I got yelled at for catching salmon when I was a kid. The guy bellowing at me and my buddy had the high moral ground in this case. Thing was, these were little salmon. An ODFW truck had backed up to the Willamette River under the Jasper bridge next to where I grew up and offloaded a jillion fish. My pal and I watched this operation from astride our BMX bikes, nodded to each other and both pedaled away to fetch our fishing rods. In our defense, we were kids. Here’s a bunch of fish. We like catching fish. Didn’t take a protractor to connect those dots.

So we’re enjoying catch rates far beyond the norm — we didn’t keep any, by the way, turned them all loose — until a guy drives by, hits his brakes, backs up, rolls down his window and just red-faced lets us have it. You blankety-blank kids. What the (bad word) do you think you’re doing. Leave those (another bad word) fish alone. They have got to go to the ocean and come back. Blankety … blank. Then he hit the gas and sped off.

I remember thinking: Huh. I’ll be darned. They go to the ocean? Some people learn about biology from David Attenborough or in a classroom. I learned about anadromous fish migration from an irate motorist. Knowledge is power, however you get there.

Nowdays I handle little chinook smolts and put ID tags in them for my job with Nez Perce Fisheries. My coworkers and I all take great care to ensure these little silvery treasures experience the least amount of stress possible while in our care. I don’t really have any insightful connections to make between that dude yelling at young-me harassing smolts by the Jasper bridge and present-day-me monitoring chinook smolts by the Cow Creek bridge. I thought of it just now because kids and fishing was on my mind. Check this out …

This past summer I was waiting in line to buy stuff at Joseph Hardware. It was busy. Lots of people in the market for hardware. And I witnessed the following transaction.

Mikey Gamboa walks up near the counter with two fishing rods. One in each hand. Curly birds-nest line is spooling out from one of the reels. He addresses a youngish boy. I’m gonna say, ten or so years old. I dunno. But around that age range where catching fish is good clean fun. Like, for instance, the kind of age where you might cast for little salmon that were just introduced to a river because you just like catching fish.

So Mikey tells the kid, Hey, it’s gonna take a while to get yours working again. I just went out to my truck and grabbed this rod. It’s my backup. I have another. You should take this. Use it. Catch a bunch of fish. We’ll fix yours, but for now, this one works great. Here you go.

The kid looked at looked at Mikey. I looked at the kid. Then I looked at other people. Are you seeing this?

Kid looked down at the rod, then back up at Mikey and said, really?

Mikey said, Yeah. Take it. Use this one. We’ll fix yours when I have more time, but for now just take this. It’s got new line, it’s good to go.

Friends, this is a fine example of why I appreciate living in Wallowa County. I just don’t believe this kind of thing would transpire all that often in too many places. So my Random Act of Kindness/Customer Service Award for 2019 goes to Mikey Gamboa of Joseph Hardware. Nicely done, sir. I’ve seen Pixar movies that weren’t as heartwarming as that interaction.

Also, if you’re looking for gift ideas for Christmas, Mikey is apparently just giving away fishing rods at Joseph Hardware.

Jon Rombach is local columnist for the Chieftain.

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