save Our Wild Salmon Web site - http://www.wild salmon.org/. Money will go to Save Our Wild Salmon and Idaho Rivers United.
A charity auction for the donated equipment Erickson uses on the trip will be held in December.