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Pits in Crown Jewels

by Ted Williams
Reprinted courtesy of Ted Williams and Fly, Rod and Reel

It was a day of superlatives in a place of superlatives. I had thought I threw a long line until I watched the guy fishing with me – Steve Rajeff, who can cast farther than any other man on the planet. Together we eased down the clean gravel of the river that sustains the world's biggest salmon runs – the Kvichak, 300 hundred yards from where it collects water from the biggest lake in Alaska. Now, in late September, the giant rainbows of Lake Iliamna were dropping down to snark the last eggs from the last moribund pink salmon. From 20 feet they'd chase down the Globugs Steve had tied that morning. We didn't have anything with which to weigh the fish that fried my reel, but it dwarfed the 12-pound silver I'd caught two days earlier. Rajeff's photo of it hangs on my office wall. Anglers who haven't fished the Kvichak won't believe me when I tell them it's not a steelhead.

That's how I got hooked on the Bristol Bay area of southwest Alaska. No place on earth is wilder or more beautiful or offers finer salmonid fishing. In the Kvichak, for example, you can catch all five Pacific salmon, rainbows, dollies, char and grayling. The rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are aptly called "America's crown jewels." I cannot get enough of them. But the day may not be far off when you and I will get no more because, if a small Canadian mining company with no track record and backed by Middle Eastern money of unknown origin gets its way, they will be ruined.

Some of the fish and wildlife will, of course, survive. Many of the topographical features will remain intact. But the essence and magic of the place will be destroyed utterly and irrevocably. The Bristol Bay area will no longer be wild and remote. It will become a populated, easily accessed, industrial-waste storage facility.