May 03, 2007

Fishing Season

Not one to let a writing assignment be wasted only on a professor here at Tall Corn College and Technical Institute I submit today a recent Non Fiction Literature,Travel Essay.

"Fishing Season"
July 18th
The second run of reds began to trickle into the Kenai River and I reserved a "172" to fly down after work to flip flies for a few hours. It’s a short walk from the airport to the river and I found an opening in the line of anglers below the Seward Highway bridge. I waded in next to an old gentleman clad in shinny new waders and fishing a bargain store salmon combo. He explained that he had been at it for a couple days but while everyone around him was catching fish he wasn’t having much luck.
Catching a red on a Russian River fly is more art than science. The fish don’t eat after they enter the river to spawn, so the technique is to flip a fly twenty-foot upstream and with just enough lead to get it to the bottom where the fish are. The current should carry it along at a sufficient rate so that when it hits the fish in the nose they will react and grab it. The sinker bumping the bottom sends a tappity tap tap up the monofilament, through the rod and into your hand. Getting the feel for when the fish picks up the lure is what separates success from failure.
After an adjustment to his gear and a little coaching, my guest from Minnesota was hooking fish with regularity and boyish enthusiasm. His wife, screaming like a high school cheerleader, rooted him on from the bank while I netted his fish. Fish on!
Late that night under the light of the midnight sun I flew back to Anchorage with three fresh fish and a newly minted fish story. Unfortunately I realized when I got home that I had left my favorite old knife stuck in the riverbank.

July 25th
It’s been 4 years since the Exxon Valdez and the offspring of the generation that returned that year that the commercial fisheries were shut down by oil have hit the rivers in mass. Fish and Game has announced that the daily limit on reds will be raised to ten. It’s time to make a meat run to fill the freezer for the winter.
Getting into the campground at Soldotna was a slow moving conga. I was stuck behind a behemoth whose bumper sticker proudly proclaimed that they were spending the kid’s inheritance, and the map of North American on the back had all the states colored in except for Alaska and the Yukon Territories. I wonder what they’ll do now. Progress had ground to a stop as this driver was evidently having some words with the gate attendant. When he finally moves on the attendant tells me that the guy was driving a hundred thousand dollar motor home but wanted to argue about a senior citizens discount for the camping space. Go figure!
After setting up camp I made my way down to the river and low and behold my friend from Minnesota was standing in the same spot that I left him in a week before. "Having too much fun to leave!" he exclaims. His wife, bless her heart, runs back to their camp to retrieve my knife. Karma on the Kenai I believe!

July 26th
The river is a zoo. With the increased limit, combat fishing is the order of the day. The guy that was fishing a couple people down from me returned after taking his limit back to his camper. I mentioned that the daily limit is ten and he barks back, "You Alaskans think you own the whole damn place, blah, blah, blah." He moves down river a ways but keeps on fishing. I see him in the campground later that evening with two smokers and a pressure cooker, canning his catch that will probably end up in some Lower 48 flea market this winter.
I felt something hit my ankle. First one fish, then another, then another drifting by belly up. Upstream some Japanese were laughing and indicating that they accidentally lost the fish off their stringer, but I can see that they are letting loose the smaller ones so they can keep fishing. I waded upstream to give them hell but they "no speak English". They must have understood "Fish and Game" though because it didn’t take them long to scurry up the bank. I guess we can be tad selfish!

July 30th
Steve and JJ arrived from Texas today. After years of hearing my stories and seeing stacks of fish pictures they have finally come up to visit. Steve wants to try and catch a barn door halibut so I made reservations for a fishing charter in the little port village of Homer.
By 6AM the dozen or so blurry-eyed crew that had signed up for this adventure were queued up on the dock waiting their turn to board. Once under way we motored out of the harbor onto the mirror calm waters of the bay and turned south along the beautiful glacier capped mountains of the Kenai Peninsula. Sea otters played and floated effortlessly by on their backs to the joy of the crew. One awestruck gal from Nebraska wondered aloud "What elevation are we at here?" and then, red-faced, realized the answer as the rest of us chuckle. Cameras come alive as a churning ball of orcas, impossible to count, breach and blow and dive with a tail slap as they gorge on a school of some unseen bounty. Try as he might Disney could never conceive an attraction such as this one. As we neared the end of the peninsula where the mountains begin to stair-step into the sea and the waters of the bay joins the north pacific, the wind and waves began to grow and as the boat came alive the atmosphere on board began to change.
The group of Germans that I had seen the night before whooping up a storm in the Salty Dog are the first to head to the rail. I have always wondered what it is about this affliction, which once started seems to spread like the Black Death through a crew of flat-landers. In no time we had a boatload of what Alaskans affectionately refer to as pukers. Today even the ones that put their faith in pills, patches, or prayers fell ill. One unfortunate symptom of the malady is that once you have it, it does not get better. You begin to hope for a quick and painless death. I have seen brave men reduced to begging, blubbering, babies offering to pay for everyone’s trip if only the skipper would return them to shore.
We eventually anchored over a chicken hole on the lee of Ugashak Island and commenced to fish. Even here, out of the worst of the wind, with the boat tethered to the seafloor, she swung and pitched and danced like a hooked Kenai King fighting to set itself free. One by one green gilled fishermen headed for the cabin, emerging occasionally to chum the churning green waters. It was not a pretty sight. With the help of the deckhands, several of us hauled in fish for those that had taken ill so that the trip was not a total loss for the rest of our companions.
The ride back in was no better as the boat plowed through the growing seas with waves now breaking completely over the top and onto the aft deck. Wide-eyed passengers held on white knuckled as the boat climbed and crested and raced down the backside of the twenty-foot waves. Even I began to wonder how far the old tub could list before turning turtle. As we re-entered the shelter of Kachamack Bay the worsening weather made even these protected waters a bone-jarring chop until we reached the mouth of the harbor.
Slowly our vessel pulled alongside the spot from which we departed hours before and the shaken and battered crew emerged from the cabin. Wobbly sea legs clambered to the security of the dock. Color slowly returned to tired faces, and a nervous laughter could be heard as people began to relive what they had just experienced. But then I heard several commenting that they wanted to see if they could find a charter for the next day, in spite of the fact that they were sure just hours before that they were knocking on heavens door. "E" ticket travelers indeed!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

not bad for an iowa boy, wish you were hear you big puss.