Fish On!

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We celebrated Independence Day doing something I would rate among the top three things I’ve done here since moving to Alaska; and that would be the continuous slaughter of an unsuspecting fishy or ten. The four guys in our group set out on a chartered salmon fishing expedition from Seward, AK. Salmon charters are a typical feature of many places on the Kenai peninsula as well as some places around Anchorage or further east. Alaskan Salmon, like those around the world, is a strange fish that spends its winters swimming in the ocean before making a run up freshwater rivers and streams to mate and spawn. While there are people who fly fish and drift boat on the rivers, this charter was a drop-line fishing cruise along the coastal waters south of Seward catching them as they find some dinner before heading to the spawning grounds.

We fished for about four hours out near a small island just off some of the Fjords down on the sea. The herring bated hook and heavy weight would drop (not cast) off our poles where we would send it down to anywhere between 50 & 90 feet below the surface, only to real it in slowly until the bait would be dropped again. Salmon aren’t as much fighters as they are just much bigger than a pan fish. The process was always exciting. Once you have the hook set and you are sure its on, you would yell “Fish On!!” The crew came to your side and coached you to bring it up. Sometimes you had to chase the fish around the boat, going over or under the other people still with lines in the water. Finally, once the fish was netted and pulled up, the crew would take the fish on deck, pull the hook, and “stopped the fish from any further suffering” (which is Alaskan for “smashing it in the head with a baseball bat”). The crew did all the messy work for us. Baiting the hook, fixing tangles, practicing their baseball swing, then even filleting the fish before we were in port. Our crew did quite well, the four of us having enough fish that to buy it commercially would be about the same price as the cruise. Personally, I got two silver salmon, a rock fish, and one that got away (because their is no proof of the fish I can say like a true fisherman that it was the biggest salmon ever caught in Alaska).

To be honest, that the fishing part was the most underwhelming of the entire adventure. I grew up on the Mississippi, casting my bobber and night crawler out about twenty feet to let it sit and real in slowly; and that was as nearly as interesting of a fishing experience (except it seems like I never caught anything back then). Sport fishermen, or people who love the fishing experience, may not like this. While there is no guarantee you will catch anything, it’s just one step below sitting at a carnival fish tank game and expect a prize to come up every time you cast it. Except for the crew, you couldn’t call anyone on that boat professionals, but we all seemed to catch something. Even the two high school girls who sat inside for most of the fishing, were more concerned with where to plug in their phones, brought their toy yorkie dog, and actually tried a number of poses with their fish to make sure their hair looks good. The moment someone gets a strike though, the blood rushes and you can’t help to yell out those words “Fish On!!” in joy.

If fishing on that cruise is underwhelming, then the rest of the experience is underrated. Seward is surrounded by the Kenai Fjords National Park, which by the name you can guess is more about the seacoast rock formations than the inland forests. The sea is the best place to see the park. While there are better cruises to see the fjords and glaciers, we ran along out of Resurrection Bay, past some glacial fed inlets, and between rocky islands covered in lush greenery. Seagulls immediately took an interest in our boat, at first for the herring bait being cut on the deck, and followed us as the salmon were cleaned up behind us. While I was inside warming up for most of the return trip, bald eagles were said to swirl in the flock following the boat as well. That was about the only wildlife I missed though. On the run out, a pod of porpoises danced about a hundred feet off our port side, at one point seemingly turning to catch up with us. Jellyfish coasted by the boat as we drifted along the water. But that all was shadowed when about 200 feet off my side of the boat a whale crested the water, and started to blast from his blow hole. He swam in that area for quite some time, once turning away from the boat and showing the whole of his tale my way. Looking back, I don’t think I ever saw a live whale, in captivity or otherwise. I forgot about the pole for a while, just watching that great beast swim, until a chorus of “Fish On” came around me, and I remembered what we came on here for.

Sometimes I think I was once a fisherman in some life past. Not that I like the pole and the battle with the beast, moreso there is something that charges me up about riding along on the water. To bathe in the wet air, smelling the salt and sea. I don’t have the legs, not that I got sea-sick, but it was a fight sometimes to keep standing on the 3 to 5 foot waves; but that’s probably something that doesn’t get passed down. What I do know is coming off a boat, I sleep better, I breathe better, and I feel happier. Maybe it’s the scenery, maybe the wildlife seen nowhere else, but maybe its something else I can’t put a finger on. At the end of the day, you check off a hike to Echo Bend check off the Fur Rondy Bonspeil, and this trip becomes best experience number 3 of my time here.

Now, who’s hungry for some fish?

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