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    IN THE LAND OF THE KINGS

    WITH NATALIE BENNION

    Alaska: 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.
    The famous, anonymous quote, “Not all who wander are lost” couldn’t hold more truth for any creature than the wild, native, King Salmon
    First, I had to plan my location and decide on a couple of factors. Did I want to harvest the salmon or let it go? Did I want to combat with other anglers for this amazing encounter or give myself a little breathing room? Although I love a good salmon dinner, I decided it was a higher priority for me to experience a fly rod battle with a Chinook rather than having a cook-out with him. Thankfully, I made a local Alaskan friend through the fly fishing community who took me to a low key spot, north of Anchorage. It was a no-harvest river with some pretty strict regulations. Still crowded to a degree, but nothing compared to the combat fishing you see on the Kenia Peninsula. We would be letting all Chinook go to fulfil their journey and purpose since returning home to fresh water.
    With the alarm set for 3:00 a.m., a forecast of 45-degree weather, 60% chance of rain, and a two-hour drive ahead of us, I knew it was going to be a grand couple of days. Did I mention we packed in our 3-year-old as well? The forecast felt more like: adventure waiting with a 60% chance of crazy. The sunrise and scenery along the drive to our destination alone, was worth the sleepless nights before. Alaska’s beauty has forever stolen my heart, mind and perspective. We arrived to the river by 5:00 in the morning to claim our space. Because this river has such strict regulations on their King Salmon, we couldn’t wet our lines until 6:00 a.m. sharp. Sitting there wet and cold, in my waders, watching and hearing the Kings roll through is about the most anticipation I’ve experienced since Christmas morning as a 6-year-old. I am grateful for the beaver, moose and bald eagle who passed through providing me with a distraction. One I may have otherwise missed.

    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.


    NATALIE'S PACKING LIST