An Outdoor View: By dawn's early light

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2010

For years I've gone along with the popular myth that the best silver salmon fishing happens at dawn, when people of sound mind are still abed. On Tuesday morning, I became a non-believer.

It's unarguable that some fishing spots are better than others. What's arguable is the location of such spots at a given time.

On the Kenai River, where the depth and turbidity of the water hide the presence of fish, the best spots are known from past experience: Anglers simply move around until they start catching fish. But locating such places in the Kenai isn't easy. Salmon take different migration paths and find different holding places as the river changes.

Flow is one of the key changes. In general, low water finds silvers in relatively narrow, small areas, while high water finds them almost everywhere but in strong current. Shape is another important change. Erosion and deposition constantly change the bottom and banks of the river, causing fish to move and hold in different places. These constant changes make the Kenai a new river -- and a new challenge -- every day.

Competition for the best fishing spot adds another element to the challenge. It's nothing new. The first two humans who realized there were salmon in the Kenai no doubt had a spirited discussion over who got to stand in the best spot to spear or club one. Today's competition can be fierce. I know one guy who anchored on the best spot and slept until morning in his boat. I know of another who got up early and held a prime spot so his boss could arrive at a more civilized hour and avoid having to compete with the riffraff. I tell you this to explain why I set my alarm for the wee hours Tuesday. Earlier in the week, another boat had beaten my partner to the best spot, and he didn't want to suffer that humility again.

Part of the fun of early-morning silver fishing is getting there. Launching your boat in the dark can be great sport, and running a moonlit, winding river while avoiding shallows and other boats can provide all the stimulating entertainment anyone could desire.

I won't divulge when we arrived at the best spot, other than to say we were there first. If I were to tell the time of day, my fishing buddy would have to get up earlier next time. And he'd kill me.

Anyhow, after a couple of tries, the anchor was set where he wanted it. Not another boat was in sight. By flashlight, we baited our hooks and began fishing. A gibbous moon obscured by clouds provided us with a weak light, but not enough to see our rods, which were in rod holders. A few minutes later, a boat anchored just upstream from us. A few minutes after that, a boat anchored downstream from us. My partner informed me that it had been more crowded the day before.

"When does the bite start?" I asked, straining to see my rod-tip.

"Yesterday it started at 6:30," my partner said.

We poured steaming coffee from our thermoses and waited.

And waited.

"Ever notice how it gets colder just before the sun comes up?" I said, shivering.

"Yeah. I'm glad I wore long underwear."

I shouldn't divulge how long we waited for a bite, except to say it was a long, long time. My partner assured me we were in the best spot. And he reassured me after a boat quite a ways downstream from us had boated four silvers before we had our first. Finally, four hours after our arrival, we caught a silver.

"The last time I was on this spot, it was just one after another," my partner said.

Persons of sound mind would've set the alarm for 6 a.m., had a leisurely, satisfying breakfast, and then gone fishing. They might well have caught as many fish as we did, but they wouldn't have known the satisfaction of being on the right spot.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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