That's fishing?

Author’s note: The following is based upon actual events, but is fiction. It first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion July 5, 2002. It has been edited for brevity.


The scene is a gas station beside Highway 195, in the rolling, golden hills south of Spokane, Washington. Wheat country.

A pickup trailering a boat turns into the station. Two men get out. One heads for the gas pumps, the other for a nearby cafe.

The boat and pickup are a matching silver-flecked deep-purple. I stare at the boat. This is no ordinary fishin’ skiff. Under the fluorescent bulbs of the pump island, its sleek, lovingly polished fiberglass hull glows garishly.

I ogle the built-in tackle storage and the neatly racked rods, one for every imaginable fishing challenge. A veritable water rocket, this fishing machine is built long and low. Its instrument panel resembles that of a small aircraft. It’s powered by two 225 h.p. outboard motors.

“Some fishin’ boat,” I say, sidling up to the guy pumping gas into the boat’s tank.

“Yep, she passes everything but gas stations,” he says, keeping his eyes on the pump meter. It shows 52 gallons, and the pump is still dinging merrily away.

“What’ll she do?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t usually take her much above 70, but she’ll do more.”

■ ■ ■

The fishing guide has four customers. They have paid $150 each for a half-day of, in the words of the guide’s brochure, “world-class king salmon fishing on the Kenai River.” For this, the guide is providing bait, boat, gear and experience.

While acquiring this experience, the guide has acquired, in the words of author/angler David Quammen, “the humility of a chauffeur and the complaisance of a pimp.” Another aspect of this experience is knowing that the rods, reels, line and terminal tackle for charters must be heavier than those used by an experienced angler, to compensate for the average charter customer’s lack of skill.

The guide puts his customers on a good piece of water. He baits the hooks. He lets out the lines to the correct distance behind the boat, checks the drags on the reels and places the rods in rod holders. He instructs the customers on how to remove the rods from the rod holders. He warns them not to do anything until he says it’s OK.

A little more than four hours later, one of the rods moves slightly, then takes on a sharp, downward bend. A fish has taken one of the baits. The guide shoves the throttle forward, causing the boat to surge ahead, thereby setting the hook. The guide pulls the throttle back, takes the rod from the rod holder, hands it to the befuddled customer and tells him to keep the tip up and the line tight. He tells the other customers to reel in their lines.

The guide positions the boat near the fish, so another boat won’t run over the line. He tells the customer when to crank and when to pump the rod. He watches out for other boats and other fishing lines.

The boat drifts downstream on the current. Once, it passes over a gravel bar and the guide has to raise the outboard motor to avoid hitting bottom with the propeller. Three times, the guide has to maneuver the boat to get clear of “sweepers,” trees that lean over the water and threaten to sweep everyone from the boat.

One-half mile downstream from where the fish was hooked, it rolls onto its side. The guide tells the customer to pull it in close to the boat, then he slides a big landing net under it. The salmon, a 50-some-pounder, thrashes wildly, but soon tires and lies gasping in the net.

“Boy! That was hard work!” the customer says.

“Good job,” the guide says, patting him on the back. “Do you want to keep this fish?”

“Nah. I already have a bigger one on my office wall. Besides, I can’t stand salmon. Too fishy.”

Les Palmer can be reached at


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