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Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska

June 10, 2019

I was very young when I started to Fly fish, it must have been when I was around 12 years old. My family had property right at the Avenue of the Giants, an area that is in many car commercials today. I’m sure you have seen the area, the slick new cars rolling through the giant redwoods, it is located in southern humboldt county California. Every summer on the last day of school in Eureka,  my Mom would pick my sister’s and I up from St Bernards and we would head south, the ford station wagon, filled to the brim with everything that would fit , including our collie, “Cheers”. During my childhood every summer we spent at our “ranch”, it wasn’t a ranch in the sense of having cattle, even though there were always a few head owned by our caretaker. But, a quarter section in the heart of the Redwoods, more of a family resort, with many cousins with cottages spread out around the heart of the property. The swimming pool was the meeting spot for everyone it was the center of all activity, the Moms in their one piece swim suits, and the kids in and out of the pool all day long. The Dads were off working  until the weekends, then it was a full house.

Our property , named “Englewood”, bordered the famous Eel River. Known for its great Salmon and Steelhead runs, the Eel when I was young was a premier river, anglers from all over use to come and fish winter Steelhead. For good reason, the runs were tremendous, and very large Steelhead were caught usually around Christmas.

My fishing started during the summer months, young steelies, a big fish was around 12 inches, and if one was lucky, he might land one up to 17-18 inches. This usually took place in the Fall, when the “half pounder ” run starts. But, practice makes perfect, and I worked hard at getting the technique of the down and across, covering water, I did this all summer.

I might have been 13 years young when I started to get more serious during the summer and Fall of that year. I remember becoming interested in the different types of flies, and walking the mile or so to the general store in Redcrest California. Here they sold patterns tied by some locals, and some from Japan that were very bright colored. I don’t remember the prices, but if my memory is close, the local flies were around .75 cents, and the Japanese flies were around .50 cents. These were almost all “wet flies”.

That winter I was given Ray Bergmans , “Trout “. I use to study the plates of different flies, fascinated with the colors and different styles of fly patterns. It was the basic down and across cast , swinging flies, and covering the water. One fall one of my uncles knew I was fishing quite a bit, and asked if I would like to walk down to the river and wet some flies. He had heard that the half ponder run had started and that some other folks were having good luck. So, down the hill we went, My uncle Ed wasn’t quite set up upon arrival, so he was streamside getting organized, when I hooked into one of the real “half ponders”. This fish wasn’t the summer parr, but a ocean going steelhead. It was moving through the water so fast I could barely hang on, but hang on I did. The line got got on itself so the reel would not spin, I remember the fish wanting to run despite the reel not functioning, and trying to get away,  it ran itself right up on the gravel beach, where is  flopped and jumped non stop. I thought this is my fish, so I dropped the rod and ran the 30 yards or so to pounce on the beached steelie. Just before I reached the sand covered trout, it worked its way back into the river, my line and rod following behind. I jumped into the cold water and just in time to get ahold of my fly rod before it reached the deeper part of the river. I turned to see my Uncle Ed reaction to the large trout, only to find him on the ground, rolling and laughing so hard his face was completely red, he had tears rolling down his face, my guess is that just a bit of pee may have been leaked into his waders as well. I landed the fish, it was the largest trout I had ever landed, well, I was only 13, so I felt pretty good about the whole ordeal.

As a teenager, I fished  mainly the Eel River, but , once I had my drivers license, I started to expand my horizons. And, I was able to drive out and fish the lower Eel River during the winter months outside of Fortuna and Ferndale. and drive out and fish the Mad river outside of the town of Arcata and Blue Lake. During the summers when I got older, we started to hike in the Trinity Alps just to the East of Eureka, about half way to the town of Redding. There are nice streams to fish in the Alps, but the main attraction are the alpine lakes. Here are very willing planted trout  that do not know the difference  from  a Japanese fluorescent  fly, or a local, match the hatch fly tied for that month of the year, for that specific lake, they just eat whatever looks good to them.

