Memorable fish

Now that I have more than 65 years of fishing behind me and lots of time to think about things, I’ve figured out that my most memorable times were not when the biggest fish were caught, but when catching a fish was completely unexpected.


Surprise plays a large part in what makes fishing fun and interesting. The first time I fished for silver salmon on the surface was on a tea-colored creek on Hinchinbrook Island in Prince William Sound. I’d read about this fly-fishing technique, but had never actually seen it done. Feeling ridiculous, I tied on a bright-pink “fly,” a Techno Wog made of foam and rabbit fur. Without much enthusiasm, I cast toward the opposite bank and began retrieving line with short jerks. The weird-looking lure splashed and made little “doink, doink, doink” noises that I was certain would scare all the salmon back out to sea. My expectations were zero.

So, I’m watching this silly fly plowing upstream, and feeling relieved that no one is watching me, when a V-wake appears about six inches behind the fly. Like an orca opening its jaws to devour a baby sea lion, a silver opens its hooked jaws behind my fly. I scream like a little girl and yank my fly rod like I’m setting the hook in a marlin. The Wog rockets from the water and securely wraps itself in a cocoon of leader at the top of an alder. The whole thing suddenly seems hilarious. I laugh so hard, it takes me several minutes to find and tie on another Wog. When I cast again, the same thing happens. Again, I can’t stop laughing.

Eventually, I learn to wait until the salmon have the fly in their mouths, but being bent over with laughter so much of the time makes the learning curve a long one.

Unexpected fish are memorable for other reasons. For example, when anything is rare, whether it’s a gold nugget or a king salmon, it seems more valuable. The quest for it can become an obsession. Gold fever and king salmon fever have a few things in common.

When you find something that’s rare, you feel either lucky or proud: lucky if you just stumbled onto a nugget, and proud if you used skills and persistence to find one. Either way, the feeling is a good one.

The most outstanding fishing experiences in my memories are the ones when I ended up feeling both lucky and proud. My first fish — a trout caught with a piece of string, a bent pin and a worm. My first king salmon — a “white” king caught near Juneau in the saltwater in 1967. My daughter’s first salmon — also her first fish — caught from the bank of the Kenai River. The time my grandson out-fished me, shortly after I showed him how to catch salmon. The time I hooked and boated a 200-pound halibut, despite using only 17-pound-test line and having my reel come apart halfway through the battle.

I could go on, but I won’t. The sun is shining, spring is finally happening and there are more memories to be made.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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