Do it yourself: If you build it, the fish will come

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in 2010 and is being reprinted.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of landing a fish — particularly after a fierce battle, a couple good runs and a few aerobatic leaps from the water (by the fish, the angler or both).

There’s one thing better: landing that fish with a rod you’ve built yourself.

Of the collection of fishing gear in the garage, the rod I built myself is by far my most prized. I made it through a Soldotna Community Schools class in 2001, matching an 8-weight blank with single-foot guides, a nice grip and the best reel I could get on my meager budget. I picked up some pointers on how to use it by taking a fly-fishing class at Kenai Peninsula College (yes, I have college credit in fishing — only in Alaska!).

The rod got its first test on the upper Kenai River, going after Russian River sockeye, and to be honest, my first time out was a complete failure. I went for a drift boat trip from Sportsman’s Landing down to Jim’s Landing with two avid fishermen, both of whom quickly landed their limit while I fruitlessly flossed water. I remember the frustration of being able to see, with the aid of polarized sunglasses, the drift of my fly, and watching the fish swim past.

I later went back on my own. We had company coming, and I wanted some fresh salmon to serve them. I took an evening ferry across the Kenai and hike upstream a little ways to an empty spot — this was long enough ago that you could actually find an empty spot, even when the fish were running hot.

It took a few drifts to get the weight just right, and it was few little bumps before I realized those taps were fish bumping my line, and not rocks. The first fish I hooked immediately sped downstream, lost in a tangle of other lines. 

I hooked another fish on the next cast, and guided it right up to the bank before I tipped the rod the wrong way, allowing too much pressure on the line. The leader snapped with a pop, and I had to duck to avoid the weight flying back at me.

The third fish was the charm. I took a few minutes to string up a new leader, and several casts before I got another hit. I kept the rod angled upstream, and steered the fish toward the bank, up onto the gravel, where after a quick bonk, it went on the stringer.

The fish went on the grill the next evening, and the rod still goes fishing every season. I’m not always the one to use it, but there’s still a feeling of satisfaction when the fisherman comes back with a limit of fish and a smile on his face.

When he’s not daydreaming about the perfect cast, Will Morrow is editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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