Salmon fever draws mid-westerner north every year

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

Big game hunters say that once you go to Africa you will always long to return to the Dark Continent. Wing shooters have the same mantra about Argentina.

For fisherman, Alaska is the Holy Grail.

The three A's are any outdoorsman's dream.

The first adventure to Alaska for me was 25 years ago.

We were four young men who spent two months traipsing around the wilderness in canoes, ships, boats, kayaks, four-wheelers, bush planes, float planes and any other possible means of transportation.

We tried to experience it all.

It was at the confluence of the Moose and Kenai rivers that I first encountered king salmon.

Very late in the evening after everyone had gone to sleep I decided to test the waters, unaware of the behemoths that lurked beneath.

Standing on the edge of a picnic table we had drug down to the river to keep our legs from freezing while reeling in 10 inch rainbow trout, a freight train hit me.

The lights went out and I became a Colorado blade on a spinner, winding thru the freezing cold Kenai waters, holding onto the rod for dear life.

The current washed me to where I could stand up and briefly wrestle this fish.

The sheer power and strength of these fish isn't close to anything us flatlanders deal with.

The fish had bitten the trout I'd caught in two, and there never was a very good hookset, but damn that was fun.

Excitedly I walked into the tent showed my buddies what was left of my trout.

Sleep was not an option, I wanted to catch one of these salmon, but being inexperienced and not having a guide, the right gear or knowing the techniques, I was not able to land a king on that trip.

That only fueled the desire to return to Alaska.

In the middle of the night 25 years later on a summer's eve, I received a phone call from a friend.

After a brief exchange of niceties I asked him what was going on.

"Oh just sitting here on the dock having a cold beer admiring my 55 pound king salmon, you'd love it," he said.

That did it for me.

I booked a trip for the following year with the family.

Driving to the lodge we stayed in, I crossed the bridge where my near-drowning experience occurred.

Here we enjoyed the thrill of actually catching king salmon.

Since that second trip, I have been back on almost a yearly basis to witness the splendor of the sockeye runs that periodically invade the river, wrestle a few silvers from shore until our arms get sore and of course, chase kings.

The side trips to the two fishing ports of Seward and Homer with the smells of the ocean, the sound of seagulls, viewing whales, bears and mountain goats that survey the halibut fleet, are now always added on.

This makes the long winters in the Midwest more tolerable: having the anticipation of returning to the land of the midnight sun in the summer.

If you are a fisherman at heart, there is no better place to be in the summer than Alaska.

Larry Drahota lives in Kansas.

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