With a mix of trepidation and excitement I loaded my bags into the DH-2 Beaver, a float plane built in 1960. I’ve read Hatchet, I know how this story ends. Luckily the baby face pilot with a southern drawl emerged, assuaging my fears. In what seemed mere minutes we were touching down on the ocean in front of a lodge nestled in the Tongass National Forest in South East Alaska.
We began our search for steelhead the next morning. Following up on information gathered from old lodge photos and bar side boat captains. I was taken back in time to untouched wilderness where we as humans were the rare species. Each bend in the river brought with it the excitement of being in a pristine environment and high hopes of leg length Steelhead. We plied various rivers, searching for fish, an endless upstream exploration of hiking and casting to likely holding water. Over the next four days we continued our search, not finding the Chromers we sought but rewarded with eager Dolly Varden, still mostly silver, fresh from the ocean.
It was the last day of fishing that we finally found steel, in a small creek not 20 feet wide. The mouth of the river guarded by a small brown bear foraging fresh skunk cabbage and picking a few mussels off the rocks in the tidal zone. We worked our way upstream, fishing the deeper holes in what seemed to be a promising river. I felt as though I had stepped into an emerald forest, the mist and rain ever present during steep scrambles, and bushwhacking through moss covered timber.
It all happened in one fleeting moment, while crossing the river I heard the unmistakable utterance from Elliot that could mean only one thing, he had spooked a fish. I looked up to see his disappointment and at that moment laid eyes upon the first steelhead I had ever seen. A pale green back matching the stones of the river, with brilliant red cheeks and side, and somewhere between 24-30 inches. It cruised downstream mere feet from me, made a U turn and swam right back up. In a matter of seconds he was gone from sight, and etched eternally into memory.
- RepYourWater Ambassador - Israel Patterson