Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Carpin’ From A Canoe

They say if you start a small business or build a house together it will either destroy a relationship or make it unbreakable. True. And I would like to add fly fishing for carp from a canoe to that list. You have to be able and willing to communicate properly—not just to avoid a spill, but to effectively stalk the carp. And things will get intense and not always work according to plan. Actually, things will seldom go right. You have too many variables working against you for things to go well. If you escape the ordeal with no broken or lost equipment, dry clothes and still on speaking terms…consider the outing a success. Hooking up on carp should almost be considered unlikely. But do-able! Definitely can be done. And, if you and your partner sync-up on more-or-less the same page…the canoe can turn into a deadly carp tool. One caveat being, you both have to have “bus legs”. What I mean is you have to have balance enough to not fall over while standing on public transportation. If the train at the Denver International Airport can turn you into a four-appendaged, flailing cannon ball…then, no. Not for you. What I am saying is that for this to work you must be able to stand up in your canoe. Often both of you will need to be standing up—one steering with the tip of a paddle and the other casting. See? It can make or break a couple!
 The higher your line of sight, the better you can see into the water. Simple. And carp fishing is reliant on line of sight. You need to see the fish to cast to the fish and get your fly in front of the fish. Carp rarely go out of their way to make your day. You must earn it. They make you. So…once you combine all these things, you end up looking like some odd breed of native Hawaiian fisherman—standing in a canoe, paddle in hand, then quick switching to a fly rod…bombing a cast… OK, sure, neither you or I are sporting romance-novel-cover brown abs and flowing mane, but damn…you still can feel pretty studly cool. But, you know…be sure to have your wallet and cell phone safely stashed in a sealed freezer bag. Your Fabio ass may just face plant into two feet of dirty brown water. So, you know…you always got that goin’for ya…

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Measure of Success

Sometimes it is simple. When I was checking the mail today I had an epiphanistic realization. I had finally achieved success. As a man. Not because of a royalty check in the mail. Or a book or magazine with my name on or in it. Or, because I had just invented a word—epiphanistic, wtf? But that I finally lived on a road. With a mail box. And I lived on a road with double yellow lines. For miles in either direction. Double yellow. For a trout fisherman that means mountain roads. Yes…I finally live in trout country. The measure of success? Living near good fishing. Period.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day Trippin’ (On Umpqua Fly Boxes)

No. Get your head out of the bag of ‘shrooms. You ain’t in school anymore…or passed out on a dock in the Bahamas. You are a respectable individual with a family and maybe a bed-wetting junior-you in the back room. This is a gear review…serious stuff, so sit down, put the beers and inflatable pig away and pay attention. Umpqua Feather Merchants has a new line of UPG fly boxes. My favorite is the “Day Tripper”—a 4.25 by 6 by 1.5 inch, do-it-all box that goes for $36.99. Whell…what’s so different about it? You may ask in your best Napoleon Dynamite voice. So, I will tell you. Or, better yet, I’ll relay the scoop I got from the crew from Umpqua…

“It is all about the little things. Unlike other slit foam boxes, these slits oppose each other so tails and heads of flies will not conflict...allowing you to really make use of the space available. Slits are also only as good as the foam they are cut into and these have the best—Zerust foam emits a vapor that coats metal and prevents rusting in fine-wire hooks. The spacing of the foam in the Daytripper (more open in the center) gives room for tails, heads and hackle of larger flies. The combination of microslit foam (that prevents midges from dropping into gaps and making them difficult to remove) and magnets gives you easy options both before and after tying on. (You can throw used flies on the magnet for clean up later.) Also, the push button opening—versus latch—allows for single hand opening and simple, single-step closure. And a see through lid. These aren't necessarily new concepts, but put them all together and there's nothing like them. Each of our new box style has its own unique features to solve a specific problem (i.e. Double Wide to hold large flies that need headroom and deeper foam). I think this is why they are Field & Stream's "Best of the Best" winners.”

