Echo Cove, Alaska---The little Redington 5-wt. rod bent in the backcast as the line slowly unfolded toward the woods behind me. Then, with a slight flick of the wrist, the energy now stored in the bent tip was released forward and the line went whipping by me, carrying the pink closer out over the dark blue water of Echo Cove.
About thirty yards out from the rocky shoreline the fly settled down into the water and I started to quickly strip in the line. I felt the powerful strike of the pink salmon (humpy), pointed the rod right at him and set the hook with a sharp strip of the line. The fight was on. The big silver-sided rocket drove off toward the point with a powerful run that stripped the line from the singing reel. I held the rod tip up a bit and let this wonder of modern science put the pressure on this magnificent fish. Just about when I thought he was going to keep going to Valdez, he stopped and sulked a minute. I lifted the tip and started to reel in line as fast as I could. Slowly he came toward me, but I wasn’t fooled. This wasn’t my first rodeo! Without any warning he just put his head down and whipped back by me like his tail was on fire. I raised the rod up as high as I could to take up the slack and then lowered it toward him as he hit the end of the line. The reel sang again, but I had retrieved quite a bit of line before he shot off. As he moved away, I once more raised the tip, putting pressure on him, letting him know I was still there. This bright fish, fresh from the ocean, was just full of energy and was not about to come to the net easily. Over and over the big humpy ran and then stopped, each foray getting shorter and shorter. Finally he came to me, slowly finning in the clear water by my boot tips. He would not admit defeat by rolling on his side, he was too proud for that, but he was done. I reached down and twisted the hook out of his lower jaw. He sat there a minute as if not realizing he was free. Then, with a flick of his tail he disappeared into the dark blue water from whence he had come. I rose and watched the small wake left by his energy. I waved a bit at MaryGayle and fluffed up my fly, readying it to be once again floated out over the sound. We were fishing at the end of the road about forty miles north of Juneau in a small cove full of pink salmon and Dolly Varden. After a 5200 mile drive from the east coast and one ferry ride, MaryGayle and I were where we wanted to be...fishing in water where the salmon were running, eagles soared overhead, and the water was clean and clear. The next day, on the advice of the Dave and Mike at the fly shop located in the Senate Building in downtown Juneau, we motored down the coast a ways to a small river called Sheep Creek. The water ran out over a gravel bar across which you could wade in no more than knee deep runs. The chum salmon were there by the thousands. It was a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. There was death and destruction everywhere as these huge fish struggled to make their way up to the river pools from which they had come several years before. The minute they hit the fresh water they were starting to die. They only had a few days to get to the spawning areas, let go their eggs or sperm and then drift back to the ocean where their emaciated bodies would be consumed by every living thing along the shoreline. It was a bit grisly and a bit off-putting until you realize the full scope of this migration. The big gulls would peck the eyes out of the still living salmon as they struggled along the banks. The bald eagles were everywhere, tearing at the flesh of the spent fish. The terns were diving into the water, picking up the eggs as they floated downstream. The Dolly Varden were underneath the salmon in the pools, eating the eggs as soon as they were dropped. Bears waded the streams, yanking spent fish from the water and pulling them apart. Even the flounder were at the mouth of the stream, downing the bright pink eggs as they floated by. Just off the mouth of the river fishing vessels were seining the bay, pulling in nets that were just stuffed with the salmon. All along the coast this scene is repeated day after day. Millions of returning salmon of several different types, are supporting a whole ecosystem as they have been doing for centuries. Most of them are going to die after they lay their eggs, and nature never uses something just once. As a result, eagle chicks get fed, gulls and terns survive, and other life forms get their energy from the food of these dying fish. The cycle of life being played out in a very visual way. Juneau (traveljuneau.com) is an interesting city to visit. There are no roads into this capitol city, so the only way in is by plane, cruise ship or ferry. We are cruising Alaska in our slide-in truck camper, so we took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry (ferryalaska.com) down from Skagway. This trip down the coastline was a wonderful ride where we saw whales, seals, and a resplendent display of snowcapped mountains and thundering waterfalls.