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Three salmon and a ten-year-old girl

“Excuse me,” the woman said, coming up out of nowhere and addressing my 18-year-old son, Mark, as I knelt beside him on the edge of the river removing a large fish hook from the ankle-cuff of his waders. “Did you know that there was a fly stuck to you while you were fishing?”
Given that I was working hard with a pair of pliers to remove the hook, the answer to her question seemed rather obvious. In fact, the hook in his waders was the only reason Mark had walked over to the shore in the first place. It was embedded at the ankle seam between two heavy layers of waterproof fabric, and it was not easy to get it out. It was a good thing he was wearing waders, too, or I’d have been removing the hook from the flesh of his ankle instead.
Despite my concentration on the task at hand, however, I could tell that the woman was distraught, so I turned and gave her my attention. Mark also refrained from any sarcasm, and gave a simply and polite answer. “Um. Yes.”
Hearing the answer, the woman’s irritation ratcheted up a notch — something hovering between anger and tears. “Well then why didn’t you stop walking? That fly was attached to the line of my 10-year-old daughter. You were dragging her into the river and she was screaming at you. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?!” Then, almost as an afterthought, she added, “She’s too young to know enough to just let the line out.”
Apparently the young girl had been casting from the trees on the shoreline, some distance upstream from where Mark had been wading the river 20 yards out from shore. Why she was casting a fly around Mark’s ankles, I don’t know. Nor do I know why she was fishing alone, if her mother was so concerned for her safety. But over the noise of the river, and the crowd of other anglers, neither Mark nor his cousin Michael nor I had seen the girl casting from the trees, nor understood what or why she yelling.
As for the fly around his ankles, the river was full of broken off flies and lures still trailing heavy-duty salmon lines attached to rocks and submerged logs. Mark was holding three other flies he had just unwrapped from snarls around the river-bottom by his feet. Those three were not attached to any other anglers, and battling the constant tug of the current on his legs he had no way of knowing that the one in his ankle was still attached to a 10-year-old girl.
Such is the nature of “combat fishing.”
The water we were fishing was the wonderfully named Resurrection River, in the old gold-mining town of Hope, Alaska, about 90 minutes from Anchorage around the south side of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. I was in Alaska to work with a cetacean biologist and fellow computer scientist on a killer whale research project. Since Mark has cousins in Anchorage whom he could hang out with, I brought him with me on frequent flyer miles.
Of course I do not travel without a fly rod — especially when the travel is to some place like Alaska. I had my L.L.Bean eight-piece 8-wt. saltwater salmon rod that packs easily into a carry-on bag, and casts as well as any two-piece rod I’ve ever owned. Added to this was a beautiful new L.L.Bean Silver Ghost rod in a heavier duty 9-wt. rod. It is a beautiful fast-action rod with the power not only to lift a hard-fighting silver salmon, but also to cast big flies in heavier wind in coastal water.
The extra rod also gave Mark a chance to try both some spin casting and some fly-casting, in hopes of catching his first Alaskan salmon. Though I have fished for salmon in Alaska before, it was Mark’s first time, and also his first experience with so-called “combat fishing.” It was a Saturday afternoon, and the pink salmon were running, so for the first few hundred yards upstream of its mouth, the river was full of anglers. We could count on about five yards of space to the next angler on either side of us. Not quite shoulder-to-shoulder, but a whole lot closer to it than anything we get in Vermont.
Unfortunately, though there were plenty of pink salmon in the river that day, Mark was not able to land any of the big fish that had been “fair-hooked” (hooked in the mouth while attempting to eat the fly). He managed only to catch a few “foul-hooked” (accidentally snagged) pink salmon. And, as previously noted, one 10-year-old girl. (The girl probably could have argued that she caught Mark, but based on the mother’s reaction I think it was the other way around. In either case, the prey was most certainly foul-hooked, and neither of them were able to land the other.)
Fortunately, on Sunday afternoon, we took another excursion, this time down to Bird Creek, just 20 minutes from Anchorage. Pinks were also running there, as were chum salmon. And the silver salmon were just starting to come in. While I managed to land only one fair-hooked chum salmon that afternoon, Mark pulled in three nice fair-hooked fish including a pair of pinks that will smoke up nicely.
Granted, none of the salmon Mark pulled from the water were as big as the 10-year-old girl he almost pulled into the water. But at least their mothers didn’t come over and chew him out for his insensitivity.

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