Jun 17 , 2020
The impossible just became possible when a new Alaskan Fishing Resort offered families half price guided fishing and accommodations because of the covid-19 virus. College student son Matt just arrived from his canceled summer job for this trip. He's talked with some of the old-time guides who've been to Alaska before, and is convinced he’s going to catch the first fish! He’s shown up with these odd-looking gobs of purple fur, copper thread, and sparkle yarn on a hook. He calls these flies "chartreuse bunnies", and I've never seen anything like them. But Matt insists they're going to work, while my high school age son Billy laughs, and brags that his red and white Mepps spinner will eat Matt's ugly cat vomit fly for lunch! I can't be left out, so I claim I'll catch a fish bigger than either one of them! My wife Renee just laughs at our competitiveness - she's what's known as a good sport, she's there for the joy of the moment and the thrill of the experience, winning or losing doesn't matter. But not my sons and I - so in the blink of an eye a bet is made! Whoever catches the first big king salmon (we define this as over 30 pounds) - gets waited on by the others for the rest of the trip! That means luggage carried, meals and drinks brought to them, fishing tackle carefully cleaned and stored - total king of the hill! Or queen of the hill, since naturally, we include Renee, though it's just to be polite. It's a one and million chance she'll actually catch any kind of fish, let alone a 30 plus pound king salmon!
After flying a big comfortable 727 to Anchorage from Los Angeles, we're cramped into a single-engine Cessna which has less room than our Honda Civic. Billy sits happily next to the pilot upfront. Renee, Matt, and I are squashed into the tiny back seat, with earphones clamped down tight over our ears. They're not for listening, they're for NOT listening, to the terrible high pitched whine of the noisiest engine I've ever heard! The view below is strikingly beautiful, and Renee is lost in it, hugging my arm and pointing out one gorgeous piece of scenery after another. I look down and nod and smile, it is truly gorgeous and the colors are beautiful, but in my mind, I'm looking at different colors. Is a red and white meppsspinner a better lure than a copper pixie with a pink plastic egg sac, should I try Matt's weird fly, or go with my best personal fly pattern, a dark red wooly bugger with a marabou tail and yellow eyes? Impossible decision!
Now we're landing, on a tiny dirt runway on a long narrow island in the middle of the Nushagak River. As I look at this huge gorgeous river, huge gorgeous salmon are leaping as they migrate upstream to spawn! I've decided to try the spinner first, I'm good with a spinner, can make it dart and swim with all the movement of a fleeing baitfish and I know I’ll catch the first fish!
Renee laughs and hugs me as I tell her this, and gives me that bemused look of loving tolerance I've grown to care for so much. I glance over to smile at Matt - but what's this?! All of our gear was squashed tight into the back cargo compartment of the airplane since the plane is so small. But Matt hid a four-piece fly rod in a case under his jacket and now he's getting it out and fitting it together.
What are you doing?!" I scream in horror.
"Getting ready to catch the first big salmon!" he says, with a malicious grin. I'm doomed, it'll take forever to get to my rods. They're in a long hard carrying tube that rests under the luggage for all four of us.
"Look, Billy, he's cheating!" I shout up to my younger son, and I see that he's already got a spinning rod out and is attaching a Mepps spinner to the monofilament line. Now the door to the airplane opens, and we're greeted by smiling friendly faces. But I'm glowering, and this is quickly noticed.
"Bumpy flight?" A voice calls out.
"No, smooth as glass." answers the pilot, although the question wasn't directed to him. The crew looks at me and their smiles vanish.
Then Renee, who was next to the window so she could admire the view, steps out of the plane, and everything changes. Not many women come to distant Alaskan fishing camps that aren’t primarily about luxurious creature comforts.
Now she is carefully helped from the plane and asked which bag is hers. I can tell it's going to be the first one unloaded. But then she gets handed a spinning rod. "Ever fished for salmon?" Silence from Renee. "Well, the rule here is, men have to take their own truck up to the tents, but ladies get instant fishing instruction."
Matt hasn't heard any of this, he's been putting his rod together as he stares maniacally into the river, and is almost foaming at the mouth! He leaps from the plane and heads towards the water.
"Hey there young fella, you hard of hearing?"
"What?" Matt says, just like someone who's hard of hearing.
"First we got to check you in at your tent, then you go fishing."
"I've got a fish spotted, I figured out his route upstream and if I cast- "
"No casting till you get all your luggage in your tent, finish going over our camp rules, and sign the agreement."
"The one that says you agree to abide by the rules."
"I agree, I agree, whatever the rules are I agree!" He starts toward the river. "I gotta chase down that fish, he's 30 pounds easy and-"
"You'll be seeing lots of 30 plus pounders, and you'll catch your fair share, but all in good time."
Then I ungraciously chime in. "But my wife, she's getting to fish now, and we're not!"
"You should be excited, look at the way the guides are tripping over themselves to be her instructor, she'll probably catch the biggest fish of any of you!"
"She'd better not, or I want my money back!" I say inside my head. Matt's shaking like he's undergoing heroin withdrawal, only the rebellious teenager Billy is amused, and laughs out loud.
"That's the spirit," says our guide and claps Billy on the back as he herds us and our now unloaded luggage up toward our tents.
After our belongings are put away, the camp rules are meticulously explained to us, including mealtimes. But we didn't come here to eat on time, we're busting with excitement to go fish!" No, we have to stand there and be told we're the only guests EVER to have no questions when asked "Do you have any questions?" The tent flap suddenly pops open, and a pudgy man in a chef's hat pokes his head in. "Tell these new guests we're gonna eat great tonight, thanks to them. Lady just caught a 32-pound king salmon on a pixie spoon. Guides are filleting it right now."