On Friday, July 29, 1994, I went fishing with a friend and two Volunteers in Missions from Maryland on Sitka Sound. On an earlier trip without me one of them brought in a 148.2 pound halibut, which made him very happy. I averaged one trip per summer. Not what you would call an avid fisher person.
One of the fish that struck the hook and line on our boat was brought it by yours truly. We soon knew it was a King Salmon and we knew that it was big. It took at least 20 minutes of reeling for it to get to the boat, as it “ran” at least five times. When it was in the boat, the boat captain weighed it and it was 57 pounds. The winner of the Salmon Derby in June that year was 52 pounds, if you want some point of comparison for Sitka waters.
Some have suggested that I am no longer my usual humble self. Still others feel that I was never bothered by humility. Whatever the case may be, I was teased a great deal about how I would handle this feat in worship at Sitka United Methodist Church.
(A joke) The first Sunday I lamented the fact that there were not 57 people in church. In a feeble attempt at humor, I suggested my sermonizing should focus on Jesus feeding 57 people or talking about the 57 sheep that went astray. Others suggested that Jesus had 57 disciples, fed 57 people, walked 57 miles, spent 57 days in the wilderness, etc. I was driven to it by the teasing of the Maryland work campers whose jealousy knew no bounds. Fortunately, one of them got the 148.2 pound halibut earlier in the week, or they might have treated me like Jonah and thrown me over board. (End of joke)
The boat captain was very proud. It was the 3rd largest King Salmon ever caught on his boat. He tried to get me to have it mounted, but I resisted.
Perhaps I should have resisted joking in worship. There were some SERIOUS fisherpersons in our congregation that had yet to catch the ‘big one’ and they obviously had some feelings on the subject of a casual fisherman (and a preacher at that) getting one that they would like very much to catch, thank you very much. With clear advice of some friends, I decided not to mention it every Sunday. I could not suggest it was their punishment for fishing on Sundays during the annual fishing derby???
Barbara was able to obtain 32 pounds of fillets from the fish, which was saved for the Seafood Dinner our church sponsors on Alaska Day, October 18th. So I was able to repeat my story 32 times (or was it 57 times?) during the dinner. People did ask: “Where did the salmon come from?” and I was able to supply the answer…over and over again.
Now I can die a happy man. I caught a 57 pound salmon in 1994 and I attended Harvard as a Merrill Fellow in 1989. What more could a person want or do in life? And the 57 pound salmon was caught the year I became 57 years old.
When I was the pastor of the Kenai Parish from 1962-1965, I did not know we were living close to a river that either was or became famous for large King Salmon. However, when I did pastoral calling during the summer, set-netters (fishing from the shore of Cook Inlet) often handed me a large salmon to take home to my spouse. We ate well.
When we were at Chugiak (1965-1969) I purchased a set net for some Native Alaskans for shares and I filled the freezer at Birchwood Camp with salmon. Two years in a row we lost them. Once with a power outage and another time from thieves. I gave up trying to save money by this method. Losing 100 fish was too painful.
After leaving Alaska, we returned to Nome with a group of volunteers from Spokane. Our task was to paint and upgrade many buildings. Three of the men purchased fishing licenses and caught the limit each day. We ate salmon for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. We had a wonderful cook. We saved $600 on the food bill. There were few complaints about fish every day. It was one of the best fish runs Nome had ever experienced. When I lived there, I didn’t get hooked on fishing. Perhaps I should have.