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Restarting, remembering on the river

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Restarting, remembering on the river

A coho silver salmon leaps up the first set of falls that dramatically drain Neck Lake.

Photo by JEFF LUND/


POSTED July 1, 2009 3:51 a.m.
It was one of my favorite memories, partially because I was fishing, partly because I caught more fish than my brother, and partly because all four of us were there.

It was last July.

Dad’s legs had become increasingly stiff and his maneuverability had deteriorated. He spent a little time fishing for silver salmon with us, but mostly talked with locals on the road while I hooked and landed two of the fattest chrome silvers of the summer.

It’s a utopian little river that is, at absolute most, a mile long at low tide. No humpies, chum or undesirable fish — just silvers. Why, is for another column.

We met dad up at a little hot dog stand which, as far as I know, is the only food joint in the town. The four of us chewed up ours on an overcast but bright day around a picnic table. Things were good, we were happy. And I caught more fish than my brother.

On Monday, it was just me.  In the whirlwind that was May and the first half of June, I’m left with lasts and firsts.  A week after Fathers Day, I visited the most ridiculously fun fishing place in the universe, for the first time without my dad.

I’ve created a bunch of new memories in the time I’ve spent revisiting the rivers of my youth. I fished, knowing my dad will never again be able to tangibly join me.

First was the Klawock River, where I caught my first salmon under Dad’s tutelage. Then, days after my brother and I eulogized the man that influenced our growth to manhood, I casted from the same point where dad stood, holding a fat 18-inch Dolly Varden trout, his last.

Next, my brother, mom and I drove a couple miles on a gravel road that was more like a trail, adjacent to Black Bear Creek where we always talked about trapping.  Monday I drove the two-and-a-half hours past 32 deer on some paved but mostly-gravel roads to yet another restarting spot.

It had rained for three days, and it made most rivers nearly unfishable, but in southeast Alaska, if you wait for optimal conditions, no one would ever fish, or hunt, or do much of anything for that matter.

The rain wouldn’t have such a great effect on this river, so despite it being early in the season, and reports that fishing was slow, I went.

I walked down one of the paths to the clearing and mouth of the river.

The key to this body of water is the tide and the snag line which permits lures to bite fish. I have a favorite spot. I approached, dropped my pack and within five minutes, a chrome salmon was leaping from the water, agitated by the barb I stuck into its side.

As I maneuvered my first salmon of the year to the shallows to brain it with my sawed-off Louisville Slugger, “Hey, looks like I brought you luck.”

The lure shot out and dinner swam off. I was about to throw a tantrum in the direction of the tourist that mouthed my fish, but I didn’t.

I stood and talked to him. Nice guy. He was making his second trip to Whale Pass from Oregon for the Coho run. He was hoping to bring his son up next time. I didn’t tell him how much I hoped he did.

My dad and I came up here once, just the two of us, and of course, there was the family trip too.

I couldn’t help but let everything settle in, as the 1.6 million pot-holes jostled my truck on the way back to town. This happens every once in a while, sometimes without warning.

Since 1972, dad put everything into his classroom, and stewed over instrumentation while staring out the window at home from time to time. He taught until the day before he went to the hospital, as his body failed for a reason we didn’t know.

That’s the kind of man he was. Sick and weak, he made sure he was there to direct the spring concert, but his devotion to his students was second to his family.

He loved telling stories of my brother and me fishing more than we did, even if it involved a fish getting away. If I had come home, or returned to the truck and told dad what happened, and how that guy started blabbing before the fish was tallied, he would have probably said, “That’s the way it goes.”

I imagined him saying it as I turned around another muddy corner into a sheet of rain, and smiled.

I felt further encouraged in my answer to the, “What now?” dilemma that I’ve felt since mid-June.
 
The best thing I can do is to live. Keep writing, keep teaching, keep fishing — embrace the firsts while remembering the lasts, and practice the best of him that lives on in me.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.
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