An Outdoor View: Distractions

While waiting for a bite the other day, it dawned upon me that the main reason I don’t catch many fish is because of distractions.

For example, when people around me are catching fish, I find myself losing focus. I try to see what lure they’re using, and what they’re doing that I’m not doing. Did they land that fish yet? What’s that guy’s problem? Must be a big one. That’s the third fish those guys have hooked since I’ve been here. Lots of stuff ricocheting around in my head, but not much of it stops long enough to become useful.

Of all the countless distractions that have interrupted my fishing, the worst happened late one October, almost 40 years ago, during my early years of fishing the Kenai. From break-up to freeze-up, I fished at every opportunity, back then. If I could get my boat in the water, if the motor would start, and if I could find someone to go along, I’d go fishing.

Getting people to go fishing in late fall was sometimes a challenge. On that day in the 1970s, my wife-from-another-life, myself and another married couple — let’s call them “Bonnie” and “Bill” — were in my 15-foot boat, spinner fishing for silver salmon at the 2nd Hole, a couple of miles upstream from Bing’s Landing. The temperature that morning was a little below freezing, but I figured it would warm up as the day progressed, as fall days will do. The others weren’t eager to be fishing on that cold, dark morning, but for some reason had agreed to come along.

We had the river all to ourselves, a benefit of late-fall fishing. The fishing wasn’t great, but it was steady. Every half-hour or so, one of us would hook a silver. The water had become so cold during previous month that the fish hardly struggled at all, but just slid into the net.

For some reason, the temperature didn’t raise that day, but began dropping still lower. And that’s when the whining started.

“How long are we going to fish?” Bonnie said.

“We just got here,” I said.

I noticed a little wind on the water. “A ripple on the water is good,” I said. “The fish will start biting better now.”

As predicted, they did. We soon had three silvers in the box.

“How much longer?” Bonnie said through blue lips. “I’m going to need a bathroom sometime.”

“We’re only a few minutes from home,” I said. “Oh, look! See the eagle? You see a lot of wildlife this time of year on the river.”

“The only thing I want to see right now is a blazing fireplace,” she mumbled, reeling in and putting down her fishing rod.

The light breeze stiffened, forcing us to cast downwind. Bill said something about no longer having any feeling in his hands or feet. I was determined to fish awhile longer. Maybe it wasn’t comfortable fishing, but it was the only fishing around until the lakes froze thick enough to walk on.

Small whitecaps began forming. Half an hour later it started snowing horizontally. We were soon coated in a blanket of the cold, wet stuff.

“N-n-now c-c-can we g-g-go?” Bonnie said.

“I’ve had all the f-f-fun I can stand,” Bill said.

Fearing a mutiny, I said, “OK, OK, we’ll go. I hate to quit so soon, but it’s hard to fish with so many distractions.”

They probably thought I was talking about the wind, the snow and the bitter cold, but I meant the whining, the worst distraction of all.

That happened a long time ago, but the memory pains me still. We left just when the fishing was getting good.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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