We had flown in a small pontoon plane three or four miles upstream on the Gibraltar river, then floated in a raft down the river to its mouth on Lake Illiamna. When we came to where the river flowed into the lake, I stood on the bank and watched a young native on the other side fish for Sockeye salmon. It was a warm July day, and he wore a t-shirt and blue jeans. His straight black hair fell in bangs around slightly slanted eyes. An older woman, probably his mother, watched from the bank nearby with her thumbs hooked in the suspenders of her coveralls. There were several racks of orange salmon sides drying in the sun on the river rocks behind them. The young man had a large treble hook—chromed and maybe two or three inches long—attached to a long white string which he laid out in folds at his feet. He would swing this hook in an underhand circle like a softball pitcher, then fling it across the current at the pod of holding Sockeye. He waited three or four seconds for the hook to sink, then he reached forward and yanked the string back in one long stroke as if he were starting a lawnmower. His whole rig probably cost a couple bucks, five at the most. I looked down at my $499 fly rod, and I thought how most of the time when we fly-fish for Sockeye we do pretty much the same thing as this native, and how so many of our “hook-ups” are in the dorsal fin or the gill plate or stomach or someplace else other than the mouth. I hoped he would snag one so I could watch him fight it with the string.
TEXT © John Bernhard
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