An Outdoor View: The fishing deal

Looking back at some of the crazy things I’ve done in the name of fishing in the past 75 years, I’m dumbfounded.

As a wee tot, I fished in roadside mud puddles. Not catching anything would’ve discouraged most kids, but not this one. To me, getting skunked was just part of the deal. Not catching anything just cranked up my anticipation, urging me to try harder. People driving through my fishing hole was a bit off-putting, but I fished on, not knowing that this was preparing me for my adulthood on the Kenai River.

Another part of the fishing deal is danger. Railroad tracks ran through my hometown, Sedro-Woolley, Washington. In the 1940s, those tracks were my main access to my fishing hole on the Skagit River. At the time, train engines were still burning coal for steam power, and it was fun to have one of those smoke-belching monsters rumble and roar past, inches away. Nowadays, you can be arrested for walking on railroad tracks. It’s apparently dangerous.

Fishing involves water, which can be dangerous. In my first boat, a homemade, wooden rowboat, a buddy and I foolishly tried to stop on the upstream side of a logjam in the Skagit. Until we bumped into that logjam, we hadn’t known how swift the current was. I don’t know why the current didn’t flip that boat and drown us. Lots of people have died that way.

My first fishing trip on Cook Inlet was in a 14-foot Starcraft, an aluminum skiff with a 25-hp outboard. This was the 1970s, before the sissy tractor-launches showed up at Deep Creek. The surf was so bad when we came in, we had to motor up Deep Creek, past boats that had grounded on the rocks and were stuck there until the tide came in.

Before the sissy tractor launches, watching people launching their boats and coming into the beach at Deep Creek was great entertainment. The most common mishap was when someone backed a pickup too far out, became stuck, and had to watch while the water washed over their truck. Just part of the deal.

Fishing the inlet from an open, 14-foot aluminum skiff can be dangerous. There was the time when a buddy and I were anchored about 10 miles off Deep Creek, fishing for halibut, when a fog rolled in. We could no longer see either shore, but we fished on. At one point, a tug pulling a huge barge ghosted by us, barely visible. Did they even know we were there? We heard a whale blow nearby. We fished on.

Before losing visibility completely, I had taken a bearing with my pocket compass on what I figured was Deep Creek. While returning to the beach, with our visibility limited to only a feet in any direction, I was a little worried about finding our way back. The tide was running strong. If I steered the wrong direction, we could end up in Homer, Anchorage or even on the wrong side of the inlet. I laid that little compass on the boat seat in front of me, and put all my trust in it. I was greatly relieved when the beach at Deep Creek emerged from the fog. Suspense and surprise are parts of the deal.

Being near salmon streams in bear country can be risky. While walking upstream beside a creek on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska in the 1960s, I saw a pile of fresh bear scat on the creek-side trail. Continuing on, I noticed bits and pieces of salmon beside the trail. It slowly came to me that this trail winding through the alder brush hadn’t been made by the U.S. Forest Service for public use. It had been made by a great number of bears that had been been salmon fishing along it for countless years. This explained why I’d had to walk in a crouch.

Knowledge that bears liked to hang out in some of my favorite places has made me more alert, but it rarely has prevented me from fishing. If you’re going to fish in Alaska, bears are just part of the deal.

While trout fishing on the Kenai with a buddy in late October a few years ago, we fished until dark in the freezing cold. We were pushing our luck, all alone on the river, but we were staring at the bleak prospect of a long winter of fishing abstinence. What’s an addict to do? At the lake’s outlet, we crashed through pan ice that had formed on the still water. We had to throw sand on the boat ramp to get enough traction to pull the boat out. You do whatever it takes, no matter how crazy it might seem later.

It’s all just part of the deal.

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

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