It wasn’t exactly business as usual at the base of Wanapum Dam for Spokane fishing guide Dave Grove on Tuesday.
The opening day of the upper Columbia River salmon season dawned with 45 boats circling before sunrise in the eddy caused by the powerful flows out of the dam’s turbines.
But for the first time, Grove was fishing below a dam with a crack so severe the upstream reservoir had to be drawn down for safety, inspection and ongoing repairs.
Also for the first time on the season opener, Grove had liability insurance.
“Good timing, I guess,” he chuckled.
He lowered his downriggers to cash in on the big run of chinook and the near-record run of sockeye. Interest generated by these big fish runs should help him make up for the added costs.
A new Washington law requires anglers renewing their state fishing guide license to have a business license number, certification in first aid and CPR, a U.S. Coast Guard license and commercial liability insurance of at least $300,000.
Seasonal guides such as Grove play a major role in serving the demand. Full-time guides tend to be fully booked by the time the public figures out that salmon are packing the Columbia River like soccer fans filling World Cup stadiums.
Most guides are pleased the new rules have weeded out some at the fringes of the business.
“The extra expense isn’t worth it for some guys,” Grove said. “They’re just going to fish for fun.”
On the other hand, the new rules tipped Grove into making his Captain Dave’s Fishing Guide Service (509-939-6727) a priority.
His main job is electrical contracting, but during summer and early fall he focuses on guiding anglers in the upper Columbia, depending on the run, from the Hanford Reach upstream to Brewster.
For part-timers, he said, there’s a fine line between fishing with friends and guiding.
“I’ve always had a passion for fishing,” Grove said. “Dad made the mistake of taking me out of school to go fishing. I can’t get enough of it.”
About 11 years ago, he got his 18-foot sled rigged for salmon fishing. “Once I caught a 20-pound king, I couldn’t justify traveling all over to go fly fishing for trout and coming home with nothing to show for it. I certainly got a better reception when I brought that salmon home.”
Grove’s barber, after hearing about his prowess for catching salmon, planted the seed for guiding.
“He called and asked when I was going to take him fishing,” Grove said.
By word of mouth, Grove soon had a stream of fishing partners, either from the barber’s clientele or family.
“I was buying more gear and it only made sense that I start asking them to chip in on the costs,” he said.
“Then, one time, a game warden stopped me and said he heard I was guiding and asked for a license. I said I was just fishing with friends. He asked if I was getting paid. I said just for expenses. He said how much?”
Grove decided three years ago to eliminate the gray area and become a licensed guide. The timing was good. Washington’s salmon runs have been booming.
This year, serious salmon anglers have even fewer reasons to fly to Alaska. Chinook, coho and sockeye are traveling like a Fed-Ex delivery to the doorstep of anglers through the heart of Washington.
Grove, 36, is camped on the Columbia this week with his wife, Carolyn. He’s guiding when he’s booked and they’re fishing by themselves when he’s not.
“I’m in heaven,” he said. “I get great pleasure helping others catch salmon. But it’s tough some days.
“That’s why I go back to my day job after salmon season. I don’t guide into the steelhead season where you can rack up a lot of time freezing and waiting for a bite.”
While his client caught a four-fish limit of sockeye ranging from 2 to 4 pounds, the big chinook they hoped to land eluded them on Tuesday.
“I took a nap and got up as the sun was going down and looked at the river and had a feeling,” he said.
He launched the boat with his pregnant wife in the cool of the evening for a peaceful interlude on the water that was soon interrupted by the screaming of Carolyn’s reel. Minutes later, she’d landed a big, bright king salmon for their cooler.
“A few passes after that, around 9 p.m., I hooked a 20-pound wild fish that almost spooled me. I had only 10 wraps of line on my reel when I finally got it turned around.”