A fisherman's Elegy

In the twilight of the season, a Juneau Empire photographer shares treasured memories from fishing in Southeast

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2008

Taking off from Juneau International Airport you can see many Juneau-area fishing spots if it is clear or the clouds are high enough.

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Brian Wallace / The Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / The Juneau Empire

The fishing grounds include False Outer Point, South Shelter, North Pass, Benjamin Island, Point Retreat, Hilda Point, South Douglas, Point Arden, False Point Arden, Doty Cove and South Island among many more places. For me, every location has a story of sublime joy, heartbreak and excitement, or endless boredom.

I have been at Benjamin Island when the big halibut were biting as soon as the bait hit bottom. That is my favorite time to be fishing. No time for small talk. Blast the music and hook and fight halibut, club, clean, re-bait, drop to the bottom and wait for just a few moments for the next one to hit.

I also have been there when not even a lowly tom cod was to be had.

One time while anchored there and waiting for the halibut, a humpback whale circled my boat and surfaced about three feet from the starboard side. The loud spout was startling. The flick of its mighty tail churned the water, and then it glided just beneath the surface like a great ominous shadow. It was a good omen.

The halibut bite was on moments later.

In Fritz Cove, I had a beast of a king salmon run all my line out and break the line, leaving me with an empty spool. I couldn't even summon a curse after that happened. It only took a few seconds for me to realize it was a special fish.

I saw it only for a moment as it turned. I saw a great flash of silver near the surface as it charged out to the deep with the flasher in tow. Then came the desperate realization it was not going to stop its run. I had the drag on as much as I dared. Then came the end of the line. The pole doubled over, then slack.

It's been eight years since then, and every time I troll past the first channel marker in Fritz Cove I hope for another great fish to bite. I have caught many fish there since then, but I always think what might have been.

When I see Point Arden, Doty Cove and South Douglas, I always remember fishing with my late father, Amos Wallace. He taught me to fish at those places starting in the summer of 1968.

I remember a king salmon doubleheader at South Douglas.

"My son, my son," my dad would say happily after we netted the fish. I was hooked on fishing from that moment on.

A year before he died, we went fishing one last time and got two white king salmon at South Douglas.

Most would say the past fishing season was a bad one. Few fish and the cost of fuel was a downer for all. So many days of getting up at first light only to get shut out. I caught way less than I am accustomed to.

But there were several great days this season to recall. I took my friend Jill Homer's father, Jed Homer, fishing in Fritz Cove, and he caught a wonderful king using light tackle and only 12-pound test fishing line. The fish fought long and hard and had several reel-screaming runs during the battle. Mr. Homer was strong yet patient, and we eventually got the great fish. It was his first king; it was not trophy size, but it had so much fight in it. What a king to be one's first.

It is the twilight of fishing season now. I took my boat, the Tupelo Honey, to Willie's Marine to have the engine winterized, and I took my fishing reels to Taku Reel Repair and had them cleaned and serviced. The Tupelo Honey is now hibernating next to my house until next spring. All my fish is packed, smoked, frozen and given to family. I hope I did my father's memory proud.

I hope I can see all the fishing grounds when I take off today on the first leg of my vacation to South America. I'll say a prayer for the feeder kings in the deep:

"Watch out for sea lions; beware of my brothers, the killer whales; stay clear of the deep sea trawlers. Eat lots of herring and grow big, fat and strong. I'll be waiting for you at False Outer Point next spring."

• Brian Wallace is a photographer with the Juneau Empire and can be reached at 523-2262 or brian.wallace@juneauempire.com.

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