THE ANCHOR RIVER USED TO BE a reliable place to catch king salmon. Not anymore. I walk 300 yards upstream, spotting only a dozen or so kings. Rocket’s off leash, and there’s no one around. Rumor has it that the Kenai sockeye finally came in, and the crowds are there. I have my five-weight and cast bead rigs for trout and dollies. The wind is up, and cottonwood seeds drift by. The weather is shifting toward something else, and I’ve been thinking all day about the drive home, whether I can keep my fish frozen, whether it’s time to go. Fireweed leans in the breeze.
After a few dollies, I take off the bead rig and begin to cast a white streamer with big eyes and a stinger hook. The kings stir. Then I see flashes beneath the fly: large Dolly Varden charging, missing the streamer. I make long casts across the Anchor, catching huge dollies every few casts. Rocket goes berserk, trying to chase them down in the shallows, ruining the scene many times. I’m ashamed of the words I use to discourage him. But I’m also happy that we’re both seeing this river, these fish. It’s too much to ask for, these thick sea-run char, this river all to ourselves. Being a Spit Rat has taught me to be frugal, but it has also taught me when to be humble in the face of generosity, when enough is enough. I set each fish free then finally quit fishing, take down my rod, and head to the truck.
Back in Homer I find Mike and insist on taking him to Fat Olives. We order glasses of Malbec and discuss his plans to put out a set net the following week. I tell him I’m leaving the next morning. He says I’m welcome to stay, there’s plenty more fish. But my mind is set. And besides, I have enough. We both get the pasta with hunks of local ling cod and herbs and veggies from the farmers’ market.
I want to say farewell to Murph, but I check the usual spots and can’t find him. The word is, he’s up in Ninilchik, parking cars in a field at an outdoor concert in exchange for free entry.
We stand in Mike’s yard feeding the no-see-ums and talking about what we might do next year. Mike says to keep in touch. He tapes my cooler shut and says not to peek; just leave it alone and it should be fine. Rocket and I hit the road. We drive back through incredibly scenic country: Palmer, Tok, the border crossing. I can’t help straining my neck checking out the streams rushing under bridges, wondering what’s in there.
RVs are crawling up the winding mountain passes, just arriving while I’m heading out. Rocket and I live on the road for days, only stopping to sleep by the roadside, or in turnouts, or behind grocery stores in defunct Canadian townships. We both live on day-olds and various sauces pilfered from the Homer Safeway. It occurs to me that I’m not broke, that I can afford a hotel and a hot meal, but Spit Rat Code still has a hold on me.
At night we sleep in the truck beside the great white cooler, and I dream about all the fish I caught, and all the ones I didn’t. The dog kicks his feet across an imaginary beach. The cooler, when I touch its sides, seems to tremble with energy.
David Zoby lives in Casper, Wyoming. His work has appeared in Gray’s, American Angler, Retriever Journal, and others. He keeps a lively fishing blog at davezoby.com.
Photo by Scott Dickerson/Alaskastock.com