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A bad day on the Kenai

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 4:08pm

Author’s note: This is yet another shameless attempt to lure readers into learning about fish by injecting a little science into a steamy romance novel. — LP

Jenna was having a bad day, the kind that’s like Lincoln’s assassination, the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Soldotna Hardware and Fishing running out of Size 016, silver/chartreuse Kwikfish at the peak of king salmon season all rolled into one.

It had started at 4:00 a.m. Just as her long legs were sliding out of her warm bed and into her snugly fitting Simms chest waders for yet another day of guiding on the Kenai River, her cell phone began playing Irene Cara’s “Flash Dance … What a Feeling,” a song she had once loved, but now regretted ever having heard, but not as much as I’m regretting that I ever started this convoluted sentence. By the time she found the phone, the caller — her only booking for the day — had left a message, and Irene was telling Jenna for the third time that she could dance right through her life.

“I’m running a little late, you know,” the client said, “but I’ll meet you at the boat launch at, oh, let’s say eight-ish.”

“A great start,” she thought. “Oh, well. I’ll get some me-time.”

Soaking for an hour in the bath tub had felt good. It gave her time to daydream about Rod. She didn’t know whether the tall, swarthy river ranger was good for her or not. All she knew is that whenever the thought of him swaggered across her mind, her heart melted like road tar in July. And in those sweet, stolen moments when she and Rod could be together alone, and his tanned, muscular arms were wrapped around her like Stretchy Thread around a sardine fillet, she trembled like a Hot Shot in fast current.

But lying in her bath and thinking of Rod while warm wavelets caressed her hard young body had been the high point of her day. Her client’s eight-ish had turned out to be ten-ish. By the time he showed up, she was ticked-off-ish. It was bad enough having only one client in the boat, when she usually fished four. To make matters worse, she let him talk her into taking him out two days in a row.

“I’ll make it worth your time,” he had promised.

The guy was insufferably boring. Being stuck with him when the fishing was good would’ve been bad enough, but the fishing was poor. Though the river was crowded with boats, the only king salmon around seemed to be the graphite kind on the walls of the ubiquitous riverfront lodges. The afternoon seemed endless.

Then, when they were back-trolling in what is usually a good spot, her client grinned at her and said, “Tell me why there are so few kings in the Kenai.”

“No one is sure of the cause, but it’s probably in the ocean,” Jenna said. “The poor runs are pretty much statewide.”

“What do the biologists think?”

“One possibility is that something is happening to the juvenile fish after they leave the rivers. Very little is known about habitats occupied by juvenile chinook salmon as they first enter nearshore marine waters of Alaska. As with other populations of stream-type chinook salmon, it is thought that juveniles in Alaska spend little time in their natal river estuary and rapidly move into the coastal currents along the shoreline where very little biological sampling has been done to date. It has been hypothesized that the first year at sea is a critical period of growth (during summer and fall) and survival (during winter) for juvenile chinook salmon, a period that is modulated by climatic conditions.”

No sooner had the words “climatic conditions” left her mouth when the sky opened, and raindrops as big as Size 10 Lil’ Corkys obliterated any possibility of salvaging the fishing trip.

“Well, I’ve had enough fun,” the client said, reeling in his line. “There’s always tomorrow. Eight-ish OK?”

Les Palmer can be reached at

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kenai123 12/17/13 - 12:54 am
What do the biologists think?

“What do the biologists think?” Some believe our reduced crab and herring resources have caused a large enough break in the marine food chain that our wild juvenile kings are now not able to obtain sufficient fat reserves to survive their first winter. The definition of "sufficient" is enough fat to allow them to survive things like an infection and still carry enough fat reserves to survive their first winter. Infections consume calories and fat. If their fat reserves are low, an infection could wipe-out those necessary winter fat reserves. Reduced marine prey equals reduced juvenile fat reserves, reduced fat reserves can then transform survivable infections into a lethal infections. Our commercial fisheries have spent a lot of money figuring out how all this happens with herring at

So where is all the science out there showing us the minimum wild juvenile king fat reserves necessary for them to survive a winter? So where are the studies showing us how many infections the average wild juvenile king may encounter per year? Where are the studies showing us the amount of body fat that an infection will remove from a juvenile?

"Very little known about wild juvenile chinooks?" I agree but that is putting it very mildly, I see about nothing. You can find this kind of information on other salmon but I cannot locate it on wild kings. The Alaska Legislator allocated $30,000,000 to study our wild juvenile king problem. Does anyone see funds being spent on studying our wild juvenile kings? I cannot locate them. So where are they spending all that money?

"The first year at sea critical?" I agree! The first year at sea for a wild juvenile king is super critical. These wild kings are in a "knock-down-drag-out" battle for prey with hatchery salmon in the Pacific. About 5,000,000,000 hatchery salmon are competing with about 500,000 wild salmon annually in the Pacific Ocean. What is that like (10,000 drone salmon to one wild salmon) with about 60% of the drones coming from Japan & Russia and 40% from the U.S. and Canada.

So what do you think would happen to you if you had 10,000 people trying to eat your lunch? Every lunch? Would you think that conflict could force you to work a lot harder to eat a lot less? Burning extra and consuming fewer calories is a prescription for starvation. There aren't any government prey handouts out there in the Pacific. If you fail to put on enough fat you die, period. We should be spending a few of those millions of dollars funding lots of wild juvenile king studies.

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