Austin's greatest catch
Austin Dobbins typically dabbles along angling's perimeters when the 6-year-old Central Point boy joins his dad, Jay, on regular evening salmon-fishing trips to the Rogue River beneath Gold Ray Dam.
A few casts for chinook, then he's off exploring the river's edge.
It's fun, he says. I like catching crawdads. And there once was this frog I found in the mud, too.
But there's a very big something now in Austin's Rogue catch cache ' something even hard-core veterans rarely see, let alone feel.
Armed with his dad's rod, Austin did the unthinkable among the Northwest's salmon-fishing world by hooking and helping land a salmon bigger than himself.
— The 50-pound chinook he hooked alone Thursday evening is three pounds heavier than Austin and almost as long.
I just told him, here, hold my rod, says Dobbins, 28. Then he did it. He hooked that fish all by himself.
That thing's pretty big for a 6-year-old, he says.
So what if his dad handled most of the battle, which lasted the better part of a half-hour. Austin set the hook. He helped fight it. He even got a blister on his thumb, too.
Seeing a fish bigger than the fisher is more stupefying than golfers shooting their age or some 100-year-old lady bowling triple-digits on her birthday.
This skinny kid who has been a bank-fishing mascot at Gold Ray Dam since he was 4 cracked the magical 50-pound club before reaching first grade.
And now he's the toast of Gold Ray Dam's usually crusty cast-from-the-rocks bankie family.
The biggest I ever got out of here is 42 pounds, says bankie regular Tony Freitas, 29, of Central Point. If he can hook a 50-pounder, he deserves to say he caught it. I think that's awesome.
Awesome Austin is not your typical SpongeBob and soccer kid.
He's the next generation of outdoor animal. His dad first took him hunting at 8 months old, packing him around on his back.
They cast flies and bobbers for rainbows in Big Butte Creek and sit camo-clad together on archery hunts. Austin's still not quiet enough to get a bull elk into range.
They hunt coyotes and target shoot. Austin's favorite show isn't anything on Nickelodeon. It's Cops.
I stay up until 11 o'clock watching it with him, Dobbins says.
Every other summer night when Dobbins comes home from his truck-driving job at a local lumber yard, he and Austin drive the five miles from home to the Rogue.
Often they stand together, casting a large hook and corkie across the river, four hands on the rod and reel feeling the lead bounce downstream and waiting for that jiggling rod tip that registers a salmon.
Father and son on a rock is the kind of Kodak moment that is the envy of other bankies.
That's a good dad right there, Freitas says. As soon as my boys are a little bigger, they'll be down here.
For Austin, his mega-fish story started more like a screw-around kid tale than anything.
He was first busy goofing off while casting a trout rod, eventually entangling the reel's line into a bird's nest of knots and loops.
Typical kid, you know, Dobbins says.
Dobbins had just cast into the river when he and Austin exchanged rods. As dad de-nested the reel, Austin stood with the rod butt between his legs and his hands on the cork, methodically bouncing the lead downstream like his father taught him.
When that fish bit, the pole tip went right to the rock we were standing on, Dobbins says. If he didn't squeeze his knees, he would have lost the pole.
As the other bankies whooped and hollered, Dobbins crouched behind Austin and gripped the rod while Austin tried to crank the reel.
The fish jumped and ran and before long, Dobbins had to streak downstream after the salmon. The fish ran across the river, beached itself once in the willows and toyed with several line-snapping rocks. Eventually, it surfaced one last time like a whale and cried uncle.
And when it reached the net, Austin earned the best what-I-did-during-summer-vacation story ever heard in the halls of Central Point's Jewett Elementary School.
As the one who landed the fish, Dobbins legally tagged it. But Austin logged the chinook as well, the first salmon on his first harvest tag.
It's really his fish, Dobbins says. He deserved to tag it.