An Outdoor View: Paying the dues

Author’s note: This column first appeared in the Clarion 23 years ago. I’ve edited it for brevity.

Sunday, May 16, 1993

It’s 9 p.m., and Ed Marsters and I have just finished pitching camp on the beach at Whiskey Gulch. We may be pushing the season a little. Time will tell. A 20-knot south wind is whipping Cook Inlet into a froth. It’s mid-May, but I’m wearing the same number of layers I wore in January.

We hadn’t been here five minutes when we nearly met with disaster. I foolishly drove my poor old Jeep Cherokee onto the beach — boat, trailer and all — and became stuck in soft gravel. With the tide coming in, we had maybe 15 minutes to get off the beach before the water reached the engine.

“Don’t panic,” I told Marsters, leaping out of the Jeep and throwing gas cans out of the boat. “Just get everything heavy out of the boat quick, or we’re dead!”

After unloading the boat, I got the Jeep going as fast as I could on the compacted part of the beach before turning it uphill into the soft gravel, but it bogged down again, stuck nearly to the frame. With a lot of frantic digging and pushing, we finally got it off the beach.

It’s too windy to build a fire and too early to sack out, so we sit on a log and watch the sun set between Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt. We hope the wind will drop during the night. We’re thinking positive.

Monday, May 17, 1993

We’re up at 5 a.m., early enough to have breakfast, launch the boat and fish for halibut at low slack tide. The wind has dropped, but not much. We listen to the marine forecast on our hand-held VHF radio, and it offers no encouragement, only stronger wind as the day progresses. We eat breakfast, and decide to go, anyhow.

There’s not much surf, and we launch without getting wet, stuck, swamped or any of the other disasters that can happen to people on these beaches. But the inlet is rough. By the time we clear the protection of Anchor Point, the wind is blowing the tops off three-footers. And it’s cold. With a forecast of worse wind to come, and a hint that it might swing toward the southwest and build surf on our beach, we decide to get back on the beach while we can.

By 10 a.m., we know we did the right thing. The inlet is solid whitecaps, and not a boat is in sight. We spend the afternoon in Homer.

Back at camp, the water is still snotty, so we read for a couple hours. I had planned on having fresh cod or halibut for dinner. We settle for a hamburger and fries at the Inlet View Lodge in Ninilchik.

When we return to the beach, the wind is even colder, so we retire to our tent early.

Tuesday, May 18, 1993

We’re up and out at 6 a.m. The morning looks as gray as yesterday, and the same cold wind still sweeps up Cook Inlet. The water is bumpy enough to make fishing uncomfortable. We listen hopefully to the forecast, but it sounds iffy. We decide to have breakfast, break camp and go home.

With the boat and all our gear aboard, my old Jeep protests on the steep hill, once coming to a complete halt before coughing and lurching forward again. It’s a relief to pull out onto the Sterling Highway.

Over the years, I’ve become resigned to the fact that these dues-paying trips are a necessity in an angler’s life. To get that perfect day, you have to suffer through some not-so-perfect times. It’s the price we pay.

At Ninilchik, we look out at the inlet. It’s nearly flat. We could go down and fish off the beach at Deep Creek on the afternoon high tide, but we’re out of the mood.

“The wind always comes up in the afternoon,” I tell Marsters, by way of making it seem like we’re doing the right thing by calling it quits.

“That’s true,” he says. “Besides, a hot shower sounds better than a cold halibut, right now.”

I nod in agreement, and wonder if we’re getting too old for this stuff.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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