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That's fishing?

Posted: December 26, 2013 - 4:16pm

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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kenai123 12/27/13 - 07:55 pm
Nice story but how's it going to help solve our king problem?

I have a better story. It's called "An Ocean King Problem"

"Are you about ready?" she shouts while coming through the door. "You haven't even started!" she hisses as her smile fades while giving me the evil eye.

"I don't want to attend your little Christmas party."

"You don’t go and I don’t go to your next little Board of Fish meeting.”

An hour later the doorbell rings with us standing on a snow-covered sidewalk.

"Oh it's Shasta and Bill," Mage shouts as the door swings open and I hear the low cheer come from inside.

"Just move towards the piano and get a cup of hot chocolate,” Mage adds as she takes our coats.

"Don't know any Christmas Carols."

"Doesn’t matter just fake it," Shasta whispers as the piano begins plinking out We Wish You A Merry Christmas and a dozen people sing along.

I’m sitting on a large white couch with a plate full of really great food when Ted sits down on the couch across from me.

"Well how was your season?" he asks while balancing a plate full of food on his leg.

"Probably about as bad as yours."

"Couldn’t of been as bad as mine."

"Why’s that?"

"Had to refund back thirty thousand in pre-season bookings when they dumped the king season.”

"Wow, you couldn't get them to do anything else?"

"No they were so freaked out that all they could think of was getting their money."

"I did about the same, what else are ya gonna do,” I respond while taking a bite of pumpkin pie.

"Most acted like they were gut shot or something. I don't get why anyone killed even a single king anywhere this year. I didn't, I released everything."

"You can release all the kings you want but it's not going to solve our king problem, the problem is out in the ocean."

"You can’t actually believe that we can keep on killing these kings like in the past?"

"Even if you could get anglers to release all Kenai kings, how would that address our statewide king losses?" I ask.

"You think in-river conservation won't help our kings?"

"What good is conservation when our science tells us that we are hatching and smolting out plenty of kings to the ocean but they just aren’t returning? Our fisheries science is pointing to an ocean king killer."

"I don’t doubt the saltwater involvement but anglers can’t keep on killing kings while expecting to have them around in the future?"

"I claim that we need to locate the actual source of the problem rather than only focusing on the fresh water symptoms."

"Why do ya think low king returns are only a symptom?"

"Those returns are a symptom because we have the same troubles statewide and that leaves only an ocean problem.

"So what’s killing them?" Ted asks with a smile.

"The problem not affecting our runs until just recently further reduces it to being something new. We just need to find what changed in the ocean while conserving kings equally among user groups.”

"Well there’s no way we to get all user groups to conserve kings at the same time."

"We have to, what good does it do to conserve kings in the freshwater while saltwater users are killing them or the reverse?”

“So how do you do that?”

“If nothing else we could just put a head tax on killing kings, paying into a king restoration fund.”

"But how you going to actually locate this ocean killer?"

"I’ve been studying juvenal king survival out in the saltwater along with the feed and fat they needed to survive their first winter. There appears to have been a pretty large reduction in the amount of the larger crab larval, which they prey on.
A Canadian biologist by the name of Ron W. Tanasichuk is claiming a 98% North Pacific reduction. That reduction could be reducing juvenal fat reserves thus forcing them to barely survive their first winter. An infection or virus could reduce fat reserves even farther until they deplete out and starve to death. It’s all pretty speculative stuff until the state spends some money and proves what’s really happening.

“Well then we just need to increase freshwater and saltwater conservation at the same time?"

"That's right but we need a master plan to solve the problem, not a bunch of haphazard patched together plans hoping something works. A master plan would calculate king conservation for all user groups equally, while setting up extensive ocean king research."

"Well I hope you’re wrong; fixing an ocean could take a while. Maybe we will look back and see this to be the turn-around point."

"That’s pretty optimistic thinking."

"Hey ya got to hope for the best in this business just to keep from going completely crazy. I got people calling me everyday asking if they are going to be able to fish for kings next year."

"So what ya telling them?"

"I tell them the truth, we book reservations anticipating a normal fishing season."

"I tell them the same thing."

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