An Outdoor View: White kings

Author’s note: Readers with little or no taste will be overjoyed to see that I’m still working on my romance novel, featuring a hunky river ranger, Rod, and a hottie Kenai River fishing guide, Jenna. While giving in to your baser instincts, don’t be surprised if you realize that you’re being tricked into learning something about fish. — LP

It was a foggy morning, so foggy that Jenna’s four clients couldn’t see much of the scenery along the lower Kenai River. What she didn’t know was that they considered it worth the 250 bucks they had paid for a fishing trip to ogle her shapely young body for six hours without feeling any guilt.

The scarcity of kings in recent years made Jenna wonder if becoming a fishing guide had been a good idea. She shuddered at the thought of having to move from the area to find another job.

They’d been fishing for two hours and hadn’t had a bite. With every fiber of her being, Jenna yearned to be close to a certain tall, handsome ranger, to be held in his strong arms, to feel his heat. She needed Rod almost as much as she needed a new Yamaha T50 outboard. She hadn’t seen the tall, handsome ranger for days, and the very thought of him made her feel all tingly. But the odds of being with him seemed about as good as the odds of catching one of the salmon that had made the Kenai River famous.

“What’s the deal with these ‘white’ kings we hear about?” asked one of her clients. “What causes their meat to be white instead of red?”

“It’s a genetic thing,” Jenna said. “Some king salmon don’t inherit the ability to metabolize carotenoids, the orange-red pigments found in the things these kings eat — shrimp, krill and crabs, for example. Because of this, these pigments don’t get stored in their muscle cells.”

“You ever catch a white king?”

“I’ve caught a few in saltwater, near Homer,” Jenna said.

“You’ve never caught one in the Kenai?”

“Essentially, all white kings come from rivers and streams, from the Fraser River in British Columbia, north to the Chilkat River in Southeast Alaska. Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimate that, overall, approximately 5 percent of the king population in this region carry the recessive trait that produces the white flesh. However, there are river systems where upwards of 30 percent of their fish have the white flesh trait.”

“Do the white ones taste different from the red ones?”

“I can’t tell the difference,” Jenna said. “If you see one on a restaurant menu, you’ll see a difference in the price because white kings are relatively rare.”

Someone in a nearby boat yelled, “Any luck?”

Jenna recognized Rod’s manly voice, and her heart leaped like a tail-hooked sockeye.

“None yet,” she said, “but we’re hopeful.”

“Me, too,” Rod said. “I’m hopeful that we can get together tonight. I’ll call you.”

As suddenly as he had arrived, he was gone.

Jenna felt as if the fog had lifted and the sun had come out. She was no longer worried about whether her clients would catch a king, or wondering if her old outboard would make it through the day, or anxious about having to look for a real job. None of that mattered.

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

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