ALASKA: Part IV
That’s Tim Sawyer rerigging his fishing gear. Minutes earlier, something inhaled the Spin ‘N Glo tied to the end of his line and raced downstream a ways before breaking water. When the fish breached the surface, we saw that it was a big king salmon, tinted red with age, and boy, did it launch itself out of the water. It didn’t flop about, but rather had its body perfectly parallel to the river surface, high above the water and facing downstream. Kind of looked like a big muscle with fins - then it crashed back into the river and kept going. The fish had no doubt spawned in this same stream, spent the next 4-5 years at sea gorging itself on anchovies and the like. Its biological clock said it was time to return to the place of its origin and procreate. Chasing down Tim’s lure had put a temporary halt to those plans. The fish made one long run and the battle was at a standstill. The line was still taught, but there was no movement. The big fish had wrapped the line around submerged brush before continuing on its way.
It was a Thursday afternoon, only a few hours since we launched a two-man Zodiac, into a narrow stretch of the Little Susitna River. Originating in a place called Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains, the Little Su flows southward for approximately eighty miles before emptying into Cook Inlet. The plan was to float a 47 mile stretch of the river between Parks Highway and the inlet.
We stowed the fishing gear and alternately paddled and drifted with the current several more miles downstream before finding a sandbar on a bend in the river, an ideal location to pitch the tent. We arose early the following morning, had a quick breakfast and were on our way. The scenery along the river was different, the bank lined with a wide variety of flora: evergreens and birch trees, wildflowers and plants I’ve not seen before or since. Occasionally we’d see an eagle gliding high, or sometimes precariously perched atop a Sitka spruce. Many times, while drifting quietly, rustling sounds could be heard in the thick brush of the river bank, but unable to see through the dense growth.
At one point during the afternoon we had stopped to fish – or snooze – when we saw an unusual sight. A member of the gull family called a Kittiwake plummeted into the river along the opposite bank. The Kittiwake is the only gull that occasionally dives and swims underwater to capture its food. It hit the water for what seemed like a split second, and came up flapping its wings. It was quickly airborne, clutching what looked like a large eel. In its haste to make off with its dinner, the Kittiwake flew into an overhanging branch, and dropped its prey back into the river.
In its lower reaches, the river widened, the sand and gravel bars, replaced by shallow, rocky stretches. It was in such a location where the raft sprang a leak. Fortunately, Tim had the foresight to bring along a patch kit. The repairs took only minutes and we were once again on our way. At 1 a.m. Saturday morning, 47 miles downstream from our take off point, we beached the raft. The next day we’d venture north to Montana Creek for another go at the King Salmon, bringing an end to my Alaska visit.