An Outdoor View: Uncertainty

Uncertainty is the natural order of things. In fishing, it’s often the only thing you can count on.

You never know what will happen when you lower a hook and line into the water. Unless you’re fishing in a goldfish bowl, you can’t be certain what’s down there. Even if a fish is there, you can’t know if it will bite. If it does bite, will you hook it? If you do hook it, you still face the uncertainty about landing it. And even if you’ve pulled a fish onto a river bank, it can still escape, as several devious fish have demonstrated to me.

In a lifetime of fishing, I can recall only one time when I was certain that I was going to catch a fish. It happened in the mid-1970s, while a friend was helping me build a cabin in Sterling. We were getting hungry, so I told him I was going to go get a quick salmon for dinner. “I’ll be right back,” I told him. I could tell he didn’t think that was possible, and I can still see his surprised look when I came back a few minutes later with a silver salmon.

That year, the silver fishing was so good in the Sterling part of the Kenai River, it wasn’t unusual to have one grab your spinner on the first cast. I haven’t been that certain about anything since, which is just as well. That sure-thing fishing was fun, but it was too much of a good thing. It needed a little uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a funny thing. We spend our lives trying to make things more certain. We strive to eliminate possibilities for failure. We fear pitfalls and disasters, and sometimes resort to foolish acts to alleviate our uncertainty. We don’t like surprises.

Yet, we like to be pleasantly surprised. We don’t really want to know what’s in that present under the Christmas tree. We like the anticipation, the not knowing for sure, the hoping that it will be something exciting and wonderful.

I’ve always liked not knowing if any fish are in the water where I’m fishing. If the water clarity is so good that it’s plain to see that there are no fish, the outlook is certain, and hopelessness is not far behind. As long as I’m uncertain, there is hope. When all is uncertain, nothing is impossible.

Let’s say I give a charter-boat skipper $300 for a day of fishing on Cook Inlet. If I’m certain that I’ll catch my limit, odds are good that my high expectations will fall short. That’s why I’ve found that it’s best to be aggressively uncertain, right up front, and to keep my expectations low. That way, if I end up skunked, I’m not disappointed, and I have the satisfaction of having realized my expectations. If I catch my limit, I’m in for a pleasant surprise.

Uncertainty isn’t all good, of course, but neither is it all bad. When you’re fishing, not knowing what’s going to happen can be a good thing, especially when the fish simply aren’t there.

I’m not sure about this, but uncertainty just might be one of the best parts of fishing.

Les Palmer can be reached at

More in Life

The welcome sign for the City of Kenai, as seen in this city Facebook page photo.
History with a sense of humor, Part 1

The first part of a two-part collection of humorous tales gleaned from old newspapers on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Ward off Halloween’s mystical monsters with these garlic-infused cheesy shells and pepper sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tasty Halloween

Keep spooky creatures at bay with garlic-infused shells and pepper sauce.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.