As the first rays of sunlight pierced through the misty morning haze, anticipation coursed through my veins. You are not supposed to watch your rod tip, waiting for it to bow to the secrets that lie beneath the glacier-fed waters (a watched kettle never boils), and many will try to distract themselves from watching too closely or for too long. But when the morning sun first kisses the turquoise waters of the Kahtnu (Kenai River) golden hues dancing upon the surface, creating a magic and breathtaking spectacle of light and shadow, the anticipation of a takedown is palpable. It was in this most magnificent moment of nature that the great waters of Kahtnu came alive with an explosion made by the most powerful salmon on the planet!
My heart pounded with excitement as adrenaline rushed through my entire body. Amid the pure chaos that followed setting the hook – reeling in other fishing lines, whooping and hollering, boat maneuvering – I tried to remain calm, staying in the moment, maintaining tension and control, leaning into my experience of battling with these powerful behemoths over the years. Minutes feel like hours, and confidence wanes with each ticking second. The King made a final surge, leaping out of the water, its silver scales glistening in the morning light. I reeled in the beloved fish, there were no further powerful runs, just a few final head shakes.
The moment was not just about catching a prized Kenai River King salmon, it was a connection between nature and human that transcends words. It was about the ecosystem’s delicate balance and responsibility to preserve it for future generations. I contentedly released the King and smiled with a full heart as she disappeared into the river’s depths.
Memories like that early morning catch and release in June of 2022 did not happen in the following year, and it may not happen again for a long time. The continued decline of King Salmon led to unprecedented closures and restrictions around the Cook Inlet in 2023. Unfortunately, closures and restrictions have been the norm all across the State for years. As a longtime angler of the Cook Inlet watershed’s rivers and streams, I have witnessed this tragedy firsthand, which is disheartening, in many ways.
Salmon play a vital role in the lives of so many Alaskans, and for Indigenous Salmon people, it IS the Way of Life. They have a profound and sacred relationship to salmon that is inextricably linked to their cultural identity, values, traditions, and spirituality and has been for thousands of years. Sadly, for some, that way of life is vanishing.
Is there any hope that the salmon will recover? Sometimes it is hard to see the light through the haze of uncertainty. However, Inletkeeper is dedicated to the protection of wild salmon and the habitat they live in. For example, Inletkeeper has been monitoring salmon stream temperatures in local streams since 2002, which has helped establish consistent, long-term data essential to conservation planning. Our members and supporters make it possible to do the impactful and significant work to help ensure clean and cool rivers and streams for resilient salmon to thrive for generations to come.
As an angler, I am an optimist to my core, and I know that we CAN leave the Cook Inlet watershed better than we found it if we are willing to make decisions based not on what is easy but on what is best for the lands, waters, and salmon. I look forward to the day I venture out on the waters of Kahtnu again, and witness the morning sun paint an awe-inspiring portrait that transports me to a moment that fills my heart with joy and gratitude.
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Your support is crucial in our journey toward a future where Cook Inlet flourishes in thriving and equitable
relationships with each other and all life in our watershed. Donate today to protect what you love.