So…there…and your mom goes to college…

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lakes Revisited

Places revisited. Lakes revisited. It is not taking a step backwards, an emotional demotion—it is, as Kenny and The First Editions used to say, me just dropping in to see what condition my condition is in. There are places that I have been in my life that have meant a lot to me. Usually it is not so much where I was physically at the time…more of a fine mixture, heavy on the cerebral (state of mind and ambition) with the actual surroundings being more the ground pepper—the kick to set the mood. I suppose I have stood in many rooms during pivotal moments of my life…court rooms…recruiting offices…chop shops at VA hospitals. But I do not remember much of those moments. “So…this is kind of an experimental anesthesia!”  What I do remember, quite vividly, are those moments that took place on the water. Alone. Not usually on creeks or rivers…and I am not sure why? But on lakes. Maybe it has something to do with the placid nature of still water—high lakes with stunningly beautiful, yet aggravatingly moody cutthroat trout. Like gigantic Petri dishes laid out up in mountains…begging, culturing the imagination.

The first time I ever visited Colorado (the place I have been calling home for years) was as a thinly veiled favor for my sister. She had just graduated from collage and was taking a job in Boulder. I was helping her move. And I say “thinly veiled” because everyone, including my sister, knew I was tagging along for the promise of trout—and maybe because my restlessness and post-Army-drunken shenanigans were wearing on my families’ patience. It was Big Sisters turn to have a go at the reigns—a mule skinners futile efforts. And somehow, in the last evening of my stay, I ended up at a shallow, yet very remote lake at about 10,000 feet. I remember wading out in cut-off jean shorts and bare feet…out as far as I could bare…and finding a small rock to stand on to get as far out of the frigid water as I could—and casting a four-weight fly rod as far as I had the skill to cast. I did not hook many fish, but those I did were amazing things—greenback cutthroats with colors deep and vivid enough to make your brain melt. (Whatever that means.) I balanced on that rock for as long as I could…legs freezing and the sun setting. I must have known that I may never be able to stand on that rock again. Never be able to get one more cast in, or see one more of those wonderful fish. I guess I knew, all those years ago, that the realities and hazards of life were about to collapse with all their weight smack dab into my lap. And I was right.

So, it is odd…eerie even, to revisit these places, these moments frozen in time—so many years later—so much trite and figurative water under the bridge. I remember letting that last cutthroat go…watching it swim back out into the clear, but quickly darkening water of the lake…wondering what it would do with its freedom—wondering what I would do with my freedom. Now I return, many years and turns later…to tell what I have done with my time…and catch another trout from the same lake. And see what he has done with his…

Monday, August 22, 2011

“Best of Show” awards at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Trade Show

New Orleans, La., August 19, 2011—Angling Trade magazine and MidCurrent announced the winners of the “Best of Show” awards at the International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) trade show in New Orleans.  The awards are for new fly fishing products to be available in 2012. Twenty-four separate product categories were represented.  Awards were chosen by retailers and media professionals attending IFTD from around the world.

Fly Rods, Freshwater—Sage “ONE”

Fly Reel, Freshwater—Hardy “Ultralite” Fly Reel

Eyewear—Smith “Chief” with Techlite TLT Lenses

Women’s-specific Product—Redington Women’s “Sonic-Pro” Waders

Luggage—Fishpond “Bumpy Road Cargo Duffel”

 Accessory—Loon Outdoors “Nip & Sip”

Chest Pack/Vest—Rising “Flask Pack”

Fly Pattern, Freshwater—Jay Zimmerman’s “Texas Ringworm,” (Umpqua Feather Merchants), all you other kids with your pumped up kicks better run...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Well-Caught Trout

Fishing with someone new is often interesting...and always educational. An overnight hike into the high country to do some trout fishing on some remote lakes is that...for sure. Educational. You learn about a person. And, then again...they learn about you, too. But you never think about that flip side until the drive home. You know, when it is too late. But, I have known this guy for almost a year and have never fished with him. I knew what sort of man he was...and I knew what sort of fly fisherman he was. He was a man that came across as soft spoken, but serious...mainly because he listened more than he talked. And I knew he preferred solitude and remote areas...and liked to catch his trout on light rods and on dry flies.
I was a bit surprised, though, when he stated that he had only packed in a 2 weight Scott and one tin of dry flies. He was going to have his trout...and have them his way! I felt a little silly with my fast 9 foot 5 weight lake rod. I felt like I had brought a wet suit to an indoor pool. Yeah, a tool. Then the wind picked up on the lake and I felt good about stripping my leech through the chop.
But the wind did not last. The lake died down in the early evening and all lay still. Then the stage came alive with bugs...and the trout began to rise. And my friend took them all...his way.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Choosing the right hopper

