A Time For Fishing With The Boys

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 30, 2005
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The DeHaviland float plane settled gently onto the glassy surface of Yes Bay, about 50 miles north of Ketchikan, Alaska. The light rain on the wind shield obscured the details of the granite banks on either side, and the thick forests of spruce, fir and hemlock that rose above them.

The floating docks of the Yes Bay Lodge were the first sign of civilization we had seen for the last 40 miles. From Ketchikan we had followed the Behm Canal above thousands of square miles of pristine forests covering the multitude of islands and peninsulas defining that inland waterway connecting Ketchikan to Juneau and northward to Anchorage.

For months I had been very excited about this trip, an opportunity to spend special time with my three sons, Steve, Dave and Jerry. And now we were finally here. As we stepped down from the plane to the dock we were met by the Yes Bay Lodge proprietor and our fishing guides, themselves a father-son team. An elevated boardwalk led us to the steps of the classic rustic fishing lodge framed by noble firs, the bay and an inlet on the side. The accommodations for 20 to 30 guests included comfortable rooms, a casual lounge and bar, and a dining room, all abounding with trophy size salmon and animal pelts mounted on walls. A spacious deck overlooked the bay and the distant inlet.

Three of the next five days included salmon and halibut fishing until the daily limit was attained, sometimes early, sometimes not at all. For Alaska non-residents the limit is one King Salmon, minimum 28 inches long, and several halibut. We fished in threes from 18-foot boats, a guide for each two of us, and always monitored by two or three bald eagles from along the shore. Some days several fish would be hooked and fought to the boat, but then released for being too small. You’d know instantly if the king on the line was a “keeper” from the weight and the tenacity of the fight. Landing even a 20-30- pound salmon required patience to let the fish run out the line when necessary, but reeling it up to the net a little at a time. Returning to the dock in the afternoon with “fish in the well” stimulated the inevitable animated fish stories and the laughter of one-upsmanship.

One day we hiked the stream trail behind the lodge, making our way through Alaskan rain forrest of towering spruce, grub infested stumps and fallen spars (some shredded by hungry bears), hanging mosses, lichens and every shade of green in the spectrum — a “Hobbit Forest” as Jerry called it. In the stream and it’s mountain lake headwater we played with the trout, catching and releasing in accordance with the law.

That same evening we kayaked across mirror-like waters that reflected the rising moon above the silhouettes of tree lined ridges. Nearing the summer solstice, the Alaskan twilight just wouldn’t give in ‘til around 11pm.

Another day we hiked a higher trail past cascades of white water streaming down granite slides. We continued along the banks of a mountain lake, it’s inlet marked by a picturesque meadow with a clear, winding river. There was even a nearby hot springs which afforded a happy soak before hitting the trail back.

Steve and Dave are school teachers, but also “natural” naturalists, and provided many fascinating insights into our experience. Jerry is the therapist, and provided equally insightful commentary on the people we met.

Obviously, to be immersed in such spectacular natural beauty for several days was a highlight of the trip, and the boys and I realize how blessed we are to have been able to do it. We also appreciate even more the the rules and regulations enforced by our Forestry and Fish & Game Services to ensure the preservation of such places and species.

But the most gratifying aspect for me was the opportunity to reconnect with my sons in a setting devoid of the usual distractions which frequently make that reconnection difficult. But fishing provides a lot of quiet time. We talked of their kids and their wives and their work and their plans. We waxed philosophically and we traded raunchy jokes. We talked of our family and how we got to where we are. And I realized with pride and gratitude that my boys are good men.

Actually, I guess the fishing was only the vehicle for the really good stuff. But we are having salmon tonight.

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