Written by: Libby Glaser
Editor’s note: In July, Trout Unlimited sent four of their brightest college club leaders in the TU Costa 5 Rivers Program to explore the home of the world’s largest runs of wild salmon: Alaska. The students explored the Kenai Peninsula, Bristol Bay, and the Tongass National Forest in pursuit of the five species of Pacific salmon and other native salmonids that call Alaska home. Their missions was to unearth, document, and share the challenges facing the largest salmon fisheries in the world. They also went fishing, and we will share some of their stories over the next few weeks.
The 5 Rivers Odyssey crew spent our first two days on the Russian River, volunteering with Kenai Peninsula Stream Watch, a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) program that manages salmon habitat on the Russian and Kenai rivers and educates anglers about how they can help conserve these rivers. We spent our days repairing fences along the streambank and learning about how USFS manages these public lands, and our evenings hiking upriver from the crowds to find some fish of our own. We ended our time in Cooper Landing with a float on the Kenai River with some folks from Trout Unlimited Alaska. On this float, I experienced a rejection that completely changed my confidence on the water.
As I slowly stripped my streamer through the water, I was startled by the sound of something slapping the water about 30 yards downstream from me. I looked toward the ruckus and told myself that there was no way that a fish could make that sound. I made another cast, heard the sound again, and saw that it had been created by a gorgeous rainbow trout.
I wasn’t the only one who had heard these enormous rises. As we loaded up the boats to finish the float, Austin Williams, Alaska Legal and Policy Director with Trout Unlimited, told me that if I could make the cast, he would get the boat where it needed to be. I knew Austin would be able to give me the opportunity to cast to this fish, but my hands shook a little as I tied on an Elk-Hair Caddis. Before I had even made my cast, doubt and insecurity filled my mind. There were too many things that could go wrong, and I didn’t feel worthy of the opportunity to fish in Alaska.
It took us about six seconds to reach the spot where I had seen the fish, and I made a surprisingly accurate cast. My drift was decent, my heart was in my throat, and everything seemed to be lining up perfectly. But before I knew it, I felt as if my drift was over, and I started to pull my line out of the water. As I did this, however, I saw the wide girth of a healthy-looking trout shimmering through the glacial blue waters of the Kenai and headed toward my fly. The first word that came to mind when I saw this fish was “tank.” But the damage had already been done: my fly had already left the surface.
Just as soon as I saw it, the behemoth was headed back to his lair. I yelled, and Austin did too. He had seen the rejection that might have been avoided, had I been confident in myself and left my fly stay on the water for just a second longer. I still get chills when I think about that fish and what could have been. It makes me want to pull my hair out. It also makes me want to tell every new angler to believe in themselves.
I’ve been fly fishing for less than two years, and I am constantly doubting myself. I have even declined fishing invitations for fear of being embarrassed or not taken seriously. Now that I have some experience under my belt and a lot more confidence–courtesy of that Kenai rainbow that still visits me in my nightmares–I jump at any opportunity to try new things on the water. I have taught a few of my friends the basics of fly fishing, and I hope that I can instill the confidence in them that leads them to keep their fly in the water a second longer, to cast to the fish that they think they’ll never catch, and to travel to some of the wildest places in the world just for the chance to feel a tug at the end of their line.
A Missouri native, Libby Glaser studies wildlife conservation and management at Missouri State University. She’s involved with several different campus organizations, but her favoriteis the Missouri State Fly Fishing Club, which she started in October of 2017.