It is an amazing event to find oneself in the middle of a dream, but here I was in the middle of my lifelong dream. My husband and I had landed in Anchorage, Alaska the evening before and driven out to the Kenai River where we stayed at a bed and breakfast for a few short hours of sleep before getting up at 4:30 AM. We needed to be at the river by 5:30 AM to get instructions and board the river boat.
So here we were standing beside the Kenai River with seven other people, six novice fishermen and a guide, waiting to board the boat. We were soon on board and headed upstream as a gray mist hovered over the river in the early, not quite light, Alaskan dawn. The misty air, heavy-laden with the smell of fish and pine, gave me a heady sensation. The thick pine forest appeared to surround us as we looked upstream to where the trees and water converged. A lone eagle glided over the trees above us, and shore birds silently pecked the sand at the river’s edge. A moose, with a rack that looked to be at least eight feet wide, stepped into the water, and effortlessly swam across the current.
A mother duck and her young flock were trying to get to the other side of the river. The babies could not fly so the mother was showing them how to cross the river going against the current. Their wings were flapping and their feet were paddling as fast as they could move them to cross a river that was a quarter of a mile wide and flowing downstream at four miles an hour. The eagle, which had been gliding above us, suddenly dropped to the river, snagged a fish about a foot long, flew above us and disappeared into the trees.
Amid all this tranquility, the river sent a pulse through me. With electrifying anticipation I baited my hook, and waited for the guide’s direction to put it in the water. I wondered silently if the mother duck would ever get her family safely to the other side of the river as I heard the guide say, “Ruth, drop your hook in the water and pull off twenty lengths of line.” A length was from your reel to as far as your arm could reach. As I began to pull off the twenty pulls of line, my mind leaped to landing a king salmon. Would I really be able to bring one of those beautiful creatures into the boat and watch someone club it? At that moment frenzied excitement burst forth from everyone in the boat as a king salmon seized my bait and headed downstream.
All around me people began to shout and yell, “Fish on! Pull up! – Fish on! Pull up!”
My conscious mind did not understand what they were saying; however, I suddenly realized they were shouting instructions to me. My ears heard the words and my brain finally connected so I jerked up hard on the pole to set the hook, and cranked on the reel. As my pole bent, my stomach churned and convulsed, threatening to release my breakfast. I swallowed hard to keep my breakfast where it was supposed to be. The fish on my hook had its own inner turmoil and headed downstream. It darted from one side of the river to the other. My pole jerked from one side of the boat to the other as the fish changed directions, hoping to dislodge the hook.
Amid the shouts from my fellow fishermen, I heard the guide’s voice say “Crank, crank!” as he yelled into my ear. “Pull up on the pole, pull up and hold it steady!” OH! I guess he is talking to me. I cranked the reel and pulled up on the pole, every muscle tight and straining. My arms, being pulled from the sockets, throbbed with pain. My legs, taunt and unbending, ached as I struggled to keep my pole up and the line tight.
“Strange,” I thought, “what happened to the other fisherman?” I looked up to see their boats quiet, as they reeled in their lines and watched the fight between the fish and me. At that moment the guide grabbed the end of my pole and slammed it hard on my belly button. “Hold the end of the pole right there.”
Just as I firmly anchored the pole on my navel that sparkling silver fish, at least a yard long, weighing 50+ pounds, jumped from the water and danced on its tail. It bounced three times on its tail, flipped over and slipped gracefully back into the river. I thought, “How beautiful! Could I watch it die?”
“Keep the line tight!” the guide shouted.
After having seen the silver beauty that had swallowed my bait, I really began concentrating on the instructions from the guide, thinking that maybe it would jump off my line so it would not have to die. However, I forgot my aching arms and churning stomach, and pressed the butt end of the pole harder into my belly button holding it firm. At the same time I cranked the reel with my right hand to bring MY FISH, as I had quickly come to think of it, close to the boat. As I cranked the reel, the line shortened. With the shorter line the fish swam near the boat, and the guide made a scoop with the net and missed. I thought, “Oh good it swam away. No, no! It was still on my line. I heard the guide say, “Keep your line tight, you do not want this one to get away. It is a beauty.”
“Oh Lord,” I breathed, “What do I do now? This is your creature, but you have given it to us for food. Will I be able to eat and enjoy this fish? The next moment it sprang from the water, and leaped into the air, the boat swerved, and the fish landed in the back of the boat. The guide quickly threw his net over the fish so that it could not flip back into the water. I stood there in the boat thinking, “What now? Lord, did you just give me this fish to eat?” All around us, fishermen in other boats began to yell and clap, praising my catch.
At that moment the guide grabbed his club and hit ‘my fish.’ I had no time to shout “NO, don’t do that!” I looked at my fish lying in the boat and felt empathy for the fish and my part in its death. It had taken 50 minutes from the time the fish took my hook until it was in the boat. It had been a tough struggle between the fish and me. However, I was actually saddened by the death of the fish. I asked the Lord and the fish for forgiveness for taking its life, but knew that I would certainly enjoy every mouthful of that wonderful salmon the Lord had given me.
I remembered that Jesus said to His disciples, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (JOHN 21:10-12) Yes, I would really enjoy this fish.
The salmon weighed in at 64 pounds. It was the biggest catch of the day, and my fishing was done before 6:30 AM as you can only catch one fish per day on the Kenai River. I was happy to read my book the rest of the day. The next morning I woke up with a very black and blue circle around my navel, but ready to head out to the river for another day of fishing. I did catch another fish that day, just not nearly as big.