When was the last time you actually held a real live grasshopper in your grubby little butt scratchers?'re too cool these days to be seen lunging about like a drunken river gnome? Well, the up side to not occasionally picking up and inspecting the living versions of what you are trying to emulate with a $2 artificial is getting to maintain some semblance of aloofness and coolness among your fellow fishermen. The down side, though, is you forget what the belly of the bug (THE SIDE THE FISH SEES) looks like!
I use large hopper patterns (#6,#8) with light tan bodies and small hoppers (#10,#12) with yellow bodies. I like all my hopper bodies to be tied with some type of foam or another. Foam floats high every time. A healthy dose of elk hair on top is always nice. Too much synthetic material on a fly never looks lively...and elk hair is a good counterbalance to the foam.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lamson…why do you hate me?

The first time the Waterworks/Lamson reel company made me look like a jack ass was last spring. I was in Steamboat Springs fishing private water with some guide friends of mine. They were out of some Orvis shop, so I was giving them grief about their crappy, foreign-made equipment. Just good-natured ribbing…like soldiers mocking sailors. All in good fun. But I was really letting them have it. Then one of them handed me back one of my favorite 5 weight setups…
Dig the rod,” he said. “But what’s up with the reel?”
The rod was a Sage. The reel…a Lamson Litespeed. Less then a year old. Drag completely shot. Five-weight fly line free spooling wildly in all directions. Awesome. I felt like a gigantic tool…like my regional Lamson rep had just de-pantsed me at a party. In front of the pretty girls. Damn!
The clutch assembly had died. Had to replace it a week later at the shop in Boulder.

The second time the Waterworks/Lamson reel company tried to make me look like a jack ass was this spring. I was bass fishing from a canoe…and the culprit was a Velocity reel with 6-weight line. And same thing, clutch croaked. But this time I was prepared—I had a spare clutch assembly stashed in my fishing pack. So there I was, with all these reel parts disassembled and spread out on the top of my leg…one lurch of the boat and all would have been done. Good grief…

Monday, August 8, 2011

Phantoms of Fish Camp

I have been infatuated with the romantic notion surrounding the idea of Fish Camp, for most of my life. Not just fishing camp, but Deer Camp...or any sort of cabin were the guys get together once a year to forget all the trivial, unimportant shit, like jobs and mortgages and a tanking stock market. Most of the times I have spent in a "deer camp" were not the usual rowdy, drunken excuses to be away from the wife and kids...they were serous hunting expeditions. I'm talkin' face paint and propane. No bonfires. Strictly a cold camp. Traditional talkin' loud and messin' around.

But bass don't care if you get too drunk and tell your stories too loud the night before...and trout can't smell wood smoke. Elk don't know how many legs a horse has! So, on the social aspect alone, the true "fish camps" I have ever been apart of have had a lot more of the vacation feel. Many of these camps have been small rental houses/poor-man's vacation cottages located in some very rural areas. Rural 'cause that meant low property taxes and the promise of good fishing. So they were houses...just very simple houses. Bare wooden floors that had taken many beatings from heavy boots and river cleats and never refinished, and low ceilings. Always low ceilings. Usually there was a main room with a kitchen attached and the bedroom or two was converted into a bunkroom. You know…six drunk dudes passed out in the same sized bedroom you and your brother had…and yes, same size bunk beds. Yup. Damn fine memories and adventures come from fish camps. And, always…the only truly horrible part of Fish Camp was Leaving Fish Camp. Back to work. Back to the obligations. Back to reality…  So it is this dream, this strange new reality, that I find myself living in. Fish camp. Up in the mountains. Trout stream in the back yard. Low ceilings. And with a woman who fishes as much as I do. And occasionally a gigantic (almost unrealistic) mule deer buck shows up in the evenings to remind me that it is all just a coma-induced dream/fantasy. But it is my home forever if I so choose. I never have to leave. Never have to wake up. And the wood floors are perfect! 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Banjowood Seeds

