ANCHORAGE -- Beneath a roaring freeway, the Mitchells -- father and son -- spent their Friday afternoon in pursuit of Alaska's fabled king salmon.
Papa Joe, 66, sat on his tackle box waiting for a fish to pick up the salmon eggs soaking behind an orange Spin-N-Glo out in the murky flow.
Son Steve, 41, cast and retrieved a blue Crocodile spoon, over and over and over again.
''I don't have enough arm left to do all that casting,'' Papa Joe said.
He wore blue jeans, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes. Reflective, aviator-style sunglasses shielded his eyes from the bright spring sun.
The temperature was only about 55 degrees, but in the hot sun it felt far warmer than that.
''It's too nice a day to stay home,'' Steve said.
The May kings, at least the vanguard of the annual Ship Creek run, are back, following their noses, their instincts and the tides. As much as any seasonal tradition, they and the hundreds of anglers and spectators they draw, mark the beginning of summer in Anchorage.
The Mitchells hadn't hooked any kings, but they'd seen fish.
''A guy had one snagged down there earlier,'' Joe said, motioning downstream toward the covered bridge near the Alaska Railroad headquarters.
Brown water was creeping up along the muddy banks there as the rising tide of Knik Arm pushed back into Anchorage's most popular salmon stream. Across the creek, a couple of anglers in waders stood crotch deep in the flow.
The Mitchells preferred to sit high and dry on a bank of hard, sun-baked mud.
''I don't want to be gettin' in the mud,'' Steve said. ''I don't want to be one of those people Fish and Wildlife has to come down here and rescue.''
His dad laughed.
The pair know this stream well enough to know the places where they could catch fish without having to get in the muck.
''I catch mine here every year,'' Steve said. ''I can't see spending all the money to go south to Deep Creek, Homer or Ninilchik when you can come down here and catch one.''
Within minutes, a wading angler across the way hooked a king.
''There you go, right there,'' Steve said, pointing to the big fish swirling at the end of the man's line.
The salmon made a run upstream, then turned and came roaring back down toward the Mitchells. They quickly reeled in their lines to make room for the battle. Steve grabbed his long-handled net.
''If you let him get over here to the bank, I'll land him for you,'' he shouted to the other angler.
He wielded a big hoop attached to a 15-foot handle, another aid to keep from getting in the mud, he said. He and his father watched as the angler now in front of them played a fish of 20- to 30-pounds on medium-weight spinning tackle.
''I don't give them much of a sporting chance myself,'' Steve said, ''80-pound-test line, 250-pound-test snap swivels.''
The hooked king made a charge downstream, and the formerly lucky angler's rod suddenly went limp.
''You lose him?'' Steve shouted.
''That's a real drag.''
The angler in the river nodded. Steve went back to casting.
Out in the flow, the angler who had broken off the fish was tying another yarn fly onto the end of his line.
A pair of gulls flew up the creek squawking. Trains ding-ding-dinged and honked in the nearby rail yards. A semi-tractor hauling a concrete trailer rattled over the bridge above.
''We've probably got another 45 minutes,'' Steve said.
The tide was about to peak and start rolling back down the creek. Most of the king salmon that rode the tide in would ride it back out to linger in the Inlet. An occasional fish was being caught, but it was still early in the year.
Only a dozen or so other anglers joined the Mitchells along the creek. In another couple of weeks, there will be hundreds.
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