Megan K. Sprague
I grew up by this river. It’s famous for its salmon. The salmon keep our town afloat. We rely on them to bring in fisherman, and by fisherman, I mean money. We rely on the fish for money. Odd.
Driving down the streets of Pulaski means fast food, diners, or tackle shops, and not much else in between, and certainly not enough residents to fill all of these places regularly. Depending on the sales, places are either packed or bare—much like our beloved, money-making river.
The image of a salmon is forever ingrained in my mind as a symbol of home. I don’t even fish. Though, wherever I go in my home town, there are photos and posters that insinuate a community love of the sport. I’ve only held a fishing pole a handful of times, but I understand the enjoyment the same way a sister would understand football if her older brother played. I know what it takes, I know the rules, and heck, I probably even have some equipment in the back of a closet somewhere, but I don’t play—and for the record, I have no siblings.
There are two bridges that shade two different spots on the river. They are a point of reference, honorably called “the long bridge” and “the short bridge.” The salmon have no preference for either bridge, but the unspoken difference is that the short bridge is for mingling, observing, and showing off. It is located around the bend of two tackle shops and sits Oreo-cookie-style, in between two restaurants with “river” in their titles. To the contrary, the long bridge provides a more peaceful, private fishing experience for the outdoorsman who takes himself very seriously.
It’s salmon season now. The town, which is typically ghostly quiet, is booming again for a couple short weeks. Locals like to complain to each other about it. We whine about how awful the season is, as it takes five extra minutes to drive through the entire town, instead of the typical three. We say these things as if we have zero pride in our salmon, and this annual season where we flourish, but it’s just polite, Pulaski conversation. It’s what we say instead of talking about the weather, every single September. Before too long, everyone evaporates and we go back to talking about football, and the weather, like normal small town folks.
When all the salmon have snuck by to die upstream, they’ll just vanish like anything in flight over the Bermuda Triangle. That’s how you know fishing season is over. It’s true. After these fish spawn, they continue to swim against the current like elderly, vicious tornado fighters. Then they die, in a place no one has ever witnessed. Poof. Gone. Insta-legend, for 49 more weeks.
I have never been sure why my old high school never adopted the salmon as their mascot. A salmon is so much more badass than a blue devil. The devil is just not very intimidating with his royal blue, swirly, carnival mustache. However, a silver salmon in the middle of a heavy current—he’s his own kind of rebel, a rebel that a person can admire.
Here it is, a sunny September afternoon, and I take my place as a spectator by the long bridge. There is nothing quite like watching the sport of hooking a living dying thing by its lip and reeling it in for dinner.
I see the glistening single thread webs of fishing line stretched across the water. The river sways. It sounds like the movement of a drawn bath, my favorite sound since I was a kid. It reminds me of the peacefulness that ensued while singing naked on the top of my lungs with plastic Happy Meal toys.
Now I hear the fishermen hollering like concerned parents, “Fish-on! Coming down!”
This is the traditional language inside the Salmon River. It translates to, “I’ve got a bite, and now I’m going to chase it down—get the hell out of my way.”
The suspense is always rather surprising, similar to the excitement one feels for the next move of a victim in a horror film. Of course, the victim never takes the right turn in the movies. They always get caught in the corner of an upstairs bedroom, and the viewer sits on the edge of their seat, screaming, “Not that way!” and “Now, you’ve gotta jump out the window!” They never jump out the window. They risk their whole life instead of a limb. Juvenile.
In the river, though, the salmon are wise. They’ve lived their whole life and they’re stronger than they’ve ever been, swimming for miles—fighting for miles—through persistence water and the zigzag of lure. The fisherman is the underdog here.
I watch the madness of the bite. The salmon is hooked, but not defeated - not yet. He hardcore belly flops a few times, in and out of the water. The strength between the fisherman and the fish is equally matched. One of them is fighting for the challenge, and the other is fighting for peace. It is hard to tell which is which.
I feel the sun and the hype in the air. I see the other fishermen bob their poles like giant tea bags as their curiosity of their colleague loses their focus on their own pre-started battles.
If he catches the salmon, he’ll be the hero. All the others will gather around him, applaud him, congratulate him. It would be a pretty picture on his fridge, and in little baggies inside it. I’m routing for him, I really am.
Then his line breaks off and crumples back to him like a shriveled popped balloon. No one seems to have noticed—the river gossips are quiet and still.
The salmon, old and dying, keeps pushing and fighting for his great death under the bustle of our little town. With a new lip piercing and bleeding and sore from flopping, he keeps fighting. He keeps pushing through this current regardless of all the sportsmen that came for him, all the businesses that relied on him being caught, and all the friends he has hanging on walls throughout this town. He keeps fighting, a legend in the making.