The truck with Texas plates is stopped in the middle of the narrow road without its hazard lights on. A skinny young man in a muscle shirt stands in the open bed, bony elbows pushed up about his face as he stares through a set of binoculars at a young grizzly bear emerging from the roadside brush.
The bear is on his hind legs, ears swiveling, sniffing the air, looking decidedly nervous. There is nearly a pile-up as vehicles come to a halt and tourists disembark and begin frantically snapping photos of the bear.
My friend Nina and I drive around this obnoxious traffic jam. I enjoy seeing bears — they have a certain clumsy majesty I find both moving and relatable — but I don’t come to Haines for bears. I come for fish.
We camp out and true night settles over us for the first time since May. In the morning we get up and make black coffee. Nina rolls herself a smoke and sits on the hood of her Subaru while I take the my dog down to the lake for a drink. Standing on the edge of the pier I can see fish — likely dolly varden, those voracious, delicious eaters of salmon eggs — leaping. It would be good to try here, but it’s Nina’s first time fishing in Alaska, so we have to go into Haines proper first to get her set up.
In town we get Nina a license at Olerud’s. The man behind the counter is friendly and calm, seems quite happy in his work, a younger fellow with an easy smile.
“The pinks are running really well this year,” he says. “The sockeye are just starting, but they had a really solid run yesterday.”
That’s good to hear. The fishing reports put out by the Alaska government have noted that “pink salmon runs are very strong this year.” I know some people turn their noses up at pinks but I’ve never been one to turn down a meal of any sort and I eat whatever I can catch.
The King (aka Chinook) salmon runs this year are expected to be “weak” the report also says, with fishing restrictions in place, including a moratorium on retention in both Haines and Skagway, AK.
We start up at Mosquito Lake, a good ways out of town for a morning of lazy fishing. We try everything — jigs, spoons, little spinners, flies — and get nothing. No one is fishing the Chilkat, which is muddy brown. We head back out to the Chilkoot. We stop for a drink at the new (beautiful) Haines Brewery and it’s getting late by the time we find a camping spot we like along the shore. It starts to rain in earnest. A pair of eagles talk back and forth across the river to each other, as if discussing the lousy weather, from a pair of cedar tops.
The tide is half in, half out. A handful of anglers in rain gear cast in and cast out, their lines making fans in the water. The bugs are very bad: sand flies crawl into in your eyes, nose and hair. The wind picks up.
Then, on the other side of the river someone suddenly gets a bite. There’s a shout as he lands it, then another shout as someone else gets a fish on, then another. A run, coming in from the lake. There’s the snap-and-grab of my own lure being taken somewhere under the water and my line is suddenly taut, whipping back and forth. I let it out to give the fish some play, adjust the drag, let it cut, whisk and dodge among the stones, pulling it in closer, letting it run, pulling it in until it’s so close I can see it. Then I land it, finally, heavily on the shore.
A pink salmon without a trace of a hump, sporting chromatic blue-black skin. Eight pounds. Beautiful.
For more information on fishing rules and conditions in Haines, visit www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishingReports/.
Contact Lori Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org