Monday, August 25, 2014

Hunting and Fishing (part 2)

Our volunteering mission for science accomplished, we regrouped at Boardwalk Fish & Chips for halibut on a wooden stick, followed by white wine on a wooden bench. We sat amid sun and surf, contemplating our next move.

The night before at our motel room in Soldotna we looked out at the Kenai River and noticed that fish were jumpin'.  And the anglers were high. High on fishing, anyway.

Jojo proposed we drive back to Soldotna, book another night at the Kenai River Lodge, get a rod and reel, bait and lures, the whole nine yards--and go fishing.


I thought--really?   Can we do that?

I've never been fishing before.

Fishing is one of those things someone teaches you at a young age. In high school my boyfriend went fishing, but I never accompanied him. I had my mind made up that hunting and fishing were cruel sports that I would never, ever be part of. And I lived inside that reality most of my life.

In Alaska, fishing is not so much a sport as a way of life. It is just part of what it means to be an Alaskan.

Practically speaking, this is because we still have more fish than people. One day that will change, and we may change the way we think about it.

Fish--in particular the salmon--have shaped the Alaskan wilderness.  They are a keystone species. The annual pulse of spawning salmon is jaw-dropping.  They swim in enormous numbers from the sea up the waterways to spawn and die in their natal streams which they locate by smell. What people and bears and bald eagles don't catch turns into thousands of tons of nutrients that fuel the ecosystem. Without this fuel, life here would be very different. There would be no bears or eagles or moose or squirrel or vast, productive forests that depend upon the nutrients in salmon carcasses.

You could think of the salmon as the red blood cells coursing through the arteries of the wildnerness, delivering their loads of nutrients to keep the living tissue of the forests alive and healthy.

And we got to catch some!  Or--try to. The silver and pink salmon are running as I write, the kings (or reds) are just finished for the season.

Jojo (aka my "Fishin Buddy") looked very confident in Fred Myers trying out rods, inspecting lures and lines. She had no fear walking up to the young man behind the sporting goods counter, asking all kinds of questions, admitting we were newbies. But in our rubber boots and Billy Bob caps I guess our money looked green enough to the store employees. We walked out with a rod and reel and line, sinkers, bobbers, a hook or two. And my very first fishing license!

That's when you know you're really an Alaskan.

Then a stop at a bait and tackle store for some eggs (on the advice of a silver-haired gentleman at Freddy's). Not hard-boiled eggs as I thought, but salmon eggs.

Salmon eggs? Really?  Isn't that like eating their own children?

Ah, well they are salmon...

Back at the Lodge we used my Fishin Buddy's iphone to look up handy things on the internet such as how to thread the reel and tie an "egg loop" to hold the salmon roe above the hook. And by we, I mean her. She did it all.

By late afternoon we spent a glorious time on the little pier just behind our Lodge, casting and fishing our little hearts out until dark.

Did we catch anything? We sure did--we caught Fishin' Fever!

It would have been nice to catch a fish, but for me, it would have been the icing on the cake. The real fun (the reel fun?) was learning how to cast, to feel the line in the water, to move it in a way to make the fish bite, then to feel the fish nibble, to feel the crazy force of the fish pull the line, to know when to fight and when to relax--just to figure out the mind of the fish was the most fun of all.

I can't wait to retire from grad school to become a full-time fisherwoman :-)

Jojo threads the reel from scratch by watching a video on her phone.

A true Alaskan woman, she carries her leatherman tool everywhere. Doesn't that make it a leatherwoman tool?

Ooh, the shiny beads and sinkers

Jo tied a perfect egg loop

And the eggs held!

she shows me how it's done

This is my very first cast. And I look like my brother Bill.

Good job, Fishin Buddy!

Woo Hoo!


  1. If you really want the Alaskan experience, I suggest you take out a charter. You will probably catch enough fish to be stocked for the winter.

    1. There's always next year--and Homer is famous for its halibut charters.