A bad day on the Kenai

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 les.palmer@rocketmail.com.


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