It’s crazy how things happen sometimes. Just ask Grant Martinson of Grants Pass, Ore., who was supposed to be on a chukar hunt with a buddy on the morning of Monday, Oct. 21, but ended up making fishing history instead.
Martinson’s shooting partner, who was recovering from an illness the previous week, still didn’t feel well enough to take the Monday hunt and cancelled the trip. On a whim, Martinson quickly tied up a few flies that morning and decided to go fly-fishing for coho salmon on the lower Rogue River. He took his eight-foot pram to the Clay Banks Hole, a few miles up river from Gold Beach, and started fishing.
Though there were quite a few fresh silvers in the pool, he managed only one brief encounter with a salmon in two-and-a-half-hours of fishing. “I had been fishing with a 9.5-pound leader and then I remembered that I had heard from some other fly fishermen a few weeks back that coho could be leader conscious,” Martinson said. “So, I tided on some 4X (seven-pound) tippet, figuring I’d get some more hits.” Even after he scaled down his tippet, the coho continued to ignore his offerings, but then Martinson noticed a few large Chinook Salmon roll further out in the pool. He changed to one of the flies he’d tied earlier that morning, a brightly dressed soft hackle pattern of his own design, and turned his attentions to the kings – only he neglected to switch to a heavier leader.
Around 3:30 p.m., history came calling and he got the strike that would catapult the 57-year-old retired biology teacher and high school football coach into the record books.
At first, the fish didn’t seem like a record breaker, but then it surged away from the boat with authority. “ I had to pull both my anchors and the fish kind of towed me around the hole for a while – then I knew something was up,” he said.” There wasn’t very much I could do.” Except to hang on. And that’s what Martinson did. With his No. 8 Orvis rod maxed out and the wispy seven-pound tippet dangerously taut, he played the giant salmon for 30 minutes – the last few of which were the most tense because Martinson only had a small steelhead net aboard.
Fortunately, Binky Castleberry of Santa Rosa was also fishing the Clay Banks and he had a large salmon net with him. As Martinson played the fish close, Castleberry took aim and made a perfect scoop and the mammoth salmon slipped safely into the mesh.
Afterwards however, the pair were presented with a new problem – the fish was so big neither could lift it out of the water. So, they cut the leader and rowed ashore, where they struggled to get it onto dry land. It was then that they were able to get their first good look at the salmon. It was chrome-bright, still with sea lice on it and definitely the largest king either man had ever laid eyes on. Eventually, they got the monster safely stowed in the back of Martinson’s pickup and he drove to a cannery in Gold Beach where the salmon was weighed on a state-certified scale.
It was 70 pounds, 8 ounces! In fact, it weighed so much that afterwards, people thought Martinson was just telling fish stories. “I got back into town and told people about it and they didn’t believe it,” he said. “ It was as if I was telling them I had just seen Bigfoot. If I had lied, they would have been able to believe it more.”
Not only did Martinson’s fish eclipse the 66-pounder that was taken on the Rogue earlier this season by a spin angler, but if approved, it will also be a new tippet class world record for the species on a 6- to 8-pound leader, as recognized by the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Fla. The current record is 55 pounds, one ounce, from Clear Creek, Alaska, in 2000. It is also being considered the largest king ever taken on a fly rod – over eight pounds heavier than a 63-pounder that was pulled from Oregon’s Trask River in 1987.
Very humble and generous, Martinson left the salmon with the folks at the Rogue Outdoor Store, who will have it mounted and displayed it in the store. He wanted the fish to be somewhere the public could view it and see “what Oregon salmon can be like.” He also instructed the owners of the store to donate the meat to charity. And then, after all the hoopla surrounding his big catch died down, Grant Martinson went chukar hunting.