Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes it takes a kick in your ego

“When we moved to Alaska, I naively assumed that I probably knew just about everything there was to stalking fish”

The dearth of chinook in the last few years has a growing number of piscatorians bummed and I’m one of them. But, I’m also very lucky. I was around back when kings used to invade the region like a horde of Genghis Khan Horsemen redlined on 100 proof fermented goat’s milk.

Nowadays, it seems like it’s been a giga-annum since I was first introduced to the blackmouth beasts by a couple of angling savants, Louie and Pat-The-Fish-Assassin at what’s now known as Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon in Homer.

I had been fishing the Northwest since I was big enough to hold a flexible branch showcasing a piece of string dangling a highly displeased worm on an open safety pin. So, when we moved to Alaska, I naively assumed that I probably knew just about everything there was to stalking fish. Not even close. Any competent angler knows that a piscatorian with such a BS sense of self usually reflects the intellectual capacity of a seed potato and I managed to prove it.

When I first met our neighbor, Pat, at the lagoon, I arrived sporting Lower 48 lake tackle and secret baits that no salmon in Alaska should have been able to resist. I wanted to stun the assassin with “new blood” techniques and establish an instant rep for proficiency.

I did neither. I was mortified and skunked three days straight while The Fish Assassin couldn’t keep the *&^% things off his line. I swear that he could have fired moose nuggets at the critters and they would have morphed themselves into sushi trying to wrap their black gums around the hook. It was disgusting.

On the fourth day, Pat sensed my frustration and coolly “volunteered” to feed the smolt at the holding pens leaving me alone to fish in his hot spot for an hour or so in hopes I might break my losing streak. Nada.

His short absence didn’t improve things but he thought it was a riot to watch me thrash the hole and share pointed comments concerning my pitiful techniques and questionable gear that he claimed the Salvation Army would reject before it came through the door.

The man was a guru of trash talking and peeled my ego like a bad sunburn.

My luck changed on the fifth day when the assassin finally tired of watching me flail around with large herring carcasses, gelatinous globs of highly odorous, home-cured roe soaking under strike indicators the size channel buoys.

He admitted that my efforts were quite spectacular but noted that I was starting to make adjacent anglers nervous. Pat counseled that the average fisherman becomes somewhat apprehensive when a guy the size of a sasquatch growls at his fishing rod while insulting various lures with raucous innuendos that would mortify a seal team instructor.

P then suggested that I should just “simple things down” and go with lighter line, a single hook, smaller bait and floats, noting, “You want the fish to take your bait, not get concussed by it.”

As I was scrambling to restructure my gear presentation, Louie, another master of The Hole, showed up with a jar of what he deemed his “Wonder Eggs.”

I swear that dude had a salmon on approximately 3.2 seconds after his float hit the water.

I don’t mean to exaggerate; I could be a hundredth of a second off. But the way I remember it, he took one cast and immediately hunkered down to fight a fish while crabbing that he should have lit his cigar first because the ‘nooks would be striking too fast to do it later. He wasn’t exaggerating and when I turned to ask the assassin just what the &%$# “Wonder Eggs” were, he was already headed to his rig lugging his limit.

The next day, I finally capitulated, swallowed my pride, let my self-image crumble like 20-year-old toast and ceded to other sportsmen’s expertise.

I’ve experienced excellent success ever since just because two selfless sourdoughs were considerate and good-natured enough to teach a newbie the tricks of fishing the bay, inlet, lagoon and peninsula streams that have filled our freezer for years.

I miss those early days prowling the banks with those men and to this day, when I get a great take-down, I utter, “Thanks guys” and continue the fight.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t busy trying out new wading grips that claim to dramatically reduce his propensity to take breathtaking headers into the local salmon streams.

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