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 ncvarney@gmail.com 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.

More in Life

tease
Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

James Franklin Bush was arrested and jailed for vagrancy and contributing to the delinquency of minors in California in 1960, about a year before the murder in Soldotna of Jack Griffiths. (Public document from ancestry.com)
A violent season — Part 4

James Franklin “Jim” Bush stood accused of the Soldotna murder of Jack Griffiths in October 1961

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Hard to say goodbye

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been perfectly happy with my 14-year-old, base model pickup truck.

File
Minister’s Message: Faith will lead to God’s abundance

Abundance is in many aspects of our lives, some good and some not.

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
Kenai and Soldotna square off once more in ‘King of the River Food Drive’

Food can be donated at the food bank or at either city’s chamber of commerce

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience, and a lot of elbow grease. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Filling the time with noodles

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience and a lot of elbow grease

[csC1—]Jack and Alice Griffiths, owners of the Circus Bar, pose together in about 1960. (Public photo from familysearch.org)
A violent season — Part 3

The second spirit, said Cunningham, belonged to Jack Griffiths….

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai Potter’s Guild’s annual exhibition, “Clay on Display,” is seen at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday.
Expression in a teapot at July art center show

Kenai Art Center’s annual pottery show takes front gallery, with memories of Japan featured in the back

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Attendees take food from a buffet during the grand opening of Siam Noodles and Food in Kenai on Tuesday.
Soldotna Thai restaurant expands to Kenai

The restaurant is next to Jersey Subs in Kenai where Thai Town used to be located

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes it’s not cool to mention heat

Thanks for the joke fest material rolling into our Unhinged Alaska headquarters folks but chill out.

Ruth Ann and Oscar Pederson share smiles with young Vicky, a foster daughter they were trying to adopt in 1954. This front-page photograph appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 17, 1954.
A violent season — Part 2

Triumph, tragedy and mystery