Experience priceless, but anglers' catch not big enough to pay for trip

Getting fish tale just right

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

The two men ahead of us checking in at the Kenai Airport looked like a walking advertisement for both Banana Republic and Orvis. Their fly rods were tucked safely into impressive carrying cases. Their luggage was designer all the way. At the feet of these Alaska visitors were two large disposable coolers each, the kind packed by local fish processors. These fishermen were checking their cache all the way to Cincinnati.

I was there seeing friends off who had come up from Georgia for a visit to America's Last Frontier. As we were saying our goodbyes, my guests and I could not help but overhear the conversation being exchanged by the fishermen. There was also little doubt that they were pleased with some eavesdropping.

"Caught enough fish to pay for our trip up here," one of the men said to the other.

His partner echoed the sentiment. "Yeah, caught enough fish to pay for our trip."

I could see astonishment appearing in the eyes of my friends. They looked to me with forehead furrows raised in sheer amazement.

Sure that they had an audience now, the fishermen continued. They went over what luck they had had halibut fishing off Anchor Point. Then, they started reliving moments that would become treasured memories throughout their lives of their success catching salmon in the Kenai River. Every sentence or two would be punctuated with, "Caught enough fish to pay for our trip up here."

One of the men started doing a little mathematical calculation. He took the number of pounds they were taking out with them, and started multiplying it by the supermarket value of the fish.

The other angler corrected him.

"No," he said, "You have to figure it on the basis of what all of these meals would cost us if we ate them in a fine restaurant."

"You're right," came the quick reply, "Caught enough fish to pay for our trip."

Being a part-time resident of the great state of Alaska, I am not unfamiliar with the cost of things around here. I know something about the expense of food and lodging, to say nothing of what it takes to rent a vehicle. I know a thing or two about the price of nonresident fishing licenses, of charters, and of processing and packaging fish. What about the investment in all of that expensive clothing and gear? And what of the price of their plane tickets? I was chuckling under my breath.

My friends, however, were taken in by this ruse. They looked to me again shaking their heads in utter amazement just as the two men walked away from the counter having by then checked their precious bounty.

"Oh, don't believe a word of that bragging," I said to my cheechako friends. "They were just rehearsing that little spiel so that they can get it just right when they get back home."

The ticket agent joined me in a good laugh.

No doubt those sportsmen had a wonderful time in Alaska. They left the state with more fish than most.

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that when they got back home and made that little well-rehearsed speech to the women awaiting their return, that the luck of these fishermen suddenly ran out.

Larry G. Johnson is a resident of Georgia, but he spends enough time in Alaska to claim being part sourdough. Johnson writes a weekly column for The Carroll Star News in Carrollton, Georgia.

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