Reading the North

Mike Dunham

My Season on the Kenai: Fishing Alaska's Greatest Salmon River

By Lew Freedman (Alaska Northwest Books, $19.95)

The blurb: Former Daily News sports editor Lew Freedman captures the exhilaration of spending a season on the river -- from the first week in April to the first week in October -- and shares his catch in this book. With wit and an insider's point of view, he tells tales of fishing from boats and banks, with bait and flies, on the upper, middle, and lower river, for king, silver and red salmon, as well as rainbow trout. Freedman also shares the history, the mystique and the occasional insanity of this incomparable fishing mecca. Fish on!

Excerpt: " 'In salmon circles, people know what that (the Kenai River) is,' Reuben (Hanke) said. 'People all over the world dream of catching salmon here.'

"Those fisherman from all over the world understand that the world-record king salmon was caught on the Kenai River, but the funny thing is, Reuben thinks, is that they don't really know how big big is. Numbers are one thing. Wrenching a fighting king salmon out of the water with all of your might is an exercise difficult to duplicate.

"There is a photograph in Reuben's booking office of Harry Gaines, the founder of the business, and our old friend holding a king-sized king. I have seen the photo hundreds of times and it has been reproduced on postcards used as advertising for Gaines's guide service, so I even have copies.

" 'That thing lives forever;' Reuben said.

"In the picture Gaines is hoisting a gigantic salmon out of the water and smiling his impish grin for the photog. I don't even know if Harry could have lifted such a fish without giving himself a hernia, but the fish isn't real, it's a mount."

In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers' Tales, 1879-1909

By Jean Morgan Meaux (University of Washington Press, $26.95)

The blurb: This collection of Alaska adventures begins with a newspaper article written by John Muir during his first visit to Alaska in 1879, when the sole U.S. government representative in all the territory's 586,412 square miles was a lone customs official in Sitka. It closes with accounts of the gold rush and the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

Excerpt: "When Mary Hitchcock announced that she and Edith Van Buren were going to the Klondike, their friends thought that they were candidates for the insane asylum. How could people like Hitchcock, the widow of a naval commander, and Van Buren, a grandniece of President Martin Van Buren, trade the luxuries and comforts of home for deprivation and hardship in the north? The answer was simple: the two women had no intention of sacrificing anything.

"Into their packing crates went gowns, linens, silver, china, easy chairs, a hundred-pound gramophone, musical instruments, a library, an ice cream freezer, cases of pate, truffles, canned asparagus, lobster, oysters and a seventy-by-forty-foot tent. They would take along their Great Danes, canaries, parrot and two dozen pigeons. It seemed that the only thing they planned to leave behind was their maid, a girl too young and pretty for the Klondike.

"Of the thousands who went to the Klondike that year, Pierre Berton says that Hitchcock and Van Buren may have been the only ones who were "merely ... sightseers." If they happened to make money, so much the better; if they experienced a loss, they could afford it.

" 'All in life is a lottery,' Hitchcock wrote, as she recounted her grubstaking of some "trustworthy" miners."

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News