An Outdoor View: Success in fishing

Tell people you went fishing, and their usual response will be, “How’d ja do?”

What they really want to know is how many you caught, how big they were, where you were fishing, and what were you using, but that’s a little forward, so most people just say, “How’d ja do?”

This year, except for one morning when I caught one of the three silver salmon taken by 23 bank anglers at Soldotna’s Centennial Park, my response has been “Not good. Nothing.”

The prospects for catching a Kenai River silver were poor this year. In previous years, I’ve always been able to catch silvers from the bank. This year, between my wife and I, we’ve spent at least 100 hours fishing for them, with only that one fish to show for our efforts.

Earlier this week, while waiting for a silver to bite, I got to wondering about that question, “Howdja do?” The “No good” response seemed whiny, pathetic. What’s more, it wasn’t true.

Trouble is, we fishermen too often think only of numbers — number of fish, number of pounds, number of inches. If we don’t catch fish, we consider the outing a bust. Yet, none of my silver-fishing trips this year have been “busts.”

Take Monday afternoon of this week. I was fishing from a neighbor’s dock in Sterling, close enough that I can walk home whenever I get the urge. The weather had warmed to the mid-40s, so I was comfortable, sitting on a chair, my attention wandering between the water, the sky and the tip of my fishing rod.

I was fishing with cured roe, usually a magnet for trout and salmon, but not much was happening. Earlier in the season, juvenile salmon would nibble off my bait as fast as I could serve it to them, but by late September, they had gone elsewhere for the winter. If your rod tip starts bouncing up and down this late in the year, chances are fair that it’s a silver salmon causing the bouncing. This year, however, odds have been good that it’s not a salmon, but a rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char or sculpin.

I had fished for an hour or so when my wife joined me, bringing wine for our happy hour. For the next hour or so, we enjoyed watching the sky, awed by the dramatic cloud formations overhead. We wondered whether the contrails of a high-flying jet airplane contained toxic chemicals, an evil conspiracy to corrupt the purity of our bodies and minds for purposes too scary to contemplate. When it passed directly over our heads, we wondered how the pilot could’ve known we’d be at that time and place. We wondered what They will do next.

We saw what we thought was an otter swimming upstream, but it turned out to be a seal. Until last year, we had never seen seals in the Sterling area. Now we see them fairly often. A week ago, we saw three otters, one with a trout in its mouth. That was the first time I’d seen an otter in the river. Another conspiracy?

When our stomachs started telling us it was dinner time, I reeled in my line and we walked home. Although I had — again — caught no silvers, the fishing had been great. I’d seen a seal, two mergansers, four seagulls and an eagle. I hadn’t hooked myself, dropped a knife or pliers into the river, lost any tackle to snags or endangered any species. I’d spent quality time on a beautiful river, a place I prefer over all others.

The catching may have been poor this year, but the fishing has been great.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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