Sunday, October 2, 2022

Flossing the Kenai

 Gentle Readers:

I have repeatedly interrupted my longer than necessary historical interpretation of our Alaskan Adventure with Nike's Rangers in August because I keep going out to chase local fish.  My neighbors count on my disclosure of Dana Point fishing failure because they need to know where not to go in local waters on more of an emergency basis than my readers need another load of Alaskan fantasy.

Well too bad for all of you, as I am now resuming my look back at the freshwater experience we had with Zack Lloyd of Glacier Run Outfitters on the Kenai.  I will have to rely on my memory and overriding feelings about what should have happened on those watery adventures to spin this yarn.

We have discussed our ocean experiences with OFish'ial Charters out of Homer in earlier reports.  On some of the alternating days, we headed back up the highway to Soldatna to join Zack for the unique fishing experience of flossing for sockeye on the Kenai River.

This kind of fishing, explained in a prior post entitled "It's a Wild Northland," involves standing in waders in the unwarm water of the Kenai river with heavy fly gear while backhanding a weighted bare hook about ten feet upstream and relentlessly sweeping it back toward shore with the rod tip just above the surface once it gets about 30 degrees downstream.  If the line is drawn properly and an open-mouth salmon swims into the path of your line, the fish is hooked on the outside of its jaw, often at the extreme end of the rod sweep as the angler is awkwardly twisted back into a full downstream rotation.

The angler's all stand in relatively close proximity to one another in the coveted locations where the fish aggregate in the current before heading further upstream.  Each person is standing slightly over two rod lengths from the most adjacent angler at locations most impacted by the pressure of a consistent run.

This post will once again scramble the multiple mornings we spent, both in separate groups and all together, during several days of utilizing this technique to harvest sockeye salmon, which are the lifeblood of the Alaskan ecology.

Nike's fierce enthusiasm for this kind of fishing is reflected in the guide and time table she chose for us.  On the first day, after Ajax, Dionysus and Paris opted to sleep in, Nike, Penny, Isaac, Archimedes and your reporter took the early shift with our guide Zack at a marina slough a very short distance from the prized location where we would start our nocturnal wading.

After a night of  beverage-informed enthusiasm, the late start guys seemingly had the advantage of potentially getting a fair night's sleep. The volunteers for Nike's forced march piled into the van just after midnight to drive back up to Soldatna to make sure we could put on our headlamps and gear in Zack's river sled at 3:30 am.  We had to be the first ones to wade out into the current, taking cautious steps in the slippery darkness to stake our claim for a good spot, like bears.  Your reporter did not chance many photos in the dark, but did get a few in the emerging dawn.

On the highway, we encountered a  truck stopped in our lane with its engine compartment on fire.  The driver, who appeared to be a grown man, was on the phone with his mother, offering to take full responsibility for whatever had just happened to bring him to this unhappy situation.  It was one of the few times during our trip when it was not raining, which was bad luck for our motorist.  He had used up whatever liquid he had and the fire had swarmed back up in his opened engine compartment.  We used the entirety of our day's water and beer supply to douse the flames, while our nervous motorist scampered a short distance several times into the woods to complete undisclosed chores.

We got the fire out by the time we turned the scene over to the state trooper who fortunately responded rather quickly to this middle of nowhere spot.  We assured the officer that the empty beverage cans did not represent anything that the driver had consumed, although we privately discussed the strong possibility that he was influenced by the mysterious forces of chemistry before we came along.

Our  good deed for the day accomplished at an early stage of that day's activities, we proceeded to our rally point at a trailer-boat marina on the Kenai.  It was a very short boat ride to our spot on a bar where we stumbled out of the boat and cautiously edged out into our positions along the river while wearing headlamps and rain gear.

Setting out at 3 am on day two of the Kenai, Archy and Dionysus manage broader grins than your reporter at the momentary lack of rainfall.

We fished in the darkness for several hours, mostly to stake out the prime spot.  Other groups of anglers came along once it got closer to daylight.  The fish are even closer to shore in the dark and we were handcuffed by a few takers that were swimming right next to our boots.  

This year's sockeye run had been stupendous, so the  daily limit was raised to 6 fish. The last time we fished the Kenai, the limit was three and they did not taste as good as this year's run. An angler can also take silver salmon, for which the limit is two.  Many of the fish we actually hooked were pink salmon, which are generally considered less than prime and are released after a spirited  fight. 

The fish were in various states of their spawning changes, including this beautifully humped specimen (a pink) caught by your narrator and displayed by Zack before being released to pursue its suicidal mission to soldier upstream and ejaculate.

Getting photographs in the rainy rushing waters was a challenge, as a wet phone is easily lost in the slippery darkness. Dionysus discovered this early into our trip, resulting in his being deprived of his cell phone for the duration of our adventure.  This was a handicap he did manage to overcome, but it was certainly a lesson for all of us.  It tempers one's enthusiasm for fighting through rain gear to snap an action photo while trying to maintain balance, hold your fly rod in your mouth, find the button and get a shot of someone else catching a fish while trying not to step on a salmon carcass or trip over a snag.  Several anglers, including Nike, ended up falling into the river just trying to move around while fighting fish. 

Your narrator nearly went down at least a dozen times while slipping on carcasses washing downstream, backing into snags while fighting fish, or just trying to get into a good stance to brace against the current.  

Penny caught several fish, but periodically climbed back into the boat to give her numbed feet a chance to warm up so she could avoid falling in the cold waters. 

