The Talkeetna River runs toward the ocean at the foot of Denali, North America’s tallest mountain. It’s not climbers that rush to Talkeetna village, located at the rivers mouth, each fall. The climbing is done in the spring. Those, like my fifteen-year-old daughter and I, who show up in August suffer from silver fever.
Long before Betty and I used fishing as an excuse for a daddy daughter date, the Tanaina Indians fished the river for survival, and named it Talkeetna. “River of plenty.” Talkeetna is a tourist town. Tourism in Talkeetna in August means fishing. Located at the confluence of the Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna rivers, it’s location permits access to over 200 river miles of prime fishing territory. The region boasts the second largest run of migrating salmon in the world, second only to the Iliamna/Bristol bay area.
It is two and one half hours by paved highway from our driveway in Anchorage to the boat landing in Talkeetna. The community exists because of good highway access, the beautiful scenery along the roadway, specifically the opportunity to see and photograph Denali, and the fishing. In season, all five species of Pacific salmon frequent these waters. In addition, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling can be taken.
On the last Friday before school started last fall, Betty began bugging me. The clear blue-sky weather, which followed three days of rain, was making her restless. She reminded me of the time distance since our last fishing date alone, together, and that I could preserve my image with her friends by taking a kid fishing: namely her. Then came the most powerful argument of all, she gave me a hug and told me how good a father I was. One hundred and fifty minutes later we were in Talkeetna; registering as guests at the Swiss Alaska Inn for the night, and making reservations with Mahay’s Riverboat Service for silver hunting next morning.
Betty talked non-stop during dinner. She changed the subject after every breath. I got the low down on everything. Music and musicians. Boys and brothers. Sisters, school, and summer. Clothes, cars, crystal, and charge cards. The things a parent learn when he takes a kid fishing.
We were at the boat landing at eight next morning. Steve Mahay uses jet-powered riverboats for transportation to the clearwater salmon spawning streams entering the Talkeetna. A twenty minute boat ride weaving between islands and eddies puts us at our private fishing hole, a side stream entering the glacier-fed opaque Talkeetna.
The rain earlier in the week had muddied the creek. It was beginning to clear up, but was still murky. Often silvers will be seen jumping; trying to shed sea lice, or loosen eggs, or for whatever strange urge besets them. That day the surface of the creek was unusually quiet.
In typical guide style, Steve starts his, “You should have been here yesterday” story as he rigs up the rods. After ten no-nothing casts apiece, we began our own story. “It doesn’t matter if we catch fish, it’s just being here that’s important.” Neither guide nor clients need have bothered with the excuses.
Luck changed. Beginning with Betty hooking up first, a serial of fish-capades played throughout the day. Silvers are the most aerobatic of salmon; resembling the jumping, tail walking, skydiving antics of their cousins, the rainbow. Every dive, jump, and run trick pulled by a fish brought rock opera audience-like squeals from the teenage angler. It is amazing how the sound exploding from the lungs of a fifteen-year-old daughter can affect a father. In front of the family room television set it is irritating. On the river bank, exhilarating. Heard above the stereo, exasperating. Under birch trees, next to mountains, at the end of a fishing rod, like the voice of an angel.
How many fish were caught, (some kept, some released), has been lost to history. Numbers are insignificant. What seems to be important is the closeness I feel with my progeny. Sunday afternoon, back home, during a fresh silver salmon dinner Betty confesses, ” It really isn’t necessary to catch fish to have fun. What is important is that every chance you get, take your dad fishing.”