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My Quest to Hook a Tyee

Ben Sargent in Canada

On this week’s Hook, Line & Dinner, I head to Canada on a quest to hook my first Tyee. Tyee, the Canadian Aboriginal peoples’ original word for “chief” or “big one,” now refers to chinook salmon, which are plentiful in the Campbell River near Vancouver Island. If I can snag a 30-pounder, I’ll become a member of the local Tyee club.

Tyee has been fished for ages in Canada, dating back to when spears, hand lines and traps were used catch these monsters. The first account of angling for Tyee appeared in 1896 in an issue of  The Field, published in London. In the account, Richard Musgrave describes excellent fishing on the Campbell River, with his team taking in nineteen Tyee in one week. The largest fish they caught weighed 70 pounds, and was acclaimed as the largest salmon ever caught on rod and line.

Ben Sargent Fishing Tyee

I talk strategy with my guide Randy as we head out to try to hook a Tyee.

Randy Killoran, second-generation Tyee fisherman, served as my fishing guide. He’s one of the most serious fishermen I have ever met. There was not a lot of talking on board our boat — and the boat had to be rowed (versus a motor) for the catch to count towards club membership.

Tyee Club Fishing Chinook Salmon

The HLD crew captures the group out on the water.

The rules for membership are serious: Your rod must be between 6-9 feet, the fish must weight 30 pounds or more and your boat has to be rowed. These rules are designed to give the fish a fighting chance.

The Tyee Club has a mix of women and men, and the oldest member to get in was over 80 years old, while the youngest was 6 years old.

We fished the river for hours that day (Editor’s Note: Tune in at 8pm ET tonight to see if he hooks a fish and gains entry to the Tyee Club!), and as the sun sunk below the horizon, every boat lit a little lite to help with visibility. A bucket on top diffused the light, and it created the most beautiful setting I have ever seen — the boats looked like fireflies on the surface of the water and the only noise was the oars against the oarlocks and water lapping on the wooden hulls. Every now and then, off in the distance, you would hear a lucky yelp as someone hooked what could be the monster salmon that gets them in the club.

Tyee Club

Members of the Tyee Club enjoy a bonfire post-fishing.

Between visiting Alaska last week and this week’s trip to Canada, I thought I would never eat salmon again. I honestly believe I have had salmon cooked every possible way: salmon cakes, fritters, fillets, steaks, jerky, sashimi and more. Overdosing on fish is not something I am known to do, but it definitely took me some Ty-me, I mean time, to get back to eating this fine fish again.

Tune in to Hook, Line & Dinner tonight at 8pm ET for the whole story.

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