Mr. Lame

Reprinted from a few years ago…..

It was an unusual sockeye season this year in that I found myself still fishing the lower Kenai in early-August, with 40 thousand+ fish passing the sonar count, and hardly a soul on the river. In fact, the first week of August, as far as I’m concerned, was the best fishing of the entire season down in the lower river. The main reason for this is that almost all of the seasonal tourists had cleared out by then – either they had gone home or they had migrated upriver to the Russian River confluence. Many of the fishing shifts I spent down on the river that first week of August I was entirely alone or at least alone at my favorite hole without any competitors. This really made for some fine fishing, some hours of peace and quiet, and increased my bond with the river. It also allowed me to employ liberal casts and drifts, as well as, the ability to walk up and down the riverbank at my leisure. This week was near perfect fishing nirvana. Except for one short hour on about the 5th day of August.

On the 5th of August, I made my way down to the river in the early afternoon. I had long since given up the early am fishing session, due to my accumulated level of exhaustion and in general – because I didn’t need to get up early anymore. I had enough fish in the freezer and the crowds had thinned out to a point that I didn’t have to compete to get a decent spot. As a result, I found myself sleeping away the early morning hours and only fishing the evening shift. I really love fishing the evenings on the Kenai. There is nothing more special than to fish right into that period of gray-time that follows the late sunset. It’s a beautiful time to be on the river, as well as, one of the most productive periods for catching sockeye. But, I digress.

Back to that day of August 5th. I made it down to the river and easily got my favorite hole without any problem. There was no one fishing below me at all at that time, and one group of 4 fishing the extreme upstream portion of the riverbank. Basically, I had the river to myself. The last few days the river had been “hot” for fishing, which was strange, because the second run is usually over by now in the lower river. Sure, sockeye on average keep entering the Kenai right through August, but hardly ever in large enough numbers to make fishing fun, easy, or “hot”. Typical counts in August see 10-15thousand sockeye coming in during the downside of the run. But this year was different, we were still getting some big pulses of 40-thousand fish per day…..and no one was around to catch them!!

Unsure of how the fishing was going to be on this day, I quickly got my gear out into the water and tested the Kenai. It wasn’t long before I found that things were still as hot as ever. It was an excellent day of fishing. Before I finished my three hour shift I would go on to hook over 70 fish and easily land my six-limit.

About an hour into the fishing session I found myself with two chromers behind me on the bank. About that time an older gentleman came down the stairs and took up position in the hole downriver of me. After watching me hook fish after fish, while he got nothing, he soon relocated just upstream from me, though completely out of my way. For the next 10 minutes he continued to fish without even evidencing a hook-up. Finally, I called over to him and asked him if he wanted some advice. He looked at me and said “Sure”.

It was fairly obvious to me what his issue was, “You’re standing out too deep. Take three steps back and you’ll hook ’em.”

I kid you not, this guy actually listened, took three steps back until he was even with where I was standing, then threw out his line and hooked a sockeye on his first cast. We were both smiles on that one. I put my rod down along the bank, marched up to his position, grabbed his net, and we landed his fish.

“See, three steps back”

So, anyways, after all of these years I finally had one convert that would listen and adhere to the principal of standing shallow. Finally.

After another 30 minutes or so of hooking fish, I put a third bright sockeye on the bank. I noticed that I was attracting a little more attention now as the group of four anglers who were way upstream had made their way down towards my hole and were eyeing me with disdain. A few moments later one of the guys came down and asked me what I was using. Now, I know this is a bad sign. When the old – “what are you using?” or “what are they biting on?” question rears its ugly head trouble soon follows. This is a sign that there are some frustrated fishermen nearby. The results of which always follow – they try to crowd into your hole on the mistaken belief that your hole contains fish, while their hole doesn’t. This of course, is a gravenly mistaken notion. Since sockeye migrate upriver, they will eventually pass in front of every single spot along the river. The 40 thousand fish that pass be me, will eventually pass by you, too. You just gotta know where they will be as the swim by. Anyways, to this guy who asked me – “What are you using?” – I gave him my standard reply – “Hook, line, sinker, just the same as you”. Now you can see why I so easily endear myself with rookie fishermen. It’s my vast treasure-trove of patience, kindness, and compassion that overwhelms them. Anyways, this guy gives me the deer-in-the-headlights look and then trudges back upstream to rejoin his pack.

Another few minutes go by and another guy heads down to my spot. Right at that moment I hook into a nice fish and put him on the bank. Now I have four fish on the bank. I bonk him on the head, slit his throat, and stick him on my stringer. As I head back out to my hole, I notice this guy is now standing exactly where I was.

“That’s pretty lame” I tell him.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Lame replies.

“Trying to steal my spot as I catch a fish. Especially on a day when the whole river bank is wide open.”

“But there isn’t any fish up there. The only fish are in your hole” Lame says, as his east coast Jersey accent makes an obvious appearance.

Now that’s the dumbest comment I’ve ever heard. I just shake my head and splash back out into the water. Mr. Lame gives way and moves upstream a few yards and takes up position between myself and the gentlemen whom I netted for earlier.

All of a sudden, on a perfectly fine afternoon of uncrowded sockeye fishing, I find myself in combat mode vying for a 10ft wide section of river when the rest of the river is completely open. One word comes to mind to describe this situation – idiotic.

Pulled out of my daydreaming haze on this beautiful Kenai evening, I begin to employ my long list of combat techniques to shore up my hole. Basically, since the guy was just upstream from me, this entails only two things; an accentuated upstream flip and an increased focus and determination to hook every single fish that swims by.

The ploys work and as New Jersey-Lame flails away without a hook-up, I manage to hook about 6 or 7 fish and land one over a ten minute span.

“See I told you…all the fish are in your hole” Lame says as he reels in his line and stamps off back upstream from whence he came.

The nice gentleman whom I had netted for earlier turns and looks at me while shaking his head, “Takes all kinds I guess.”

“Yeah it does,” I respond.

With that the gentleman gets out of his spot, grabs his stringer, and heads past me downstream.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“It’s getting a little too crowded around here for my tastes. By the way, thanks for the advice”