Gausta leaves behind a legacy

Chet Gausta crouches down next to his state record-setting Chinook salmon, which he caught Sept. 16, 1964 out of Sekiu near Pillar Point. Gausta, a 1995 Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame inductee, still holds the record.                                        - Courtesy of Robert Hawkinson
Chet Gausta crouches down next to his state record-setting Chinook salmon, which he caught Sept. 16, 1964 out of Sekiu near Pillar Point. Gausta, a 1995 Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame inductee, still holds the record.
— image credit: Courtesy of Robert Hawkinson

POULSBO — Chester “Chet” Gausta was not someone to gloat about his accomplishments, of which he had many.

Possibly best known publicly as an inductee to the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame and for catching a state record 70.5-pound Chinook salmon, Gausta clearly left a mark on the North Kitsap community. For those closer to him, his smile and positive attitude will also leave a lasting impression.

Whether he was fishing or playing a competitive sport Gausta, who was 96 when he died Jan. 16, always had a smile on his face, said cousin Robert Hawkinson. It was a kind of smirk, but not one that was meant to be offensive.

“Not the smirk you would get today,” Hawkinson said. “The kind of smirk like he was proud of what he had just done with a play.”

Gausta, a 1937 graduate of North Kitsap High School, still holds the state record for catching a salmon, which weighed in at 70 pounds, 8 ounces. He was inducted into the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

Hawkinson, born in 1950, was taught how to throw a knuckle ball around the age of 9. His first memories of his cousin were from when Gausta worked for Jim Anderson, who owned Richfield Station — Kitsap Tire — and later Jim’s Auto Wrecking — Yank-A-Part.

Before graduating high school, Gausta  had played three years of football basketball and baseball.

He was offered a scholarship to play basketball for Washington State College — now Washington State University — but decided to play for the Poulsbo Town Team instead. Basketball scholarships were not as important, Hawkinson said; there was no NBA to advance to. He played shortstop for semi-professional baseball Poulsbo Town Team and helped bring the VFW basketball team to the 1948 national tournament to play for second place.

Hawkinson described Gausta as being a “sparkplug” player. He had quick reactions, but never over-thought things. Whatever he was playing, he played happy, his cousin said.

Jim Anderson was the manager of the basketball team for a time and worked with Gausta when he owned Jim’s Richfield. Anderson said Gausta never had a temper, either playing sports or at work.

It was never Gausta’s goal to be inducted into the hall of fame. Playing sports, Hawkinson said, was something everyone did during that time. The North Kitsap community was enthusiastic about sports, much like it still is today, he said.

Like sports, fishing was also something most of the Poulsbo community did. Fishing was done either recreationally, commercially, or both. Gausta’s family was into commercial fishing, which he picked up recreationally. Though he was doing what everyone else was, he managed to make the most of it. Among the fishing derbies he competed in, he won a red Pontiac Firebird in 1969.

“He was always catching fish,” Hawkinson remembers. “Either the most or the biggest … This was well before the state record.”

When the season was right, Anderson would give Gausta time off work to go smelt fishing.

The employee’s of Jim’s Richfield would take annual fishing trips up to places such as Sekiu. Sekiu, the same place Gausta, his brother, and uncle would launch from before a record setting catch.

Catching the big one
The Labor Day weekend fishing trip on Sept. 6, 1964 began with three men on a trip up to  Coho Resort in Sekiu. Carl Knutson, Lloyd Gausta and Chet Gausta, setting off from Poulsbo, took the three-and-a-half hour drive to the resort, where they would launch the Pacific Mariner.

The fishermen went in the direction of Slip Point where, as Chet Gausta wrote in a report, the “action remained quite slow.” The first catch of the day was a 20-pound chinook caught by Lloyd. It would not be the last.

Approaching Pillar Point, which Chet Gausta described in as a landmark known to anyone who fishes on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the sun was out to make for a warm day. The fishermen were in a “lethargic state” because of the lack of action and warmth of the day, Gausta described in the report. This feeling, just before catching a record-setting salmon.

“My reel let out a clicking sound like I’d never before experienced during the fifty or more years of salmon fishing,” Gausta wrote.

“Without a doubt, this noise brought the three of us out of our sleepy, relaxed, day dreaming postures, and ready to do battle with whatever had triggered my Penn 3450 to emit such a sweet sound.”

The ensuing battle with the 70.5 pound chinook took more than an hour.

The salmon was 54 inches long, caught on 12-pound test line. Knutson used a gaff hook — what is used in troll fishing — to help haul the salmon on the boat, because the fishing net was too small.

After returning to port, Gausta described being “the subject of camera buffs,” wanting photos of the record catch. The fishermen posed for four hours holding the salmon, before retiring for a night’s rest.

Gausta had the salmon mounted immediately. The meat was canned. Some of the meat, Hawkinson said, still exists — he would not recommend eating it. At one point, Gausta’s record was erased. Not because someone caught a bigger fish. The state reset all the records. His brother, Lloyd, who predeceased him, fought to have the record reinstated.

Gausta’s family is now in the final stages of bringing the salmon to the Poulsbo Historical Museum in City Hall. Because family will continue to use it for various occasions, the mounted 70.5-pounder may not be permanently housed at the museum.

More recently, Anderson said Gausta visited him. Anderson found a photo of Gausta with the salmon and had him pose for a photo.

“He held it up and we took pictures of him,” Anderson said. “He was happy as a lark.”

Person of interest, a show of character
After the record-setting catch, Gausta wouldn’t mind sharing that story with those interested. He would not initiate the conversation, however.

When he wasn’t fishing or playing sports, Gausta also wrote for an outdoor magazine and was a columnist for the Herald.

He took care of his wife, Barbara, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, until her death. Hawkinson said Gausta would not leave her alone and would never ask for help caring for her.

“I’ve never known a person with that type of stamina,” Hawkinson said of his cousin’s determination.

He was the son of Albert Gausta and Inga (Tideman) Gausta. Predeceased by wife Barbara, brothers Ralph and Lloyd and an infant sister.

He is survived by nieces nephews, cousins and Barbara’s three children and their families.

“He was a good citizen,” Anderson said. In fact, Anderson believes Gausta may have never even had a speeding ticket. “He was a good man.”


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