It's 4:15 am and my alarm is going off far too early to get up, and yet I swing my legs over the edge of the bed, searching for my shoes in the dark. It’s late enough in the season, the end of August, that even here on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula it will remain dark for another couple of hours.
We pack the car with fishing tackle, warm clothing, cups of coffee and breakfast to go, trying to avoid the tangle of rods I had carefully threaded through, from dashboard to rear window, the evening before. Soon we are on the road, watching for moose and trying to keep our overstuffed breakfast burritos from ending up in our laps.
Our guide is ready for us when we arrive at the river and, within a few minutes, we are floating in the pre-dawn darkness, our hands wrapped around fresh cups of coffee. I could use the caffeine but right now am much more thankful for the heat radiating through the lightly insulated paper cup. It is cold this morning, with a chilly fog resting heavily on the surface of the water. But it feels fishy!
After a long, cold run, with a couple stops due to areas of thick fog obscuring the bank, we reach our first fishing spot. We have the right gear with the right flies tied to the end of the line, and we’re going to catch fish!
And yet we don’t. The first spot is a bust, but we’ll keep at it until we figure out the pattern. I wonder if I should try a sink tip line and almost ask again. The water is low and shallower than usual, and the guide seems confident that a floating line is the way to go. We change flies, vary the retrieve, then move to yet another spot.
It is turning into a beautiful day - Sunny and in the low 70’s. Still no fish, though, and my mood is darkening.
We eat lunch and move to another spot, which happens to be a place where I hooked a couple fish earlier in the week. The boat in front of us on the drift, throwing spinning tackle, hooks up and quickly lands a nice silver. Then another boat further down repeats the insult. Nothing for us. We come around and try again, with the same result. We watch anglers in other boats catch another couple fish.
My father, my fishing partner for the day, hooks and lands a fish. Still nothing for me. I finally get an eat, but it comes at the end of a vigorous strip, and the fly pulls out of the fish’s mouth. The guide asks why did I strip strike? I try to keep my voice level when I answer.
My casting is getting progressively worse, and I’m sick of this river and these fish. In fact, I think to myself, I’d be having more fun and would certainly be much more productive if I were at work right now. This is a waste of time and money. I begin to wonder how long it would take my rod to sink to the bottom if I pitched it at the next fish I saw roll.
We see the guys who we are fishing with pull into the run below us and we drift down to see how they are doing. Before we get there, they hook and land a fish. They have hooked 12 fish so far and landed 9 and the fish are eating purple. Maybe there’s hope! As they pull away, I ask what type of line they have been using. Sink tip.
Without consulting the guide, I trade my 7 weight rod rigged with a floating line for another that happens to be rigged with a sink tip line and a purple salmon fly. We motor back up to the head of the run.
Within 5 minutes I am tight to my first salmon of the day. Then my father gets an eat.
We really should be heading back to the boat ramp, but the fish are finally eating and we’re all having a great time. We’ve already landed two fish in the last 20 minutes and lost another boatside. We make time for one more drift. It doesn’t take long. A couple casts into the drift I feel a tap, but when I tighten up, I feel nothing. I let the fly drop, and when I strip a second or two later the line tightens and comes alive! It’s another bright coho. This is the best fight of the day, but soon the fish is brought alongside the boat and landed.
It’s past time to go, and with a fish like that I’m ready! We stuck with it, and it paid off. I spend the ride back thinking about how much I love this sport and how I can’t wait to get back on the river a soon as possible. I’m pretty sure the other guys on the boat are thinking the same thing.