Margaret’s rod tip drops quickly, and she shouts, “Oh, oh, oh, fish on!” It’s obvious there is no king on the other end, but the first fish, nevertheless. In less than a minute, the team of Don, the guide, and Margaret boat a small Dolly.
No sooner is the Tad Poly back in the water than the deafening silence is broken. Margaret’s reel spool begins turning backward. Line comes off in 20 and 30-yard spurts in rapid succession. Finally, the yet unseen king pauses in underwater flight, giving Margaret a moment to catch her breath and recapture some of the line.
A new plan to jettison the Tad Poly is put into play by the king. Retreat did not work. Now attack is attempted by charging directly for the boat faster than Margaret can reel. Only the depth of the water and pressure of the current against the line, keeping it tight, preserves the battle. The king stops opposite the boat in water too deep for a sighting. Margaret has not seen the fish yet. She again feels the pull of the living log as the line tightens. The rest stop for the king was near the bottom. Now, using the water from the bottom to the surface for momentum, a 65 -pound king salmon bursts into full view 12 feet from the boat. Elements of surprise and fear almost work to free the fish.
In desperation, Margaret tries to give the rod to me. I won’t touch it. I wouldn’t dare touch the rod and risk losing the fish. I can imagine the humiliation I would suffer if I was viewed as responsible for the loss if it got away. Don enjoys verbally assisting his client but declines to participate beyond a coaching spectator. Three more high-flying attempts to dislodge the hook and flee seem to sap the king’s remaining strength.
At that very moment, Margaret, too, is ready to surrender. Only the encouragement from the fans kept her hands on the rod and her heart in the battle. Fifteen more minutes of prolonged pulling, working against the current brought the king close enough for the net. Don demonstrates his skill at landing big fish with one pass of the net for the final capture of the big Kenai king.
Margaret begins to rub aching muscles, and her normal breathing returns. I begin to sulk and nurse a sore ego. She has outfished me: the first, the most, and the biggest.
Following the guide’s instructions, she puts up her rod in keeping with the law. Her daily bag limit filled, now her fishing trip becomes a boat ride. I mutter something about now that everyone else is out of the way; maybe I can fish. She offers only encouragement. Not once did she rub it in.
Two turns above the take-out point, I hit pay dirt. The Tad Polly produced my only hit of the day. It was a good hit and held. Soon my fishing also became a boat ride. The landing became a healing salve to my wounded ego. With both fish on board, it is obvious that Margaret’s is at least fifteen pounds heavier than mine. Margaret’s only mention of comparison is that mine is a little darker. Not smaller, not a lot smaller, only darker.
Margaret carries her king picture in her wallet beside our grandchildren’s photos. She will show it with a little prompting. She has relived the landing of her fish many times but never has she confessed to outfishing me.