A great deal of research has been conducted in the past few decades on the restorative powers of nature. It has been demonstrated that nature can make us more productive, help us focus, prevent depression and reduce stress. So, I shouldn’t be terribly surprised that my 10-day fishing trip in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska resulted in such an epiphany of sorts. Not only did I have the adventure of my life, but I achieved mental clarity on so many things that had been on my mind. Perhaps you can take this trip with me vicariously and benefit from some of the powerful lessons I learned.
1. Embrace Risk
Of the four of us who traveled to Alaska, I was the most inexperienced fisherman … by far. Well, let’s be honest, I had only fished once in my life and that was 30 years ago. I’m not going to lie – I was a bit nervous. Could I fish side-by-side with these more experienced individuals without making a fool of myself? Would I get seasick as we darted along the ocean waves? Would the seaplane be safe? Would I have the wherewithal to pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our 3am wake-up calls? While those questions may have made me a bit hesitant, they certainly didn’t stop me from going on this adventure. Truthfully, the inherent risk was a little bit intoxicating. So, I found myself tugging on chest high waders, climbing on sea planes, wading into rivers and sailing over the choppy Pacific waters with a sense of gusto. Everything I was experiencing was so raw and new. The air felt crisper. Nature was more vibrant. People were more interesting. I saw colorful jelly fish floating in the ocean, a bear sticking its paw in the river, salmon swimming against the strong current, glaciers lining the landscape as far as the eye could see and so much spectacular beauty that I felt small in comparison. As the above articles so eloquently illustrated, my mind was refreshed and energized … and so was my spirit.
2. Trust Your Guides
I had the fortune of traveling with some very knowledgeable and patient guides. They knew where to go to find the fish and where to avoid stumbling on less-than-friendly grizzlies. They knew when to move up our fly-out time to capitalize on the fish population and when to cut the trip short because we were just wasting our time. They knew how to encourage, instruct, demonstrate and cajole. They taught me how to cast, set the hook and let the salmon think they were winning the battle. I learned to listen and trust the lessons they imparted.
3. Collect Experiences, Not Possessions
In preparation for this adventure, I found myself in the business of buying lots of things. Clothing: a wind-resistant jacket, a rain suit and breathable shirts. Fishing: chest high waders, wool socks and an Alaskan fishing license. Travel: hotel, fishing lodge, flight, car and excursions. Accessories: a water bottle that wouldn’t leak and a waterproof camera case. Collecting things for the trip was an adventure unto itself. It involved two trips to Cabela’s, a trip to Gander Mountain and numerous dinners and nights out with our best friends to plan the details of the trip. It was part of the overall experience and it was fun, helping to build our anticipation for the trip that lie ahead. But all that paled in comparison to the experiences we collected in Alaska. Adventures like this fuel stories for years to come. Honestly, the stories had begun before the first day was complete. We talked among ourselves, shared fish stories with others at the lodge, posted on social media and sent texts to our families. The storytelling had begun.
4. Be Prepared to Fall
While I generally understood the mechanics of casting, my casts were falling short. Short enough that I wasn’t going to catch any fish unless I figured out how to improve my technique. One of our guides told me to ‘put a little more oomph’ into my casts. So, I decided to take a giant step off the sandbar into the water so I could put my whole body into it. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, my left foot found the one and only drop-off so close to shore. Within a matter of a few short seconds, I went from casting to swimming. Once I realized I wasn’t in danger, I have to admit I felt a bit like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality after falling in the Miss United States pageant.
“I mean, I know we all secretly hope the other one will trip and fall on her face, and – wait a minute, I’ve already done that!”
A little known fact about me is that I am not the most graceful creature on the planet. I have had a few face plants in my day. So, truth be known, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be taking a swim at some point during our 10 days exploring the Last Frontier. So, in a way, getting it over with was a bit of a relief. Sometimes planning for the inevitable – or the not-so-inevitable – takes the pressure off and makes a tough thing not so tough.
5. Believe in Yourself
You already know I’m a novice, so perhaps you won’t be surprised that I had two unsuccessful days on the river. When I say unsuccessful, I mean wildly unsuccessful … not one single fish caught. I had an internal battle with myself on the second day that went something like this:
It’s okay. Really. Look at how beautiful this place is. Soak it all in. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t catching any fish. Just keep practicing. It will pay off eventually; if not today, tomorrow.
This mostly worked, although I had an emotional dip for a few hours. But, then I realized, I am in Alaska and not on some comfy cruise boat, but I’m actually in the wilds of Alaska! How many people have the courage or the resources to make something like this a reality? So, I turned my attention to the ripples in the water, the way the sun reflected through the trees, the snow-topped glaciers in all their splendor and – yes – to the salmon my husband and friends were pulling in. I savored every last minute on the river and figured the next day would be a fresh start. And I was right. As time went on, I figured out how to cast and set the hook without overthinking it. The next time we traveled to the Kenai River, I caught the largest silver salmon on our boat and actually had to throw fish back so I wouldn’t go over my daily limit. Keeping a positive attitude and not giving up paid off.
6. A Kind Word Goes A Long Way
We spent a week at the Gone Fishin Lodge filled to capacity with die-hard fishermen. Now, one might think that these river-hardened gentlemen might be uncomfortable around the likes of inexperienced women attempting to fish the wilds of Alaska, but it is amazing what a smile and a kind word can do … even at 3:30 in the morning. A bright, ‘Good Morning!’ followed by, ‘How was your fishing yesterday?’ brought smiles to everyone’s faces. While we came from all over the United States, we quickly formed a bond. We shared stories (it turned out I wasn’t the only one that went swimming!), talked about our families back home and discussed tasty ways to prepare salmon and halibut. We went on daily adventures with some of our new friends, crossed paths at local restaurants and sat on the deck in the evenings sharing a few drinks after a long day of successful fishing. We truly enjoyed each others company.
7. Respect Nature
I had an overwhelming desire to see a bear while in the Alaskan wilds. I saw them as the cute, cuddly, sweet-faced bears I gazed upon at my local zoo. The guides had warned us that we were in bear territory and that we were guests in their land. We needed to respect them and their sense of territoriality. While I took heed, I still wanted to see a bear. And then it happened. We were fishing from a sandbar when he appeared across the river. … just a little more distance than a cast away. He paced back and forth, obviously hungry and on the lookout for dinner. He must have liked what he saw in the river because he toyed with the idea of fishing. As he took a few tentative steps into the river, our guide hurriedly put all the salmon we had caught into an air-tight container, while coaching us to get ready to jump into the boat for a quick getaway. That was when the adorable grizzly turned into a menacing predator. Lucky for us, he stayed on the other side of the river, but it taught me a valuable lesson.