Author’s note: This column, edited slightly for brevity, previously appeared Dec. 9, 1988, in “The Tides,” a Clarion supplement.
For reasons that defy logic, as most things about fishing do, we anglers prefer not to angle close to home. We relish traveling long distances, often at great pain and expense, to places where the fishing is usually no better than it is in our backyards.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Bank fishermen seem compelled to cast 200 feet when there are fish right under their noses. A dedicated “bankie” will risk his life trying to cross deep, swift water in chest waders or hip boots, anything to get to the other side, where the fishing is always better.
People who live along the Kenai River often have a perfect fishing hole within a few steps of their house, but you won’t catch them fishing there. They’re out in their boats, eyes squinted against stinging rain, a grimace of a grin frozen on their chapped faces. Ask them whey they subject themselves to such abuse, and they’ll say, “Gotta get to the good hole.”
An angler’s urge to get the the “good hole” is stronger than a salmon’s urge to spawn. If you don’t think so, think back to any recent fishing trip. Too painful for you? Then consider one of mine.
In September, I got a phone call from Myron Mickey, alias “Captain Mick,” an old friend and Kenai River guide.
“Hey, Les,” Mick said, “How’d you like to go fishing in the morning?”
“Just tell me where and when,” I replied, reluctantly.
“Meet me at Big Eddy at 5 a.m., he said.
“Why so early?”
“Gotta get to the good hole.”
A few seconds after I went to sleep, the alarm went off. I fell out of bed, grabbed a peanut butter-and-jam sandwich and a thermos of coffee, and headed my car in the general direction of Big Eddy, a 13-mile drive from my home in Sterling. I got to Big Eddy at almost the same time Mick did. Bundled up like ice fishermen, we soon had the boat loaded, and we shoved off into the icy blackness, engine at “dead slow,” bound down the Kenai for Eagle Rock, some three miles away. The only light was from stars.
“How do you see to steer?” I said toward the blackness at the stern of the boat.
“Who sees?” Mick said. “I steer by sound. When I hear tree branches scraping one side, I steer toward the other.”
“I suppose you know when you’re about to hit a gravel bar by the grinding sound the prop makes as it destroys itself on the bottom.”
“Say, now, you ever thought about guidin’?”
“I don’t have the nerves for it,” I said.
“Shhh! Listen!” he said.
I listened, but all I could hear was the sound of fast water flowing past something in the river, maybe a rock.
“Whew!” Mick said. “Sure glad we made it past that big rock!”
With no more than an occasional shot of adrenaline to keep us warm, we idled on down the river. After what seemed like hours, we arrived at Eagle Rock, anchored in the “good hole,” and poured coffee to stave off hypothermia while we waited for the bite.
“Bait up, and get your line in the water,” Mick said. “You never know when they’ll start biting.”
Had I known it would be an hour and 15 minutes until they started, I’d have rationed my coffee. But when the bite finally started, it really started. We caught our limits of three silvers each, one right after another. We were back at Big Eddy before the sun came up high enough to melt the frost off our faces.
We were gutting our fish when Mick said through cracked lips, “W-w-was that g-g-good fishing, or what?”
“Th-th-that was s-s-something, all right,” I said, teeth chattering like runaway castanets.
“It sure p-p-pays to get up early and g-g-get in the g-g-good hole, doesn’t it? he said, straightening a finger that had thawed enough to bend without breaking.
“It s-s-sure d-d-does,” I said, looking out at the river. About a hundred feed away, a boat was anchored, the only one in sight. Four guys were casting lures, and they were catching one silver after another.
“Gee,” I said, that looks like a pretty g-g-good hole, right here where you keep your b-b-boat tied up. Look at those g-g-guys.”
“Yeah,” Mick said, looking up. “I’ve s-s-seen them before. They c-c-come from way upriver, somewhere.”
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.