I would make a very poor father. I know this. Not true, some may say…you’re so good with kids! Sure. And I love dogs too. But they both annoy me to no end. Kids and dogs. They are both loud, eat things they shouldn’t and shit everywhere. But, so do I…so I can’t help but feel an odd sort of kinship. Kinship in chaos and crap. So it is ironic, I guess, that those who like me the most are years younger than I, and I am now living with a dog. I guess I am left with—with some comfort—the teachings of my older and wiser sister: kids are better than adults because at least kids still have the chance not to be idiots…and if you fuck with a dog it will eat your face. Simple. And I appreciate simple.
 So now I live with a dog named Banjo. Love him. Have no idea what sort of dog he is. People always feel the need to ask what is he? At work…at the fly shop, I get asked that on the hour it seems. Not about Banjo (I leave him up the mountain) but about coworkers dogs hanging around the shop. Still alive, I usually answer. Until I get too hungry. Yes. I just made a joke about eating a friends dog. Pales in comparison to the things I have said about friends children. Find a way to deal. OK…moving forward. Banjo has long, shaggy white hair that ends up stuck to everything. The couch is now uninhabitable by humans in dark clothing. The door jams have fringe. And it sticks to my facial stubble like a fake Santa beard when we wrestle in the living room.
 His hair gets saved, though…in a big plastic freezer bag in a random cupboard. Clumps get coveted from the carpet, picked from the couch and my chin. Saved in a bag. Looks too much like fly tying dubbing to be discarded. Gotta be a use for it…gotta be! There have been vague plans to do some dye lots. You know…black, olive and brown. The trifecta. The triple threat—the three best colors of good, course dubbing. His hair is naturally white (well, just perfectly off-white) so that base is already covered. But he also has this really awesome, long tail hair. It just begs to be made into a pike fly! Add a little flashabou…amazing!
 But it did not take long. See enough clumps of shed hair on the floor and sooner or later any serious carp-head is going to see the possibilities. Clumps of off-white hair on the un-swept floor. Carp lazily cruising the muddy flats. Springtime. Cottonwood seeds. The cruising carp zeroing in on particular scraggly, white clumps on the surface…

Yes…it all becomes clear…

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

No Regrets (A Piece of Fiction)

Written by Jay Zimmerman

Joe knew he had to stay awake to stay alive. Saltwater stung his eyes, but apart from that discomfort the rest of his head and body were entirely void of any feeling at all. Even the tight aching in his scalp had long faded. The chills and shivering were over with, too. The first few times the irritation in his eyes had gotten bad he had tried to wipe away the salt spray using his thumbs. They were the only two digits left usable in the mitten-like hands of the bright orange survival suit he wore. But touching his sensory-less face made him more than just uncomfortable. His skin felt lifeless and uninviting. Now he just squinted his eyes tight for a moment and rolled them. It relieved only briefly.

Joe no longer harbored any fantasies about saving himself. If he were to live he was going to have to be rescued. And the odds of that happening were waning fast, as were the brief hours of daylight. The Coast Guard had an airplane overhead earlier, a big orange-and-white C-130 banking low along the coast, lumbering back and forth, fighting the same wicked gale that assaulted the side of Joe’s numb face every time the frigid ocean lifted him up to the crest of another swell. The airplane had left without even coming close enough to bother waving at, and for a long time afterward Joe had told himself that it was just refueling and was sure to be back again to look for him. That assumption was gradually weakening.

But he could still see land. That was the only thing that kept the whole predicament bearable. Hell, that made it all a bit funny somehow. He snorted through nostrils he could no longer feel and laughed at himself. He felt detached, as though he could hover above somehow, up there where the airplane had been, but out of the wind. He could look down and laugh at the orange body floating with arms and legs spread like a dead frog in his father’s pond back home in Litchfield, Illinois.

