Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Humpies, the Alaskan Bluegill

In the river one day, and the smoker the next
On my fifth birthday my grandfather gave me a rod and reel. Grandpa’s gift of fishing gear kept on giving. Not only did it give rise to a life-long hobby (some have called it an obsession over the years), but it also gave rise to other gifts related to fishing.

On my seventh birthday my parents gave me a wristwatch. I hadn’t asked for a wristwatch, but there it was when I opened the box. (I don’t remember what I asked for, probably something directly related to fishing, such as hooks, bobbers etc.) My mother’s comment at the time was that the watch would get me home in time for dinner, or any other time my fishing was to be cut short. I was doomed.

Fishing, in my estimation, took priority over dinner. For that matter, it took priority over breakfast, too. Fishing is best in low light: dawn and dusk. Lunch was different, lunch was not a meal to be missed. Middle of the day the fish seek shelter from the light and don’t bite much. Mom, as you can tell, wasn’t overly concerned about the daily regimen of fish. She wanted her wayward child home on her schedule (mom’s are a tough crowd).

Muskrat got one to shore first
  Really, I don’t know why my parents didn’t just keep things simple: be home when it’s dark. However, Mom had a punctuality thing. And, in retrospect, I’m sure I would have found the term “dark” subjective, based on how promising the fishing was.

I struggled with the watch for quite some time, until Grandpa made an observation. “You know,” he said in the way all grandfathers offer sage advice, “that’s a fine watch. But you need to be careful with it. I noticed it isn’t waterproof. Boy, give that watch a good dunking, and it'll quit working for sure.”

A confirmed fishing addict at six years.
  Oddly enough, the watch got thoroughly soaked the very next day. What followed over the next several years was a watch on every birthday that drowned within five days of receipt. Grandfathers are, indeed, wise.

My piscatorial prey of choice was bluegill, or sunfish. In the Lower 48, bluegill inhabit almost every patch of water larger than a driveway puddle. They are abundant, and more importantly, they are easy to catch. It’s a little different in Alaska. We don’t have bluegill. We do, however, have pink salmon. Pink salmon are Alaska’s version of the bluegill, and the perfect way to introduce kids to fishing.

Pinks are also called humpies because of the male’s development of a pronounced hump on their back after entering fresh water. Of the five Pacific species, they are the smallest, running an average of about six pounds on the Kenai River, which hosts a significant humpy run every even-numbered year. For over four years I’ve been trying to get my grandson, Bubba, into pinks. After allowing one flimsy excuse, or another, to prevent it, I put my grandpa foot down and issued a directive to his parents: “Both of your sons will be here for the humpy run. We will slay humpies.”

Bubba finally gets one to shore.
 Moms are all the same: there was a lot of fooling around with dinner and such before we could go fishing. While they arrived at 5 pm last Friday, it wasn’t until 8 pm before the first humpy hit the shore. The younger of the two, Muskrat, got one in first. Until that first humpy, he had always been somewhat ambivalent toward fishing. Things changed immediately.

Grandson number one connected with a number of fish before finally getting one to shore. Bubba has always been gung-ho for fishing, but it has mainly been for smallish trout. Something that truly scrapped only heightened his fire to fish.

Beats 10-inch trout!
  “I think we have two confirmed fishing addicts,” my son-in-law commented as we hauled the boys and their fish up to the car.

Ah, the sweet fishy smell of success.

Kids today have it tough. It’s almost impossible to find a wristwatch that is not waterproof. It’s a lucky thing for Bubba and Muskrat they have a grandpa that can’t tell time. 


  1. What a GREAT story, Alan! And hip, hip, hooray that you have 2 more kidlets in your camp!

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