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Coupeville angler dies after landing ‘the fish of my dreams’

Coupeville resident Joe Biller hoists up the 28-pound salmon caught by Dan Dodds, also of Coupeville. Dodds died shortly after catching the fish. - Justin Burnett
Coupeville resident Joe Biller hoists up the 28-pound salmon caught by Dan Dodds, also of Coupeville. Dodds died shortly after catching the fish.
— image credit: Justin Burnett

A Coupeville man died Thursday morning shortly after catching what he told bystanders was the fish of his dreams.

Dan Dodds, 62, was transported to Whidbey General Hospital at about 8:10 a.m. after suffering what witnesses said appeared to be a heart attack. He was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at 8:58 a.m.

Dodds, who worked at the Coupeville Liquor Store, was fishing off the beach at Keystone Spit between the Coupeville ferry landing and Island County Driftwood Park early Thursday morning.

Coupeville resident Jim Steinkirchner, 84, was fishing nearby. He said no one had been catching anything when Dodds suddenly got a strike on his pole. The ensuing battle ranged all over, with Dodds at times fighting the monster while waist-deep in the water.

“He fought it for 15 or 20 minutes, up and down the beach,” Steinkirchner said.

Chris Loder, also of Coupeville, was nearby as well and helped Dodds eventually land the fish. It later weighted in as a 28-pound king salmon. Loder said the man was smiling ear-to-ear with satisfaction.

“He told me, ‘That’s the fish of my dreams,’” Loder said.

Most fishermen that day were hoping to catch a pink salmon which are plentiful now but weigh only a few pounds.

Watching the entire spectacle was Coupeville resident Joe Biller, a recently retired training officer for North Whidbey Fire and Rescue and a longtime fire chief of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

After the battle, Biller said he saw Dodds sit down on his stool and noticed that he was having trouble breathing. When he looked again, Dodds had fallen forward and was face down in the water.

Biller, Loder and her friend, Laura Moritz, rushed over and pulled Dodds out of the water. He was not breathing. They began CPR, taking turns with chest compressions, until paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later. Steinkirchner also assisted.

Their efforts were made more difficult by an incoming tide.

“We had to reposition him about three times,” Biller said.

Once emergency responders from Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue arrived, they took over and continued CPR for another 30 minutes before Dodds was transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Ron Bodamer, a Coupeville resident, was one of Dodds’ best friends. He described him as the most generous person he’d ever met, a man who was always willing to help out without ever asking for anything in return beside friendship.

“He didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones he had were a big part of his life,” Bodamer said.

Dodds was an avid golfer and hunter but his true love was fishing. According to Bodamer, he had been fishing nearly everyday this season but that this was the first fish he’d caught. The two had been planning a fishing trip this weekend.

“It’s kinda fitting that he died doing what he loved best,” Bodamer said.

Dodds moved to Whidbey Island in 2000 after retiring from a career with TGI Fridays as the company’s west coast regional manager for maintenance and construction, according to Bodamer. He was a contractor by trade, he said.

Pam Smith, owner of the Coupeville Liquor Store, said Dodds worked for her for more than two years. She said the man was never late to work, and described him as “as honest and dependable as they come.”

“Besides just being a good employee, he was a friend and will be sorely missed,” Smith said.

While an official cause of death has not been determined, Biller said Dodds appeared to have had a heart attack. While his quick action was the result of decades of training, he credited the other citizens who helped with being true Good Samaritans.

Instead of just standing there, they jumped right in to help another person and their actions gave Dodds a fighting chance, he said. The prolonged CPR efforts were due to light heart palpitations, which were likely the result of their early efforts, he said.

At the time, it was unknown whether Dodds would pull through so Biller took the fish home for safekeeping. Dodds is not believed to have any family on Whidbey Island but a friend later came by and claimed the fish.

Biller said Dodds’ death was both untimely and tragic. However, as a fisherman, he can appreciate the circumstances of his death. The sunrise was unusually striking that morning,  Dodds was doing what he loved, and he died catching one of the biggest fish of his life.

“If I have to go, I’d like to go in that manner,” Biller said.

 

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