He was alone in the water now, over a mile off the coast of Kodiak Island. What plight. It was almost November, almost winter. The mountains had been collecting snow for awhile and it wouldn’t be long, days possibly, before the entire island would be covered. All of coastal Alaska was cold, damp and miserable, and the seas were becoming even more unpredictably volatile. Smaller fishing vessels had been advised for weeks not to leave the sanctuary of their home ports.

There had only been the two of them aboard the 38-foot Sand Flea. Gary, the skipper, seemed to die quickly and relatively painlessly. Joe had seen him go into the water without wearing a survival suit. The older man had crawled up on deck clutching the suit, but had been thrown overboard before he could put it on. Once in the water Gary had only lasted minutes. Joe never had time to swim close enough to help. If it had been calmer water he could have kept his skipper alive for a half hour or so before hypothermia sucked the life from him. He may have even been able to get the man into his suit, but he couldn’t reach him. There wasn’t time. Gary stopped moving his arms, rolled face-down in the water and then slipped into the side of a swell. Joe never saw him again.

Joe had been flung over first. He was up on the flying bridge at the time with both hands tight to the wheel trying to have an effect on which way the vessel went. He wasn’t up there to steer, really, or to navigate – by that time it was pointless – he was merely the lookout. He was to yell down below to Gary when they got close to land. The plan was to somehow get into the lee of something, tie off and try to get ashore. That was Plan C, the contingency to the contingency. They had the anchor down, too, as a Plan B, all the way to the end of its chain and it, in theory, would catch and hold as soon as it touched bottom. They were hoping to be blown to a section of coast with a gradually sloping bottom contour. But the northern coast of Kodiak was not the best place to have that kind of bet riding.

Although, if Gary could get the engine running again – that was Plan A – the ordeal would end and be nothing more than a great adrenalin rush and another good fishing story. Gary had gotten the engine running after it quit the first time, so Joe had a lot of confidence, or he did until they got to within one-hundred feet or so of the steep, jagged shoreline. Joe saw small rock outcroppings appearing occasionally in the troughs of the breaking swells and knew then it was going to be up to himself or the anchor to keep them afloat. Either way, it would be hairy.

Originally, the problems had started when the bilge pump quit while they were struggling to retrieve their longline. They had 9000 feet of it set off Sharatin Bay, a little over two miles from shore. The Sand Flea was already riding low, with the two and a half tons of halibut and crushed ice in the hold, and the seawater building up only brought the scuppers closer to sea-level. The deck was almost constantly awash, the hydraulic boom was crashing back and forth and some of the halibut they had managed to pull aboard got chucked back over and lost. Joe locked a leg around the metal frame of the big longline reel mounted on the stern to keep his balance while trying to bleed and gut the fish that were left. They winched in half the longline before the engine quit the first time, and Gary had to cut them free of the line with a gutting knife to keep from being swamped.

The weather was too bad to be pulling the longline set anyway. It would have been better to let the set soak all night. Sure there would be losses. Sharks would tear into the catch, the larger halibut would eventually twist free of the large circle hooks, others would die and get number-twoed, bringing a lower price, but it would have been safer than do what they had done.

Gary had over thirty years experience commercial fishing off Kodiak. He knew better. He stayed alive because of his respect for the weather and the ocean. It was Joe who finally prodded his skipper into action. The older man’s wisdom caved under the younger man’s enthusiasm.

It was not that Joe had a lack of respect for the ocean or how dangerous and unpredictable it could be, or that he was motivated by the thought of a smaller paycheck. It was that he had respect for the fish, too, strung up and dying slowly and grotesquely out there while he sat idle, holed up in the shelter of Anton Larson Bay. It was tough enough for him to be a part of the dead-fish industry in the first place. He was a river junky and a fly fisherman. But he hadn’t a lot of options. He came alone to the island three years before with barely enough money left for a security deposit on an efficiency apartment. As he always had, he took what work he could.

Things didn’t seem too bad after the first engine failure. The wind was taking them toward Port Lions, about four miles across Kizhuyak Bay, and Gary was sure they could radio another boat once they got close. He knew a man, a half Russian, half native Alutiiq, who lived there and would shack them up and help with the boat. But Gary got the old diesel going again and they decided to make the run back to Anton Larson Bay, the same sheltered spot they had spent the last two nights gutting and icing down their day’s catch. There was a gravel road connecting the bay to civilization, so if the engine quit once they were there they could tie up and one of them would hitch a ride. Runnamuck Charters ran a boat out of the area, so there was a decent chance of fishermen being around.

