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The Joy of Flight: Following adventure

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Click for larger imagePhotography by the author and David Schuck

It was a beautiful summer day in Interior Alaska, 80 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky. After eight hours stuck in a stuffy office, my mind drifted to my little yellow Cub sitting on floats. I grabbed the phone and called my 8-year-old son, Clint, and told him to ready the fly rods for an evening of fishing. My understanding wife agreed to pack some snacks, and by 6 p.m., we broke the surface of the float pond and turned north.

“Dad, look at the salmon down there!” Clint exclaimed. Dipping the wing allowed a view of hundreds of silver-red king salmon migrating up the clear river. I spotted a straight stretch, where I’d boated often, that made a great landing spot this time of year. After a close inspection, we glided to a nice splash down, nudging onto a sandy beach.

After dousing thoroughly with bug dope, we climbed out of the Cub and threw our lines in the river. Disappointment set in—neither of us had a hit on the first cast. Clint’s second cast was more like it, as was my third. “There’s dinner for the next couple of weeks,” I told Clint, smiling as we put the 40-pound kings on ice in the Cub.

“Dad, this is fun, but how about some real action? Let’s go for the gators,” Clint suggested. No, there aren’t real alligators in Alaska, but that’s what some of the locals call the giant northern pike.

“OK, next stop ‘Alligator Slough,’” I replied. “Now how about some in-flight meal service?” I banked the trusty Cub toward our new fishing destination as Clint passed my sandwich over the back of my seat.

Alligator Slough is famous for some of the biggest pike in the area. A guide told me that he amused his clients by throwing a pop can in the water just to watch the shark-like current come out of nowhere to attack the potential food source, taking the can underwater, then spitting it out. He claims landing a 4-foot-long specimen, but I can’t vouch for anything over 32 inches. Whatever the size, these prehistoric looking critters grab whatever is thrown in the water and take it with malice to the depths.

This was a good chance to get current on glassy water landings—the slough was almost totally still, as was the wind. Something caught my eye during the aerial inspection, and another pass revealed a big brown bear doing a little fishing himself. I throttled to 1,700 rpm and pulled the stick back to landing attitude, keeping the shore in my peripheral vision and promising to not get distracted by the bear as we flew by on final. After a gentle thump, I pulled back the throttle—we were down.

Standing on the float and with some sort of ugly red and white lure on his fly pole, Clint slung the mess into the water (it’s good thing no fly-fishing purists were watching), while I stood on guard for the bear with a shotgun in hand. Two wakes raced each toward the plop in the water, and the winner hit with such force that the little guy was nearly pulled off the float. With a little help, the monster was pulled along side the plane and released as it slapped the float.

“Okay Dad, now how about some grayling?” Clint asked. Arctic grayling are a blast to catch on a light fly rod—they jump several feet out of the water, performing aerobatics for the angler.

“Okay, but remember the rule—if we don’t get a hit by the second cast, we move on,” I reminded my son. After catching and releasing 43 grayling and six arctic char on five lakes, we surveyed the midnight sun while swatting mosquitoes. One of the joys about flying in Alaska is almost 24 hours of daylight during an Interior summer.

“Dad, how about....” I knew what was on his mind, and since the next fishing spot was on the way home, I agreed. “OK, jump in. Let’s head to Moose Lake.” The lake, named for the plentiful moose, some still with 70-inch-plus antler spreads, is also known for landlocked silver salmon. But even more of a secret is the annual run of steelhead in the stream that flows into the lake.

Clint took the controls and used his two years of backseat time to steer us to Moose Lake, where I took over landing in the middle of the mile-long lake. Drifting around the lake, now boiling with the little silvers feeding on the evening mosquitoes, we had another contest to see who could get the longest streak of catching a fish with each cast. I’m proud to say my son beat me (I could only master 12 in a row). After 15, Clint was ready to try for our favorite—steelheads.

We taxied to our secret hole on the little creek, tied to an alder bush, and cast streamers into the rapid waters. This was the toughest fishing of the day—I lost track, but it was at least four or five cast before either of us got a steelhead; then our luck changed. Gently releasing the beauties, and after a few photos ops, both of us admitted to being bushed and decided it was a wrap for the day.

Pushing the stick toward the now rising sun, I turned around to see Clint sleeping with a big smile on his face. It had been another typical fishing night with good company and a good Cub on floats.

Mike Kincaid, AOPA 586260, retired from the Alaska State Troopers a bush trooper/pilot and received an award for 1,000 accident-free hours of flying in the Alaska bush. Now a flight instructor, he has more than 7,500 flight hours and owns Mountain Lakes Seaplane Training near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

As originally published in May 2006 edition of Flight Training magazine.

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