My husband Earle and I had been fishing the Kenai river for a couple of days, taking our fish to the freezer places which dot the highway each night. (That way, you satisfy the law which says you can only have so many fresh fish in your possession at a time. If you cook or "process" the fish, you can catch more the next day.)
We were kind of tired of seeing so many people, so we decided to look for a less populated area. Looking at a map, there was a small lake off on a side road, so we drove on that road to find Engineer's Lake.
We got there about midnight and the full moon was high. It was late August and the days were getting shorter and so our moon was back. (It disappears in the north during the long days of summer.)
It was still warm out and we sat with the truck windows closed as the mosquitoes were buzzing around.
The moon shimmered on the lake and the whole top of this tiny lake was splashing with fish, jumping up to eat those bugs! There had been a forest fire here, leaving no trees with foliage - just bare tree trunks. There was an outhouse, a pump for water and sign telling us we could camp here, free, but to carry away our trash. So we found a level spot, parked the truck and climbed back into the camper.
In the morning, we hauled our 10-foot Gunmann Canoe off the top of the camper, packed our lunch and fishing gear into the boat, sprayed down with insect repellent and paddled out onto the lake. We fished. We fished some more, but nary a bite. Now we knew there were fish here - we had watched them jumping the night before - but they would not bite anything. We tried every fly, lure and even salmon eggs - nothing. We got tired and finally gave it up for the day. Back to the camper, eating our salmon from the day before, I was ready to leave, but Earle wouldn't be defeated. It was hot and sticky and I wanted to go where there were trees with shade or at least someplace with fish.
He reminded me we still had two days to go before we had to return to work.
OK, we'll try again. By now, we knew the lake wasn't deep and figured it was about the size of two football fields, with a tiny stream running in and out. There were a few skinny willows along the banks, but no other shelter. We saw people drive in and then out again - it wasn't an ideal-looking fishing spot.
Well, I had some salad shrimp in our lunch, figuring on eating them as a snack. I got tired of no bites and was pouting and opened the shrimp up. I was sitting with a few in my hand when a Kokonee (land-locked salmon) jumped up, trying to get that shrimp. I was so startled I nearly fell out of the boat.
How they could smell it through the water amazed me - but I quickly put a shrimp on the hook. As soon as it was in the water, it was gone and I had a nice-sized fish. The fish were all just skillet size and we caught a fish with every shrimp. Earle looked in the game book to see the limit here was and was pleased to read "20 a day Kokonee." We quit at 40.
We each ate a couple that night and went for one last time, early the next morning, for a few more. Some folks saw us catching fish and paddled out on the lake as we were coming off, with fly fishing gear. We didn't say anything but "Good Luck!"
Over the years, we would always end our Kenai trips with a visit to Engineer's Lake, but never met anyone who caught anything there - and we never shared our shrimp secret until now.
Ellen Northup has lived in Alaska for 30 years and now runs the Senior Center downtown. She lived many years in the interior with her husband, who was an Alaskan game guide out of Slana.