DAY 2 — “The fish must hate us,” moans 13 year old Miles Singer.
We are on the world-famous Kenai River in Alaska with one of the river’s best guides, Steve Fickes, who jokes that he’s been guiding “ever since I got my accounting degree” — more than two decades ago.
It’s grand central on the Kenai this morning — about 50 small boats within a quarter mile stretch on the river hoping to catch one of the 50-pound-plus King Salmon that are making their run up the river to spawn and then die.
We’ve gotten up at 4:30 a.m. and are on the river by 6 — so early that we’ve lost my young cousin 12 year-old Max Weinberg. “You don’t have to go,” I told him. “Really?” he said, decamping to go back to sleep.
I felt like I didn’t want to force the issue. On the other hand, I’m sorry he missed the action on this world-famous river – chock-a-block with boats, some reeling in Kings, others (like us) looking on enviously, the guides conferring by cell phone to find the best fishing “holes” where the salmon stop to rest on their way upstream to spawn.
We find plenty of these holes — Mud Island, Eagle Rock, Poacher’s Cove, Old Faithful among them — staked out by plenty of boats — but the salmon allude us. We get four bites (I get three!) but we don’t catch any fish.
“It’s about patience,” says our guide Fickes, who is considered one of the best on the river. That doesn’t lessen our frustration. We munch on sandwiches we made at breakfast at the Great Alaska Lodge (www.greatalaska.com) and on granola bars. The sun peaks out from behind the clouds. We peel off wind breakers and fleece.
But no fish. Fickes tells us the second and largest run of salmon has started on the river– more than 50,000 Sockeye salmon in one day and more than 1,000 of the King Salmon prized for their size.
We see one jump to the side of the boat; another in front. But they avoid our hooks and lures. So frustrating!
Thirteen year-old Miles Singer, meanwhile, is already thinking about how much money he can make from selling the sockeye salmon he has already caught from the beach at the lodge.
The River, meanwhile, reminds me of rush hour-Alaska style – five-passenger boats one after another on the river, trolling for fish.
“Kings can be temperamental,” says our guide. “Sometime they bite, sometimes they don’t.”
That doesn’t make us feel any better as we’re in our windbreakers, trying to keep warm in the damp chill morning air. Where is our fish?
We make our way up and down the lake — 20 mile s in nine hours — no luck! We are staying at Great Alaska Lodge right on the Kenai River that attracts both serious “fishers’ as well as those seeking an un-cruise vacation — an opportunity to fish, kayak, hike and more along the spectacular Kenai Peninsula. You can do much of what makes Alaska so great right here.
Our guide explains that we are coming into the best of the salmon run that people come from all over the world to fish here these weeks at the end of July and early August every summer. That just makes us feel worse.
Miles focuses on the two sockeyes (almost 10 pounds of meat!) he has already caught from the beach at the lodge (and that will cost $150 to ship home). I keep thinking about how amazed my gang will be if I reel in a 50-pound king salmon.
No such luck. While others in other boats are taking pictures of their trophy fish, we’re just wondering why the fish seem to hate us — this morning anyway.
“It is tough to sit here but the hours of boredom are worth it for the payoff,” promises our guide.
Fisherman are only allowed to reel in one King Salmon, he explains. At this point, we’d settle for one for the boat. A bald eagle passes over head. Sea birds munch on salmon carcasses thrown back in the water by fishermen after they clean their catch. Our guide confers some more via cell phone with his fellow guides.
It doesn’t help us at all. Three bites, nine hours on the world-famous lower Kenai River and no fish later we call it a day. We can’t help but be disappointed when we return empty handed. Why couldn’t they choose another day to be tempermental?
Just like kids, I think, as I try to find Max. Are salmon and kids that much different?
Next: The “un-cruise.”