Fish This!

Who’s top of the food chain?

By ANDREW CREMATA

There are many animals who rely on the rich bounty of Alaska’s waters for sustenance. Who can ignore the majestic image of the mighty bald eagle swooping toward the surf, talons rigid with anticipation of a delicious finned meal? Maybe you’ve witnessed a curious otter disappear beneath the waves with a twist of its tail only to resurface with some prize of the deep. As it munches away a look of contentment washes over its cute little scrunched up mug.
I’m no different when it comes to a meal of fresh fish, although my mug has seldom been described as cute. Still, when it comes to grilled salmon or fried grayling and eggs I take the whole thing pretty seriously, just like my eagle and otter counterparts.
So it may come as a surprise that a personal battle has been brewing with these two fellow fishermen. Otters and eagles, in my opinion, are two miscreants of the animal kingdom for which there is no parallel. These impish little fiends threw down the gauntlet years ago and continue to taunt, tease, and terrorize this particularly flustered angler on a regular basis.
This is a battle for the ages, and the worst part of it is, they’re winning.
It all started three seasons ago fishing for Dolly Varden along the rocky shoreline near the small boat harbor. It was a sun-soaked summer day. Perfect glints of light danced a salsa on the ripples of the ocean blue, like sequins on a gaudy bride’s-maid dress. It was the perfect marriage of light and warmth, and even though the fish weren’t biting there was no reason not to enjoy the simple pleasure of basking in the sun.
For an hour I cast a lure and retrieved it with a smile. Nothing could shatter the perfection and solitude of that faultless, fishless day.
Except that stinking otter.
I decided to change the lure and as I sat on the rocks, back to the water, I heard a muffled snorting laughter emanating from the water’s edge. When I turned there was the otter sitting up, just below my feet, staring up into my eyes with a massive dolly gripped in its front paws.
It let out a series of muted grunts while bobbing its head up and down, obviously in a state of uncontrollable self-induced hilarity. I raised my fist in anger and cursed at the little hoodlum to which he put the dolly in his mouth and dove back into the water.

Mr. Otter peers out from the planks of the small boat harbor. I can hear his laughter in my sleep. AC

He resurfaced again 30 feet away and dined on his prize, frequently glancing back in my direction with a look of superiority.
I never caught a fish that day and my humiliation at the hands of what is little better than an underwater rat stayed with me.
Just last year I made my way to the small boat harbor for a fishing trip on a friend’s boat. It was a still morning promising fish, and as I waited for my friend to arrive the quiet air was pierced with that horrible grunting laughter. I spun around searching for my little foe but didn’t see him anywhere. It was then I realized he was under my feet, peering up at me through the cracks in the boards.
Four hours later we were back at the dock with no fish to speak of. Exactly how an otter can jinx you is beyond my own personal scope, but there was little doubt who was to blame.
A couple weeks later I was fishing solo on the shores of Tutshi Lake. To my right, perched atop a Sitka Spruce, was a beautiful bald eagle. Lake trout were popping bugs on the surface so I figured the eagle was biding his time for the right moment to strike. In some ways I was right.
I hooked up with a fat laker and reeled him to the shore. My mouth was already watering. I lifted the fish from the water to remove the hook when I caught a glance of the eagle raising his wings. He fell in a glide toward my position on a collision course with my sizable cranium.
With mere seconds to think I decided to hold strong. I gripped the trout firmly and shouted nonsense toward that rotten eagle at the top of my voice. At the last possible second he veered up and away and I could feel the air pressure from its wings rush over my face. My vision had been keyed into those razor sharp talons, and even though I was unscathed the synapses of my mind fired off images of eyes mangled by eagle feet.
I felt pretty good though, at least this time I was the victor, even though it was against an animal with a brain the size of a pea. I figured the eagle’s plan probably worked on occasion, perhaps on some hapless tourist out for a little wilderness fishing. But not this time.
I set the trout down and walked a few feet away to get my fish box. Somehow, and unbeknownst to me, the eagle had circled around under the cover of the woods. As I turned back I saw him grabbing the fish off the rocky shore and carry it away toward a distant shoreline.
At least he didn’t laugh.
This past winter during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count I saw my otter adversary swimming by the small boat harbor, holding a huge Dungeness crab above the water as he swam toward the rocks. He looked pretty happy with himself as he clambered up on the breakwater, ready to dine. An eagle perched on a light pole saw what was going on and took off en route for Mr. Otter.
The otter saw it too. He dropped his prize and made a beeline for cover. As the crab clawed aimlessly into the air the eagle lunged down and stole the little critter’s catch, then headed back to the harbor for a tasty crab lunch.
I made a point to laugh loud enough for the otter to hear.
It seems as though eagles, whether Canadian or American, employ the same means of intimidation when hunting for food. Who knows, maybe that eagle followed me home from Tutshi Lake, certain he would find another patsy in the big city.
Regardless, an otter, an eagle, and a fisherman make for a pretty twisted love/hate triangle. This year, I am determined to avoid succumbing to the wanton shenanigans of two of God’s more questionable creatures.
This year, it’s ON!

Top sports column again
For the second straight year, Andrew Cremata’s ‘Fish This!’ was named the Best Sports Column in the state by the Alaska Press Club. Contest judge Jim Moore, a columnist with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, said: “I just think he is terrific, and I don’t care about fishing.”