The Trophy

 

                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.
Probably newlyweds, 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 landed hers.
                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 her happy!
                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 the chair.
                “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 stop grinning.
                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!”

 

The End



All content ©Glenda Poulter, 2012-2014.