One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
My first fishing outing was up Oak Creek Canyon with Uncle Ivan on opening day of trout season. The fishing equipment consisted of a 10-foot cane pole with electric tape wrapped around the butt to form a makeshift handle. Attached to the pole was a line with a small loop tied on the free end. An Eagle Claw hook with a 12-inch store-bought leader containing a loop approximately the same size as the one on the line was fastened to the line by locking the loops together. A used pork’n bean-can full of nightcrawlers rounded out the outfit.
Paralleling each other for several miles, the road and Oak Creek came close together numerous times, and a one-car parking spot developed where fishermen had easy access to water. Uncle Ivan parked below the big springs. He knew it was here where the Fish and Game truck, which had stocked the stream several days earlier, made its last stop dumping what remained of its load. Uncle Ivan was acquainted with the warden who patrolled the canyon for poachers, and the warden had advised this would be the best fishing spot.
The hole was under the bridge. We stood upriver and let our nightcrawler-laden Eagle Claw hook bounce along the bottom with the current. We had a strike as soon as the bait hit the top of the hole. The fight consisted of setting the hook and landing the 10-inch hatchery-raised rainbow with one jerk. A 20-fish limit was taken, killed, and cleaned in less than an hour. Mom fixed a fresh fish feast for breakfast the next few days.
My first step up in fishing equipment was before a boy scout fishing and camping super summer activity when I purchased, with my own money, a steel telescoping rod and matching level wind reel. Eight seasons I packed it into high mountain lakes for cutthroat trout, tied it to the handlebars of my bike to get to the local rainbow streams, and carried it on the bus to Yellowstone to fish the Madison and Fire Hole Rivers. The rod gave good service until it was retired when I moved to Alaska.
My arrival in Alaska was timed with the introduction of fiberglass and spinning reels. A Mitchell 300 became the status symbol as I entered the world of subsistence salmon fishing. The pork’n beans can of night crawlers was exchanged for a tackle box full of Mepps, tee spoons, and flash bait. Six salmon was the limit with a two-day possession limit. Habitually I would catch a limit before midnight and another one after. Beginning with the red run, our family diet rotated from moose and caribou to fried, baked, broiled, and smoked fish.
Concurrent with a gift of a fly-fishing outfit, I was introduced to catch and release. With fly fishing came the necessity of increased fishing paraphernalia: pliers, chest waders, fishing vest, twist-on weights, and the list went on. My fly rod gift was a four-section pack rod. Its first tour of duty produced an eight-pound, distinctly rainbow, rainbow on the first cast when fishing the Talachulitna River. I freely confess to enjoying releasing the fish to fight again. Imagining a now larger and wiser fish haunting the holes added a new and enjoyable perspective to later outdoor outings on the Tal.
The next stage in my fishing finishing school found me leaving the fly rod and fishing vest home, substituting a Canon camera and Kodachrome 64 film instead. A new element of catch and release emerged as I now release and keep. Keep on film.
Recently, the after-dinner fishing lodge conversation turned to fishing reels as a fellow angler touted the qualities of his newly purchased fly reel. Each person around the table hefted and admired the precision craftsmanship and tooling. Then, as my turn for inspection arrived, and I held the instrument, its owner announced the reel’s $1,200 price tag.
Before retiring, I contemplated where I was on the fishing evolution chart. Determining I was about in the middle, halfway between the can of nightcrawlers and a $1,200 handmade reel, I could not tell for sure which way on the chart I was going, and I didn’t care. As long as I can be on the bank near the water, I’ll take either the pork’n bean can, the steel telescoping rod, or the handcrafted reel. It makes no difference to me if I’m catching with a hook or capturing with a camera. It’s fishing.
Fishing fun is no respecter of age, price, or position. It’s just right wherever you are. I’m thankful my lot fell where I can fish Alaska.