One never knows what is striking the hook until it is brought to bay.
In the photo above, Penny gives a smile from behind a monster salmon Isaac was there to photograph.  You can plainly see that this youthfully optimistic fish is as long as her arm, but Isaac released it anyway.

Penny did not fall, but Nike counted among the fallen because of her take no prisoners attitude in running about in the shallows to chase fish that try so hard to make the most of the short life they have left.

On the first day, we all did great in the morning and were rewarded for our early start and good samaritan highway work. Later in the morning, we grew thirsty as a result of our fire-fighting efforts, crying like British soldiers for Gunga Din.  One dared not sip from the waters we fished, as they were well seasoned with decaying salmon carcasses. The afternoon crew did not fare so well, causing Paris to question the value of standing in the rain for hours while catching nothing. He limited his remaining fishing activities to one ocean boat ride before fleeing for home midway into our trip when he found out we were going flossing again. He threw a rock through the front window with a note tied to it that read "Salmon flossing is bullshit" before hitch-hiking on the moose-meat wagon that makes its daily run to the Homer airport.

Paris and Penny in happier times on the ocean before he went AWOL

The morning fishing was fantastic, especially after the first few hours of standing in the dark and trying not to fall gave way to daylight.  Zack was kept busy running through the rapids with his net to harvest or release whatever the members of our group brought in. The species was not always ascertainable until the fish was in the net.  The fish often ran back behind the line of fisher folk, jumping and zig zagging along the line.

Our group was large, so the fearsome duo of Ajax and Dionysus were set up on our most upstream point of our picket line to scare away interlopers. Their  rods were both on fire, catching many fish at a point where the river took a bend above a fallen tree.

Because of the distance, Zack soon gave them one of his nets so that they could capture each other's fish, as he was worn down by having to run upcurrent so many times to snare their countless hookups. 

I was posted next to them and so got several pictures of their frothy hijinks after I cautiously retrieved my phone out of the flapped pocket of a fancy new Aftco rain jacket that proved to be less waterproof than I anticipated, as the constant rain eventually soaked through. Below, armed with the net Zack left for them, Ajax thunders through the extended shallows toward another of Jerry's victims.

Allow me to continue my bitter review of my outerwear, which I finally broke down and bought to replace a twenty-five year old faithful servant that was no longer keeping me dry.  The new jacket, misleadingly named the Hydronaut (Hydro Not?) fits great and has really cool pockets, but is more water-indifferent than water-proof.  I could not return it because I learned their policy is that all returns must come back unworn and with tags still attached. I did not see a lot of other guys wearing jackets with tags on the Kenai, so bad on me.  I intend to buy some waterproofing spray to enhance its ability to repel water, which is roughly on par with a former reality TV host's ability to leave top secret documents where they belong.

Penny brought a nice sockeye to Zack's waiting net before getting back into the boat to regain circulation in her feetNike and I both caught this moment in a crossfire of camera work.

While Penny was in the boat restoring circulation, she took this quality photo of Isaac with a nice silver, which I think are the best fighters.

Nike and Zack took a break after Zack's splashy charge through the shallows to capture another sockeye.

Zack displays another quality specimen. 

Isaac demonstrated the proper technique of backing toward the shoreline, arcing the rod toward land and leading his feisty victim upstream to Zack's waiting mesh.

Jerry tugged on one of the many fish that tried to take him under the horizontal tree that was his nemesis at that spot.  Ajax managed to dig it out to add to their pile.

Zack had to ferry Ajax and Dionysus back separately during daylight hours because their size exceeded his boat's capacity, which is not something anyone notices at night.

We all got back to the dock at the end of each morning to hang out and get some poses in with our  painstakingly arranged daily body count.

Isaac crouched next to our more careless pile from Day One.  Several of these fish bore large bite wounds from the gauntlet of seals at the mouth of the river.  Some of these did not seem survivable, but they made it as far as our spot on the river. Thus, their brave perseverance was ultimately futile.

Nike and Penny got in the mandatory girl-and-guide photo

Your reporter and Isaac snuck in a similar shot when Zack had his back turned at the cutting table.

Isaac and Nike cooled off in the misty rain while Zack continued to perform the wet work with the speed and precision of a samurai.

We felt like we had put in a long day when we left, but the truth was that we were done at 8:30 in the morning.  This afforded us the opportunity to have breakfast at Ginger's, which turned out to be one of my favorite places to eat on this trip.

The food was really good and the Rock-n-Roll decor was fabulous.  It is located in a deserted mall in Soldatna that is a throwback to another era.

The mall features dreamy artwork depicting the spirit and elements of the Alaskan ecology.

We usually stay away from eating what we catch on a fishing trip, preferring to eat land animals, such as the pig that used to own these ribs expertly prepared by Archimedes.  Many people do not realize that pigs can grow a new set of ribs faster than a lizard grows a new tail.
Nevertheless, Ajax did prepare a fabulously delicious meal for all of us from a silver that Penny caught and donated to the cause.
We enjoyed a few fun nights out, although on this occasion the table your reporter shared with Penny was invaded by a Kilroy-like intruder.

We made the most of our early morning finishes to walk about the town and check out all it has to offer

When the sun came out to start baking us, I even got the chance to buy my little boy an ice cream cone at the crude, yet appropriately  named Spit Licks creamery.
I still owe another Alaskan report about the Kasilof, as well as the tragic day of salmon trolling that occurred when Isaac and I were abandoned to the exploitation of flim-flam farmers from Minnesota, but I will leave this patient readership with the image of Nike and Penny demonstrating for social media how to consume alcohol and provoke a charge from a mother moose guarding its calf.  As even stupid animals know,

These are the Days

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