300 Pound Salmon

By Gayne C. Young

Terry Grosz was a game warden, respected author, conservationist, and part time salmon impersonator.

Grosz was born in Toppenish, Washington on June 22, 1941, and raised in Quincy, California. He was a good student, played several sports in school and was student body president his senior year. He graduated high school in 1959 and entered Humboldt State University. Grosz graduated with a Bachelor of Science in wildlife science in 1964 then with a Master of Science in 1966.

Applying this acquired academic knowledge in the next phase of his life, he took on a job as a California game warden. This position was short-lived however, as he soon moved on to be game management agent and then special agent for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife. These jobs proved dangerous and occasionally ended in violent confrontations. One encounter with poachers resulted in him taking 198 No. 4 lead shotgun pellets to his body.

Grosz spent a majority of his time trying to catch salmon poachers. He detailed the land and fishery that once was during a February 2016 appearance on This American Life. “In those days, we had salmon like you couldn’t believe in Northern California. They don’t so much anymore. An awful lot of the species have dwindled away due to a lot of environmental problems and illegal take. But, gosh, we had salmon everywhere. If you weren’t careful, when you drank a glass of water, you’d find a salmon in it. I mean they were really plentiful.”

This abundance led to a lot of people looking to exploit such by breaking the law. Fortunately, Grosz was ready. “Part of my job was to check the salmon fishermen because we had an awful lot of outlaws that would snag them, dynamite them, gillnet them, just people shooting them in the shallows when they were going up through the riffles. I mean it was just unbelievable.”

This total disregard for the law was at its worst on the Eel River near Fortuna, California. There, poachers were fishing well past the legally allowed deadline of a half hour past sunset, sometimes showing up to illegally obtain fish at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning with the aid of glow-in-dark lures. “That bright lure would be going through a dark pool. These King salmon would just instinctively strike at it. And these guys were catching fish like crazy. And these were 35, up to 60, pound King salmon, that were heading upstream to spawn. And it was a terrible bit of destruction on the fish population.”

Since most of the poachers had lookouts on the road Grosz came up with an alternative method of approaching them in the act. He shoved his 6’4″ 300-pound frame and a plastic bag containing his citation book and flashlight into a wetsuit and entered the river downstream well after dark. He swam upriver until he hit Singley Pool where he spotted three men fishing. Grosz floated to within 30 yards of the anglers and smacked at their lit lures with a heavy leather glove. His miss at the first floor prompted cries from the poachers of, “God, did you hear that salmon roll out there?”

Grosz grabbed the next lure and yanked.

“I heard, ‘Fish on. Fish on. God, this the biggest salmon I ever got. I bet it weighs a hundred pounds.’ Well, he was 200 pounds off.”

Grosz allowed himself to be reeled in close to the men then popped up out of the water. The angler that caught Grosz dropped to the ground so fast the wildlife agent believed he had had a heart attack.

He hadn’t.

So, when he came to, he and the other two men were given citations.

Grosz’s ingenuity and hard work ethic saw him earn several more promotions. He retired in 1998 from a career that saw him write more than 10,000 citations. He spent his remaining years writing over 11 books, including Wildlife Wars, which received the National Outdoor Book Award in 1999.

From the FE Films Archive

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