Author’s note: This week’s column first appeared Nov. 13, 1987, in “The Tides,” a Clarion supplement.
By looking back, we can see how different people helped to shape us and make us the way we are today. And speaking of different people, if it hadn’t been for Dick “Gitch” Larson, I’d have never learned to fish fast.
I met Dick (his nickname came later) in Anchorage, during the early 1970s. Having just migrated south from Fairbanks, I needed someone to show me how and where to fish. Dick was that someone. The place was the Kenai River.
Dick was an ambitious young salesman, and selling fit his competitive nature well. As goal oriented as a guided missile, he’d go after a sale until he made it. Having worked with him, I knew this, but not until our first fishing trip together did I discover that he’d adapted his aggressive traits to what for most people is a relaxing pastime, fishing.
Dick took me and two other novices, Ron and Paul, to a fishing hole near Eagle Rock, where he assured us we’d “get our limits of silvers.” While Ron put the anchor over the side, Paul and I started rigging up our rods. Thus occupied, the three of us were startled when Dick shouted, “Fish on!”
We watched enviously as he brought in the salmon. One of us muttered something about not having a chance to get our lines in the water, but the remark went unacknowledged. All business, Dick had a big silver in the boat in nothing flat.
Hands shaking with excitement, the rest of us went back to rigging up. We’d just started, when we heard, “Fish on!”
Again, we put down our rods and waited while Dick reeled in another silver. Thus occupied, he didn’t even notice the words we used in describing him and his ancestors. Instead, he grinned and said, “You guys better get your lines in the water. I’ve almost got my limit, already.”
Our mumbling took on an ominous tone as we netted his fish and brought it aboard. I was stowing it in the bag when the dreaded words came again: “Fish on!”
“Not again!” Paul said.
“Over my dead body!” Ron said.
To a chorus of abuse, Dick pulled in his third salmon. Like the other two, it was quivering on the floorboards before it knew what had happened.
At least now that he has his limit, I thought, we’ll have a chance to fish. But faster than I thought possible, Dick changed over to trout gear and was fishing again.
Finally, we amateurs started fishing. Ron had a strike. Paul had a fish on, but lost it. I had one on for a few seconds, then my line broke. And that was when Dick put down his rod and said, “Let’s go home.”
We were dumbstruck. Having spent three hours getting there, we’d only fished a couple of hours, and he was the only one with any fish! While we pulled the anchor, there was mutinous talk about using Dick for an anchor and fishing longer, but it was his boat. We quietly ground our teeth all the way back to Anchorage.
Several days passed before I calmed down enough to realize what Dick had done. He’d taken greenhorns with him who know nothing about fishing the Kenai, and he’d concentrated on fishing, letting his “crew” handle the netting, anchoring and other shipboard duties. He’d set a goal — his limit — and met it in the fastest, most competitive way. I had to respect that kind of good-old American spirit.
A glutton for punishment, I went on several more trips with Dick, each one a painful lesson. The first lesson was “Rig Up Your Tackle At Home.” Another I remember well was “Get Your Line in the Water Before Anyone Else and Keep It There.” I learned to tie knots and bait hooks fast. The most painful lesson was “The Captain Has Enough Worries Without Having To Pull the Anchor and Clean Up the Boat,” a lesson that eventually stimulated me into getting my own boat.
On the fourth trip, I amazed Dick by landing more fish than he did. I wasn’t invited very often, after that.
Oh, about his nickname. Measuring fishing success by whether a limit was caught, Dick asked around the office every Monday morning, “Gitcher limit over the weekend?” It wasn’t long before he was known as “Gitcherlimit” Larson, “Gitch” for short.
Gitch moved to Utah a few years ago, but I think of him often. Just the other day I was reading about one of those bass tournaments where they use boats that look like they’re doin’ 60 when they’re still tied up to the dock, and where they see who can catch the mostest fish in the leastest time, and I wondered if Gitch ever entered one. Those guys wouldn’t have a chance.
Les Palmer can be reached at email@example.com.