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Persistence pays

Posted: September 16, 2011 - 11:01am

It was a glorious fall day on the Kenai River, fishing for silver salmon with my significant other, Sue Borton, and our friend, Dillon Kimple. Only one thing kept it from being perfect: We weren’t catching fish.

We were anchored in what usually was a productive spot. However, the river was running high and fast, so the fish had moved over to slower-moving water, out of the usual places. We spent more than an hour in our “good” spot without a bite.

That we weren’t catching fish surprised me. It was Sept. 11, and the late run of silvers usually peaks around mid-September. We pulled the anchor and moved twice, looking for a better spot. We tried bait. We tried plugs. No luck. If it had been cold or rainy, we would’ve gone home, but the weather was fine, so we stayed. We weren’t catching, but at least we were outdoors and fishing.

If we’d been impatient and left, we wouldn’t have noticed the people in a boat anchored nearby. Unlike us and the other boats near us, they were catching fish. Not many, maybe one every 45 minutes. When they left, we immediately moved into their spot. Now we’d catch fish, we thought.

It didn’t happen for a while. Again, if we hadn’t been persistent, we’d have thought the fish had stopped biting, or the run had passed us by, and we’d have left. But we stayed. An hour passed. Finally, a silver took Dillon’s plug and he landed it. About an hour later, he landed another. A few minutes later, it was Sue’s turn.

“Oh, oh,” she said. “Something’s going on.”

I looked over and saw that she was reeling in a slack line. A silver had taken her bait and had just kept swimming upstream.

“You have a fish on!” Dillon yelled.

When her line came tight, the fish, a big silver, headed at top speed for the main river. Sue burned her thumb on the spool, trying to slow the run. Just when we were about to leave the anchor on the buoy and give chase, the fish turned and ran back toward us.

Sue, a newcomer to fishing, had never seen this happen. By the time she reeled in the slack and had a tight line again, the fish had run under the boat. I took her rod and jabbed it into the water to keep it out of the motor, but too late.

Her line was wrapped around the prop, and she couldn’t tell if the fish was still on or had broken the line. I figured it might still be there, so I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Dillon tilted the motor, so I could see the line, but it was still out of reach. Using the boat’s scrub brush to increase my reach, I started unwinding the line from around the prop.

This reminded me of the time when my partner hooked a king that ran around R.L. Parker’s anchor line and then downstream. I figured that fish was gone, but I was wrong. R.L., one of the early Kenai River guides, calmly lifted the line over his two clients and released it over the stern of his boat. The fish was still there, and my partner ended up landing it.

Reaching with the scrub brush, I pushed Sue’s line around the prop. To my surprise, it had gone around only once. It came free, and the fish was still there.

It wasn’t over. The fish, now well rested, ran out line twice more before reluctantly coming to the net. It was the largest we caught that day, a 12-pounder.

Why the prop didn’t cut the line, I don’t know. Why the 12-pound-test leader didn’t break, I don’t know. What I do know is this: When luck and skill don’t work, persistence often will.

Reach Les Palmer at lpalmer@alaska.net

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