CORDOVA, Alaska — Wednesday brought a welcome break from the incessant rain that has plagued this week-long (with no end in sight) visit to this remote little town in Southcentral Alaska.
I spent the break at the Cordova airport.
Kraig Cesar, the last remaining member of my party, had finally said “Enough is enough.”
With required business travel next week he had no choice but to bail, booking a flight out of Cordova to Anchorage so he could catch his plane back to Virginia late Thursday night.
While the ferries have not been running – today’s cancellation is the fifth in six days – flights have been getting out of here, albeit with lots of delays.
Again, the weather was actually decent yesterday afternoon.
Here. Not in Anchorage.
So the 737 Kraig was to be on sat on the tarmac for several hours. Sure, I could have just dumped him and gone fishing. But I am not one to leave a man behind. So we waited out the delay in the RV – appropriately labeled the Sunseeker – until he finally got the call to board about 3 p.m.
On the way to the airport we’d driven over Ibek Creek, which had dropped a goodly amount since the heavy rains earlier in the week.
Naturally, heavy rain started falling about the time Kraig left.
I geared up on the side of the road and hit the creek – it’s really a river — along with a half-dozen other Gore-Tex clad anglers.
Silver salmon don’t like heavy current, so I focused on drifting my salmon roe baits along protected undercut banks and in eddies.
I was getting lots of pecking strikes, but nothing substantial. When I finally hooked up I figured out the problem.
The fish I pulled in was a 12-inch dolly varden. If dollies are around, that usually means salmon are around. But the salmon were playing tough.
At least for me.
Across the river I watched a pair of fly fishermen battling fish regularly.
There appeared to be room for me near them, but I opted to not crowd them. When they picked up their salmon-heavy stringer and headed toward the road I made my move.
The spot was an eddie and current line where two channels converged. One channel was muddy, the other relatively clear.
Again, dollies proved mettlesome, in some cases chasing the eggs right to my feet.
Finally, a hook set resulted in my rod bending deeply.
The fish proved to be a smallish hen silver salmon, about 6 pounds, with flanks as bright as a silver dollar.
I waded toward an exposed sandbar, cut the salmon’s gills and dispatched it with a whack to the noggin with a piece of driftwood.
I left the fish on the sandbar and returned to my spot.
Only then did I notice that the weather had gotten even worse.
The wind was at my back, but stinging rain pelted my eyes when I turned into the gale. And it was cold, my hands so numb that I was having trouble putting roe into the egg loop on my hook.
When I turned to look upstream toward the sandbar I gasped. My fish was about to wash away as rising water had nearly covered the sandbar.
Having nearly been trapped by rising water on the Alaganik Slough a few days earlier I didn’t want to go through that again.
I grabbed the fish and the backpack filled with my gear, and waded across the rising slough toward the road.
I set up my waterproof point-and-shoot camera for a self-timed shot with the fish. My hands were so cold I struggled to even depress the shutter.
You see the result here.
I often chide folks for not smiling for hero shots. But, as proud as I was of this fish – and I may be more proud of this catch than any I’ve made during this odyssey – there would be no smiling here.
The expression pretty much says it all.