I was reminiscing with Turk last week about how much this fishing season resembles one about six years ago.
Back then, hefty finned prey that we could bro-brag about had avoided our gear until deep into July.
We really had no excuses other than every place we normally practiced our unique flailing styles had been shut down or the returns had been so weak that the tides had been ashamed to show up with their paltry runs.
Turk asked if I recalled encountering the Oklahoma Four during those gloomy days.
How could I not?
One week when he had to work in Kodiak, I took off on a beach stalk seeking the picture-perfect place to get skunked again and stumbled across a chilled-out foursome from Oklahoma. They had been camping in the area for a few days and had spent most of their time beachcombing and cruising out into the inlet with a couple of halibut charters.
They were a bit disappointed with the size of the flats but were excited that a relative from Soldotna was heading down with a batch of frozen reds for them to ship home along with the semi wimpy ‘buts.
I was somewhat apprehensive for them until I found out that the good samaritan was a trusted nephew.
Why? Because some Alaskans have been known to unload prehistoric fillets they’ve been using as freezer shelves on unsuspecting visitors. Especially if they’re from a state that’s so far from the ocean that the word “tide” signifies a cleaning product.
The Okie Four (their term) invited me to their campsite and when the young man showed up he had over a couple dozen beautifully vac-sealed, rock-solid, fish plus two fresh ones.
While one of the gentlemen took the booty to a FedEx outlet, the rest of the crew put the freshly gutted catch on ice and discussed on how to prepare them.
I couldn’t fathom why they were so perplexed until one admitted that he was the only member of the crew who had ever cut up a fish. He had been twelve years old at the time and it was a rather small bluegill. He said the two, seven-pound, reds staring back at him looked like miniature Orcas.
I offered to demonstrate a technique and advised him not to worry about his present skill level. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had considered myself pretty handy with a fillet knife until I watched some fisherettes processing China Poot reds at one of the harbor’s cleaning tables.
The fillets laid out by those bodaciously skilled womenfolk were nothing short of fine art.
I was particularly impressed by two ladies who went all Bruce Lee on a half of dozen bluebacks in less time than it took the guys next to them to choose which end of the fish they wanted to start on.
I eased up to a gentleman who was bagging their fillets and whispered, “Those ladies are incredible.” “Suppose so,” he grumped. “You shoulda seen ‘em roll when they were in their 60s.”
The only thing that kept my ego from crawling into a commode and flushing itself was that they were using almost the same technique that I do but were deftly wielding blades that could have undoubtedly carved through steel plating.
I was mollified by the realization that, although I wasn’t close to being the expert they were, my efforts produce an acceptable product that doesn’t bear the semblance of a mound of fish-Alpo or the outcome of a fish carcass mugged with an ice cream scoop.
Anyway, I put the slice on the reds with my trusty Buck 220 and ended up with some respectable cuts that won me an invitation to their seafood barbeque.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay because I had to jet south to pick up my wife from her flight back from the Brooks Falls.
I still exchange emails with the Okie Four and am happy to hear that they are planning a return trip next summer.
As for the distaff filleting Ninjas, they haven’t shown up yet this year, but when they do, I’ll be there watching those septuagenarians manipulate their wicked blades in ways that would make Darth Vader drool.
Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org unless the silvers have finally hit the Anchor River.