An Outfoor View: Jenna talks habitat

Author’s note: In yet another attempt to teach readers about fish and fishing by baiting them with a steamy romance novel, here’s yet another chapter in my up-coming romance novel about hunky river ranger Rod and scrumptious fishing guide Jenna. — LP

Jenna, dressed in skin-tight Simms G3 Guide waders, a pale-pink Guy Harvey hoodie and a bright-pink Reel Chick cap, had spent the morning showing four customers from Eastern Oregon how to catch sockeyes. She had been booked to fish for kings, but the run in early July had been so poor, she had talked them into fishing for Kasilof River sockeyes.

Now, as she filleted their fish and answered their questions, she was as busy as a drifter steering a 32-foot gill-netter past the personal-use dip-net fleet at the mouth of the Kenai in late July. So busy, she didn’t notice that Rod had come up behind her.

Taking Jenna’s slim waist in his strong hands, Rod said, “Hi, Beautiful.”

“Oh, you surprised me!” she said. The closeness of the swarthy river ranger had set her heart to thumping like wader boots in a clothes drier.

“I’m taking a long lunch hour,” he said. “Care to join me?”

The mere thought of being alone with him made her all flushed and tingly. With a quavering voice, she said, “I’m booked for the whole afternoon.” Then, thinking it best to change the subject, she added, “Did you hear what the Borough Assembly did last night?”

“No,” Rod said. “Tell me.”

“They took public testimony and voted on an ordinance that would’ve gutted the borough’s Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Ordinance. The assembly voted against it, but the 5-4 vote was too close for comfort.”

“With our salmon at stake, it should’ve been unanimous,” Rod said.

“You’d think so,” Jenna said. “Some of the comments showed a serious lack of foresight. One assemblyman said that the Department of Fish and Game had said that there were no species of concern in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. That may be true, but do we wait until salmon become ‘of concern’ before doing anything?”

“Maybe he thinks that losing our salmon is inevitable, so we might as well just let it happen the way it did in Oregon, Washington and California,” Rod said.

One of Jenna’s customers nearby said, “When I was a kid, we still had some healthy salmon runs. In my lifetime, I’ve seen many Pacific Northwest salmon stocks go extinct. That’s why I come all the way to Alaska to fish.”

Another chimed in, “Don’t wait too long to protect your habitat. That’s what we did, and now it’s too late.”

“Some people don’t like being proactive,” Jenna said. “They get all tied up in issues about property rights and individual freedom. Prevention of habitat loss is far less costly than habitat restoration. Restoration of fish habitat isn’t always successful, and natural recovery is slow or not at all. Once restored, it may take decades before salmon return in sufficient numbers to support a sport fishery and commercial harvest.”

Rod said, “Fish that are born in freshwater, grow to adults in salt and then return to their natal streams to spawn need good habitat, not only for adults to spawn, but for their young to hatch and rear for a year or two in freshwater. To survive, the young require both summer and winter habitats. Even a minor change in the shoreside habitat can negatively impact these fish. If we’re not proactive, it will be too late.

“And speaking of being proactive,” Rod said with a grin that made Jenna’s legs go all wobbly, “how about you and me getting together tonight?”

Jenna’s heart beat faster than the tail of a sockeye swimming upstream through the Kenai Canyon while trailing 50 yards of 20-pound-test monofilament, the result of being hooked in the dorsal fin 47 river miles downstream at Centennial Park in Soldotna by Elbert Verman, 46, a gas station owner from Screven, Georgia, who had never caught anything bigger than a 2-pound bass, but who had once noodled a 67-pound flathead catfish out of the Altamaha River, and who had the scars to prove it.

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

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