One Last Cast – Chapter 13

One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Chapter Thirteen
Blake’s First Fish

Russian River is one of my favorite fishing holes. Of the ones you can drive to, my favorite. Sure it’s crowded during the red-salmon run, but that’s part of the fun.

After the red run winds up, and most anglers put away their equipment or go elsewhere, the Russian becomes a super rainbow and Dolly stream, and one of the prettiest. When most fishermen think of the Russian, they think of crowds, but not in September, October, and even until snow and cold make it too unpleasant to fish.

When the reds are in, we mainly fish the Russian from eight or nine o’clock in the evening until the first ferry brings new anglers the following morning. We fish the Russian, but not really—we fish the Kenai just below where the Russian joins the bigger river.

That’s what we were doing the night Blake took his first fish. We arrived late in the evening and took the last ferry across the Kenai. A few hardy anglers stayed on the Russian side when the ferry departed for its final trip of the day, and we joined them in search of salmon.

We discovered from talking to those who remained, and those who took the ferry back, that fishing had been rather poor throughout the day. Blake and I started to cast, but not with a great deal of enthusiasm. He was perhaps six at the time and soon tired when no fish immediately accepted his offering. We decided to take an early lunch break and give the fish a chance to calm down from the all-day marathon they’d been running trying to get up the Russian past the horde of fishermen, now departed. The diehards, those anglers who’d stayed over, continued to fish, but with no better success than Blake and I had with our lines out of the water and eating Mom’s meatloaf sandwiches and oatmeal cookies.

About the time the lunch ran out, I noticed a group of reds had moved into the hole Blake and I had been fishing earlier. “Get your gear,” I whispered to Blake, “There’s some fish in our hole.”

Blake picked up his rod, and I left mine on the bank. By me standing in the swift current just above Blake, and stopping some of the water pressure, he was able to safely wade out in his short 6-year-old-size boots far enough to cast to the fish. It only took him a couple of tries, and then bam, he had hooked a red. In the half-light of the evening we could see the fish jump and twist and turn trying to throw the hook.

Blake soon had an audience. Almost all those fishing laid down their rods and became Blake’s cheering section. One angler grabbed his net and stepped into the river below Blake. “Bring him in, and I’ll net him for you,” he said.

Blake was able to bring the fish near enough for the kind angler to reach out and net Blake’s catch. When the fish was brought in, the cheering section moved around the net to take a look. It was then discovered that the fish had been hooked behind the head.

“Foul-hooked,” someone said.

And then another piped in, looking at the six-year-old now holding the net, “It’s alright, kid, you’re little. Keep the fish. We don’t care, and nobody’s going to say anything.” One man took the hook out for Blake and left the fish in the net.

Blake looked at me with questioning eyes. “What do I do?” he asked.

“It’s your fish,” I said.

“Isn’t it against the law?” Blake asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s alright,” the crowd chipped in. “Don’t worry. Go ahead and keep your fish.”

Blake looked at me and then at the crowd. Then, he took the net, turned it upside down, and let the fish go back in the water.

The now quiet crowd returned to their fishing. A new run of reds came in and most folks caught at least one fish. Any that was foul-hooked, was released.

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.