Adventures on the Oregon Trail, Part II: A king’s ransom of 19 delicious steaks

Idaho Statesman fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez landed a 34-inch salmon in The Dalles, Ore. — the largest freshwater catch of his life.
Idaho Statesman fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez landed a 34-inch salmon in The Dalles, Ore. — the largest freshwater catch of his life. Courtesy of Jordan Rodriguez

On my recent fishing trip to The Dalles, Ore., I was reminded of the most valuable lesson fishing has taught me:

The harder you work for something, the more rewarding it is when you finally succeed.

As chronicled in Part I of this column, my first day in The Dalles was filled with cool experiences. I visited historical buildings, stood at the end of the Oregon Trail and enjoyed a thrilling jet boat ride up the mighty Deschutes River.

The only thing left to do was catch a fish. Which, even in an anadromous hotbed like The Dalles, is no easy task. As I set out into the chilly darkness in search of a Chinook salmon, I was feeling the pressure.

Our guide for the day was Dave Eng, founder of Fisheng Products tackle solutions. An eerie fog coated the valley as he motored us out into the confluence of the Columbia and Klickitat rivers.

Each angler was handed a rod loaded with trolling gear and a line counter. I was in the back, running a yellow Brad’s Super Bait stuffed with tuna fish 110 feet behind the boat.

We trolled back and forth in the frosty morning air, waiting and watching. I swapped fishing stories with our congenial host while keeping a close eye on the end of my rod.

About two hours in, my pole suddenly slammed forward in the rod holder. Dave killed the motor and hollered “Fish On!” as the other anglers hurriedly reeled in.

It was go time.

I grabbed the rod and immediately felt the power of a very large, angry Chinook. Line-peeling runs alternated with vicious head-thumps as she tried to shake the hook.

I snuck a peek down at the line counter. Seventy-five feet to go.

Slowly but steadily, I gained line. I tried not to think about how perilous this moment was — 10 hours of round-trip driving and 10 more on the water came down to this one chance. Odds were, I wouldn’t get another.

Fifty feet to go.

When I’m fishing for bass or trout, I always enjoy the fight. But Chinook are a different animal. They wrench violently on your arms and shoulders, and every second they are in the water could be the second your single, barbless hook comes flying back toward you.

Twenty-five feet.

Dave grabbed the net and barked out final instructions. Most lost fish escape at the boat, where the length of the trolling gear and the sharp metal hull create a tricky landing scenario. Execution had to be perfect as I lifted the fish toward the surface and Dave scooped with the net.


High-fives abounded as 34 inches of silvery Chinook goodness joined us on board. It was the biggest freshwater catch of my angling career — and it yielded 19 delicious steaks.

That big king salmon was the only fish I hooked on the Oregon Trail, but catching it was the icing on the cake as I finally fulfilled my childhood wish of making it to The Dalles. I’m already planning my return voyage.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at

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