life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

My Photo
Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

the fish is here...

Okay, so I’ve been writing about the suture zone and everything serious. This is off-topic. I know if I worked at it I could turn this into a metaphor too, but frankly I’m too tired to do that. I told you earlier on this blog that a time was coming (and now is) when you might have to extend me some grace if you think fishing is horrible and cruel and other worse adjectives. If that’s you, you might not want to read this post. (Sorry if you’ve already seen the picture. Not much I can do about that.)

I love to fish. It’s my grandfather’s fault (the one who didn’t think we would make it to the moon). He started me off fishing when I was about four years old, maybe even earlier. I became his fishing buddy. Other family members would get bored when there was no action. My grandfather would start up the old green 10-horsepower Johnson outboard and guide the 14-foot aluminum boat back into shore. He would drop everyone else off. I would stay in the boat and go back out and fish with him as long as he wanted to fish.

Those memories are hazy now, just a few snatches here and there. But he instilled in me a love of fishing that I have yet to recover from.

The past two summers I have taken my dream fishing vacation to Alaska, first with my son Steven, and then last year with my father. We fished for halibut, silver salmon (coho), King salmon, and last year we did a little bit of flipping for reds (the flavor jewels of the salmon world—oh, has Alaska spoiled me on wild salmon, especially reds!). Truly the best part of the trips involved spending time with these two very important people in my life.

King salmon is a very frustrating sport. Even with a guide, it can take upwards of 19 hours of fishing – on average – for someone to hook one of these giants. Two years ago my son and I had between us maybe one or two strikes for three days of fishing for them. We were fishing right at the end of the season and there had been 21 straight days of emergency orders for the commercial netters in Cook Inlet. That effectively choked off the rivers. In fact, no kings that were caught came out of the rivers without net marks on them.

There were some trade-offs of course. One of the days we floated down the Kasiloff River in a fishing dory and I played all kinds of praise and worship songs on our guide, Leif Jacobsen’s, old beater guitar. This is a pristine river, no motor boats, and surrounded by some incredibly beautiful scenery, including bald eagles and many other creatures. But, alas!, no king salmon. Oh, yes! I remember now that I actually caught, netted and released a small female (maybe 18 lbs.) about 9 a.m. the first day. I regret not keeping her now. From then on we were skunked on kings. (Steven was really bummed! No bites whatsoever!!!)

Last summer, we had another three days of King salmon fishing lined up, this time with my dad. I was pretty sure that if I didn’t catch one this time I would probably swear off fishing for the giants anymore. Even told my dad such. First day on the Kenai River? Not a thing. We even came off the river early. Again, emergency orders had effectively shut down the river’s fishery. Even our guide was exasperated.

The next day of salmon fishing was on the Kasiloff again with an 18 year-old guide named Mark from Santa Barbara, California. He and his family had bought a cabin on the river and had been coming up since Mark was a youngster. Leif spent the summer before teaching him to fish the river and Mark was guiding solo, I think, for the first time this past summer. Very bright and talented young man.

About a third of the way down the river, I hooked a fish. Mark made me wait a long time to set the hook, but finally he gave the go-ahead and I jerked hard on the line. The fish started peeling line off as the drag sang out. Mark had the reels loaded with 80 lb. test monofilament line. This fish just took off downriver with it. When the run stopped, the fish started heading back up the river. I actually pumped him in toward the boat a bit. Then he took off again. I pumped him back again. I’ve forgotten exactly how many times he did this, maybe only twice, maybe more. All I really remember is that Mark had rowed us out of the fast water and into some slack water below the point of an island just above the place the guides call Hog Troughs. The fish kept coming our way but wouldn’t get out of the fast water. He was almost parallel by this point to the side of the boat. If he kept going he would spool the reel and I would lose this fish. I strained and strained to turn his head into the slack water. Finally he came in. It was quite a battle.

Mark netted the fish and asked me if I wanted to keep him. In a split second I had to decide. The fish had a lot of color to him. He had been in the river already a day and a half, so the quality of the meat wasn’t going to be great. Still, we could tell it was a very big fish for that river. Do I leave him in the river for the sake of the gene pool or do I keep him for the meat? I love salmon! I said, “Yes,” and Mark tried to lift him into the boat. No going. Mark asked me to help him. It took two of us to get him over the gunwale.

The fish was just over 48 inches in length, 35 inches in girth at the widest point. He weighed 51 pounds on the nose after being bled, drug around in the boat box for several hours, carted around in the back of a pickup for an hour, and had his picture taken in two locations. For his length and girth, the charts suggested he was about 57 lbs. when he came into the river and probably closer to 53 or 54 when I actually caught him. For the Kasiloff River, Alaska Fish & Game says any fish over 50 lbs. is considered a trophy-sized fish for the state. They were closed by the time I got him into Soldotna, so I never turned him in for the trophy certificate. But he was big enough to qualify.

My son told me before I ever left for Alaska with my dad that he would shoot me if I caught a big one and didn’t have him mounted. So, I did something I never thought I would do. And he’s here now. His mounted picture is below. Maybe sometime I’ll include a picture of him not long after he was caught, but for now, this is what is going on our family room wall. If you are wondering, I was able to keep and freeze the meat from this fish and we have been eating it since last summer.

Sorry if this grosses you out. But it reminds me of some very special time I spent with my father last summer. It was probably the last time that he could possibly have gone with me since my mother needs his almost constant attention for some medical issues. It’s going up right across from my chair so I can look up there and remember.

Oh yeah, I imagine I could come up with a meaning for this metaphor. I’ll let you suggest them, though, if you would like to.

Grace and peace (and a prayer for forgiveness. if needed)…



Post a Comment

<< Home