They didn’t make it, though. The engine quit again and this time the wind wasn’t blowing them toward anything pleasant. Gary suggested Joe put on his survival suit. Joe thought that was premature and felt silly taking off his rubber boots and slickers and squeezing into the awkward suit. He did it anyway, but didn’t pull the tight hood over his head. He didn’t think he could without help even if he wanted to. The mitten-like hands made everything he did clumsy.

Gary told him to stay up on the flying bridge to keep watch and give a yell when they got close to land. Then Gary lowered the anchor and went below to coax life back into his boat for the second time.

Three miles later Joe realized it was going to be either him or the anchor keeping them from splintering into the rocky shoreline. He could see they were headed toward Whale Passage and it would only be a matter of time before they collided with Whale Island or one of the northern appendages of Kodiak Island.

Joe yelled down to Gary, who stuck his head out of the cabin for a moment, surveyed the impending situation and then disappeared below again. They were getting dangerously close to the southern edge of Whale Island. Joe could hear Gary on the radio. The Sand Flea and her crew were in distress. They were still almost a hundred feet from shore when the anchor caught on the bottom. Joe felt a wave of relief that lasted only seconds. The hull slammed into rock with a dull thump that sent Joe hard to his knees. The next swell broke them free with a jerk that sent him over the wheel, tumbling off the bow and into the ocean.

The shock of the water was intense even with the survival suit on. Joe’s scalp tightened instantly and his breath was taken away by the cold. When he surfaced he could see the Sand Flea on her side, her wooden hull half out of the water and torn to pieces. And he saw Gary crawl onto the pitching deck with his own survival suit in his hands. He never got it on.

The boat went down quickly. So did Gary. For quite some time afterward Joe felt objects bump against his legs in the waves. Thinking it might be his skipper, he reached for them, but they always turned out to be chunks of crushed ice from the gutted hold, or large, stiff halibut carcasses. It wasn’t long, though, before Joe was blown by the wind and carried by the currents away from the wreckage site. He bobbed and froze for hours, and helplessly watched the big orange-and-white C-130 circle back along the coast for the last time and leave.

                                                                        * * *

It had been the search for a home river that brought Joe to Alaska. A good home river, according to him, was what gauged the amount of happiness one could expect from life. It was narrowness in vision purposely self-inflicted to maximize what his eyes could catch and his mind could cherish. Joe wanted to enjoy his life, and he hadn’t for most of his twenty-nine years. He survived by ignoring the fast-paced, money-based ideology that surrounded him for the first twenty-six and focused instead on something maybe even less tangible: moving water.

The muddy, carp- gar- and sucker-strewn rivers Joe embraced back in Illinois were less than what he knew was out there. He had read about the Western trout rivers, dreamed and fantasized about them, but in return always felt guilty, as though he were coveting someone else’s lover. It took him eight years of piddling, meaningless jobs and less-than-adequate rivers, after graduating next to last in his highschool class, to realize he would never reach any great heights as either a man or a river-lover without a real river. How could a poet sing magic with ink without any real emotion as fuel? How could an artist spill worlds onto a blank canvas without real love for the world on which the easel stood? How could Joe ever submerge himself in life and let himself be swept away without ever giving himself over entirely to an entity capable of taking him for all he had to give? How could a river-lover live without a real river?

He couldn’t. That’s why he quit stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, changed the oil in his pickup and drove to Alaska. Originally he was headed for Montana, but he got turned around at night in North Dakota after getting gas, wound up in line for Canadian Customs, went with the flow and after the hassle getting out of the U.S. decided to just keep driving north. The urge to ferry to Kodiak came days later, after the busy Anchorage intersections reminded him of those in Springfield and Chicago that always scared the hell out of him.

