Autumn angling trip requires plan(s) B

Out and About

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

There's a reason it's called fishing and not catching.

Ancient angling proverb.

On a crisp and foggy fall morning, on a river not far from here, three intrepid fishermen set out recently in search of the elusive coho salmon. Armed only with fishing rods and their limited wits, these three hit the water in good spirits and with hopes high. What could possibly go wrong?

The trip started out as planned. The captain of this party (all names have been omitted to protect the innocent journalists) picked up his deckhand on time, and they traveled down the road to the boat launch, where the third member of the party soon joined them.

Through the shroud of early morning mist, it was evident the boat launch would not be as useful as the party had hoped. The water which should have been waiting to wisk their boat away to the fishing grounds was nowhere to be found.

"Oh yeah," said the captain. "I thought it might be low tide."

High and dry, but as yet undaunted, the quick-thinking captain proposed the first of the day's several "plan B's."

"Lets go upriver," he told his mates. "We can launch there."

So off they went, leaving one vehicle behind so as to save parking fees at the next launch. Always thinking ahead, this crew was.

At the second boat launch, things were more promising. There was water, just enough to allow the crew to muscle their trusty craft into the fast-moving stream. Because of the extremely low water, however, once the boat was launched there would be no way to return it to the trailer.

"No problem," the captain informed his loyal crew. "By the time we get done fishing, the tide will be up enough to get back out."

Reassured, the crew smiled and began preparing the boat for fishing. They baited the hooks, stowed the gear and took their places alongside their fearless leader on board the boat.

With a wry grin, the captain took his seat behind the helm and breathed deeply of the morning river air.

"I love the smell of humpies in the morning," he exclaimed lustily, turning the key to start the boat's experienced 2-cycle outboard.

There was coughing. There was wheezing. There was lots of swearing. But on this morning, there was no life in the old motor.

"It's always like this," said the captain to his crew, now beginning to glance at each other mutinously. "She don't always want to start in the morning, but she'll go."

Twenty minutes later, it was time for another plan B.

"Well, if we drift downstream, we can anchor up and fish. Eventually, she'll start up."

While the thought of feisty silver salmon testing their skill as anglers clouded their judgment like the early morning river fog, the crew grudgingly nodded their heads. Stealthily, the party threw caution to the wind, drifted away from the dock and disappeared into the haze hanging over the water.

Ten minutes later, fishing lines were wet.

Though they saw many fish, they caught none. Still, sitting there as the sun slowly cooked the orange fog from the water, the crew found contentment. The air was fresh, the sky was clearing and the fall colors along the river were reminding them all that Alaska in autumn gives those who pause to watch a brief and beautiful glimpse of nature's vibrant death.

Kicked back in their comfortable craft, the three relaxed, spun some sea yarns and tried to coax the salmon into biting to no avail. Still, sitting there in the brisk September morning, this crew was content in their pursuit.

"Well, we better head in," said the captain, breaking into an intellectual conversation about the mating habits of a certain short-lived salmon species.

Again, the motor would not start. Try as he would, no amount of gentle words could coax the tired river warrior into one last spin.

"Piece of (junk)!," he exclaimed.

Time for plan B. Again.

"If we drift back to the first launch, we can send someone up in the car and get the truck and trailer, then drive it back and pull out there," he told the crew.

A fine plan, the crew agreed. They pulled anchor, and the captain went to tugging happily at the oars.

Soon, they approached the original launch. As they go closer, however, it became apparent that the tide had still not begun to cooperate.

Echoing words spoken two centuries before as Capt. James Cook sailed up Turnagain Arm, one of the crew pointed out the obvious.

"Looks like we're running out of water."

Indeed, they were. Twenty yards before the entrance to the boat launch, the craft pulled up on the still-exposed mud and stuck fast.

"Land ho," muttered the captain.

But this captain was not one to be easily discouraged. He ordered his crew to make ready for another plan B.

"You go get the truck, I'll wait here. The tide's bound to come up eventually," he said.

So off went the crew, slogging through the quicksand-like mud. After reaching shore, they turned for one final look at their captain, resting on the bow of his beloved craft.

"We'll be back," they called to him.

The captain, with full faith in his crew, laid down on the bow and took a nap, letting the gulls sing him into a midmorning slumber. He knew his crew would return for him that, or the water would eventually come up and float the craft, carrying it and him out to sea. Either way, he knew he would be OK. There was always a plan B.


The crew did return, and the water did rise, eventually enabling the crew to land the craft and leave the mighty river to run its course.

And the captain? Thankful that the voyage had been a safe (if not successful) one, returned to his desk and sat down to write all about it.

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