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The Gearboat Chronicles

Fish Stories the Metric Way

I used to be a mediocre fisherman. Well, those days are over. Last week I witnessed a brilliant technique that improves your fishing success instantly, dramatically and easily. It’s so simple. No fooling around with learning new casting methods or studying fish behavior and boring feeding patterns. The secret shortcut to better fishing is … are you ready? The metric system. And I must say, it’s good to finally find a use for that thing.

I discovered the wonderful world of metric fishing thanks to the Enterprise High School class of 2009. I was along on their senior trip through Hells Canyon last week, rowing one of the cargo rafts. We had some big water, since Idaho Power was leaving the gates cracked pretty wide back at the dam.

We camped the second night at Salt Creek after a full day of running the big rapids. River guide Sam Macke baited the sturgeon rig with a trout and dropped that offering out in the eddy. Mike Baird grilled burgers and tubesteaks for dinner and we were having a grand time when the tip of the sturgeon rod started bouncing, then line pulled from the spool. Fish on.

I went down to look when they landed the sturgeon. A nice one. I eyeballed the length and figured we were looking at a six-footer here. If you haven’t seen a sturgeon up close, imagine a swimming dinosaur with armored plates down the spine. They’re odd creatures, for sure.

There were two exchange students among the graduating seniors, Giacomo from Italy and Esteban from Ecuador. We walked back up to camp after the sturgeon was released and I was standing there for a discussion on how big the fish was. “Two meters,” is what I heard Giacomo say. Esteban was consulted and agreed. Two meters. According to the conversion table I just consulted on the inside flap of an old Pee-Chee folder, that works out to just over six and a half feet.

Now jump forward to several days later at my house in Enterprise. Sam, the guy who caught the sturgeon, was explaining to some friends how the senior float trip went. Great, by all accounts, except for some holdups as the kids and chaperones were on their way back to the dam after waving goodbye to the Winding Waters River Expeditions crew at the Pittsburgh Landing boat ramp.

The group was riding back upriver in a chartered jetboat, but a mechanical problem caused a delay and another jetboat company was called to bring another boat. The second jetboat had something go haywire, so a third boat was called in from the bullpen. Highly unusual, and this third jetboat was considerably smaller, requiring two trips to shuttle everyone and their gear back to the dam.

The second wave of students and chaperones got on the road for home a long while since eating lunch, so I’m told that they pulled in at the Hells Canyon Inn in Oxbow, which was closed. After knocking on the door and explaining the situation, the owners fed these weary travelers and then refused payment, saying the kids had been through a long day and dinner was on the house.

So there we are out in front of my house and Sam begins to describe the sturgeon he caught, and I distinctly hear him say, “nine-footer.” I politely inquired what topic he had shifted to so abruptly, since it obviously wasn’t that sturgeon anymore.

He asked how big I thought it was. With truth shining in my eyes, I replied, “six.”
“No,” Sam disagreed. And I should mention here that truth was also shining in his eyes. I can vouch for Sam as one of the most truthy persons I know. “Those exchange students,” Sam explained, “said it was three meters. Nine feet.”

And that’s when I realized the exponential beauty of fishing with the metric system. By altering just one digit, you gain so much more. By slightly bumping two into three, the same fish grows by three feet in that same instant. Marvelous. All fish have a tendency to grow by inches between the catching of them and the telling about it, but using meters just streamlines the process and I finally see how terribly useful this metric system can be. Until now it just cluttered up my toolbox with sockets I never used.

I remember when I could only cast my flyrod about forty feet. Now I’m casting flies upward of a tenth of a furlong, or well over a decameter. I don’t even know how far that is in cubits. There’s no end to the utility of this system. A two-pound fish that took a little while to land sounds infinitely better weighed in bushels and landed in something under a fortnight. Not to mention my new flyrod, which I couldn’t afford until seeing how cheap it is in shekels.