OK-previously I wrote a somewhat depressing (but honest) blog entry entitled “A very tough day!” or something along those lines! Well, here is the other side of the coin!
Yesterday, I took a wonderful middle-aged couple from Pennsylvania, Dave and Sue- first time visitors to Alaska who were here for a week soaking up all we have to offer: eagles, moose, glaciers, snow capped mountains, super-fresh air, AND world-class fishing. Just three days ago I took them on a Kasilof drift boat trip, and the fishing had been less than stellar. Yes, we had a good time, visiting, telling stories and enjoying our time on the water. However, our kings are late arriving this year, fishing was slow, and the few fish that were “in the river” that day didn’t cooperate too well. We had a few opportunities, but for whatever reason, we missed/lost our bites and came away with NO king salmon. I may have been more disappointed than them, so they recognized both my frustration and my efforts, down-playing our defeat and thanked me for a fun day on the water.
Yesterday, however, the fishing swung the other way! Having gone halibut fishing with my skipper friend Wally and easily getting their limit of nice 25-50 lb. yummy “white fish” for the freezer, they badly wanted some king action, so for their last day of fishing we returned to the Kasilof River, knowing that the fish were OVER due and that salmon fishing can change day to day. Well, change it did! We hooked eight and landed four, including three nice hatchery fish for the BBQ!
Dave was thrilled to finally catch a nice bright king of 2o something pounds, but Sue really lit-up when she finally got her chance! The best words to describe her behavior during and after her battles (she landed two nice salmon!) are “giddy, child-like glee” as I have rarely heard such joy come from a grown person! He squealed and giggled like a seven year old at Disneyland! And THAT is what it’s all about! To be able to help visitors find that special place inside where they forget about bills, obligations and worries, and totally let-go with genuine happiness, well, that is why “guiding for a living” is SO cool!
Halibut fishing is either good, great or superb! That’s mostly because these big, flat fish live in Cook Inlet and are voracious predators! Find em, and you can almost always make them bite! But king salmon, on the other hand, must be patiently waited for…like a spoiled house cat, you can’t make them come to you if they dont want to! (OK-that’s a poor analagy, but you get the idea: salmon don’t LIVE in our rivers and somethings are beyond our control.)
Some years our salmon fishing starts-out with a bang, and some years, unfortunatley, it takes a while for the fish to arrive in good numbers. As I mentioned, what many folks fail to realize is that these big fish are not resident species-they live and grow far out in the ocean, only returning to our local rivers once mature and ready to spawn. As experienced guides and locals, we know when peak runs of salmon historically occur, but it can still vary some year to year. Apparently, this year is one of those years where the kings are going to take their time returning, arriving to their natal Kenai Peninsula rivers just a bit tardy.
Yesterday, my first full river trip of the 2010 season, reminded me of the toughest aspect of guiding for a living. It’s not the 3:30 am rising, the daily preparation and maintence of the boat and gear, nor the fifteen hour days that nine hour charters make: it is the utterly helpless and hollow feeling created when a guide gives 110% effort but still comes up empty for his clients.
I’m talking about rowing through each hole for second and third passes, changing eggs frequently to ensure maximm scent, staying on the oars all day instead of taking a break on anchor, trying anything and everything to generate a good solid strike and a few special fish for those who have come a long way, spent a substantial amount of money and had high-hopes of magnificent fish “jumping in the boat’ at beck and call.
But even the best angler or most gifted guide can’t catch what isn’t there! Yesterday, after nine hours of very hard fishing, we caught one small jack king and missed one other decent strike. That’s it! We saw only five kings boated amongst over thirty boats and nearly one hundred anglers! Despite decent water conditions, it was clear that the kings were not yet “in” the Kasilof River in good numbers.
My guests, a veteran salmon angler from Anchorage and two very nice folks from Ohio, clearly enjoyed the time on this beatufil river, relaxing and soaking in the scenery complete with two moose sightings and dozens of eagles, ducks and cranes. We enjoyed the clean air, and shared stories, laughed at jokes and cherished the time away from the hustle and bustle of traffic, offices, phones and other irritants-but still, I know my guests came for big salmon and that part of the equation was sorely missing.
The TOUGHEST part of my job? Dealing with defeat! Keeping the frustration tucked inside, making the mood in my small boats light and fun, handling the pressure to produce when odds that day are clearly stacked against us! Realizing that “fishing is fishing” even in Alaska, and sometimes stellar catches are beyond our control.
I honestly think the guests took the defeat better than I did, after all, nobody wants them to catch a big fish more than I do! Any reputable, honest and caring guide prides himself on his success rate and how frequently he creates those special memories for his cleints!
Today, a day off, I lick my wounds, re-group physically and mentally, and prepare my gear and my attitude for another assault tomorrow, knowing after twenty years of guiding for river kings, that over-due salmon can arrive on any tide, and even a day or two can make all the difference in how many kings are in the river! Like a veteran bull rider, I will pick my self up, dust myself off, and climb back on that horse with a positive attitude, knowing that better days are just around the corner!
As I sit here struggling with my first blog entry, I recall what a good pal recently told me; “Blogs are more for telling stories than for sharing pictures and short exclamations like Facebook!” But what “story” could I tell that would interest those folks who might visit my EZ Blog?
How about an up-close-and-personal look into what it’s like to be a professional fishing guide? I’m talking about a “behind the scenes” look into the actual challenges and frustrations, the excitement and disapointment, the highs and lows of taking people fishing for a living!
Well, before our summer season ever gets here, and prior to ever wetting a line, is our “off season.” Most folks think we “take the winter off” but that’s far from the truth. Rather, my winter was spent not only answering e-mails and phone calls for two to six hours a day, answering questions and explaining options, but working on a new website, mailing literature, juggling the schedules of multiple guides, writing magazine articles, attending fishery meetings, and a myriad of other small but critical “things” that prove vital to having a busy summer fishing schedule.
Sure, I had time to do lots of fun stuff, like ride our snowmachines, catch up on movies with the wife, sleep in, go to the local gym, help out at my girls small, private school and attend some of their field trips. But as you now know, my “off season” is anything but off!
Presently, I’m on the cusp of turning my daily routine upside down: my seventeen licenses/permits/certifications are in order, all my insurance and bonds are up to date, and my boats properly registered. In less than a week, I will be rising at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m., meeting clients, telling stories and teaching proper methods, keeping my boat in “fishy” water, stressing over stubborn salmon that are reluctant to bite, snapping photos of the ones that actually will bite, cleaning fish, trailering boats, rigging rods, curing eggs…and rushing off to the sack to grab just enough shut-eye to be able to do it all over again the next morning-with a smile on my face!
Stand by for a story or two of an extra-wild fish, a quirky client, a tough day, an extraordinary day…basically my life during the crazy fishing season!