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The run is later than usual because of a sandbar that closed the mouth and prevented salmon from migrating. A heavy rain last week allowed the Klamath to open up, and the fish responded. Indian gill netters caught their 21,000-fish allotment in short order, so now the salmon may move upstream, unimpeded.
Fish and Game officials believe the salmon will continue pouring into the system until Oct. 31, perhaps as long as mid-November.
On Friday, I joined Ole Tokheim of Manteca, who was given a two-day fishing trip with guide Dave Mierkey by his son, Joel, to celebrate his 90th birthday. Tokheim has an affinity for the outdoors and through his rich life - he has been retired from civil service for 35 years - has fished for steelhead in Washington, shot pheasants in Iowa and hunted deer in Utah. He has revelled in every moment.
"I just love getting out," Tokheim said, as we pushed away from the shore in a double-ended drift boat on the top end of the Klamath. "Being outdoors has meant so much to me and my family. Before my wife, Lorraine, defeated pancreatic cancer in 1990, we fished all over the country. These days, she's content to read, but she always travels with me, and we're together all the time."
Tokheim's attitude and outlook belied his 90 years. He hopped into the deep-hulled driftboat with ease, fished with intensity and fought a 14-pound salmon like a pro, using a single, barbless hook and skillfully bringing the king head-first into a waiting net.
"I wish all my clients had his verve and ability," Mierkey said. "His enthusiasm is the capstone to seeing the fall colors and catching salmon on this beautiful river."
Over the years, others have been impressed by Tokheim, as well. Dennis Day, a longtime leader of the California Striped Bass Association, has fished with him for 30 years.
"You can't find a better person," Day said. "There's never a cuss word, never an unpleasant mood. We've shared a lot of trips on the Delta and elsewhere, and our families have just clicked."
Mierkey had advised Tokheim to make the five-hour trip to the Klamath because of the poor salmon return on the Sacramento River.
"I had planned to take him out of Chico or Anderson, but this year's Sacramento River run has been a disaster," Mierkey said. "Instead, I recommended going north to the Oregon border, where the Klamath-Trinity River system is just loaded with salmon. I'm glad he made the extra effort."
Mierkey chose to drift the Klamath from the first hole below Iron Gate Dam down to R Ranch, a distance of about eight miles, a stretch that was laiden with fish. Our final count was two limits of salmon, two wild rainbow trout and one steelhead - not counting a hapless sculpin - that bit fresh roe with a Pro Cure scent. The following day found Tokheim hooking more and bigger salmon - to nearly 20 pounds - as the run continued to build.
Mierkey, who lives in Stockton, said he'll fish the Klamath daily through the end of the month.
"There literally are no salmon in the American, Feather or Sacramento rivers, so I'll just stay north where the run is so great this fall," he said. "The beauty of the river and the fact that no motors are allowed make it a pristine experience, as if you are stepping back in time."
The great salmon run harkens to years ago when the Klamath River was a prime destination in the West for sport fishers. This year's steelhead migration will follow the spawning kings to snap up errant eggs, and likely place the Klamath back at the top of the state's anadromous streams.
Contact outdoors columnist Peter Ottesen at email@example.com
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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