Gambling with a rod and reel

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2002

What's the point of gambling when you can fish? In many ways fishing is a vice more demanding than gambling and has a payoff equally as rewarding.

I've found little reason to make a pilgrimage to the gambling meccas of America when I can venture out to Juneau's natural fishing casinos and find just as much joy. Gamblers in our own right, each angler has his or her own favorite spot or spots that we prowl in hopes of netting the big winner.

If you think about it, commercial fishermen are gambling when they spend the mega-amounts of money on permits, boats and gear in hopes of hitting the jackpot. Amateur fishermen also are gambling as they meticulously choose their tools of the trade and pick their game (or fish) of choice to try for.

This summer has produced numerous memorable angling adventures for me, but I have to admit that I came far from breaking even. After all the lures, a license, king salmon stamp, new pole, line and more, I ended up enjoying more of my friends' bounties than my own.

However, the greatest thrill for me while fishing is just hooking a fish. It's kind of like knowing you have a winning pulltab ticket and just have to verify its value. And just like the pulltabs or scratch-off tickets, each fish has its place on a net-worth progression scale. To me each different kind of fish is like a different card game. Whether trolling for kings, playing high-stakes poker, snagging at DIPAC, or playing the nickel slots, each angler and gambler has tricks of the trade and a game of choice.

I compare those epic, beating-the-odds, reeling-in-a-real-big-chinook-times to that of a grand prize pulltab. And just like that grand prize, that epic chinook always seems to elude me.

I have had my fair share of those pesky $1 winners, where you don't actually win anything but just break even. In "gamble-angling" I consider those $1 winners to be the sculpin, better known as the "double ugly." And true to form, those are the ones I usually get. But nevertheless I do find satisfaction in releasing the double uglies, like recycling the $1 ticket for one more cast into the pool of tabs in hopes of getting that lucky strike.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I work my way up the hierarchy and get a small halibut or a silver. To me that's kind of like winning one of the $5 or $20 pulltabs, where you're still excited that you won, but wish it could have been the chinook.

There's also those times when you get together with your friends to see who can take home the day's biggest hand at a poker table, or the biggest catch off the boat, which results in bragging rights that linger until the next outing. Whether gambling or angling, oftentimes the only prize you walk away with is the memories.

Eric Morrison can be reached at

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