By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
I could hear the driver of the car talking, but I wasn’t listening — not closely. While he talked, I thought about the immensity of fishing
plans that would span the next two months.
A trip to remote western Alaska to mouse for leopard rainbows as well as four other species of salmon, a 13-hour boat ride to fly-fish for black bass, a 10-hour road trip to camp, hike and fish around tangled lakes in the Interior, several hikes into the mountains to try my hand at a new-to-the-west form of Japanese fly-fishing, canoe trips requiring portaging and camping, as well as fishing the Kenai, Russian, Resurrection and Swanson rivers for reds, pinks or silvers, and myriad streams and lakes for trout. I’d nearly forgotten about hunting season.
My mind was focused on fishing — not just the fishing at hand, but also reading books about fishing and dozens of magazine articles about fishing, all between cups of black coffee and spooling line.
At six in the morning, the air along the highway smelled like fish — a hundred thousand red salmon were about to hit the Kenai River. The oncoming traffic was armed with dip nets, the streets were lined with visitors, and a clapboard sign we passed advertised fresh halibut for $19 a pound.
Hell, even when I had a moment to log on to Facebook, post after post was about fishing, so that I sat like a rat at the feeder bar hitting the “like” button so repeatedly that the dose was sure to cause cancer if I didn’t get to fishing again — and soon.
While hunting season was fast approaching, I hadn’t had time to consider. I’d all but forgotten a vocabulary that included decoys, duck calls and wetlands camo, as well as things like upland vests, hunter orange and bird-flushing dogs — certainly not pointers. To think about all there is to think about pointers one would need a lifetime of retirement, a supply of fine cigars and an always half-empty glass of whiskey.
I was so distracted lately that I shot my first perfect score in trap — a feat that evaded me for two years of mental focus and practice. I was finally in the zone, but to everyone I knew, I appeared zoned out.
The phrase, “There are other fish in the sea,” was, frankly, exhausting. The driver was still talking as I calculated how it would be possible to fit in a float trip down the Swanson considering the hectic schedules of myself, my fishing partner and the two other rabid fishermen who proposed the idea. I wondered how it was that the idea of spending peaceful time in nature resembled a 15-minute block calendar.
“I flushed a baby spruce grouse the other day,” the driver was saying.
I looked at him like he was crazy.
“What?” he said.
Then I asked for clarification: “You flushed a baby spruce hen down the toilet?”
It occurred to me later that he had been thinking ahead to the fall bird season (“flush” in hunting means “to rouse and cause to start up or fly off), while I had lost my mind in fish-focused thoughts.
The fact of the matter is that I had rushed through what could be the best part of the fishing season — finding those perfect moments and doing everything in my power to make them last.
Instead, I was electing for a buffet over a fine meal — trying to cram in as much variety as possible. If an experience of the great outdoors is the best chance any of us have to check out of the daily grind I needed not to hit the hammer so hard.
I started to laugh at myself as I pictured my upland-hunting-loving friend flushing a baby spruce grouse down the toilet. Obviously, he would never do something like that, even though a less-sensitive person would admit that it would probably do a pretty good job of cleaning the toilet.
“Next year,” I thought, “I’m going to relax.” I might even clean the toilet. I know I won’t have time this year.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” is scheduled to be released by Northern Publishing in January 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.