A lot of fishermen may have fish stories to tell about the one that got away, but the Puyallup Tribe’s Fish Commission Chairman Mark Bridges has a true tale to tell about the one he threw back – or rather the one he cut loose before it hurt somebody.
It was near Father’s Day that Mark Bridges was out on the Puyallup River near I-5 fishing with other elders for spring Chinook. He knew he had something huge tangled up in his nets and when he went to pull up his catch, he realized that he had snagged a seven-foot long, 300-plus pound sturgeon.
He immediately thought of the television reality show “Wicked Tuna” and watching those fishermen haul in bluefin tuna that are about as large if not larger.
“I tied the cork and line to the boat to hold it in position because it kept diving on me,” Mark Bridges said. “Then I grabbed a rope, wrapped it around the tail, fired up my hydraulics and lifted it slowly.” All this while trying to navigate safely through the in-water I-5 construction sites.
His fishing buddies Steve Dillon and Dennis LaPointe rushed over to help him strip the netting off the powerful fish that did its best to fight back against its captors.
“There was no way to get in the boat and it probably would have cut us really bad on our legs with its tail whipping around,” Mark Bridges said. He took a serrated knife and cut the fish loose, releasing it back into its home waters.
Mark Bridges said the fish was likely close to 100 years old and, of course, was the biggest fish he’s ever caught.
“Since it was close to Father’s Day, that told me a story – to let it go back to its people, its children and its children’s children.” He said the fish had to be male, since it had no swollen belly full of eggs.
“We catch 3-4 foot sturgeon quite often and eat them but we were out to catch spring Chinook,” Mark Bridges said. The Tribe’s fisheries also tag and track these fish but this time Grandfather Fish was set free to move on with his day, perhaps with his own true fish tale to tell his friends and family.