Joe was scared, too, when he first realized he was going to die out there in the water, within sight of land. But he came to grips with it. He was so tired and numb and the pain in his eyes made him crave sleep more than ever. And he knew with sleep came death. He consoled himself with what was left of his humor and of the still-recent memories of the virtual Eden of rivers he’d stumbled onto in the last three years. They had made him confident and happy for the first time in his life. He loved them all for it, and gave himself over to them fully. Now, he thought, What irony . . . . He was being returned to the same vast mother of waters that had been swallowing his rivers whole for eternity. He didn’t mind so much when he finally accepted he was living the last hour or less of his life in the way he was probably meant to. It all seemed to fit in his mind comfortably.

Joe had fallen in love with the Buskin River first. He camped in a tent alongside it during his first two weeks on the island. It took him that long to track down a permanent place to sleep because the river was such a distraction. The sockeye salmon were just moving in from the ocean and Joe caught his first one – a bright six-pound female – at the end of his first evening before he even pitched his tent. He cast a small olive and white streamer he’d tied himself. It was a fly he liked to use for smallmouth bass and it was still tied to the end of his leader when he dug his rod out from behind the bench seat of his pickup. Joe didn’t know what fly to use, he didn’t even know what kind of fish were swimming in this new river, so he went with what he had on. And he was brought almost to tears after hooking and landing his first one. It ran farther, fought harder and jumped higher than anything Joe had ever had on the end of a line. Kneeling beside the beached fish he felt as though the river had acknowledged him, the stranger standing on her bank, and greeted him. He felt welcomed, and grateful.

Joe killed and gutted his gift of salmon, then wrapped it in aluminum foil and buried it in a bed of hot coals raked from his campfire. He left it there until it smelled done. Then he ate until he could barely roll over. Later that night he picked the leftover salmon flesh off the bones, mixed it into the almost empty jar of mayonnaise he had with him for the entire ten-day drive and fourteen-hour ferry ride. It made enough sandwich spread to last for days, and he ate nothing else.

Joe eventually did get away from the intoxicating enchantment of the Buskin long enough to find a place to live that was more comfortable than his tent – a small, second-floor apartment in town. It was the cheapest place he could find advertized in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

The first year Joe worked in one of the many canneries on the island. He was made foreman in his first week and had over a dozen young Filipinos in his charge, mostly boys in their late teens who didn’t speak much English. Joe had never been anyone’s boss before and he didn’t like it. He had always found maintaining responsibility for himself challenging enough. It was this that made him leave the cannery after the first year, not the odd hours, low pay or minority status.

Working at the cannery did give Joe a convenient way to meet most of the skippers on the island. He would always make sure to be out on the dock when the boats were there to deliver fish or get ice before their trip out. It was because of this that Gary knew Joe and hired him when he asked. Gary hired on two other men about Joe’s age during the salmon openers, but at the end of the season Joe was the only one kept on for the halibut fishing. That was where the better money was, and Joe was honored.

Joe had road access to two other rivers just as wonderful as the Buskin and countless smaller creeks, but there was just too much good fishing less than twenty minutes from his apartment. He had Lake Ambercrombie on the north edge of town full of chunky rainbow trout, and at the head of the Buskin River was Buskin Lake, both of which seemed to get a make-over every month-and-a-half when a different salmon species moved in: sockeyes, pinks, cohos, and feisty Dolly Varden with light pink spots to tantalize between salmon runs.

But Joe, with all his newly discovered love, died early, before he could even live long enough to deny his thirtieth birthday. His body was found a mile off the coast of Whale Island by an old man, a half Russian, half native Alutiiq.

The old man threaded a line under Joe’s armpits, tied a loose bowline and towed Joe behind his skiff to Port Lions. On the way neither men’s expressions changed. The old man wore a reserved frown, a sad look, but one also that suggested this wasn’t the first dead man he’d towed home. Joe, though, appeared more cheerful. His face pointed skyward and was framed by moving water, a wake that wrapped gently around his head, and it held the same blue-lipped half-smile he’d donned in the last moments of his life. It was a smile brought on by the memory of three beautiful years of loving, and being nurtured by, the most real rivers he had ever known.

His last thoughts were of perfectly clear, running water, and of bright, big-bodied salmon. And he had few, if no, regrets.