Big run of humpies provides youngsters opportunity to catch fish

Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000

WILLOW CREEK (AP) -- On what would otherwise be a quiet and peaceful Tuesday evening, 5-year-old Emily Eckroth jumped and squealed in the throes of salmon fever.

All this started when Dad, Anchorage's Dave Eckroth, hooked a salmon on his son's flimsy spincast rod. Dave was fishing with the cut-rate gear, because 9-year-old Bryce had somehow weaseled the good graphite rod and expensive baitcasting reel out of his father's hands.

Dad's gear was rigged for silver salmon with a big gob of eggs floating below a bobber. Bryce, despite his young age, was a master at flipping the bobber and bait upstream with the long rod, following its float down the mixing line between the clear waters of this creek and the muddy Susitna River, and then flipping the bait back upstream to start the process all over again.

This he found preferable to casting with the Pixee on the spincast rig in hopes of catching the more-abundant pink salmon.

Dave, being a good father, went along with this swap in the hope of hooking something for one of the kids.

''Where's Emily?'' he asked as the fish tugged.

She was just downstream trying to show some other 5- or 6-year old how to fish.

''Emily, come here!'' Dave yelled.

A high-pitched squeal came from the drag on the spincast reel. The fish was going for the fast waters of the Susitna. This was too much for Bryce. He grabbed the spincast rod away from Dad just as Emily arrived.

This did not sit well with his younger sister.

''I need it!'' she shouted. ''I need it!''

Bryce, in his brotherly way, didn't hear a word.

Hey, it was ''fish on!'' time. Who could bother with a younger sister?

Emily did the only thing she could in the circumstances. She started to cry. Dad consoled.

''We'll let you get the next one,'' he said.

By then, Bryce's rod was bent completely double.

This was obviously no pink salmon. Pinks put up a battle on light gear but nothing like this.

With a jump, the salmon revealed itself to be a silver. It made another run for the strong current of the Susitna. Line ripped off the reel. Bryce tried to slow it with his hand and yelped as the friction from the outgoing monofilament burned his fingers.

''Oh my gosh,'' he said ''Get the net! It's a silver!''

This was big excitement for Emily. Pinks are fish she and her brother had both caught and released a bunch of them already.

Silvers, on the other hand, were keepers.

The spat with her brother was immediately forgotten. She started giggling and hopping around on the bank behind her dad. Dave waded into the water with the net, and the silver salmon was theirs.

''A silver with a Pixee,'' Dave said.

An excited Bryce was already grabbing the fish out of the net, despite his father's warning to smack it dead first. The fish wiggled out of Bryce's grasp. The line broke.

The salmon flopped back toward the river with the Pixee still caught in its beak. Bryce's mother, Nancy, was quick to cut off the escape with one of her wader-booted feet.

Bryce pounced on the fish again, dragged it up the beach and beat on it with a rock until Dad arrived with a knife to save supper from becoming pulp.

''Here, just bleed him out,'' Dave said.

Bryce took the long filet knife.

''Careful,'' his father said.

Bryce sliced the knife across the gills of the silvery fish speckled on its dorsal sides with black spots. Blood gushed forth. Bryce went looking for the stringer. Emily returned with the other spincast rod and reel.

''Dad,'' she asked, ''will you put my pink Pixee on there?''

How quick they learn.

Seconds later, she was zinging the Pixee out toward an island in the river.

Bryce, meanwhile, had put the silver on the stringer and was preparing to return to the fishing.

''I don't think there are anymore silvers bigger than that,'' he said holding his hands a good 30-inches apart in demonstration of his catch.

The distance was at least a half a foot bigger than the fish.

How quick they learn.

The Eckroths had been at this a long time.

''(Bryce) was probably a week old when I had him out fishing in a front pack up at Clear Creek,'' Nancy said in a rare break from fishing herself. In her blue neoprene waders and fishing vest, she is an obvious enthusiast.

So is her similarly equipped husband.

The kids, being kids, have half caught the parents' fishing fever. The kids like to fish when its obvious there are fish to catch. When the fishing slows, they -- particularly young Emily -- find other ways to entertain themselves.

She fished around in the soft-sided cooler full of snacks. She played with other children along the banks. She made a boat of a plastic coffee cup and floated it on the current.

''No, no, Emily,'' Dave said, worried about litter. ''You guys can use sticks.''

Emily ignored him until he hooked a fish. Then she scooped up the cup and rushed to his side.

''Here you go,'' he said, handing her the rod.

Emily pumped and reeled. When that didn't seem to work well, she simply started backing up the beach. A pink salmon came flopping into the shallows. Dave grabbed and unhooked it. Emily jumped up and down in joy.

''There you go,'' Dave said.

''Bye, bye,'' Emily said to the salmon heading back into the current.

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