Recently, while in the Kenai River just downstream of the Russian River, I was struck by a bit of irony.
It started a lot like any other day there. I was entrenched in fieldwork for the Peninsula Clarion's weekly fishing report dressed in waders, knee-deep in the frosty aquamarine waters, fly rod in hand, hoping to land a sockeye like the other 100 or so anglers on either side of me, all spaced roughly 10 inches apart from each other.
That's when it hit me. Why in the world is this area called "The Sanctuary" anyway?
I began to think of all the possible meanings and reasonable explanations for why this particular term would have been chosen for this location. I had to have closure so I headed home to research the subject further.
Webster's dictionary has three definitions for sanctuary, and offered some but not much insight into the matter.
Definition one: a consecrated place or one devoted to the keeping of sacred things.
Yeah, I can kind of see that. People definitely worship salmon in June and July. I've seen many anglers praying for one to appear on the end of their line.
But with all the anglers swearing at each other I've even seen one or two take a swing at one another over the years it seems the poor etiquette displayed would sully any possible religious connotation to the title of sanctuary.
Definition two: a place of refuge or protection, a place of resort for those who seek relief.
This makes a little more sense, in that having made it through commercial and personal-use nets, and evaded hundreds of anglers' lures while in the process of swimming this far upstream, salmon often stack up in the sanctuary to rest before making the big push up the rapids and falls that await them up the Russian River.
However, as the fish rest, they begin to stack up, or bottleneck, making them easy targets for the hordes of anglers who line the riverbanks.
So, how much relief can the fish have with scores of anglers whipping at the water with flailing fly rods like it was some kind of audition for the next Indiana Jones flick.
Definition three: a reservation where animals or birds are sheltered for breeding purposes and may not be hunted or trapped.
Beyond the obvious that it doesn't include the word fishing, this definition like the other two only makes partial sense when applied to this fishery.
The sanctuary is a reservation for salmon, but only before the area opens to fishing, which is typically only a week or two a fraction of the total three-month time period that fish return. The rest of the time "combat fishing" is the norm.
My solution to this quandary is to rename the area with a more accurate and appropriate word gauntlet.
Webster's defines gauntlet as two rows of men facing each other and armed with clubs or other weapons with which they strike at an individual who is made to run between them; a crossfire of any kind.
This may not sound as pretty in tourist pamphlets and on the hotel info-mercials, but Alaskans know the truth about this area despite its current sugar-coated title.
Changing it would just be a way of tipping off everybody else before they get there so they can come better prepared with protective eye wear, riot shields, chain mail suits or whatever else the deem necessary to participate in this often overcrowded fishery.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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