There seems to be a mind set among people in the lower 48, especially those people who show up on your front doorstep in the summer, that every Alaskan is a tried and true outdoor person with intimate knowledge of wildlife, firearms, bear avoidance and – perhaps more than all else – fishing in Alaska waters.
Let me set their minds straight once and for all.
I am an outdoor person only if your idea of the outdoors is the tundra at 40 below in the winter. My idea of firearms is confined to my attempt to hide their various parts when I was married and afraid to have an intact gun in the house in case kids visited. This made going hunting hard for my husband because I frequently forgot where I put all the pieces and apparently guns do not usually work unless completely reassembled.
My view on how not to get eaten by a bear tends to be limited to the idea that I just have to run faster than one other person and when I’m scared, I can run pretty darn fast. Finally, the only fishing I’ve done since moving to this state occurred in the middle of one winter at Teshepuk Lake because it was either ice fish or kill the person I was stuck with in that little cabin. I did once attempt halibut fishing but found out that you can’t fish and be violently seasick at the same time. It apparently does not enhance the experience for either the fish or your fellow fisher persons.
So each year when visitors start to make their reservations for my home during the peak summer months, I am inevitably faced with questions about the best fishing and how to get there and what to bring. There was a time when I was embarrassed to admit my ignorance of such matters and would desperately scan websites for information and then feed it back to my visitors as though I actually knew this stuff first hand. Eventually, however, I grew to accept my limitations and overcome my dismay at my ignorance. Well, actually, I just decided to blame it all on my father.
I grew up in Atlantic City. During my early years, dad would go fishing off a little pier nearby. When I got old enough to realize that my brother got to do something with my dad that I didn’t, I grew highly incensed and had a little hissy fit. I was not going to be left out. I wanted to go fishing. So, and I’m guessing at this part, my mother nagged my father till he took me along.
I was just fine with the whole experience. Pulling up fish was a real hoot and, after all, we didn’t hurt them. My daddy walked me to the back of the car to show me where he had the cooler full of ice so the fish could be comfortable and not too hot and still have the water they needed. I was thrilled. The fish actually had it better in the cool of our car trunk than they did in that ugly old ocean where there were all kinds of other mean fish who would try to hurt them.
This whole euphoria thing lasted till we got home, dad hauled the cooler out of the car and I saw the dead fish being cleaned up for cooking. I was horrified. After that, my dad had a lot harder job selling me on the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny and I boycotted fish for a very long time. Eventually I realized it was to my advantage to continue to buy the Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy tales. But I would never fish again.
And so here I sit, almost sixty years old, trying to finesse my way out of my ignorance of Alaska’s great fishing adventures. I tell people that if they want, I can bring them ice fishing in the Artic in winter. But they seem to feel that forty below is a tad cold even if it is a dry cold. So then I tell them that god invented the Internet for a very specific reason and one of those reasons was so they could go to it and find out where to go fish, when to go fish and what it would cost per pound of salmon or halibut to haul that catch home.
Meanwhile, I shamelessly accept all donations of fresh fish from friends without any qualms about the actual activity; equally shamelessly steal their best recipes; and then serve my summer visitors with fresh halibut and salmon straight from my grill as though I’d been the one who caught, gutted and filleted them.
One of the main things I learned about being an Alaskan is that summer visitors will leave long before the cold weather hits so they won’t be around long enough to actually detect the holes in the stories you tell about ice fishing. And after all, aren’t all fishing stories ultimately just grand tales?