IN THE LAND OF THE KINGS
WITH NATALIE BENNIONAlaska: Alakshak, Alyeska, great land, peninsula, that which the sea breaks against, land of the salmon. Living in Alaska for a little over three months has brought me great appreciation for its natural habitats. Particularly the mystical and wondrous Chinook. The famous, anonymous quote, “Not all who wander are lost” couldn’t hold more truth for any creature than the wild, native, King Salmon. I wanted an up close and personal experience with the King of all fish who leaves his fresh water home as a youngling. The fish who ventures into the ocean, a large and unknown world where he will most definitely face trials, tribulation and countless hardship. Then years later, by maturity and nature, remembers who he is, where he came from and what his purpose is. The Chinook mysteriously finds his way home to fresh water. By intuition alone he returns to the same place he was born, where he then spawns to preserve his species. His purpose isn’t fulfilled yet, the King then dies to feed and preserve the majority of the Alaskan habitat: the rivers, other fish species, bears, many more animals, eagles and countless birds, even people. I was determined to greet such royalty and I wanted our first encounter to be with my fly rod.
Over the course of two mornings on the river, I fought three Chinook, however, was only able to land two of them. We hear the term “fight” in the fishing world. I didn’t comprehend or appreciate the true definition of this phrase until battling a King on an 8wt fly rod. It was easy to miss setting the hook. When a King hit my fly, it would bunker down and stall, often making many of us feel like we snagged on the bottom of the river. It wasn’t until I gave that quick tug to set the hook, that the “snag” on the bottom turned into an immediate freight train hauling the end of my line. I was baptized by fire from my immediate mistake of not setting my reel drag tight enough. That fish accelerated so fast and so rapacious my hands were left bleeding, bruised, and resulted in one broken finger; true story. It was the first time in my fly-fishing experience that a fish took me all the way to my backing. It was intense. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I wanted to cry like a baby after landing each one. And the one I lost, after fighting it the longest and hardest, it still haunts me to this day.
After holding, touching and seeing this amazing species of fish, after being up close and personable with them, I appreciate them. I admire them. They are beautiful. There is something to be learned from the King Salmon. They fight through difficult stages of life, and they don’t ever give up, because their intuition tells them they have a purpose.