An Outdoor View: This fishing thing

There must be something to this fishing thing, or we wouldn’t do the things we do to do it.

Fishing, like certain diseases, gets into your blood. It infects all kinds of people, those who do it for fun, those who do it for food, and those who do it for money. I’ve heard commercial fishermen say that if they couldn’t make money fishing, they’d pay to be able to do it. In years of poor salmon runs, many of them do end up paying.

There must be something to this fishing thing.

There was a time in my life when the urge to fish drove me to take desperate measures. In the early 1980s, I was so broke, and the desire to fish the Kenai River was so strong, I borrowed a 14-foot skiff from one friend, a 20-hp outboard from another and a trailer from a third. Oh yeah, and a pickup from a fourth. As you might imagine, putting this convoluted deal together involved a great deal of wheedling on my part. The trailer and pickup weren’t always available when I needed them. Looking back, all that complicated borrowing was a reckless, harebrained thing to do. As Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character used to say, “The devil made me do it.”

There must be something to this fishing thing.

Nowadays, people will pour $30,000 into a boat and motor and another two or three thousand into fishing gear that isn’t much good for anything except fishing for trout and salmon on the Kenai River. How many people would pay $30,000 to get into golfing?

There must be something to this fishing thing.

There are people who travel thousands of miles to fish Kenai Peninsula waters. Some have to scrimp and save for years while dreaming of the day they take their “trip of a lifetime.” They endure the agony that air travel has become in recent years. They tolerate rudeness, bad food and misleading hype from businesses that are more interested in making money than providing a service. And yet, in spite of everything, they keep coming back for more.

There must be something to this fishing thing.

One of the greatest spectacles on the Kenai Peninsula is the sight of hundreds of people fishing cheek-to-jowl for sockeye salmon near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers. Over the years, I’ve written about this astonishing fishery many times, as have many others, but I’ve yet to see the true essence of it captured in print. This fishing can be in turn fun, boring, exciting, dangerous, competitive and rewarding. My friend Bill Santos spent somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 on his fishing trip to Alaska this year. Between them, he and a buddy caught seven or eight sockeyes and two halibut, little “chickens.” This was the fifteenth time he has journeyed north from his home in Massachusetts, primarily to fish for sockeyes at the Russian.

Why do we keep doing this crazy stuff?

There must be something to this fishing thing.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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