An Outdoor View: Extreme fishing

At daybreak one morning this week, I was fishing from the bank of the Kenai River for silver salmon. The air temperature was a balmy 38 degrees, but fog and a light breeze made it feel colder. Few other anglers were about.

In a way, it was extreme fishing. Although there was little risk, danger or difficulty involved, there was some discomfort, or more people would’ve been doing it. On the other hand, I was fishing where you can sit in the comfort of a warm vehicle while drinking coffee and watching your fishing rod. Having to drive 10 miles through fog patches to get there was hazardous, but on an extreme-fishing scale of 1-10, it would barely count as a 1.

While sitting there, waiting for a bite, I got to thinking about how much my fishing has changed as I’ve grown older.

In the 1970s, my zeal knew no bounds. I was living in Anchorage when the serious cravings began. With a 12-foot john boat and a 10-hp outboard, I fished the Kenai from ice-out to freeze-up. Bad weather didn’t faze me. If the water wasn’t hard, I was fishing. You won’t find a record of it anywhere, but there were years when I was a contender for the title of “First and Last Man on the River.”

I didn’t mind fishing alone, but I wanted company for the drive from Anchorage to the Kenai River and back. In summer, it was easy to find a week-end partner, but finding one before Memorial Day and after Labor Day took some doing.

During the four years that I sold office furniture at Yukon Office Supply in Anchorage, I talked many of my customers and a dozen or so Yukon employees into fishing with me during what the tourism boosters call the “shoulder” seasons. I didn’t tell them how nasty the weather could be, or how icy the roads often were. After a few of my fishing stories and a little cajoling, they would usually cave in.

My fishing during those years grew more and more extreme. For example, one time I went with an acquaintance in his pickup truck. One day in late October after work, we drove from Anchorage to Dot’s, in the Kenai Keys, where I had left my boat. After a night of futilely trying to sleep in the bed of the truck, we arose to find several inches of new snow on the ground. We managed to shovel out the boat, get out on the river and catch a few silvers. Unfortunately, the fish were not only in the last stage of their lives, but were so cold, they barely moved when hooked. No one else was within sight. Nearly hypothermic, we slipped and skidded our way home to Anchorage. Like so many other fishing buddies from those desperate years, that one never went with me after that first time.

Flash forward to the 1980s, a period when my fishing turned truly extreme. I had upgraded to a 14-foot aluminum skiff with a 25-hp Johnson. Having grown up and spent a lot of time on Puget Sound in boats that size, I felt comfortable taking it out on Cook Inlet to fish for halibut and king salmon. Launching that small boat in the surf at Deep Creek was usually good for a thrill, and pulling halibut of any size into it was always exciting. My only navigational aid was a pocket compass, and I had no radio or phone, as do most boaters nowadays. When I’d lose sight of land due to fog, the only thing that took me back to the beach at Deep Creek was my knowledge of how to use that little plastic compass.

It was during this period that I met Doug Green, who lived in Anchorage. Doug was one of my own kind, crazy enough about fishing to be up for most anything. After sharing a few harrowing fishing and hunting trips, we became close friends.

Doug and I pushed all the limits. I recall one day when we launched at Deep Creek to fish for halibut. Cook Inlet was calm, and the weather looked so good, we just kept on going and going. When I got around to checking the six-gallon gas tank, the needle was bouncing on “E.” We’d used half of the fuel we’d started with, and would be going against the tide on the way back to the beach. Did we worry? Nah. We dropped the anchor and fished. We could’ve run out of gas, and the weather could’ve blown up seas that overwhelmed our little boat. When we made it safely to shore, I got out and kissed the beach. That was extreme fishing, all right. Extremely careless.

Nowadays, I no longer go to extremes to fish. In the seventy-seventh year of my life, sitting on the bank of the river, drinking coffee and watching my rod tip is extreme enough for me.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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