Fishing for Silvers on the Kasilof River in Alaska: a lesson in expectation management and the power of being present by our remarkably talented friend, Gretchen Powers.
I had big dreams of becoming a female angler when we moved to Alaska nearly two years ago. I saw myself casting from a riverbank with a grizzly bear upstream catching salmon and taking names. As it goes, life happened and I’ve climbed peaks, explored glaciers, and skied across frozen lakes...but, until last week, hadn’t touched a fishing rod. When my friend Garrick Martin offered to take my wife Kaleigh and I out in his boat, we jumped at the opportunity! Finally! I would get to say I’ve been fishing in Alaska.
Garrick is a US Air Force Firefighter Veteran who recently started his own guiding company on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. When I asked him why he loves fishing so much he shared, “I’ve been fishing all my life. I grew up on Red Lake in Minnesota, which is one of the top destinations for Walleye fishing in the state! It was hard not to pick up a rod and reel. I started guiding because I love to be outdoors. From the moving river to just taking in Alaska's beauty, there’s nothing more rewarding and exciting than when I’m able to get someone on their first fish ever! I love to see the excitement in their faces when we get the fish in the net. I remember that feeling when I caught my first fish. It’s always a bonus when we actually catch fish, but my passion for guiding is more of an excuse to be on the water!”
We met up with Garrick in the Soldotna Safeway parking lot, snagging snacks and coffee and before following him out to the put-in on the Kasilof River. The sun was barely beginning to rise above the wooded river and the air was wet and cold. We layered up and hopped in, uncertain of what the day might hold; nonetheless, we felt excited for this adventure. We floated down the river a way as the sky turned several shades of pink and purple, illuminating the glacial blue river beneath us.
Garrick prepared the lures, deftly slicing the sardines and attaching them to the lures with fishing line. The whole process fascinated me as I realized I’ve never been fishing as an adult and my memories as a child are few and blurry at this point. We peppered him with questions, trying to learn as much as we could. After about twenty minutes of floating down the river, Garrick dropped anchor at a bank near a bend in the river and cast three lines downstream. We were instructed to watch the rods for a severe bend which would tell us that a fish was on the line.
It’s called "fishing" not "catching" for a reason, and we watched and waited patiently, sipping coffee and sharing stories. It wasn’t too long before I had a fish on my line, and wow was I excited! I reeled in as instructed and burst out laughing alongside Kaleigh and Garrick when we saw the cute little dolly I had managed to snag! My first fish! A whopping 8 inches long! I was thrilled and couldn’t stop smiling.
We sent the little guy back on its merry way and shortly after Kaleigh caught her first fish of the day—a brilliantly sparkly rainbow trout—and that fish too we released back into the cerulean waters. Shortly after, Kaleigh got a silver salmon on her line (the only fish we could have kept this day)! She carefully reeled it in and Garrick was ready with the net and I was ready with my camera and then right as we were about to have some delicious salmon on the table for dinner, it spat out the lure and swam away. The definition of "so close, yet so far" had never felt more real. Slightly disheartened, we pulled up anchor and headed further down the river.
While hours passed and no more silvers were biting, Garrick let me paddle the boat for a few. Nothing about my rowing experience in college prepared me to try and row a boat facing downstream in a river with a considerable current—so that dream was short-lived and he quickly took the oars back from me to keep us from getting snagged in a tree. We stopped in several other places to try our luck, placed several fish calls to Garrick’s wife, and sang some fishies songs while imploring them to sacrifice themselves by shouting “do it for the gram!” We sipped more coffee, ate cold pizza leftovers and took lots of pictures.
We got caught in a rain squall and laughed as we were pelted until we were soaked, thankful that fall temps hadn’t hit quite yet. The chill we felt in our bones by the time we got off the river was an accurate indication of a great day of adventure—when you have little expectation for how the day is going to go, you’ll have a better time than you imagined, regardless of what happens.
We went home empty-handed, but I don’t think I’ve had a better day in Alaska. I caught two dolly’s (more fish than in the rest of my life combined!), spent all day outside on the most glorious river with two gems of humans, paddled a boat, took unbelievable photos, and was forced to be present. 10/10 would do it again. (But I’ll bring rain pants and my knitting next time!)
Interested in connecting with Garrick Martin on an upcoming Alaskan adventure? Find him on Facebook here!