Oh, yeah. “King Salmon.” In my book, Halibut Rodeo. In my first entry about this story, posted oh so many months ago, I wrote about the my admiration of Raymond Carver, and how the short story master influenced so many of us in MFA programs during the 80s. (Many critics were none too pleased about that influence.) “King Salmon” came about because I felt the need to tell more of the Slime Line Queen’s story, since a number of early readers of my work really liked her. She’s not the protagonist, however. Instead, the story is told from the viewpoint of an ex who still lives in the Lower 48. “King Salmon” contains a story within a story. The narrator, a recovering alcoholic, tells his sponsor about his past relationship with the Slime-Line Queen, and his vain attempt to travel to Homer, Alaska to win her back. The middle part of the story is his account of that trip. He does find the Slime-Line Queen at the Salty Dawg Saloon. (The Salty Dawg Saloon is real, by the way. This past summer my brother Mike ordered t-shirts from there.) Later, the narrator ends up on Homer Spit beach to fish, where he catches a .
20 pound King Salmon.
While the rest of the story comes straight from my imagination, the catching of the fish is based on experience. Fairly early during the salmon season, I had an evening off from Seward Fisheries. John Calhoun, Sr., my gracious host for the summer, as well as mayor of Homer, took his son and I snagging on the beach. You don’t use bait for snagging, just a barbed hook. Kachemak Bay is so thick with spawning salmon you can toss a line out into the bay, snap your wrist, and hook yourself a big-ass fish. Like the narrator in the story, I did just that. We weren’t at it very long, less than an hour perhaps. After John schooled me on the technique he left me to my own devices. He had never snagged a salmon before, but assured me it could be done. I was dubious. I had never heard of this kind of fishing. But sure enough, I snagged one. I don’t know how long it took to bring in the fish, but it was at least twenty minutes. By the end the tide had come in and I was standing in water. In my mind’s eye right now I see John splashing through ankle deep water net in hand. He scooped up the fish, grinning from ear to ear, and said it was 20 pounds easy.
We took it back to his garage, gutted it, and sliced it into steaks. Over the next week, day after day before going to work to clean salmon for 12 hours a pop, I scarfed down the steaks drenched in the hollandaise sauce Hans whipped up. Did I tire of salmon? Hell no! According to Anthony Bourdain, professional chefs like to ask themselves what they’d eat for their last meal if they ever find themselves on Death Row.
Me? I want one of those salmon steaks.