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Doubling down at river pays off
Nine silver salmon in a day is a solid haul for the early season. One became lunch. - photo by Photo by JANICE LUND
Everything came together Saturday, though it really should not have.

Most river talk around town involves 20-inch cutthroats, rainbows and Dolly Varden. I was in that mode until I landed a silver and transitioned to a bit of a salmon-only snob.

I stopped by Black Bear Store to get gas and buy all the provisions my buddy Dean and I needed for another morning at the river. The store is the Alaska version of Cabela’s and Bean and Leaf crammed into a building the size of an AM/PM.

There is one table, four chairs a couple bucks on the wall, a bear, tons of ammunition, fishing gear, snacks, lures, crab pots and a microwave to heat up the food from the freezer.

There is a sign meant to detour potential criminals by the register: “Warning: shoplifters will be shot and eaten.”

I tossed down half a dozen red size 4 and 5 Blue Foxes, paid, and we trekked to the Thorne River. With no precipitation, the salmon were waiting for a good rain to move up past the mouth.

The early silvers that did wiggle up the river were stuck in pools, waiting for more flow to continue their journey to the spawning grounds. Under these conditions, the bite goes only to the early anglers and lasts maybe 30 minutes, if at all.

When I caught one, I felt a little bad.

My buddy and I were using the same lures and fishing the same pool. We moved up river to another hole. I caught a second, and then a third two casts later, and felt a lot bad.

Alaska is supposed to be a relatively easy place to catch fish. I was in them, he wasn’t. This is why I am not a fishing guide.

Finally, he hooked one and fought it within striking distance. He pulled it onto the rocks, only to have the fish flip off the hook. I jumped into the water to cut off the escaping salmon like a catcher blocking a wild pitch.

I picked up the fish, and ran it up the bank to a flat spot where my buddy could whack it with the club. Excitement and violence over, he laughed to the point of silence as I stood, wet to my hips, breathing heavy.

I just nodded my head, knowing I had lost my mind over a fish.

Twenty minutes later, we moved spots again. The next hole was in the shade and had a nice deep pocket that was accessible since the river was low.

A couple casts in, Dean hooked a fish and I clubbed it. His next cast, we repeated the process. We had both caught three and it wasn’t even 8 a.m. I leap-frogged him and changed to a brighter lure hoping to entice a strike because I suddenly couldn’t let one of my closest friends out-fish me.

This is also why I am not a fishing guide.

I was perched on a precarious rock usually covered by water. It disappeared straight down into the dark river presumably much deeper than I am tall.

“If I fall in, it’s over. It goes straight down right here,” I observed out loud.

Apparently silver salmon understand English, because one bit before I could add to that comment. With no place to land the fish in front of me, I worked it to my right and promptly fell and sunk down to my waist. I was caught by a tiny ledge that saved me from the abyss. In my right hand was the rod, connected to an acrobatic salmon. In my left was the club, though I couldn’t feel that hand that held it. When I fell, I squared up a rock with my elbow leaving it momentarily useless.

Fortunately, I didn’t notice that numb appendage too much because I couldn’t feel my right leg either. My right cheek had taken the brunt of the fall leaving me without proper motor skills for 50 percent of my limbs and somewhere between a whimper and a laugh as I struggled against slipping off into oblivion.

I finished fighting the fish and emerged with a bright 8-pounder.

Dean again was red with laugher.

We went home with nine silvers that day, and once I warmed up and changed out of my wet gear we cooked one for lunch over a fire.

Mom says it’s not a fishing trip if I don’t get soaked.

My buddy says fishing is my Las Vegas, because in all the time he has known me he has never seen me so happy, excited and fully-committed.

I supposed it doesn’t occur to me there are delicate, clean ways to fish for salmon in Alaska.

I go all in.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail