Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Contentment: Fishing Days

When my longtime friend and fishing buddy Brian invited me to go wet a line during my recent visit to Juneau, I expected to write about it. Of all the activities that engaged me during a lifetime in Alaska, a day of fishing is one that bears closest resemblance to the kind of day I work toward having more and more of now in Yucatán.

Why? Fresh salmon is soul food to me, but the experience is more about having a day than getting a fish. In fact, Brian and I have a way of talking about going out fishing. We don't say we're going to go out and catch a bunch of fish. We just casually say that we ought to go and "have a look around."

Years ago I heard various Alaska Native elders talk about going out hunting. In some cultures tradition says that the hunter needs to be humble, because the animals sense human arrogance and will not give themselves to someone who is not respectful, not "right" in heart and mind. The hunter who says something like, "I'm going out to have a look around," or, "I'll just take a walk down river," might come back with meat for his family. Someone who offends nature -- "let's kill us some fish" -- will come back empty handed.

So we have a routine: I bring all the food, Brian gasses up his boat, and we head out for the day and start "looking around," with carefully-prepared bait trailing in the depths behind us, of course. 

And there is always plenty to look at: varieties of birds, fish, innumerable eagles, seals, sea lions, and often lots of whales. Interesting things float by. It is a day in which moment succeeds moment. 

The wind shifts, and we're in a chilly mist. I am sipping coffee as the tide ebbs. The sky changes and the day evolves. Clouds thicken and briefly a shower drenches us; the sun finds an opening and highlights the snow-capped Chilkat mountains and a distant glacier.

As the overcast dissipates, I warm up and begin to shed layers: raincoat, halibut jacket, wool shirt. I trail my hand in the water, and taste it as it drips from my fingers.

The peace and calm of observing nature and weather is punctuated occasionally by the quiver of a fishing pole, and sometimes that leads to the capture of a nice salmon or halibut. But more often than not, bait is snatched away and something down there has got a free meal on us, or we carefully release an undersized or unwanted fish. 

Or nothing at all happens.

Although not always a lot of it, there's talk. After about twenty-five years of fishing together we've shared a lot of experiences, so at times we retell old fishing stories: long hauls in his small skiff before Brian got the bigger boat; getting caught in bad weather; monster fish that got away; the time we hooked halibut and several species of salmon all in one day. We laugh about the time I got seasick on the brand-new boat and my trip to the ER with a hook in my thumb. The conversations range through many other subjects. Talk flows easily.

There's also the music, always jazz or rock oldies. And food. I habitually bring fat prepared sandwiches from the deli counter of a local store, apples, other snacks, drinks and Snickers bars. It's become a tradition. I only eat them when fishing, but for fishing you've gotta have Snickers. 

Breaking out the food used to be a good luck charm. It seemed that for years, no sooner would we have all the lunch goodies spread out than we would hook something. Inevitably some of the food would end up dropped and trampled on the deck, a casualty of the action. We've continued to try the "get out the sandwiches" ploy when fish aren't biting, even though it hasn't worked in years. Fishermen, like baseball players, are superstitious. Speaking of superstitions, there's my fishing hat, but that's another story.

We don't always connect with fish, but as things went on this recent day, we were watching some "rock jockeys," beach fishermen on North Douglas Island, when suddenly one of the poles started vibrating. It wasn't long before we reeled in a magnificent gift from Mother Nature in the form of a medium-sized King. As I looked into its eye and felt its fat but sleek body I felt truly blessed to be who and where I was and in the company of a good friend. 

I could not have wished then to be any other place nor to be doing anything else on earth. What more could one possibly ask from a day than that?

Every fishing day is different, but each "look around" is also a nostalgic repetition of something that could not be improved upon and that I wouldn't change in any way. Catching fish is not the main point. For a whole list of other reasons, every fishing day is a perfect day.


  1. It must have been difficult to move away from the beauty of Alaska. Do you worry about your house when away from Mexico?

    Ray Delk

  2. It's been said that a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at the office. I love fishing and find that adage to be totally true.

  3. Hello Ray -- I was born and raised in Alaska, and I do miss it, but I visit fairly often. And, I live in another very beautiful place. I've had my house in Mérida since 2003 and have never had a problem with leaving it. I used to just lock and leave it, and return sometimes several months later, and nothing was ever amiss. Starting three years ago I've had someone here all the time. Security is still not a big concern, but I have more stuff to take care of and it's nice to have someone on top of things if there is bad weather or something else needs to be attended to.

  4. Barb: I was going to put that on in, but I think I made my point without it. It's so true. I think if you have the right attitude even a bad day fishing is about as good as it gets...beats most kinds of work hands down.

  5. What a lovely post. And the photos! Glorious. I've never been to Alaska, but it's on my list. I think that fish is the shade of an old piece of French pewter I had for years. Silvery, glistening, gray; a color I could step into and roll around in. Thanks Marc.

  6. Lynette: The glowing sheen of a still-living salmon is something that can't be captured in a photo. Unfortunately that magic fades as the fish dies. I always like to touch the fish when it's still living. It's an amazing thing to feel.

  7. Thanks for the thoughts. Its all good! I will be in Maine for part of July and "go fishing" which has always been a "look around" since I was a little girl. That is so Law of Attraction which is inclusive of all peoples, animals, religions, things ~ all that have vibrations. The Secret was never in the book The Secret. You have stated it here!!!! Cuidate, MaryAnn

  8. Thanks for your comments, Mary Ann. The more I participate in it and think about it, the more it makes sense. I am sure you will enjoy your "looks around" in July. We'll see you some time in Querétaro.

  9. The peace and calm of observing nature...This is the reason why Alaska is still in my heart

  10. Dada, it's so nice to hear from you. I am glad you are still enjoying the blog. I want to come visit you some time soon.

  11. Marc,

    This piece deserves to be shared in a fishing magazine!


  12. Thanks, Eric. I'm not sure it's up to that quality, but I am glad you appreciate the sentiment. It's always nice to know you're out there reading. I look forward to seeing you around here some time soon.

  13. What wonderful photos... and the 'fish story.' Ah, it reminds me of my childhood summers. A lake in British Columbia was our fishing hole... rainbow trout is what we were after. Thank you Marc - great post!

  14. Joanna: Thanks for commenting. You prompted me to think about why I don't fish here in Yucatán. I think it has something to do with "place." Fishing is something I have always done up north. It has always been a cool-climate thing for me. I just don't enjoy it as much in the tropics. I don't know why. Interesting.


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