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Bernie Kuntz: The stolen salmon in Alaska

Andrea is a young woman who works as a phlebotomist at a local medical facility, and she is taking a trip home this week to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska to do some salmon fishing and to visit her parents.

We got to talking about salmon fishing, and I told her that late June was plenty early for coho salmon, unless they run considerably earlier than they do in the Juneau area. I didn't bother fishing in fresh water until August during the years I lived there.

"You probably have forty-seven people asking you to bring them some fish," I said. She smiled and agreed that was the case, and then told me a story about an eagle stealing her salmon. Next, I told her my story about Laurie coming home from fishing in her Boston Whaler. She tossed a king salmon head into the sink and said, "Sea lion. I was fighting the king when a sea lion came out of nowhere and bit the salmon in half as cleanly as if you clove it with an ax."

I had my own story: In the Juneau area there are two Kowee creeks, both named after a long-deceased Tlingit Indian chief. One creek runs through part of town and pours into Gastineau Channel. In August at lower tides you can stand on a sandbar and cast into the channel with a Dardevle Devle Dog and spinning gear and catch coho salmon still bright from the sea.

When I first arrived in Juneau I learned about the other Kowee Creek—the one "out the road" about 20 miles northwest of town. I drove there, parked my pickup and made my way through the tangles of jungle until I could get down to the creek, which was roaring out of the high country to the east. I used a bait outfit with 12-pound line and fast-sinking Dardevles. In no time I had a pair of cohos landed, probably 12 or 13 pounds each.

Here is where I made a crucial mistake. Instead of toting them along with me, I stowed them on a high stump, out of reach of small mammals, I figured.

Sometime later when I returned to the stump, what I saw made my blood run cold. The salmon were both lying on the ground near the stump and torn to pieces. Unarmed, I backed off quickly, just as several ravens croaked and flew into the air.

It was the ravens that were the culprits—not an Alaskan brown bear as I had feared. I fished Kowee Creek a couple more times after that but always carried my .338 along with a fishing outfit. Mostly, though, I fished the southern Kowee Creek that ran through town because it was so much easier to get to and I didn't have to be on guard against Alaskan brown bears.

By the way, I didn't learn my lesson. A decade later I stashed a big rainbow trout above a bank along the Nushagak River in southwest Alaska. My partner and I pulled our raft out of the water, and I went back to get the trout but it was gone. Probably a mink took it. It takes me a while to learn.