Below our small plane, snow blanketed Kodiak Island. We’d fished these waters in rain, but never snow. “Do the kings know it’s time to run?” I shouted over engine noise. My husband, Dan, shrugged his shoulders. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Elly, a tourist, stood ready to board as we disembarked. Her two fifty-pound boxes of frozen fish encouraged us. “Don’t make the mistake I did,” she said. “I caught a 55-pounder and hadn’t signed up for the Kodiak Derby. ‘Could have been worth a lot of money.”

Annual Derby banners were everywhere. Minimum prize--$5000 each for the biggest king salmon and halibut caught. “It’ll surely pay more, we’ve had so many sign-ups,” said the Visitor Center’s docent. Remembering Elly’s advice, our group of twenty bought in.

Early the next morning, wearing long underwear beneath layers, we boarded assigned boats. Dan and I paired with two fishermen, JR and Barry, a new friend. Our captain-guide, Carl, introduced us to his Seattle visitor, Ricardo, who wore a camcorder on one hand.  

“This is the first time I’ve had the boat in the water this season,” Carl said. “George needed an extra guide for your group today. I arrived just in time to go to work.”

Our lodge was barely out of sight when both outboard motors quit. For three hours we drifted, trying to keep warm while fellow fisherman, Barry—a boat owner himself, struggled to get things running. He discovered the gasoline Carl had left in 55-gallon drums over the winter included water and sludge. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

We held our breath as Barry hung headfirst over the rail, painstakingly draining gas into a plastic container. Repairs complete, this new fishing friend became our hero.

The motor started, and we cruised to a nearby inlet to—yes—fish! Carl attached lures and dropped four lines into the water. In gratitude, I suggested Barry take the first strike, but he’d hear nothing of it. Poles were assigned to each of us. After half an hour, we stepped inside to warm up.

Bam! “Your line, Carolyn,” JR yelled.

I lunged to the corner, grabbing the rod from its holder while the guys quickly reeled in other lines. “He’s running.” Line whirled off my reel. Once it stopped, I reset and began the exhilarating task of pulling the rod up and back, then reeling down. It must be a king, I thought. Not as heavy as that 125-pound marlin in Baja last month, but much bigger than any salmon I’ve ever landed. Two more times the fish ran for his life. Why am I wearing all these layers?

I struggled to anchor the rod. “Is there a belt I can wear?” Someone buckled one on me and brought a chair. I gladly sat. Bracing my feet, I felt more secure.

“It’s a good sized king! Keep working it,” Dan encouraged me.

I had no intention of quitting. “He’s trying to lose the hook.” I felt the prize pull to one side, embarking on the first of two trips around the boat.

“That’s a trophy fish for sure,” hollered Carl. Forgetting his job, he was caught up in the excitement.

“Get in there and turn with the line or he’ll break free.” Barry ordered him. “You’re supposed to be helping her.”

The king was tiring, and I took advantage of it. My arms wanted to fall off, but I reeled for all I was worth. A few minutes later we got our first view of the biggest king salmon I’d ever seen.

“That’s seventy…seventy-five pounds!” Carl screamed in my ear. “What a beauty!” He was already celebrating.

Boat hands usually muscle in, waving their favorite tools. . .

“Where’s your net?” Dan shouted.

“Oh, yeah!” Carl disappeared into the bow.

“Take a picture of the fish, Dan.”

“Get it on board first. We’ll have time for pictures later.”

The fish rested alongside the boat, as exhausted as I was. Carl ordered the others to stand back and he scooped the salmon, tail-first into the net. The fish effortlessly flipped out. The net was too small, by half.

“Where’s your big net?”

“I don’t know. I can’t find it.”

“Where’s your gaff?”

Was this a Three Stooges movie? Nothing and no one seemed ready to land this gorgeous fish. Subsequent swipes with the forty-inch net proved fruitless. Finally, the king snapped the lure and swam slowly, deliberately away. Then the heavy-duty reel fell off my rod!

Can we spell u-n-p-r-e-p-a-r-e-d?

Stunned, I watched in silence as the largest salmon I’d ever encountered disappeared. Words couldn’t express my feelings. But Carl more than made up for it, shouting curses, stomping his feet—throwing a tantrum. He knew whose fault this was. The air turned blue and Ricardo turned off his camcorder.

Back at the lodge my mega-fish was the main topic. “What sport-fisherman doesn’t carry at least two net sizes?” “Don’t put me on his boat tomorrow.” “Last year’s trophy only weighed forty-three pounds…”

The scene re-played relentlessly in my sleep that night, as I tried to alter the outcome. I named him King George and challenged others to go out and get him.

When I introduced myself to our next day’s boatman, he responded, “Hi, Carolyn. I have two nets!” My reputation preceded me.

Before departing for home, JR said, “I can’t believe how nice you were about that fish. Carl’s damn lucky that didn’t happen to me.”

“Well,” I said, shaking my head. “It just wasn’t supposed to be.”




THE CHOIR  by MJ Kruty