With my alarm set for 3:00 a.m., a forecast of 45-degrees, 60% chance of rain, and a two-hour drive ahead of me, I knew it was going to be a grand couple of days. Did I mention I packed in my 3-year-old as well? The forecast felt more like: adventure waiting with a 60% chance of crazy. The sunrise and scenery along the drive to my destination alone were worth the sleepless nights before. Alaska’s beauty has forever stolen my heart, mind, and perspective.

Over the course of two mornings on the river, I fought three Chinook, but, was only able to land two of them. We hear the term “fight” often in the fly fishing community. I didn’t comprehend or appreciate the true definition of this phrase until battling a King Salmon on an 8wt fly rod. It was easy to miss setting the hook.  When a King hit my fly, it would bunker down and stall, often making me feel like I snagged on the bottom of the river. It wasn’t until I gave that quick tug to set the hook, that the “snag” on the bottom turned into an immediate freight train hauling the end of my line. I was baptized by fire from my immediate mistake of not setting my reel drag tight enough. The motor on that salmon accelerated so fast and so rapacious my hands were left bleeding, bruised, and resulted in one broken finger; true story.  It was the first time in my fly-fishing experience that a fish took me all the way to my backing. It was intense, literally falling to my knees twice during a battle. At one point I felt my arms giving out, and I wasn’t sure I was going to land a king at all. I felt panicked that I may not be strong enough to bring one in. I finally felt the freight train on the end of my line give up. The combination of such an adrenaline high and then feeling physically exhausted brought me to tears when I saw such beauty in my net. The one I lost, still haunts me to this day. I couldn’t tell you the exact amount of time it took me to reel it in close enough to see it, but it felt like an eternity. I was completely exhausted by the time I got it close to the net.  As the net approached, it spooked and sped away for one last haul to the depths of the river.  I was so tired, I wasn’t willing to fight it again and didn’t give it any slack.  Because of this fatal error, the King snapped my actual green fishing line!

I am forever grateful for the amazing locals and Alaskan hospitality. It was so fun to watch others land Kings, and everyone respects the angler with one on the line. Someone would yell “fish on!” And everyone else would back out of the water and let the angler battle it out. There is something about fly fishing that brings people together and creates an unexplainable bond.

After holding, touching and seeing this amazing species of fish, after being up close and personal with them, I appreciate them. I admire them. They are beautiful. There is something to be learned from King Salmon. They fight through difficult stages of life, and they don’t ever give up because their intuition tells them they have a purpose.

Natalie Bennion is an Alaskan photographer and fly fisherwoman. Check out her other work on Instagram @a_ladys_angle

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