Landing Kings on the Naknek

King Salmon, Alaska – We’re just finishing up Day 2 of a three-day, three-night trip to Bristol Bay with Project Healing Waters Alaska. Showers are being taken and appetizers are on the way. The aroma wafting from the kitchen suggests that grilled, freshly caught king salmon is soon to emerge on dinner plates.

It’s hot and sunny outside by Alaska standards – high 70s this afternoon with the sun reflecting powerfully off the water. Early evening now, it’s still T-shirt and shorts temperatures -- very rare for these parts.

Four women veterans and active-duty service members are here at Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge, a luxury lodge on the Naknek River operated by legendary Alaska sport fishing guide, Nanci Morris Lyon. The all-women’s trip is a partnership of Trout Unlimited, PHW, Bear Trail Lodge and a variety of veteran-service organizations.

After arriving Thursday night to a dinner of king crab and settling into comfy beds a couple of hours later, we set off early yesterday in a soupy fog. It burned off about midday, requiring us to strip off layers and slather on the sunscreen. We spent a total of about nine hours on the Naknek, famed for its trophy rainbow trout and king salmon. Nanci took a group of three of us up the river, trolling for kings. Head guide, Kate Taylor, led the remaining military women and a television reporter in her boat.

The morning started off slowly. The group I accompanied – including Army Staff Sergeant Tabitha White and Navy veteran Rebekah White – was getting antsy. The women wanted to catch salmon to send home to their families. And Nanci did not disappoint. After arriving at one of her favorite fishing holes – we’ll keep the name to ourselves – we witnessed a virtual aquarium of very large king salmon swimming beneath the boat. Fishing began in earnest, and suffice to say, many, many pounds of king salmon were successfully landed.

“That’s a mega-amount of meat, girls,” said Nanci, after throwing the last one into the hold.

Smiles and high-fives defined the afternoon. Between the sun and the hot fishing, the fillet table at the dock was a scene of complete giddiness.

The trip continues tomorrow.

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