The wide, rocky, shallow rapids lies at the end of a long estuary far from the green waters of the Wrangell Narrows. The wandering channel traversing the wide mud-flats there. Above the rapids lie the long still black pools of the Blind River. The Swan Observatory allows for the viewing of white swans floating along like winter’s ice and further upstream children leap from the sole bridge on sunny days.
For decades people walked through the muskegs about 1/2 a mile from Mitkof Highway to catch the returning King Salmon at the Blind River Rapids. The black bears came from the dark old-growth on the opposite side of the river at dawn. Back in the day, the trail consisted of two joined planks covered by fish net. It spilled out into the muddy game trails that paralleled the river and turned into a muddy trail itself across the intertidal grass flats to rocky ground that defined the rapid.
Eventually the planks were replaced by to a raised boardwalk wide enough for two close friends to walk abreast but not wide enough for a four wheeler. It was a sight to see. It crashed through the riparian growth, marched across the grass and took its stand on the rocky outcropping commanding the rapids. But the winter’s ice and “astronomical” high tides didn’t like its attitude and the approach to the rapids became a modest faux-wood ramp into the grass and cement cobblestones fitting humbly between the rocks.
At low tide the fish begin to gather in the Narrows at the mouth of Blind River. King Salmon returning to spawn, hungry ocean-going trout called Dolly Vardon and small, ugly Sculpin with two poisonous horns and an all consuming mouth. In the Narrows towns people catch a few salmon from their boats. It is also a good spot for halibut who are down deep dining on the spawned out salmon carcasses. Four visitors in yellow rain slicker, in one of the hotel’s skiffs, struggle to get a large halibut to the surface. Once up, rather than use a gaff hook, a shot rings out. They each grab a handful of the slimy fish longer than their boat and pull it a board. They all lose their footing at the same time and fall back to into the skiff. The halibut falls atop their writhing bodies and then slips into the deep cold water.
As the tide rises above the mud flats, the fish race towards pools up by the tree line. Each rise in the tide allows them to attain a pool further in land. It is here in the early morning that bears come out of the dark forest on the other side. Put later in the day and higher in the tide, towns people start hiking down from the rapids to meet the salmon. The towns people cast successfully due to their local knowledge. Finally, the tide reached the base of the rapids and a large number of kings school here. As do the towns people and visitors. This is an exciting time. Toddlers wade in the rapids while King Salmon almost as big as they try to get around them. The whirling waiting salmon bite at the lures in frustration. The catching is improving as the gut piles increase from the cleaned fish. The circling eagles caw over doomed fish. Salmon leap skyward in anticipation. The Dollies and Double Uglies nipple at the entrails dipping below the tide. At last the tide rises above the rapids and the salmon have unfettered access to the upper reaches of Blind River!
Shortly there after the tide turns. The salmon and trout races for salt water. The people head for home. A few people remain to work the dwindling waters;
- Visitors in new chest waders with sun burned shoulders making the most of their once in a lifetime trip to Alaska. Desperately trying to snag, er catch those salmon trapped in the pools above the rapids.
- Boys here for the day between the high tides. They scourge lost fishing lures from the dry Blind River. They get far more lures than they could ever get salmon. They know to keep an eye on the other side of the river as it becomes more and more deserted.
- The four visitors in the yellow rain slickers? They did not know to leave when everyone else did and got the hotel’s stiff caught high and dry as the tide left.
- And finally the town people’s visitors, they wear second hand gear, overtop their host’s Xtratuffs try to snag, er catch a fish trapped in a lower pond, catching nothing but Irish Lords which their host needs to take off the hook so they don’t get stung. The eagles begin attacking the gut piles left by the receding tide. But their hosts keep an eye out, because in the failing light the bears will return from the other side.
Author - William Moulton