One Last Cast – Chapter 14

One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Chapter Fourteen
Carrie’s First Fish

Carrie became an official angler on the spit at English Bay. She was fishing in saltwater when a 14-inch Dolly took her bait.

English Bay is a short flight from Homer. The airport, such as it is, is a wide, flat, narrow strip of gravel on the spit separating the ocean from the brackish lagoon. When the tide’s out, the lagoon’s almost empty except for the clear-water stream running through its middle surrounded by mud and slick moss. There’s a rock cliff at one end of the airstrip. The town’s church, complete with a short steeple at one end and a chimney at the other, sits on a small hill at the approach end of what locals call English Bay International Airport.

Fortunately, prevailing winds allow landing over the church, keeping the wings between steeple and chimney, slipping the aircraft on final approach, and immediately dropping flaps and standing on the brakes as soon as wheels feel gravel. If the pilot isn’t lined up right, he can go around.

Coming in from the other direction would mean coming in low over the ocean, swinging in front of the cliff at the last moment, just before touchdown. There’s no chance to go around. If the plane is going too fast or is too high, the church hill and church at the other end of the strip will wear a bent prop and twisted wings. There’s not many attempts at a landing from the cliff end of English Bay International Airport.

The day Carrie caught her first fish found us approaching English Bay in our old Stinson Voyager model 108-3. I keyed the radio mike and made a blind announcement advising any traffic in the area that 857 Charlie was about to land. Coming over the church at 64 miles an hour, and with the cliff looming at the other end, makes the landing seem more dangerous than it is. We touched down, dropped the flaps, hit the brakes, and stopped way short of the runway’s end.

The tide was out, but was turning, as we had anticipated. We parked 857 Charlie and unloaded our gear. A couple of locals came down from town, checked us out, and gave us a current fishing report.

We decided to fish the saltwater on the incoming tide. The locals told us that they had been doing good on Dollies. Carrie’s rod was the first one out of the plane, and it was soon set up ready to fish with. Carrie took her rod and was quickly casting into the almost lakelike calm water of the bay.

Before I could get my rod up and running, I heard this gosh-awful scream coming from the beach. I didn’t know Carrie could make that much noise.

“Help, Dad! Help!” she screamed. I ran to her side only to discover she had hooked into a feisty sea-run Dolly that had taken exception to being caught by a little girl and was doing its best to keep its tail in the ocean.

Carrie’s line and rod were set up for reds up the river we intended to go after the tide brought in the next run. She was way over-geared for this little Dolly she was making a fuss over. The Dolly never stood a chance. It was well hooked, and Carrie’s method of playing and landing was backing up the beach while hollering her lungs out for Dad’s help. She soon succeeded in beaching the fish and held it and her salmon rod up for a family album photograph.

I can’t remember if she released her Dolly or kept it for breakfast. I hardly remember going up the stream catching reds. I don’t remember the takeoff toward the cliff or the flight home. But I’ve got the picture in our family scrapbook of Carrie standing on the beach at English Bay holding up her first fish. And, I’ll never forget Carrie hollering for Dad’s help. It’s nice for a dad to be needed.

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.