julia-yarbough-newnbc_web.jpgIt has been said that the only things certain in this life are death and taxes.

A fisherman, even a fledgling novice like myself – snagging a sockeye salmon making its determined spawning run up the Kenai River in Alaska during the summer angling season – should be added to that list.

Seemingly distant and far-removed from the lower 48 states, it is a region filled with unparalleled beauty, awe-inspiring, snow-capped mountains, lush valleys blooming with bright yellow and pink wildflowers, and strong and majestic bald eagles swooping carefree across the horizon.

Two weeks in this outdoor paradise, and I barely scratched the surface of Alaska’s offerings. 

My wilderness adventure dropped me square in the heart of the Kenai Peninsula, about two hours south of Anchorage, where some of the best of Alaska is within easy reach by car: the salmon and trout-rich Kenai River, glaciers, mountain-hiking trails, world-class fishing, rafting and some of the best wildlife viewing outside a zoo. Then, there are the black and brown bears, moose, sheep, whales and more.

I went to fish: I don’t fish.

I should have known my vacation would be like no other when I arrived at the rental car office only to find the operation in a Winnebago in a parking lot! Quirky – YES! But, Adventure Alaska Car
Rental beat every other major rental agency on price and friendly service.

So, armed with the keys to my maroon-colored Chevy Astro van, I set off to my destination: the small fishing community of Cooper Landing, where the Kenai and Russian Rivers meet. It is, I quickly learned, an angler’s equivalent to heaven. Despite my obvious lack of fishing knowledge, the staff at Drifters Lodge, my home away from home, took me in with open arms.

My guide, working with the aptly named “Alaska Salmon Chaser” operation, outfitted me in what looked like a full-body jumpsuit; water and cold resistant waders, and boots.

I ventured thigh-deep into the swirling Kenai River, fly rod in hand, determined to catch my dinner!

I was instructed, “Throw the line straight out.  Drag it slowly and squarely against the current. The moment you feel a strong tug–you’ve got one. Firmly grip the handle of the rod and start reeling in your catch.”

So there I was. Under the clear blue sky. The crisp, glacier-fed river water rushing by my legs and dozens of salmon below, oblivious to their fate. It took a while, but after what seemed like dozens of  line casts into the river, I felt a strong tug.

At that moment, I think I understood why people fish. Why people hunt. There is something empowering knowing you are about to bring in your own food. It is survival. It’s what Alaska is all about. I felt proud.

Yes, it was a bit unnerving to watch the life seep out of the salmon, knowing it would be on my dinner plate within hours.

But you know what? When it came off the grill, it was delicious!

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a news anchor at NBC 6, writes periodically on her outdoor and other adventures.