One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Alan’s First Fish
Miss Shapen was constructed for the sole purpose of taking her builders fishing on the Swanson River. And fishing we did. It was from the deck of Miss Shapen that my oldest son Alan took his first fish. It was early spring in the second year of Miss Shapen’s life, and Alan was four years old when he and I took the little boat with a wow in the bow and camped and fished along the Swanson.
Alan may not even remember the day, but I do. We had waited all winter and watched the snow pile up on the bottom of Miss Shapen lying upside down in the backyard. Then, when weather turned warmer, we assisted the snowmelt by shoveling the compacted white stuff off and away from Miss Shapen. Then, toward spring, as increasing daylight hours allowed a sliver of sunlight between job and dinner, we’d temporarily tip Miss Shapen on her side and do minor repairs and maintenance and talk and dream of the season’s first fishing trip.
Then the fateful Friday found us motoring down the Seward Highway in our old Nash Rambler with Miss Shapen on top. It was nearly dark when we showed up at the Swanson. It was dark by the time the tent was pitched, sleeping bags spread out, dinner prepared and consumed, and the five-horse power Evenrude mounted on Miss Shapen’s sloped transom in anticipation of the morning’s first light and the season’s first cast.
Alan hardly slept that night. It was his first real trip away from his mother, away from the security of his bed, and then there was the excitement of being big enough to go upriver and fish with his dad. So every time I’d check my watch during the night, he’d be awake and ask if it was time to go fishing yet.
Finally, it was time to fish, and we pointed Miss Shapen upriver pushed by our little, blue-gray outboard blowing a bluish exhaust cloud. There was a spring chill to the air, and, although the Evenrude was incapable of putting Miss Shapen on the step, the slight breeze created by our upriver movement bit our cheeks and nose. Realizing that if Alan got too cold, it might spoil his trip and even turn him off from future fishing outings, we stopped at the first upriver hole.
I’d never fished that hole before, thinking that it was too close to the road to be very good fishing. Alan was fishing with a packaged combination outfit purchased from B and J Surplus. I baited his number 14 gold hook with a small yellow salmon egg. After a few tries, he was casting in the Swanson the way we had practiced it back home in the front room.
On maybe his fourth or fifth try, a small Swanson rainbow grabbed the hook and ran for cover. Alan took two steps back and, at the same time, jerked with all his 4-year-old might. The momentum of the motion caused him to stumble over the tackle box, scattering hooks, leader, line, and lures. He quickly recovered and discovered he had landed his first fish.
Having heard us talk about releasing the little ones, he immediately asked if this one was big enough to keep and take home and show mom and then eat. If it wasn’t at least 8 inches, we always threw them back, even fishing for a shore lunch or campsite breakfast. I showed Alan the tape measure where it read 8 inches. He put his fish alongside the tape. The fish was too short. Then Alan did what every sportsman has done forever; he released his fish. The little rainbow darted for the protection of the overhanging bank.
That’s how I remember Alan’s first fish. We’ve fished and hunted together for nearly five decades, and Alan still has that kind of personal integrity. If it isn’t right, he doesn’t do it. I’ve always been grateful for Swanson River, the little boat with the wow in the bow, for fishing, and for the opportunity to be one on one with my son and being there when the 4-year-old took a giant step toward the man he was to become.