The wild rules — lessons learned near season’s end

The Tackle Box

As water began to fill my waders, I gasped for air and something to grab. I asked myself what, if anything, I could learn from this.


Scrambling up the rocks, I stood and felt the hold of river water dump from my waist belt into my boots like a meal from a pelican’s bill into its belly.

I grabbed my rod and checked again — the fish was still there. I wasn’t sure if it was the water current or my inexperience with this particular rod, but that fish felt much larger when I decided to take a step onto a large, mossy rock to better fight and land it. Instead I lost my footing, went for a swim and ended up with a 6-inch rainbow trout.

You see I’ve been on a quest for a trophy rainbow trout since I lost a big clunker my second time ever fly fishing in mid-June. I’m talking 18 inches plus and I know they can’t be that rare because I’ve seen the photos.

Hundreds of dollars later, there on a bright Monday morning I was soaked and soggy.

But, I was in a much better mood, surprisingly, as the river acted as a needed shock to my system.

Earlier I had worked a section of river like a pack mule. I must’ve flipped my bead 134 times over a 30-yard stretch, but who is counting? Nothing but snags and hookups with tomatoes getting uglier everyday. At my next spot, I tried flesh, dries and beads but was robbed by the streamside vegetation of most of those flies.

I was sulking. Steaming mad.

I thought of all the money I have dumped into this stupid sport, of all the weekends I’d been skunked, of all the stream stalking and wading over slippery rocks. All the tangles and line wasted. Split shot and beads dropped into the river as I reached for my pliers. Always learning a new method of fishing a week too late. Ugh.

I deserve a plump rainbow, can’t you see?

Heading into Cooper Landing to restock my supplies, I remembered a spot I was told about early on in my tenure — a seam supposedly stuffed with rainbows and Dolly Varden. Bingo.

After my third cast on a fresh bead I hook into this fish and, perhaps, I got a bit too excited. To me it was a rainstorm after a drought. The river said, “Here’s your fish, grumpy. Oh, and an attitude adjustment.”

After wringing the river from my socks and shirt, I made a few more casts in my bare feet and caught a Dolly big enough to put me in the plus column for the day. I packed it in thinking about what to make of this season.

I’ve fished many different ways and many different areas. Last year I only spent a few days on the river as I knew little about how to fish the Kenai or how to cast a fly. I was intimidated by how much there was to learn.

This year I vowed to stick with it through thick and thin. Before my river dunk I might have told you picking up this addiction was a mistake made in a moment of weakness. Now I believe it a wise course and one I would recommend to others, as long as they learn, primarily, on their own.

A friend who is a much better fisherman than myself told me an expert is simply someone who has made every mistake. I think a good fisherman is one who has endured prolonged suffering and figured out how to put the puzzle together cast after cast, trip after trip, season after season.

Considered on the whole, life is good, simple and pure when my blood knot is tied right, when my stomach growls and I’m six hours from a meal, when my cell phone is off and the river is the only one talking at me.

I feel more alive when I’m fishing even if I don’t catch anything. 

I like the feeling of being alone and on the rough. The closer to the bone, the sweeter, as Thoreau wrote.

I feel closer to the wild world than the tame, sanitary one, if only for a few weekend hours. I grow most there among the pebbles, water and insects. I’d like to think it’s my fingers, flies and gumption. I like to think I’m safe in my waders, guarded by my bear spray and skilled with these flies.

But I know it is the wild who rules here. I’m not due any fish. Lesson learned.


Brian Smith is city editor for the Peninsula Clarion and a developing fly fisherman. Email him at


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