Here I am. It is 4:30 A.M. and I am ready to face the Mecca of The Fishing World. I have read all the information. I know that the Kenai
River is one of Alaska’s real treasures. It is the world’s greatest sport fishing rivers. Its turquoise waters have produced the world record King Salmon, 97 plus pounds and offers 4 species of Pacific salmon - king, red, silver, and pink, as well as rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. I am ready.
Checkbook in hand, I have purchased the valued license with the KING SALMON stamp. I have arranged to be included on a charter fishing boat. Only one little snag. It is Monday.
Mondays, the Kenai River is closed.
But the Kasilof River is open and only a few miles separates them. The fish swim in from a mighty big ocean. There have to be enough to fill both rivers. The guide service said so. Besides, no one had ever heard of the Kenai in the beginning. The Kasilof might just be one of the secrets that all fishermen hope to stumble on by accident. I am ready.
It begins to rain. I am ready. Last night, we went to K-mart and bought a GOOD raincoat. It is 48 degrees, but it will get warmer when the sun begins to shine.
I arrive at the ramp with lunch bag in hand, along with oxygen bottles, one spare, and great optimism. No guide. I meet another “guest” and find that he is from Southern California and comes here every year. Just yesterday, he caught a 45 pound King on the Kenai. He is the expert to emulate. He wears Eddie Bauer insulated rain gear. I am tough. The temperature doesn’t rise. I am cold and I am tough.
Finally the guide arrives, confers with the dozen or so other guides, and we find the boat amongst the rest of the flotilla. All are drift boats, no motors allowed. The river is neither wide enough (100 feet), nor deep enough (3 feet) to accommodate motors. We are now ready. The other “guests” show up and they are a father /son team from Maine. We set off. So too did the flotilla. It is a law that no one can fish until 6:00A.M., so all the guides start at once. That way, they can all be at the same hole at the same time. Guiding is not a lonely profession. The gentleman from Southern Cal lets his line out and goes to sleep. The rain falls and the temperature stays the same. My pants and shoes and socks are soaked. The others offer to loan me some rain pants, but I AM TOUGH. It is now 6:30 A. M.
6:45 A.M. arrives and I accept the offered rain pants. The guide explains how the salmon never eat after leaving the ocean. (Then why would they be interested in my lure? I wonder.) He also explains that our lures are designed to look like annoying competition, so that the King will snap at it as at an intruder and that will count as a catch. The other alternative is that the line we are jigging across the bottom will bounce into his mouth and he will be caught. Or, their mouth will be open to breathe and the line will slide by and they’ll be caught. Until then, we just sit in the boat and wait for the thrill of a lifetime. The gent from S. Cal. sleeps on. I am still soaked under the rain gear and the temperature has not risen, but I AM READY, and tough.
The guide explains that he always catches one in this hole. I think I hear the other guides saying the same thing. We wait. We move on around seven. It is still raining. It is still cold. The other men have peed in the can and thrown it overboard. I am to cold too move, but I am ready.
7:30 A.M. “Fish on!” cries the father from Maine. We all reel in our lines and the guide follows the fish downstream until the boat gets close enough for the fish to be netted. The man reels in his line. Not my idea of excitement, but it is a thirty pounder, and that is exciting. We let the lines back out and resume sitting in the rain, freezing, watching the flotilla catch up with us and let out their lines. I start to feel sorry for the fish. About 15-20 boats, at least four lines per boat……. The guide explains how they call everyone in other boats wearing yellow rain slickers “bananas”. My new raincoat is green. He also tells us of the wars between guides and the things they do to each others boats. He is filled with information. He also has insulated rain gear and a smile. I think of throwing him overboard. I promise myself that I will save the rain gear. I am too cold to move. I AM TOUGH. And ready.
9:00 A.M. “Fish on!” yells the father again and he hands his pole to the son.. We reel in, follow the fish, net it, all the same as before. It is a forty pounder. I hide my jealousy and smile. The next one is mine. I can FEEL IT. I am ready.
9:45 A.M. “Fish on!” the guide yells and wakes the man from S. C. The fish is on his line. He actually plays the fish and fights with it a little. Then, just before it is netted, it escapes. The guide comments on rotten luck and assures us that this has never happened on his boat before. S. C. goes back to sleep. It is now 10:00 and the rain has not stopped, nor has the temperature risen. I am getting tired of being tough and being ready. But the next fish will be MINE. I am ready.
11:00 and 12:00 pass slowly in the rain. We are running out of river for our drift boat and time. We were supposed to be done around 11:00. I am beginning to wonder what we would do with a thirty or forty pound fish. I am frozen. We could go home now. I am ready.
I ask the guide how many times all of the customers on his boat catch fish. He replies that it has happened occasionally. His boats have a better than average average. The last time was around the beginning of the season……But there is always a chance. So far, three out of the four have succeeded, even is S. C. did lose his. The guide assures us that even though we were supposed to be at the dock by 11:00, no one will mind if we stay out until everyone catches their fish. There are more holes in the river and the guide has always caught one in the next hole. I am beginning to wonder at the guide’s veracity, but I am kinda ready.
By 2:00 we are out of river and approaching the dock. The guide apologizes and we start in. The flotilla is lined up to dock their boats. I have only seen about 6 fish caught by the entire flotilla. 15 X 4=60 fishermen paying $200 plus for a spot on their boat. 6 fish caught. I am a member of a very large majority. I am glad that I did not buy a lottery ticket. The rain has not stopped. I am still soaked. The temperature has risen to 50 degrees. I have not gotten a bite. I am ready.
I arrive back at the camper around three P.M.. I am frozen solid. Nancy helps me into the trailer and fixes me soup and tea. She has been worried
that with it raining all day I might be hypothermic, but says maybe we could stay another day and try again, on the Kenai this time. I think of the money spent today and add the cost of another charter tomorrow. I add in the cost of insulated rain gear at Alaska prices. I consider the techniques explained by the guide. I remember the Southern Californian gentleman who fishes the Kenai and was the person to emulate. I ponder the rain forecast and the temperature. I am tough. I AM NOT READY.
I think the only honest salmon fisherfolk are the ones using nets.
They admit that there’s no sport to it, so they just dip or seine the fish and go home!
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