Peaceful stream yields plenty of space, salmon and youthful exuberance

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2002

RESURRECTION CREEK, Alaska (AP) -- Beneath the Hope Highway bridge, where the shade softens the light that falls on the tumbling waters, 11-year-old Curtis Moore can plainly see his quarry.

Spinning rod in hand, the young angler patrols a submerged boulder marked with a large, white X while searching the water for fish. The boulder is 3 feet long. Water runs across it ankle deep. Off any side, the creek is at least knee deep, maybe deeper.

Moore wears calf-high rubber boots. To get to his perch, he has negotiated two other partially submerged boulders.

As he patrols the rock now, anxiously flipping a weighted fly again and again toward the pink and chum salmon passing visibly beneath the bridge, the question is:

What will happen if Moore hooks a fish?

Will he be able to follow the tricky path back to shore while battling his catch, or will he get wet?

The first fish is no test. Moore hooks it, rears back and promptly breaks his line.

Frowning, he turns and rock hops his way back to shore, dashes down the riverbank, and disappears into the alders in the direction of Hope.

Five to 10 minutes later, he is back. In his hand, he has a new fly. He ties it to the monofilament line spilling off his spinning reel. He checks his split-shot weight. And then, once more, he hopscotches his way out to the X-marks-the-spot boulder beneath the bridge.

Evening is settling over the Kenai Peninsula, and the salmon are battling up the creek in increasing numbers.

''There's two there, and three there,'' observes 11-year-old Stephen Finger as he bounces around some boulders just upstream. The boulders provide an elevated viewing platform that makes it easier to see into the sun-sparkled water upstream from the bridge. Finger spots his fish from on high before bounding back to the water's edge to resume the efforts to catch them.

''Just double-checking to see,'' he says.

The gray shapes of the chum and pink salmon can be difficult to spot in the clear water. Later, the fish will start to darken with spawning colors and become easier to see, but now -- still fresh from the waters of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm -- they are near silver bright.

Or at least the pinks and chums are.

''Wow, look at that king (salmon) there,'' Finger shouts as a bright red fish drifts downstream. The spawned-out king is old and tired, barely able to hold its nose upstream to keep the water flowing over its gills as the current carries it back toward the sea.

The two boys scarcely notice this, or the salmon's color, or the fungus now growing along its back from its dorsal fin to its tail. All they see is a 25-pound behemoth.

''You see that king?'' Finger yells to Moore.

''Oh my gawd,'' Moore says. ''It was right there. I wanna hook that one.''

King fishing is illegal in this creek, but kids do occasionally hook the passing king, says angler Mark Motoyama of Anchorage. Usually, he adds, they manage to keep it hooked for a few seconds before it pulls free.

Motoyama is one of the few adults fishing the creek on Sunday.

''I grew up down here,'' he says. ''Unfortunately, I'm a weekend angler now.''

Being so, however, makes him more appreciative, he adds. As a kid, he took this creek pretty much for granted. Who wants to fish for lowly pinks and chums in a peaceful little creek close to home when the overcrowded Russian River with its prized red salmon is only 40 miles or so away?

Move away, Motoyama says, and the picture changes. Suddenly a peaceful stream with salmon -- a Bird Creek without the mob -- becomes a lot more enticing.

''It's a real nice kid river,'' he adds.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Clear water makes it easy to see the fish. In even-numbered years, so many pinks return that they sometimes threaten to overwhelm the creek. There are seldom crowds. There are many places where it is easy to fish successfully from shore in tennis shoes. The three- to five-pound pink salmon are a lot easier to land in the moderate flow of Resurrection Creek than the six- to 10-pound reds are to land in the rushing flow of the Russian.

The six- to eight-pound chums can, however, present more of a challenge, as Finger discovers.

A blond-haired kid in a red pile sweater and green hipboots, he tries to muscle a chum to shore only to lose it along the rocks beneath the bridge.

''I nailed that thing,'' he says.

''Yeah, but you kind of want to glide them in,'' Motoyama says. ''Try not to horse them so much.''

Finger nods his head and goes back to work. Overhead a car rolls across the bridge, but the sound is barely audible above the noisy gurgle of the water. Downstream, Moore is back at work, flipping his fly in front of any fish he can see, letting it drift, pulling it back when it passes the fish, and flipping it out once more.

Again and again he does this, until at last the fly comes floating down on the nose of a salmon that has only two choices -- grab it or dart out of the way.

This one grabs. Moore yanks back on the rod. The hook is set.

And in a couple of steps that would make Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov proud, Moore is off his rock and safely ashore, his feet still dry, the salmon still battling away at the end of his line.

''Could you net this for me,'' he asks a bystander watching this.

A king-salmon-sized net with a 15-foot-long handle is on the rocks up under the bridge. By the time someone grabs it to help Moore, he has already dragged the salmon by the hook in its lip two feet up onto a sandy beach at the downstream side of the bridge.

It is netted there. Moore promptly takes it out of the net, unhooks it, grabs it by the gills and races off to find his parents in nearby Hope.

His last words as he leaves: ''Will you make sure nobody takes my spot?''

Motoyama laughs. There are only three other people fishing within 100 yards in either direction, and none of them seem in any rush to make their way toward the magic rock marked with an X.

Here, there seems plenty of space and salmon for everybody.

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