My phone beckoned to me with a quick vibration and I looked down to read the incoming text. A random, yet enticing opportunity was busy presenting itself on my screen. The summer had seen a massive salmon run and my town happened to contain a spawning river. As a professional photographer, my friend was dying to get someone in the water to shoot swimming with the salmon. It would mean driving straight to work afterwards with dripping hair and a wet bikini hung out to dry on my car. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
When I first moved to Vancouver Island, I’d heard about snorkelling with salmon. Considering the number of fish I’d seen in my life —every summer glistening in the rivers, or thrashing against the hook on my line as I hauled it onboard— I didn’t think twice about it. If I’d known what I was missing out on, I would have been grabbing my mask and goggles much sooner, and much more frequently.
Approaching the river, I could see their scaly bodies through the shimmering surface. Massive, whirling figures in larger numbers than I could recall ever seeing agitated the brisk waters. I eased myself in one toe at a time. Mask suctioned to my face after a quick spit and rinse for fog, I finally opened my eyes to my new underwater world. Salmon were everywhere. Their constant tail flicks kept them seemingly in one place as they navigated the soft current. Chaos ensued with my none-too-graceful approach. I was consumed by the whirl of the moving school as they scattered away from my disturbance. Surfacing on the other side of the river, I looked to my friend with a huge grin. Down I went again, hands stretched out as scales flashed in all directions. It was like a dance; some came straight towards me before veering off at the last second, others swarmed above me as I dove straight down. We swirled with the current, sometimes brushing – my arms slipped effortlessly along their sleek bodies.
I hardly noticed the cold, and if I hadn’t been holding my breath as I dove, I surely would have lost it in their beauty. Above the water on a boat, salmon can be almost gruesome – gasping at the air, ugly jaws working, tails flapping in panic. Joining them in their element is a different story. I’d never realized just how magnificent a salmon was. Their journeys are so crucial to the ecosystem of Vancouver Island and as they danced all around me, their significance finally clicked into place. Before I knew it, I was almost late for work. Gasping as I finally climbed ashore, my arms reminded me just how strong a salmon is. I had battled the chilly current for about an hour, they do it most of their lives.
Humbled, I thanked my photographer friend for getting me into the river. I can’t believe I had never done that before… Or that it’s something anyone visiting can enjoy. Although it’s one thing to watch the salmon spawn from the riverbanks, diving into the thick of it is a whole new experience. To truly appreciate a salmon, you definitely need to swim with one.
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk
Feature Photo by: www.johnkelseyphoto.com