It was my last day to catch the Valdez
Pink Salmon Derby winner. Tomorrow my wife Mary and I fire up the old RV and
head up the road to see more of the great state of Alaska. I’d fished
for about an hour with only so-so luck when I saw the young couple coming
down the trail. I was tying yet another pink Pixie lure to my line after
losing my second one of the day. The beach wasn’t crowded yet so I didn’t
know why these kids caught my attention.
I watched the young man help his pretty
lady down the path. It was obvious he doted on her.
I thought. He hovered around her in a protective way that almost made me
feel guilty. After nearly thirty years of marriage, I sure didn’t watch over
Mary that way. Never did, probably.
I’m not a tender man, just an old
retired construction worker, but something about that young couple touched
my heart. Made me feel like maybe I’d lost something I might never have had.
I could hear Mary calling me an old softy. I went on tying my lure, but kept
watching them at the same time.
He sat up a lawn chair and held it
while she sat down, almost as if she was royalty or something. They talked
in little whispers and grins while he set up their rods and reels. Suddenly
I realized I was staring, so went back to my fishing.
A few minutes later, they were at the
water’s edge, just a few feet away from me. The young man asked if they were
in my spot. When I said they were fine, he introduced himself and his wife.
“I’m Bob and this is my wife, Janice.”
She giggled and they explained they had
only been married a few days. I got the feeling he only made the
introductions to be able to say “my wife.” Had I ever been that proud and
pleased to be married when I was a newlywed? I could hear Mary – “How sweet!
Aren’t they cute?” – that’s what she would say if she was on the beach.
Bob proceeded to teach Janice how to
cast. She caught on pretty fast, even though I did have to duck a time or
two. As soon as he knew she could handle the rod and reel on her own, Bob
started fishing too. Well, sort of fishing. He just could not keep his eyes
off that new wife of his. He almost immediately snagged the bottom and lost
a lure. Janice teased him, calling him “the seasoned fisherman who caught a
rock.” Mary wouldn’t have teased me. She would have reminded me how much
those blasted Pixies cost.
I hooked a fish while Bob was tying on
a new lure. It didn’t take much to land it and sure enough, it wasn’t my
derby winner. I sent it back to continue on its way. Janice hollered, “It’s
my turn now!” and cast again.
I watched her while I fished. It amazed
me how she never took her eyes off the water, never moved from where she
stood except to back up as the tide came in. I had just hooked another fish
when she squealed, “I’ve got one!”
I was doing my best to bring my fish in
but I couldn’t help but notice how determined she was. Even though we hooked
fish at almost the same instant, I landed and released mine long before she
Her fish was a wily bugger. It swam
hard parallel to the beach, rushed the beach and headed out again. I’d lost
a fish just the day before that had used the same tricks. That Janice though
just kept reeling, biting her tongue the whole time.
Bob chased that fish up and down the
beach a few times, holding his net like a weapon, the whole time yelling for
his wife to keep the line tight. When he finally netted the fish, he was
panting. I looked at Janice and noticed her face was wet with sweat and she
was trembling. I thought she was going to fall over.
Bob noticed too. He took her rod and
led her back to their chair. That’s when I saw how big her fish was. It was
the biggest pink salmon I’d ever seen, it’s hump clearly visible, a big old
male. It was the one that would have won the derby for me.
I shook my head, half in disgust, half
in amazement at beginner’s luck. Here this girl had never fished before in
her life if Bob was to be believed and she caught the trophy the rest of us
could only wish for. I went back to my casting and reeling, hoping another
one would swim by.
The beach had settled down and I was
concentrating on not losing another Pixie when I heard some say “Would you
look at that!” Being the naturally nosy person I am, I turned to see.
The smell of salt water and fish filled
the air and the sound of the water hitting the beach excited Janice. She had
never been fishing before and now here she was in Valdez, Alaska, getting
ready to fish for salmon. Pink salmon, she had been told, are the smallest
of the species, but she didn’t care. Catching a fish of any size would make
Bob, her husband of ten days, helped
her down the path to the rocky beach at Allison Point. There were about
twenty other people fishing and the excitement when one of them hooked and
landed a fish was shared by all.
Bob showed her how to hold her rod and,
with both arms around her, taught her how to cast. Hold the line with this
finger, loosen the bale, bring the rod back, and then with a quick, even
motion, bring it forward, letting the line go just in front of you. After a
couple of “plops” and jokes about coordination, she figured it out. She
learned just the right time to let go of the line and just the right speed
to reel in, “not so fast the fish has to chase the lure, but not slow enough
to hook the bottom.”
On her fourth or fifth cast, the line
suddenly became taut. She pulled, but her lure was stuck fast.
“Bob, I’m snagged,” she called.
He had warned her that getting snagged
and losing lures was a part of salmon fishing. He had, after all, just lost
a lure himself. But it didn’t make her any happier. She didn’t want to lose
the lures she knew her husband spent so much time admiring and organizing in
his tackle box. Suddenly she realized her snagged line was moving back and
forth through the water.
“I have a fish! I have a fish!” She
squealed like a child.
“Keep the pole up! Don’t stop reeling!
Okay, now start backing up! Keep the rod up!” Bob shouted advice and
encouragement. “You’re doing good! Keep reeling! I’ll get him in the net.”
Her rush of adrenaline was intense as
she struggled to land her first fish. It swam back and forth, tried to head
out to sea and then rushed the beach before she was able to get it close
enough for Bob to net. The people fishing close to her shouted
encouragement, and once it was landed, oohed and ahhed over the fish’s size.
Janice was sweating and tired by the
time Bob held the fish up in the net. He took her rod and helped her back to
“Well, you’ve caught your first fish
and it’s a beaut! It’s the biggest anyone’s caught today.”
“I want to see it,” she said, unable to
Bob kneeled in front of her and held
the fish up by its gills and tail. Janice ran her hands over its length and
width and girth. She explored the fish’s mouth and its slightly hooked upper
jaw. She remarked she hadn’t realized fish had tongues. The fish protested
as she felt inside its gills and ran her hand over its humped back and
dorsal fin. She noticed it didn’t feel as slimy as she imagined it would.
Her sensitive fingers discovered its scales were small and felt intricately
carved. As she handled the fish’s strong, forked tail, “the motor” according
to Bob, it flapped, furiously trying to get back to the bay, indignant at
the detailed examination it had undergone. Janice laughed, exhilarated by
the knowledge she had caught the big fish.
The beach was suddenly quiet with
realization, and then whispers floated through the air.
“Why, she’s blind! The girl who caught
the trophy is blind!”