By Pat Hoglund
Truth be told, it was a rather pathetic sight and I felt embarrassed that I was literally flailing in ankle deep water trying to corral a steelhead. My brother-in-law and I were steelhead fishing on the Anchor River in Alaska and Mitch was desperate to catch his first steelhead. And I was desperate to help him catch his first steelhead.
We spent the better part of the morning fishing the lower river hoping to intercept a steelhead entering the river on the tide. The Anchor is a short, but productive steelhead river where it’s common to catch fish on a rising tide. Our plan didn’t work out the way we planned, which only added to my frustration. So we moved to another section in the river, this time higher up in the system. As it turned out there was a person fishing in what was easily identified as the sweet spot. My frustration mounted.
We moved to another spot that didn’t have a person fishing in it, but my expectations were anything but high. My focus was on catching fish. Mitch had caught plenty of fish in his lifetime, but never a steelhead. He desperately wanted to feel the power of a wild steelhead and he wanted me to capture the moment on film. What better place to experience it than Alaska?
Mitch made cast after cast swinging his fly through run after run. His patience and persistence was motivating. I might’ve moved on or given up entirely, but he flogged the water until he hooked into an ocean-fresh steelhead. His rod was arced and he hollered for me. “Finally,” I remembered thinking.
I walked down to where he was standing. His face said it all: He was panicked. “I don’t want to lose this thing. What do I do?” I coached him best I could, but more than anything just let him play the fish. It was tiring and I told him to reel down tight to the fish and slowly drag him into the shallows. “Can you grab him,” he pleaded. “I just want to get a photo of it.” I knew better to touch the leader, but I was desperate for success. So I did the unthinkable and grabbed the leader and attempted to pull the fish into even shallower water. That’s when the leader broke.
The steelhead was still in shallow water and I fell to my knees and tried to grab the fish’s tail. Which only made it worse. Panic set in. I flailed at the fish like a bear cub learning to catch a salmon for the first time. In a froth of water, excitement and pandemonium the fish swam away. My jacket was soaking wet. Mitch looked at me and I was embarrassed to look at him. A few choice words came spewing from my mouth and Mitch was laughing hysterically.
“If only you could’ve seen yourself. That was priceless.” I took a step back and replayed the folly in my head. It was a pathetic attempt at glory only to be lost by greed and irrational thinking. It was at that moment I couldn’t help but find the humor. We both stood in the river laughing hysterically. If you were standing on the bank watching it unfold, you would no doubt think the same.
As fate would have it, Mitch got his wish. He continued to fish and he ended up catching another steelhead. And photos were taken and he had a memory fish to take home with him to Arizona. It was at that moment I decided to stop worrying about catching fish and start enjoying the moment. Which might explain why our fish catching improved. Fish demons can work their voodoo on you when you forget one of the most important lessons: it’s not the fish you catch, but the memories you make while attempting to catch a fish.
As Mitch and I departed the community of Anchor Point and drove our motorhome to Soldotna I left my expectations on the banks of the Anchor. No longer was I worrying about catching fish. I knew our trip was already a success. We had made memories, we laughed and we enjoyed our time in a new place. We even strung up our rods early one day to drive to Homer where we took in some of the most incredible scenery and have a beer at the famous Salty Dawg Saloon.
As fate would have it, our stress-free fishing on the Kenai was one for the record books. Funny how fate and low expectations can work in your favor.