Bell-bottom blue jeans and tennis shoes, Pflueger rod and reel, wading thigh-deep into waters flowing with sockeye salmon. That was me on the Russian River near Cooper’s Landing, Alaska, in August of 1972. I was 14 years old and visiting family in Seward with my grandparents, the beginning of an Alaskan adventure that recently came full circle.
“Come on, Dad! We’re in Alaska and you want to sleep?!”
It is now August 2011, and my son Nate has a rather convincing argument, shaking my shoulder for added for emphasis as I lie in sweet slumber across our cabin’s soft bed. My excuses ran out long before the Alaskan summer sun, and I was compelled to give in to Nate’s demands.
We stopped in at the lodge office to ask about the latest fishing conditions of the nearby rivers and streams.
“There’s the Russian,” our host, Bob Rima of Drifter’s Lodge, said. “There are good pockets of reds (sockeye) from the mouth to the falls.”
I hadn’t fished the Russian River since that trip in 1972, so of course I was intrigued. “Okay, the Russian it is!”
We made the long hike to the falls, hoping to eliminate as many fishermen as possible. Packing in waders and fishing gear, we soon located the falls.
There is a deep run not too far from the base of the falls, and that was the place we would begin. There were folks fishing at the lower end of the run, so we took the upper. The water ran quick and deep, but Nate continued to improve his drift until he was quite close to putting a fly on the end of a sockeye nose. Cast after cast, Nate worked the water with very little success.
The day was overcast and the evening fast approaching when our companions decided to hike out, leaving the tail-end of the run to us. At first, Nate’s presentation was a bit too rough; too spot-on. He even bounced the fly off a fish’s back once, sending it scuttling for cover.
Finally, the perfect presentation to a salmon willing, or aggravated enough, to strike hard with a shake of its bullet-shaped head! The line zipped through the water; could Nate hold his ground? Would he panic and hold the reel’s edge or let yards of line fly downstream?
I witnessed with pride his adjusting of the drag and his flawless playing of the fish. The salmon shot down the current and, when that didn’t work, took to the air in an effort to shake free from the bite on its jaw. Silver slashed across clear water, but Nate was gaining with every run, each shorter than the last until he coaxed the fish into a shallow pool. Nate held firmly to the tired salmon for a photo, then, after it was fully recovered, released it to dart back into deeper water.
There are enough bears along the banks of the Russian River to make a sensible person wary. Though we carried no salmon with us, I did not relish the idea of proving it to every fish-hungry bruin we ran across. This was not purposely done; I had no intention, no plan. It occurred to me my youngest son had caught his first salmon on the very same river, at the very same age—almost to the day—as I had done nearly 40 years prior. Just him and me! Perhaps in a different way, this was as exciting as it was when I was catching them. I guess you can go back.