An Outdoor View: Looking back

Excerpts from “An Outdoor View” columns that are at least as true today as they were when I wrote them:

Familiarity breeds content, Sept. 1994

I’m finding that I don’t look at old-timers the way I used to. I used to think they stuck with their old fishing and hunting gear because they were poor, ignorant or too stubborn to change. I felt pity for them.

No more. Now I realize that those old-timers have become like me. Over the years, they’ve formed a close relationship with their gear. They know it. They trust it. Nowadays, when I see young people fumbling with their untried, fresh-from-the-box gear, I feel lucky to be old.

Adapting, Nov. 1994

Instead of migrating south, as many birds do each year, we spend a tremendous amount of effort to remain in this forbidding place. We drive long distances on icy roads, in ruts, both literal and figurative. We drive to jobs, the pay from which goes mainly to maintain our vehicles, the purpose of which is mainly to get us to and from our jobs.

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to take winter trips Outside, to where the birds go. It makes you wonder about the expression “bird-brain.”

Fishing the salt, May 1995

For some time, I’ve thought that more of us should spend more time fishing the salt. It’s easier to catch king and silver salmon in saltwater than in streams. Every salmon that goes up a river was first available to saltwater anglers. In the salt, salmon are still feeding, so they bite eagerly, and can be taken by many different fishing techniques. They’re still in their prime, so they fight harder and taste better.

But salmon are only part of fishing the salt. Some anglers prefer fishing for halibut, lingcod or even rock fish. And when they’re not fishing, they’re setting crab or shrimp pots, or they’re digging clams, or they’re beach combing, or watching birds or whales or sea otters. There’s a whole world that freshwater anglers never see.

Still fishing, June 2000

While other fishing methods require active movements, still-fishing with bait is a passive activity. Patience, rather than frantic motion, pays. To me, the idea of sitting down while fishing has more appeal each year.

The older I get, the more I appreciate simplicity in all things. Still-fishing gear requires no tuning of plugs, no hassle with downriggers and no fussing around with tippets and fly patterns. When I’m still-fishing, whether it’s for Kenai River silvers with a slip-sinker rig baited with cured salmon roe, or for halibut in Cook Inlet with a chunk of herring on a circle hook, I spend very little time messing with tackle.

Not that there’s no challenge in bait-fishing. It’s a challenge to know the “right spot” to anchor your boat. It’s a challenge to know when, if ever, to set the hook. And it’s a major challenge to land a fish when your fishing partner seems intent on knocking it off the hook with a net or gaff.

Speaking up for the Kenai River, March 2001

If for some reason salmon were to stop returning to the Kenai, it wouldn’t be long before a lot of people left the central Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai’s salmon, along with the diverse community of wildlife that couldn’t live without them, are the main reason many of us live here. This stream we call “the river” holds us here for many reasons, from economic to spiritual. It’s part of who we are, and we need to remember this.

It’s also important for us to remember that the history of salmon the world over is a sad story. Streams that once produced great salmon runs have been dammed, diverted for agriculture and poisoned by industrial and domestic waste. Small tributaries where thousands of juvenile salmon once reared have been straightened and turned into polluted drainage ditches. The once great salmon runs of Europe, the Northeast and the Northwest are gone, victims of greed, ignorance and arrogance.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, we like to think we’re different. But some of us seem bent on doing the same things that destroyed salmon runs everywhere else.

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

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