Finally! Fishing! The river was just clear enough, and I was up at 6 again to meet my guide at 7:30 at Anchor Point. It warms up some during the day, but at 6, it’s cold, and I was grateful for my three layers – shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket.
Upon arrival he says, “You did bring wool socks right? That river is cold.” Dangit. Wool socks. I looked at my little white tennis socks and thought, “Well, this is what I’ve got. How cold can it be?” He had to find some waders that would fit my big feet, and all he had was hip waders – they come up to crotch-height – which I hoped would be high enough to keep all of my parts dry. And off we went.
The very first place we went is where we saw the moose, as soon as we got there. I uttered some inane tourist exclamation and he turned around and said, “Cue the moose”. He said they usually don’t bother people, but don’t turn your back on him. By then I couldn’t even see where he’d gone.
We had to cross the river to get where we were going, and it was running high, and it was still pretty dark so I couldn’t see the bottom. Flowing water has incredible power – freezing water apparently more than most – and on the way across a new mantra came to me; don’t fall in don’t fall in don’t fall in om shanti don’t fall in don’t fall in don’t fall in.
After what felt like miles of hiking we finally got to the spot he wanted us to fish, and fish we did. I’m not exactly an expert fly-fisherperson, so he was giving me some instruction along the way, which was good. This was different than anything that I had done – heavier gear, heavier line, weights on the line to get it down to the bottom. But I got the hang of it and we spent a couple of hours there before moving on to another spot he wanted to try.
Which was good, that we moved, because by then both my feet and my fingers were pretty much numb. I also learned that It’s even harder to cross a river when you can’t feel your feet. You just have to kind of act as if you have them, and that they will function properly.
We drove for a while and then hiked quite a ways to the new spot, which had a few other people already there. They had the best spots apparently, so we settled on the other side of the river and my guide told me I just had to cast a bit further to get where I needed to get. My body was already letting me know that we were far exceeding our normal level of daily physical exertion, but I was determined. Fly fishing is pretty much constant motion, and somewhere along the way my rod started getting mysteriously heavier. It was already heavier gear than I was used to working with, and my back and shoulder were feeling it.
That’s when the guy across the river, the one who was in ‘my’ spot, hooked into a beautiful steelhead. And I was once again whipping that rod around like it was light as a feather.
I caught a few small fish, and then hooked into what I first thought was a snag. Until it moved. Turned out it was a silver salmon, which was much bigger than the gear I was using was designed for. I got him in close before I finally lost him. It was pretty thrilling to have something that big on a fly line, the biggest by far I’ve ever experienced fly fishing.
While navigating this big fish, I also managed to wander just a bit further into the river than the waders were designed for. He wasn’t coming to me, so I guess I had an unconscious reaction to go to him. Bad idea. I backed up fast enough to avoid a major soaking, but a minor one was plenty. Wet jeans, and even wetter little white tennis socks.
We threw a few more casts and it was time to go, which was good. I noticed that my casting was getting worse the more tired I got, and by this point it looked more like I was trying to beat something over the head than delicately present the bug in a natural way. The walk out was long. By this time I was becoming convinced that Alaska fishing guides make sport out of trying to kill tourists. I could barely lift my squishy, half-frozen rubber-encased legs over some of the logs on the trail. I went around some of them, and was using the fishing pole as a walking stick.
It was a great day, with some breathtaking scenery, enough fish to make it fun, and a moose. I fished Alaska!
Day four now begins – a travel day of sorts. I’m packing up here in Homer and heading across Kachemak Bay to “the other side”, which is true wilderness. No cars, no towns. I’m turning in my car at the airport then will catch a cab to the harbor. I have to take a boat to get there.
I don’t really know what to expect, but my sense is it’s going to be a lot different than Homer. Quieter. Maybe a lot quieter. Between now and then, I’m going to try to find some wool socks.