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Snagging a great story
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The fish took off with only a slight rhythmic list from left to right. The barb was stuck securely in its dorsal fin, which did little to stop his down-river run.

When it finally tired, and I was sure I would not snap the line by cranking it back in, I turned the reel and brought the gasping salmon in broadside, plowing upriver against the slow-but-steady current.

My barb went through the upper most tip of the fin. One quarter of an inch higher, and I would have missed.

It would have continued upriver, possibly to die in the crowder and been shipped south to fish markets in Washington, or perish in the falls then drift ashore and eventually feed the black bear that growled at me the last time I was up there.

The way it really happened was I brained the fish, and tossed it into my cooler, one of six that ended up in the smoker. It’s legal to snag there, so there is no need to get huffy.

I’ve snagged plenty of fish in my life. I even foul hooked my brother once. The spinner leapt from the water and into his cheek just below the eye. I thought I was setting the hook on a bite, but it was actually just bouncing off a back.

Snagging is a funny thing — intentional, unintentional, defiantly unlawful, or a mode of legal harvest. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell what exactly happened down beneath the surface, all you know is that it’s game on for you, but not exactly the same for the fish. You strike back at what appears to be a nibble, or the line just sings from the reel without warning.

The fish is on, somehow, some way.

You feel bad and the fishing ego takes a hit because what you thought was skilled execution turned out to be dumb, painful luck, and if the wrong person happens to be there at the right time, there might be a riverside interrogation.

Not long ago, I lifted my No. 12 bird’s nest from the Stanislaus River to reposition it upstream. A finger-length trout happened to be in the way and became part of the backcast. I saw it flailing as my line moved past my ear.

I dropped the rod, and tended to the fish, which swam off but probably needed counseling. Behind me, sitting on a downed tree was a mother and daughter casually watching. I didn’t turn to see if they noticed.

I hooked something near Turtle Beach a week later. It fought like it was dizzy from swimming in circles on a dare.

It had followed the lure through the brown water and hooked itself in the side of the cranium. Small striper, big headache.

I was extra delicate when I released it, though I couldn’t help but laugh.

Last fall my buddy Nate snagged a catfish in the back from almost the same spot on shore. That seemed on par with the “Randy Johnson vs. Bird” fastball until I considered what he managed to do three summers ago off Noyes Island in Alaska.

We’d been pulling up halibut as fast as we could drop baits.

“I got one.”

“Nice, Nate. Halibut?”

Fish that run out and up are usually king salmon, heavy weights that dive tend to be halibut.

“It’s fighting weird, I don’t know.”

It was fighting weird because Nate had managed to nearly probe the thing with the business end of a Gamakatsu hook. The trailing barb on his mooching rig was securely embedded near the anus of the 20-pound halibut. I took a picture.

By far the biggest snagging story has got to be my buddy Stephen’s. He took our former Alaska History teacher out and he accidentally punctured the back of a humpback whale that was milling about in the same region as a feed ball, undetected until the line smoked, spooled, then snapped.

It was an accident, but sometimes they make the best stories.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail