For two solid weeks we’ve had nothing but rain, wind, fog, cold, and general misery. The rain has taken every form from a mist so light you could call it “heavy dew” to a driving downpour that washes out roads and floods low lying areas within an hour. Many of Bethel’s roads are looking like a stage for a tractor pull, despite the hard work of Dutch’s road crew to keep them well graded and graveled up. The thermometer seems stuck between 48 and 52 degrees. The dogs are miserable, wet, bedraggled and muddy. And people are just tired of it, and getting grumpy, me included. (Yeah, OK, whining a bit here.)
The one bright spot in this soggy fortnight occurred last Sunday. The skies suddenly cleared, the sun beamed brightly on us, and we had one glorious day of late summer weather. Henry’s wife, Betty, called it a “champagne day” and that struck me as so appropriate; the light was golden, and people’s spirits rose like tiny bubbles.
The silver salmon (coho) have been running since late July, and Henry was ready to grab the first fine day to go get some. Dutch and I were happy to get out on the river with him to enjoy the day. And it was such a fine one. The sun was warm, the air was cool, there was a slight breeze to keep the bugs off (mosquitoes are pretty much gone, but there are a few black flies and gnats around), and the river was calm and flat. We went out on an incoming tide, which can make the river nearly currentless, and more like a lake.
Once the net was in the water, we lounged on the boat drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. It was so nice to see the huge sky above us, after so many days of heavy, low-hanging clouds. The vastness of this land seems absolutely endless on a clear day. So big, and with so little evidence of human occupation. The place we are fishing is only 10 minutes upriver from Bethel, and the boat we are sitting in is the only man-made thing we can see for miles in any direction. There is only a great big river, and trees, and sky; no buildings, no channel markers in the river, no other boats, no planes in the sky, no other people. It is really kind of amazing; it is true wilderness.
After a 45-minute drift in which the boat never moved (incoming tide overcoming river current), Dutch and I hauled in the net, picking fish as we went. The silvers were beautiful! Bright and fresh, about five to eight pounds apiece. And what was even nicer, not too many of them. We had about 35 fish in the net; Henry called it “gentleman” fishing, as opposed to the “combat” variety of our last trip when the net had 300 fish in it.
We did a second drift and brought in another 30 or so silvers, for a total of one full tote of beautiful fish. We also had a few chum and humpies for the dogs, but no reds or kings; those species have finished their runs. The silver run on the Kuskokwim River is one of the finest in the world.
Silvers are great sport fish for rod-and-reel or fly fishing; they are vigorous fighters. When you catch a silver on a line, it will take off with a zing and run hard. As you work it back in, it will continue taking off, jumping and fighting all the time. A 10 pounder may take half an hour to land, and can wear you out. And there are so many of them that nearly every cast gets a hit. It is lots of fun!
In anticipation of this, my dad and his brother, my favorite uncle Bob are coming up next week for some camping and fishing Alaska style. I’m nearly as excited as they are! Uncle Bob has never been to Alaska before and he is really looking forward to it. Dad has been up several times; in June of 2001, he and three of his buddies flew up in a small plane from Washington State and we went 300 miles (two days) up the Kuskokwim to the Holitna River for a week of camping and fishing. It was a large event; besides the four guys from downstates, there was Henry, his nephew-in-law Trevor, his niece Meredith (Andrea’s sister), and my partner at the time, Les, along with four dogs, three boats, and a ton of camping gear.
This trip will be a little smaller scale: Henry, Dutch and I, and Dad and Uncle. We’ll take two boats, mine and Henry’s, and three dogs. Our plan is to go up the Kisaralik River, which is about an hour upriver from Bethel. It is a clear, fast tributary of the Kuskokwim, and good place to catch both silver salmon and rainbow trout. It may be possible to do a little hunting as well. The fall migration of departing ducks, geese and cranes has started, and Henry is hoping we might get a bird. The area we will be in is also home to black bear, and we could see a few of those. Grizzly is much more rare in that area, but not unheard of. I’d just as soon miss seeing ole’ griz; he is a cantankerous and unpredictable animal that I’d rather not come across.
The get-ready has started, and this weekend’s To Do list is a long one. Blogging may be sparse in the next two weeks, but I’ll try to post updates when possible. Right now I’m praying for a week-long weather break to start by next Tuesday. Keep your fingers crossed for us, OK?
Labels: Life in Bethel