The reluctant fisherman

The other day, a friend called and asked if I wanted to go fishing for silver salmon on the Kenai River. I told him no.


There were plenty of reasons to not go. The last time we’d gone, a few days earlier, four of us caught one small silver in half a day of fishing. He’d been out several times in the past two weeks and had been skunked every time. The weather forecast was for rain and wind. The river was high and rising. I had more reasons to not go, but didn’t need them.

There was a time when if someone invited me to go fishing, no matter who, what, when, where or why, I’d jump at the chance. Now, 75 years into my life, I like to think about it before agreeing to go fishing. Like a few other things that come to mind, I now spend far more time thinking about fishing than doing it.

I’m a meat fisherman, so I like to eat the fish I catch. Anymore, don’t get excited about fishing simply for the fun of it. I haven’t been trout fishing in at least 10 years. Not that I don’t have fun fishing for food, but I get as much fun out of cooking and eating fish as I do catching them.

Back-bouncing for king salmon remains one of my favorite things, but I haven’t fished for Kenai River kings in the past two years. When the king salmon runs are that depressed, I have no motivation at all to catch one. I’d feel guilty if I did.

As recently as three years ago, I was catching my winter’s supply of sockeye salmon with rod and reel. At one time, that was one of my favorite summertime pursuits. No more. Access to a fishing spot anywhere along the Kenai River has gone from poor to ridiculous. Even if you find one, the competition is fierce. I’m fortunate to have a friend who dip nets sockeyes for my wife and I. The fish, as well as the river bank, are better off without me out there, flailing away, trying to hook a red in the mouth.

Some of my lack of motivation to fish is due to becoming jaded. Too much “been there, done that.” I’ve trolled for king salmon in the saltwater so much that I wouldn’t care if I never did it again. Yes, I enjoy seeing the sea birds, whales, otters, seals, sea lions and the snow-capped mountains across the water, but for me that are more enjoyable things to be doing than sitting in a rocking boat all day, waiting for a fish to bite. After a day of that, it takes me two days to stop rocking.

I no longer have the energy of my youth. Smoke still comes from the chimney, but the fire now spends more time smoldering than roaring. I used to set the alarm clock for 3:00 a.m., just so I could beat everyone else to the “right spot” on the river. Now I’m content to let others have that spot. I get up when I feel like it, play a few games of Boggle on my computer, check my e-mails, have a leisurely breakfast, maybe glue a part or two onto a plastic model airplane, and then go fishing. Maybe. By the time I get there, the poor sap who got up at 3:00 a.m. is gone, and the “right spot” is available again.

Another reason I’m no longer so anxious to go fishing is that my memory is too good. Not only do I remember the good times, but I vividly recollect no small amount of pain, boredom, discomfort and terror. My back hasn’t been the same since the last time I went fishing with a charter-boat skipper who felt it necessary to run his boat at 20 m.p.h. on choppy water. A red flag snaps up and a klaxon blares whenever anyone offers me a “free” fishing trip. Some of my worst fishing experiences have been “free.” Try as I might, I can’t forget boat engines that wouldn’t start trips, salmon runs that were “no shows,” charters that were “blown off” and rivers that “blew up.”

Do I want to go fishing?

Let me get back to you on that.

Les Palmer can be reached at


Fri, 06/22/2018 - 00:03

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