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The key to having fun: Keep your keys close

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The key to having fun: Keep your keys close

When fishing from a kayak, paddles come in second to salmon.

Photo by JEFF LUND/

POSTED August 3, 2010 2:42 a.m.
In the rush to join Ryan, Josh, Eli and Nate, I frantically threw two bottles of water into my pack that was already stuffed under the bungee hold on the front of the kayak.

I saw Josh casting, Eli smiling, Ryan drifting and Nate launching. What I didn’t see was my keys slip from my hand and fall into the boot-tilled mud and knee-high grass of the shore.

I pushed off and acclimated myself to the seated position for the 8-mile drift down the Thorne River. Josh and Ryan were using sit on top kayaks, while the Eli, Nate and I were sitting in.

I was a little jealous.

I was borrowing my mom’s basic purple kayak meant for slow-moving, recreational use. I thought about the possibility of flipping, and I didn’t think about my keys.

The river was low, because of intensely beautiful afternoons like the one in which we drifted. The few happy clouds that showed up wanted more to be a part of such a day rather than ruin it.

It became evident pretty early that until we reached the split just above the fishing spot we call “the pinch”, that there wouldn’t be any water calm enough to toss a lure. The brave salmon that weren’t waiting for nightfall or a little swell in the flow to head up the shallow lazy ripples that would qualify as Class 0.3 rapids did nothing more than scare Eli.

With the pool above the pinch in view, I slowed and casted for the rainbows and cutthroats that I knew lived in the backside water of the split. The guys powered on into the big pool while I lingered.

I expected a trout, but instead was almost flipped by the hellish rip of a shaking head on the end of my line. The salmon left the water pretty acrobatically rhythmic, for being in absolute panic.

The guys turned just the fish turned me so that I was facing up river, unable to see the rocks and the shallow bar I was approaching. The fish then ran down river behind me, pulling my kayak backward as I raised my arms and reached behind my head — to fight the fish.

It turned again and ran close enough on port side for the fishing line to knock my paddle from its precarious resting position.

Rather than fight the fish with only one hand, I let the paddle drift away then grabbed my alder fish club. I brained it once, it swam under the hull, then back and I finished it off.

With the dead weight floating in the water, I then looked for my paddle all while drifting backward toward the pinch which squeezed the river through a space a quarter of its size. Hence the name.

Since Nate was tying on a new lure and still laughing, it was up to Josh to retrieve my paddle and get me facing back down river.

Down the pinch and under the bridge we fished, maneuvering our kayaks out of the now swifter and deeper current.

I took pictures and video with my camera then for whatever reason checked my port side pocket for my keys. They weren’t there.

As Ryan lost his fish at The Spot where Scott, Dale, Brian and I had harvested plenty of fish the week before, I pulled onto shore and checked all my gear. No keys.

Four days before I was supposed to start my drive back to Manteca, I didn’t have keys to start the truck that was parked by the side of a road near a river on an island in Alaska.

Nate had been in my backpack to get swivels, but there was no way he wouldn’t have noticed a set of keys on a lanyard drop in

to the water. Right?

He is an observant guy, and the only one that didn’t hit his head when we went hiking around in the limestone caves on the island.

We kept drifting, everyone aware of the predicament, but having too much fun to really care. Luckily, Josh hooked a coho a few pounds smaller than mine, and since I was moving quicker, I was able to take out some frustration in the form of a float-by clubbing of his fish. I felt a little better, but still had no keys. I tried not to let it bother me, but this changed the entire summer. If my landlord overnighted me keys, they would get to Anchorage in a day, then get sent regular mail from there.

That’s how things get expedited to islands in Alaska. I wouldn’t even be able to drive my truck until after I was supposed to leave.

Nate tried to cheer me up by letting the quickest rapids take him into thorny bushes hanging over a cut bank, and we all continued fishing for the next five miles as the river widened in the tidal shallows and the sun turned the sky orange behind us.

But it’s hard to completely remove something like losing your keys somewhere in an Alaskan river completely from mind.

Three hours after I dropped my keys in the mud, we had arrived at the shore near Thorne Bay. Carrying the kayaks up to the trailer was pretty easy since we had lost feeling in our arms a few miles upriver.

We drove back up river a bit to our campsite which Josh, Eli and Ryan set up while Nate and I headed back to find my keys, where they sat in clear view right where I had launched.

All was well.

We returned to camp. Josh perfectly filleted our fish in the dark and we ate fresh salmon, river side with our fingers, and every couple minutes, I touched my pocket, feeling for keys.
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