Knowing he was going to Dillingham at the height of the commercial red salmon season, my friend Jerry invited a large group of friends to a fish fry. He left the impression with the group that he was going fishing and would supply the fish. He didn’t mention, however, that he was going commercial fishing with a commercial fisherman for a day. His friends, convinced that he was fishing with a fly rod, were impressed with his confident manner.
As scheduled, Jerry caught the jet from Anchorage to Dillingham a few days before the planned fish fry. His commercial fishing buddy intended to pick him up, and they’d go to his boat and fish for an open period. Jerry would then dash back to the airport, jet home, and be there a day ahead of his ego-building fish fry. Only one problem, storms, and tide had kept his commercial fishing partner stranded in a safe cove some miles from Dillingham. He had managed a message that he couldn’t make it and suggested Jerry get back on the plane and go home.
During the flight, Jerry contemplated what he was to do. He couldn’t cancel the fish fry, and if he held the fish fry with store-bought fish, he sure couldn’t let his friends know. They’d laugh him out of town. So what was he to do?
Somewhere on the flight, he got an idea that involved me, which is why I got the telephone call. “Hi Evan, why don’t we go down to the Russian River and catch some reds?” he asked.
Knowing the reds hadn’t arrived yet prompted me to decline his suggestion. “Maybe another time,” I said.
“No,” said Jerry. “It’s got to be tomorrow.”
“Why tomorrow?” I asked.
And then Jerry told me his missed-the-fish tale. So we decided to try it and headed for the Russian in my motor home. Arriving at the Russian River Campground around midnight, we were met by the taker of the tolls and given the information that the reds “just ain’t quite in yet.” But, since we were already there, we decided to stay and see what we could find when it got light.
I have a favorite hole on the upper Russian, and we headed there when morning came over the mountains. Jerry also had a pet spot, which I discovered was around the corner above mine. I stopped where I’d had good luck in the past, and Jerry went on upriver as I waded to the other side of the Russian and found my spot. Jerry disappeared out of sight.
Donning polaroid glasses, I searched the pool where I wanted to fish and found three reds resting in the current. They were either hungry or foolish as, one by one, they nipped at my Russian River fly, and I moved them out of the hole and downriver to slack water where I could complete the landing. Three times I tried, and each time a red responded, and then the hole was empty. No more fish. But I had my limit, so I quit, went back to the trail, and waited for Jerry’s return.
About an hour later, the dejected angler came dragging his feet down the trail. “Not even a bite,” Jerry said. “Not one fish in my hole. How’d you do?”
When he saw my three reds, he just about exploded with excitement. He’d told me he needed at least three fish, and there they were, three nice reds, cleaned and ready for Jerry’s fish fry.
I don’t know what Jerry told his friends or if he mentioned anything about where the fish for the fry came from. I do know, however, that I’ve talked to some of the folks who fried the fish with Jerry, and they think he’s the best fly fisherman in Alaska. And why shouldn’t they, they ask, “He had a fresh fish fry before anyone else had even caught a fish.”