Montana Creek, Alaska
We are about 100 miles north of Anchorage, on the way to Denali. The Montana Creek is clear and swift. It empties into the Susitna River about ¼-mile downstream. We are parked next to a highway bridge that spans the creek.
The first morning sign of fall is a thirty-pound red salmon carcass in the creek. Against all odds, he has been born, escaped predation, run in the ocean for five years, grown large and swam upriver two hundred miles to spawn, turn red and die. He reached the creek in which he was born and returned. He was the lucky, (1000 to 1), son of a line of a million lucky sons.
You can fish for trout here on a catch and release basis. Trout strike at anything that looks like salmon eggs. Fishing for trout, you might use a small bobber with a lure resembling a small bunch of salmon roe.
The season for King Salmon is closed here (catch and release only), but you can still keep Chum, Pink and Silver Salmon. Reds are not here yet. Above the bridge you must use a lure with a single hook, but across the road you can try one with a triple-gang hook.
Mrs. Phred and I walk down the bank of the Creek toward the Susitna River and come to a railroad bridge over the creek. Several passenger trains cross the bridge while we are there, carrying tourists from the cruise ships to Fairbanks.
I wade into the swift current to my knees. You could easily lose your footing on the slippery round river rocks. There are large red shapes swimming motionless in the current. One appears to be four feet long, certainly a King, at least forty pounds.
The trick is to cast out a weighted fly (weights must be at least eighteen inches above the lure) and let the line sink into the fish’s mouth in the swift current. The fish strikes on the first cast and jumps clear of the water. Whatever it is, it’s big. It runs downstream, stripping 50 yards of line off my reel in five seconds. I tighten the drag and the ten-pound test line snaps.
A fisherman from Canada come over and gives me a two-minute lesson on the proper amount of “drag” to have on my reel. He’s fishing for trout with plastic salmon eggs. He tells me about a 57 pound world record Mackerel he caught in the Florida Keys. He’s using six-pound test line.
The fish comes back and I hook it again. It fights hard for a minute and the hook and weights come loose when it jumps and they snap back at me like a bullet, catching me in the forehead. Blood streams down into my eyes. Lesson two is to hold the pole off to the side when fighting a big fish.
I hook and lose several more. Mrs. Phred gets bored and walks back to the RV. Lost in thought, I lose my way on the return trip and spend a few anxious minutes stumbling in the underbrush. Fortunately, I’m a trained navigator, so when I find the creek again, I follow it upstream to the RV.
Denali is 20,320 feet high. Robert Kennedy climbed it. I remind Carol that you go on oxygen at 12,000 feet. She remembers. She did that the last time we circled the mountain and waved at the tiny climbers on the summit.