Journal of Dan T. Cook - Fly Fishing the Globe
Traveling 75,000 miles around the world in search of fish and friendship.
July 14, 2006 - St. Mary’s, Alaska
The weather here has been rather dreary since I arrived. Doesn’t seem to stop the townsfolk from doing whatever it is that they need to. Everyone rides around on their ATV’s a breakneck speeds heading somewhere or another. I even saw a wrecked pick-up truck down by the barge docks. This struck me as odd, since there are only about 7 miles of roads around here.
I found my fishing guide finally. His name is Charlie Luehmann. Charlie has been living in St. Mary’s for 30 years. The Andreafski River is his playground and he has a reputation around town as “the” sport fisherman. I met Charlie at his boat and loaded up my gear. We would have been underway immediately if it weren’t for the uncooperative motor. It was turning over without any problem, but it sounded like it wasn’t getting any gas. Off came the engine cover. When the cover comes off an outboard motor, the purpose of the endeavor changes from fishing to fixing and finally to frustration. Charlie prefaced the attempted repairs by saying he isn’t much of a mechanic. I kept track of the bolts that were being removed from the assembly while also giving encouragement or telling the occasional humorous (and of course, successful) anecdote about my forays into small engine repair. First “we” checked from the gas tank to the engine: GOOD! Then from the engine inlet to the fuel pump: GOOD! Then from the fuel pump to the injectors: GO… er… BAD. Apparently this fuel pump lasted ¼ of the tenure of the original pump, which was 8 years. Ah… the small engine rule of diminishing returns, or else the motor went off warranty. Even though neither one of us would recognize anything less than the most obvious problem, “we” removed the cover to the fuel pump. Everything looked fine. Carefully reversing our steps, the whole assembly went back together. With great anticipation Charlie turned the ignition key and the motor made the exact same noises as before. Our fishing trip was officially cancelled.
I guess seeing my hopes of catching a King salmon utterly destroyed right before my eyes was rather exhausting because I returned to my boat and took a nap. I awoke and decided to row the 100 yards to the other side of the river and do some fishing. Charlie said there were pike over there. I rigged up a wire leader and tried my luck. I hooked something that was giving a good fight. A few minutes later I scooped up a nice Pink salmon. Then came three pike in succession. I moved to a different part of the river and caught a couple more pike. Nothing special size-wise. Finally, I rowed to just off the bank where my boat had been beached, right in front of town. I cast for 30 minutes before hooking another humpy. Wanting to catch one more humpy, I made a few more casts before hooking something VERY solid. The fish stayed below the surface and made a couple runs of 10-15 yards. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I hoped beyond hope that it was a King. I kept the tension high as the fish bolted towards the back of the boat. “Please don’t wrap around the anchor line” I silently pleaded. Then it neared the surface just enough that I could see the wonderful glow of a big red fish. It was a KING!!!! After a few more minutes it was in the net. It was extraordinarily beautiful. The tell-tale black gums, dark spots on the back and the red hue. I considered running up to Charlie’s house to present him with my fish, but it was already 11pm. As this was my first King of the trip, I decided it was only proper to release it, so I carefully lowered him back into the water. In 30-45 seconds he was fully revived and his tail brushed my hand away as he descended back into the depths. I sat there for a while as I quietly replayed the previous 10 minutes. It occurred to me that even without catching a single fish, this trip down the river was a success. I had completed a goal that I first attempted back in 2003. I pushed on through winds, storms and waves. I had pushed myself to the limits of exhaustion. I had experienced complete aloneness on the river. I had met incredible people and listened to their remarkable stories. This has really been an extraordinary journey.
Hopefully Charlie’s replacement fuel pump will arrive in time to go upriver. If not, I’ll be back in Fairbanks in a couple of days. Then I’ll pick up the boat in Anchorage and head down to the Kenai Peninsula to try for more Kings and the Silvers when they start their spawn. Till then, have fun!