Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Dollies save the day

By Eric Booton

I’m not a mechanic. In fact I’m pretty much the exact opposite. So when the check engine light on our beloved camper van named Ivy popped on and the performance of the engine took a turn for the worse, I wasn’t thrilled. As the vehicle that gets me to the river, launches my boat, and keeps me dry on rainy nights, she plays a large role in my equation of good times. I limped the van straight to the mechanic in the next town and was thankful that my fishing buddy wasn’t far behind me.

I had just wrapped up spending three days urging Alaskans to take action to save Bristol Bay’s world-class fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine (take action today) and awkwardly attempting to dance at “Salmonfest”—Alaska’s annual salmon-themed outdoor music festival. This detour to the mechanic was among the lowest of the low on my priority list. Finding a couple fish, taking a shower and catching some Zs were among my top priorities. In that order.

Surrounded by sun-faded boxes of parts, sitting on a duct tape-riddled chair while staring at a dusty relic of a vending machine, I began to anxiously wonder what the rest of the day would bring. Would it be more hours of staring at this historic vending machine and wondering if it is still capable of dispatching me a cold Dr. Pepper, or wading in one of the streams hardwired into my fishy daydreams?

With the diagnoses of a shot fuel injector and the repairs promising to be time consuming, it looked like we were headed to the river after all. Thankfully my buddy was patient enough to delay his own fishing and follow me to the mechanic, ultimately salvaging our much-needed afternoon on the water.

Amongst my haphazard packing of gear and eagerness to make up for lost time on the river, I forgot to say goodbye to our beloved campervan, thank her for her service, and remind her I’d be back for her. Fingers crossed she doesn’t hold any delayed grudges for this abandonment.

I didn’t even bother getting out of the river when the mechanic called to report the damage. I was wearing a smile and didn’t feel inclined to interrupt it. I stayed in the water, firing off roll casts, tracking my strike indicator, and watching spawning sockeye salmon scare off scavenger Dolly Varden while the costs of parts and labor quickly piled on.

Turns out it’s a lot easier stomach disappointing news when when you’ve spent an hour or two finding success on one of your favorite tributaries. Fall fishing is just now heating up and unfortunately, so are my auto bills. Luckily, it sounds like Ivy will come back to me and we’ll be able to return to the river together once again.

Eric Booton is the sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for TU’s Alaska Program.

By Chris Hunt.