Personal Journey: Dad-daughter fishing trip to remember

Mandy Capaldi hoisting red salmon from the Keni River in Alaska. (Rick Capaldi)
Mandy Capaldi hoisting red salmon from the Keni River in Alaska. (Rick Capaldi)
Posted: October 02, 2011

My daughter Mandy and my Uncle Ken planned and anticipated a salmon fishing trip to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska the second week of July for months. The day finally arrived for our departure and 12 hours later, after a layover in Dallas, we arrived in Anchorage. We got a good night's sleep, had a hearty breakfast the next morning, and headed south from Anchorage in our rented, brand-new F-150 pickup truck.

My daughter, 26 and not easily impressed by much, was amazed at the beautiful snowcapped mountains and awesome scenery along the way. She was taking a steady stream of pictures including a Moose Crossing sign, the price of gasoline (about $4.25 a gallon), and many other things that caught her attention.

We stopped in town and loaded food, ice, and supplies, and headed out 16 miles from town to our cabin. A word about our cabin: It has no electricity, plumbing, heat, etc. My uncle and I had to build an outhouse before my wife would stay there. My daughter likes her creature comforts, but assured me that she would be OK. There is a campground a few miles down the road where for $5 you can get a shower, so we managed. We cooked on a Coleman stove, heated water to wash dishes, and used a lantern for light. Mandy was amazed that it was still light at 11:30 at night and the sun was starting to rise at 4:30 a.m.

Our first day of fishing was not very successful but the local fishermen advised us on what tackle to use and the proper fishing techniques. The following day we changed our fishing spot and hit the mother lode of salmon. We were wearing hip waders and carefully waded out over slippery rocks into the Kenai River, which was running at about seven knots. We were getting a hit on every other cast, I was kept busy running up and down the river with the net. First my uncle would catch one, then my daughter, one right after the other. The fish weighed eight to 10 pounds each. We were using fairly light tackle and over the course of three days, I broke two rods and snapped the handle off a reel.

We got to the river through private property, but across the river was a public access area. The fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder; it reminded me of opening day of trout fishing in Pennsylvania. They call this "combat fishing" in Alaska. Lines getting tangled, hooks and sinkers flying all over (the local medical clinics have signs out front advertising "Hook Removal"), and I am sure tempers were flaring. We were glad to be on our side of the river.

My daughter, not known for her patience, did very well. She became adept at scooping thrashing fish into the net and dispatching them with a small club. She even mastered the art of filleting fish, being careful to waste as little fish as possible. In the end, we had 180 pounds of salmon fillets - we had to leave some with our friend up there.

My daughter made me proud with her ability to adapt to unknown situations and conditions. I imagine she will remember this for a long time to come. I know I will.

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