Admittedly, I have done far more in Alaska than most people who dream of visiting this fine state will ever do.
The one thing I didn’t do is something visitors and Alaskans alike do almost everyday during the short but wonderful northern summer.
I have never caught an Alaskan salmon.
Reds, pinks, chums, kings, the names seem vainglorious and common all at once, but they, the legendary fish of Alaska’s pristine waters, are as elusive to me as my first million.
I have plied these waters from Prince William Sound to the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers with bait, yarn and lure. I filled my freezer with rock fish, cod and halibut, but I’ve never had the privilege of hooking a ferocious salmonid and fighting it to bank or boat.
Today I had the pleasure of realizing a dream I’ve had for many years now. Since the first time my father returned from a trip to Alaska with stories of barn-door halibut and fiery red sockey, I knew I wanted to go to Alaska and fish with my two favorite fishing buddies.
My dad and my brother and I don’t always catch fish, but something about just standing along some wild stretch of river or floating on a lake or on the ocean with these guys is good for me.
Nathan picked us up at 1 p.m., and we made the 2-hour drive to the Russian River Ferry, where we heard a small but steady stream of reds were making their way up the rim-full Kenai and Russian rivers.
We hopped on the primitive current-driven metal box that serves as a ferry and got in line with the 200-or-so anglers on the river.
The Kenai flop is not the easiest casting technique to learn but it’s close. It’s the repetitive motion, the constant snagging and the coordination with your often drunk river neighbors that make Alaskan combat fishing what it is.
Dad got the first big hit. It didn’t stay on long. My son, Cole got a good look at a red on the end of his line, and our buddy Nathan hooked into 8 or 9 fish, getting one all the way to the bank before it dislodged itself like Houdinii from a straight jacket.
I flopped all day without stopping other than to light my briar pipe. I tried fishing deep, shallow, on the bottom, mid current and by shaving the shoreline. I never hooked more than a piece of driftwood.
But it was fun to stand there in the river with my dad, my brother and my son. It was fun to watch my brother reel in a big red on his final cast. It was fun to talk about bears and those other things we fear.
I don’t fish to catch fish. Sometimes I wish I did. I angle because It’s one of the few social sporting activities out there that I can do with my friends and family in close proximity.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to catch a salmon in Alaska. But I really enjoyed trying.
And it gives me ample reason to come back and visit some day.