Short Stories

Something’s Fishy in Salmonland

by Evie Clough

This story won a Scott Valley Writing Contest in 2014.

Ker-Plop, Ker-Plop, Ker-Plop. Keep that line in rhythm so we don’t tangle together, with all of us doing the ‘rolling red cast.’ Grey-green water splashes upwards as three-quarters of a pound enters and follows a short drift, before being given the ‘Kenai jerk’. At my feet, flows the cold and silty glacier-fed water of the Kenai River. ‘Bam’, my rod drops so fast I can barely yank back to keep the orange line from spooling.

That fish streaks straight out towards the middle of the river. Suddenly, hook and sinker fly right back at me with supersonic speed. Ducking, I barely get my rod up in time to bat them down and avoid sticking myself or a neighbor with a very sharp 3-0 hook. “Darn, that was a big male. Must have been a tail-hook.” No time for sympathy, the man next to me is already landing his second fish.

After missing a couple more, one finally swims upriver. I see chartreuse yarn on the side of her mouth as she waves her body gracefully back and forth in the current. Left hand cupped around a trusty Loomis fly reel, I let my prize tire a bit. Fly rod bent, I cram the fighting butt into my belly for leverage until I can guide her to shore and the waiting net. “Nice hen,” the man says after he stuns my catch with a bat and lifts her out of the mesh.

Ah, yes, my first fish of the season. I can already taste the steaming red flesh, warm from the barbeque. These Sockeyes, nicknamed ‘Reds’, I call the Prince of Salmon. You get five to fifteen pounds of fighting fun, and luscious eating. Some people around me have come thousands of miles for the privilege of catching Reds. The Chinook, or Royal Kings, are more scarce, and hard for bank fishing. Coho, the Queenlike Silvers, are bigger than Sockeye, but you have to sit and wait for them to bite. Humpback or Pink salmon, the small Jokers in the deck, are usually thrown back, or fed to animals. Tempting Reds to bite is the action I love.

And just how did this fascination start, you ask? This unwavering desire to hook scaled creatures with a bent piece of metal? Did it start when playing around such waters as the Scott, Shasta, Salmon, or mighty Klamath River? No, I really think the seed of my fish fixation began during one magical childhood trip along the Salmon River Road.

Ken Young was a very good photographer, and a coworker of my mother, Nurse Harriet, in the Siskiyou County Office. He also drove the only midget car in Yreka. Among the giant 1950’s vehicles he was impossible to miss. 

The entire front of the car opened as a door, and the body shape resembled electric cars now common some 60 years later. Ken told my mother he needed some children like hers as models for a tourism publicity campaign he was shooting, and she agreed.

On a shiny Saturday, Ken and Harriet loaded myself, Evie Lou, and my sister, Angel, into a County Ford in front of our home in Yreka. I was always excited to drive over Yreka Mountain, into Scott Valley where we had many friends. Not stopping this time, we drove through Etna and over the Salmon Mountain. Somewhere along that crystal-blue Salmon River, we turned off into the yard of a retired couple who lived on a small private lake. 

The couple greeted us warmly and demonstrated how the fish in the lake came up when they tossed food onto the water. While Ken set up his equipment, I was totally engrossed in learning to use the fishing rod and cast into the lake. It didn’t take long to hook those tame fish. Angel got the first one. When I finally brought in a small trout, Ken took a nice portrait. That image, and the memory, live on with me today.

Angel, being older, caught the most and the biggest fish. However, as Ken washed that nice trout in the small stream that fed the lake, he dropped it. We all got a good laugh about ‘the big one that got away.’ As I look over those pictures from that magical day along the Salmon River, I truly believe it was the real beginning of my passion for Salmon fishing.

Once I arrived on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, 3 decades ago, the sight of Mount Redoubt looming over the town streets made me feel right at home. That volcano still reminds me of Mount Shasta, and it pops up into view as you drive many roads. I remember deer in the alfalfa fields, so now there are caribou and moose. The Kenai is like the Klamath was when there was lots of water in it. Towns like Hope remind me of Sawyers Bar, and Ninilchik with it’s Fair and Rodeo Grounds is like Montague was in the ‘50’s.

The Kenai Peninsula truly seems to me like the Siskiyou County of my childhood. Eventually, Angel and I plan to settle in Scott Valley again. But for now, as long as I can still haul them in, I live for July, and that chance to yell, “Fish On!”

The Siskiyou Writers’ Club is a local group of folks with a passion for creative writing of all genres.  The club generally meets the last Thursday of the month in various locations throughout Siskiyou County. 
For more information,
contact Mike Grifantini, 530-710-4882, email [email protected]
or Bob Kaster, 530-598-5204, email [email protected]

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  1. Mark Jones

    Good story! I don’t know of that private lake.

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  3. What as up i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anywhere, when i read this paragraph i thought i could also make comment due to this sensible piece of writing.

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