After high school, I attended the University of Gonzaga, just for one year. I thought I would maybe play basketball there. At that time, GU was not the power house they are today, it was a program that was struggling, this was 1975, before John Stockman, he was playing at Gonzaga Prep, and fast becoming well know for his ball handling, and tough defense. Johns father owned the local beer pub , the “bulldog”, in which I spent more that a few hours consuming beverage. Johns father asked me if I was going to play for GU, and I told him I was on the fence because they had already used all their scholarships, and they wanted me to start out with the freshman team. The varsity players were asking me to play, telling me that I could really help them out, but the coaching staff wanted me to cut my hair, no scholarship, and starting with the freshman team. This was not very appealing so, I passed on playing. I knew that I was in Spokane for only one year.

That summer three friends and I went up to Canada to camp and fish. One of my friends borrowed his Moms station wagon, so we loaded it up with gear, and headed north. The plan was to see Banff and maybe go further North. We drove onto the outskirts of Calgary, where we could see a good sized river, the Bow. We knew nothing about this river, it was 1975, when we approached the overlook above the Bow, we were horrified to find washing machines, car bodies, all sorts of garbage in this very nice looking river. The man who was helping us getting gas asked, “so, did you guys come here to fish the Bow river’? He could see our Fly rods in the very back, we were all speechless, we couldn’t tell if this Canadian was trying to pull one over on the yanks, or what. So, we replied, “No, we came to fish the pristine waters of Banff”, now the gas attendant  was speechless. He finally blurted out,  this Bow river is the best river for trout in the entire country”. We laughed and told him thank you, but we are heading for Banff, I’m sure we made his day.

In 1976 I went to the University of Santa Clara, this is my fathers and both sisters alma mater. I was trying to attend Colorado State.  When I arrived at the university, my transcripts were not transferred from Gonzaga, and I could not start until the 2nd semester, so, my parents told me that I could attend Santa Clara. Just down the road Bill Gates was working in a garage making his first prototype computer, yes, it is a good neighborhood. Stanford University was just down the road as well, but, not much in the way of fishing , and I was looking forward to transferring to the university of Montana, trout u.

That summer I did get out and did hike a few times in Trinity Alps, and got to fish a bit, it felt so good to be out of the city environment, and back in the Trinity Alps. In the fall I drove up to the town of Missoula Montana and started at the University Of Montana. I will never forget the drive up, especially the last 100 miles. I decide to take the route up along the Clearwater River and the Lochsa River. It was just one of those blue bird fall days, clear as a bell, not a cloud in the sky, warm , but not hot. I had a Toyota Land Cruiser, with a soft top which was down, to take in the smells, the views, and the sun. It was stunning, it is etched into my brain forever. The vibrant fall colors that adorn the hillsides above the crystal clear Lochsa River, and the ultra blue sky above made for a goose bump ride for 100 miles. This area is true wilderness, the largest wild area in the lower 48 states. In the fall the tamarack trees turn orange, so you have the red, orange and dark green all together along the mountains above the river, it is quite something to see.

While attending the U of M, my fishing skills quickly increased, I had friends that were good Fly Fishermen, and we all learned together, helping each other with what ever we knew. Right through the campus, the Clark Fork river flowed clean and strong, and back in 1977 that stretch of water had very fine fishing. We use to bring our rods to class in the afternoons, so we could walk down to the river and catch the afternoon hatch. I remember one afternoon, the river was low, and clear, before runoff., there was a hatch of Pale Morning Duns, it was late afternoon, and fish were rising pretty hard. A buddy had given me a few yellow soft hackles, in a size 16, his instructions were to fish down and across. Well, I knew this technique better than most, so this was completely natural to me. My third cast I hooked a very strong trout, it was difficult to land because of the huge rocks along the shoreline, but, I did manage to get the fatty in and I killed him. The hatch seemed to have stopped abruptly, so , I took my huge trout , placed it in the basket on the front of my  bicycle, and rode home with the tail of the brute hanging way over the basket. On the ride home people were pointing  and smiling at what must have seemed  very funny to most, a guy, riding his bike with in one hand his fly rod, and a huge trout sticking out of his basket.

 

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