Chet Gausta dies at 95, but his fishing record lives on

We should take a moment to recall another man of legendary proportion, a man who will be forever linked to the fishing history of this region. Chet Gausta, 95, of Poulsbo died Jan. 16, with a continuing record of catching the largest salmon ever reeled in and officially weighed out in Washington state.

Chet Gausta

Kitsap Sun reporter Josh Farley interviewed Gausta in 2005 when Josh worked at the North Kitsap Herald. Click here for his story, which recounts the excitement of Gausta’s hooking and landing the 70.5-pound chinook in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. His younger brother Lloyd and his uncle Carl Knutson were on board his boat at the time.

During the battle, the big fish broke the surface of the water for an instant, and Gausta recalled his brother shouting, “You don’t have a salmon; you have a porpoise.”

Here’s Josh’s recollection:

“Interviewing Chester “Chet” Gausta is an experience I will never forget. I was working at the North Kitsap Herald in 2005 and he invited me to his home near Scandia, where the salmon that made him famous hung mounted on his family room wall.

“That 70-pound whopper loomed over the entire room and Gausta’s smile about it — even 41 years after he’d caught it — never faded during our entire interview.

“It was so easy to imagine Chet, with his brother and uncle, exhausted, as they rumbled back to Seiku from the Straight of Juan de Fuca on that September day in 1964.”

Gausta’s name is still firmly embedded in the record books, where a variety of fish are listed. See the Land Big Fish website for details.

Chet Gausta, middle, shows off the big fish he caught off Sekiu in 1964. Chet's younger brother Lloyd, left, and his uncle Carl Knutson were with him on the boat.
Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society/Nesby

Chad Gillespie, a Kitsap Sun hunting and fishing columnist, visited with Chet Gausta about a year after Josh did. He wrote about him for the Sun on Sept. 12, 2006.

As a young man, Chet also was an all-around athlete who was offered a baseball/basketball scholarship to Washington State College. Instead, he played shortstop for the Poulsbo Town Team until joining the Armed Forces going into World World II. He later played on the Poulsbo VFW basketball team and participated in the 1948 national tournament. He was inducted into the Kitsap Oldtimers Hall of Fame in 1995.

His family submitted an obituary, which appeared in the Kitsap Sun yesterday.

While searching the Sun’s archives, I also found a letter-to-the-editor that Chet had written back in 1993. I was especially interested, because of the reporting I have done regarding Poulsbo’s Johnson Creek in 2008.

Here’s the letter:

Editor:

Several rivers and streams are on the brink of losing fish runs to the point where many could be going in the direction of the Spotted Owl. While this is discouraging, there is some good news being played out at a small creek about a mile west of the Poulsbo Junction. This meandering stream goes through sections of property belonging to Earl Hanson and Ralph Brown, then winds its way through dense foliage and trees, eventually emptying into the west side of Liberty Bay, near Scandia.

I had the opportunity to speak with Earl and Ralph recently. Both were as excited as two youngsters anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. Both, in unison, said, ‘Chet, you’ve got to check out the North Fork of Johnson Creek. It has the best run of spawning silvers ever!’

So, the Mrs. and I trudged a few hundred yards through the woods to Johnson Creek. What a thrilling sight met our eyes! Although a few coho had made a journey up this stretch of water in past years, this season’s run more than surpassed any previous returns in my memory.

I can recall as a young child (65 years ago) enormous runs of dog salmon (chum) returning to the creek at the head of Liberty Bay to spawn. But Johnson Creek was not noted for any large runs of spawning salmon.

It was really gratifying to hear this scenario related to me when I encountered Mr. Hanson a short while later at his home. He and his granddaughter, Janae, were surveying the scene at the creek, when Janae shouted, ‘Grandpa! Did you see that salmon jump over the falls?’ Earl answered with a gleam and spark in his eyes, ‘I sure did, granddaughter, and I’m just as excited.’

Let’s hope that this event will be a part of not only Janae’s future but also for many other generations to come.

Chet Gausta
Poulsbo

Chet shows off his big fish in front of Ralph's Shop-Rite in Poulsbo, as a young boy looks on in wonder. Poulsbo Historical Society has tried without success to identify the boy.
Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society/Nesby

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