One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Floating and Fishing with Feathers
It’s difficult to conceive of arriving at the age of accountability without a memory of at last one fish fracturing the surface of some aqueous setting. Then came one Rick Nita from Los Angeles, California, confessing the absence of fishing in his life. He admitted to a feeling of remorse and a yearning to repent. Rick picked Alaska as the place, opted for a float trip, selected rainbow as the game, mid-September as the date, and feathers as the weapon.
He arrived in Anchorage with a borrowed rod and reel, not knowing if a tippet was a part of the gear, good to eat, or some kind of snare. He relied on the local tackle store to “fix him up,” and was treated kindly.
With mosquito dope in his pocket, new flies tucked in his new vest, and armed with his adopted rod and reel, he arrived at the Anchorage airport for the flight to Iliamna. Here Rick met his companions: four members of the Orange County California Fly-Fishing Club, freelance outdoor writer Hank Bottemiller and his son Dave, and from Boston, Mike Ableson.
His apprehension of being a complete novice among experts drifted away with each introduction and handshake. Each man reassured him and committed to helping Rick get started without embarrassment. He was taught a few basic knots, how to get the line out with a couple of false casts, and the ease of the double haul for distance.
The rainbow he landed on his first cast will not register in any record book. The bow didn’t even make the frying pan. Rick began his catch-and-release career on his original catch. Any fears Rick might have had that this would be his only fish were erased on the next cast. Another rainbow slammed the former covering of birds and immediately showed its belly to the sun. It goes without saying that Rick was endowed with beginner’s luck. Some days he caught more than 80 rainbows, plus grayling, char, chum, king, and silver salmon.
Well, he almost caught a silver. On the next-to-last day of the float trip, casting into a deep hole, Rick let out a Southern-California-Japanese-American-first-time-fishing war hoop as a silver salmon broke water and headed for the ocean. At the same time, Dave Bottemiller, Rick’s fishing companion, set the hook on his fifth silver of the afternoon. Again, Rick played it perfectly, letting the salmon do most of the work. Finally, the fish made one final run and beached itself, resulting in shouts of praise and pats on his back for Rick’s first silver salmon.
Dave, the more experienced fisherman, just smiled. He knew something Rick didn’t. When the flip-flopping slowed down, and the congratulations subsided, it was discovered that two lines ran to the fish. Rick’s and Dave’s. They had both been fishing the same pool. The fish had hit Dave’s lure and tangled with Rick’s line. Dave allowed Rick to land the fish and enjoy the thrill of landing a powerful silver. For those who keep track of such things, as far as silver salmon are concerned, the score is Dave, five—Rick, zero.
It seemed the final morning came before the week began. Breaking camp for the last time. Deflating the rafts. The group picture for the scrapbook and the concluding cast as the Cessna 206 taxied in. The flight to Anchorage and beyond to home.
Back in California, Rick will tell you a float trip is a kick-back, easy-living type of experience. It is unhurried, almost without schedule. Body and soul relax. The tired and hurried world of everyday living stays with the drop-off plane. But, after a week’s fishing a remote Alaska river, it never returns with the same consuming intensity.
Friendships are established with the guides and other fishermen. Ten o’clock sunsets, 5 a.m. sunrises, midnight fireside chats, wildlife, camp at the bend of the river, beaver tail slap, remoteness of the area, absence of other people, and of course, fishing—that’s a float trip.
A float trip is remote. A float trip is standing in crystal-clear water, where perhaps no other living person has stood, drifting a fly past a grayling that has never seen anything artificial, breaking the deafening silence with shouts of excitement where no human has ever spoken. That’s fishing with feathers on a float trip.