Interview with a Fisher

Brad McLean
Lifelong Sekiu Resident and Recreational Fisherman
Brad holding a large native female chinook salmon before releasing her, caught at Swiftsure in the Pacific Ocean.
What was your first memory with salmon?
Probably fishing with my dad out in the Sekiu area, before I was a teenager. There are so many memories; I don’t know how you could particularly choose just one. The most special memories I have were probably when I was running my own charter boats, the Linda Ray and Hunter I.  I also have a lot of early memories deck handing for my Uncle Charlie out of La Push on his charter boat.
Why do you feel that boosting our runs of wild-born salmon is so important?
It’s important to boost wild-salmon, because other generations to come aren’t going to be able to experience these fish if they go away. We’ve let other fish and animals go extinct, or close to, and it would be wonderful if we could have other generations that can see these fish and be able to fish for them.
You are a lifelong resident of Sekiu/Clallam Bay. How have you seen the salmon fisheries change over your lifetime?
There used to be such high abundance of fish locally, now, even with the addition of hatchery fish today, those big run numbers are just not there.  With the decline of native fish, the size has greatly reduced as well. Even the native fish today are not nearly as big as they used to be back forty years ago. Forty years ago, I was able to catch 40-50 pound king salmon regularly. This was back when you could keep wild ones. Today, you can’t keep the larger wild fish and even then the average wild fish is probably about twenty pounds or less.
All of the streams out here, even some of the smaller ones, had wild runs of fish in them. Now many of those runs have so few fish that we hardly see them anymore.  A lot of these streams went through a rapid decline, within 5-8 years, I watched what I call the “extinction of the local rivers happen”.
As far as the number of fisherman visiting, back when I was younger, down in Sekiu, there were so many fishermen, that there wasn’t anywhere to walk except for right down the middle of the street. Now today, at times, most of the salmon fishing is maybe half to two-thirds full. This includes both camping locations and the docks. Even within the last couple of years, we have seen a declined in the number of fishermen visiting.
You are the president of a non-profit called Calm Waters. What is it that Calm Waters does?
We consider ourselves a veteran’s support group. We do fishing events for wounded warriors as well as for our local veterans. During our largest event in the year, we hold a fishing tournament for the veterans, where they get to fish for salmon and win prizes for largest fish. Our first place prize includes a custom built fishing rod. To put on these events we hold fund raising events, such as our live-auction, each summer.
We rely heavily on the salmon to help sustain these events as well as to provide food for the veterans. When we are able to take out veterans, then we are able to provide them with the fish they catch, in turn, providing them with a considerable amount of food. We also try to have some locally donated salmon during our main fishing event; we source this fish from prison staff.  The fish is cooked traditionally over a fire by one of the Makah tribal members.
You are an avid outdoorsman, what other outdoor recreational activities do you participate in?
I consider myself an amateur fossil hunter, collecting fossils such as chambered nautilus, snails, and really anything I find. I do a lot of other beach combing, for agates and sea glass and anything else I find out there. I fish for steelhead, halibut, lingcod and other bottom fish. I hunt locally for elk and deer. I gather a lot of seasonal fruit and mushrooms. I enjoy viewing wildlife. I’m sure there are other activities that I’m just not thinking of right now.
What is your favorite fishing story to tell?
 Well that’s a tough one, as there are so many stories to tell. One of my favorites though, is the first time I took my daughter out halibut fishing. We spent several hours on the boat and she finally started to tell me “dad I think I have a bite”. Every time I picked up her pole there was no bite though. Finally, I told her to go ahead and check her pole, needless to say, she ended up catching a 73 pound halibut. I think she must have been around 11 years old and that fish was about as big as she was.
Thank you, Brad, for sharing some of your local knowledge!