CORDOVA, Alaska — While skill is the most important aspect in successful fishing, luck really does play a part.
Sometimes, that luck occurs off the water.
While checking in for the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s recent conference at Chena Hot Springs Resort near Fairbanks, Alaska, every registrant got to draw for a prize tour offered by the resort.
Most were modest, such as a day’s bike rental or a tour of the facility’s famous ice museum.
A few were significant, such as flight-seeing tours that normally sell for a few hundred bucks.
I drew one of those, an airplane trip to a place called Chicken, with a stop to tour a gold-dredging operation and a chance to do some gold-panning.
Bernie Karl, the resort’s colorful owner, said the scenery from the air would be spectacular, and added that we’d have a good chance to see caribou.
One of the other tours was a fly-out fishing trip to a remote lake to fish for northern pike.
I like scenery. I like gold.
I love fishing.
Part of the deal was we were able to trade tours. So, how could I find out who had drawn the fishing trip?
I decided to make an announcement at lunch that I was looking to trade my Chicken trip for the fishing trip.
Just a few minutes later I was waiting for a conference session to start when Virginia writer Nancy Sorrells walked up and asked me, “Do you know anyone who might be interested in trading for a fly-out fishing trip?”
The trip was at noon the next day. I packed a 9-weight fly rod and a medium-heavy action spinning rod.
Our pilot was veteran bush pilot Will Johnson, who estimated that he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 hours of Alaska flying.
We were flying in his amphibious Cessna 206, a plane with wheeled landing gear tucked into its pontoons. The versatile plane can take off and land on runways or water.
Our target was Fiasco Lake. No kidding.
The other guys fishing on the trip were Bill Watt from Arizona and William Greer from Florida.
Yep. Will. Bill. And William.
We made it there in about 45 minutes, and Will taxied us to a wind-buffeted shoreline.
After Will parked the plane and tied up to shore, we hit the shore and got our gear ready. The shoreline was boggy, so we needed waders.
Bill and William were starting with fly gear while I started with my spinning rod, to which I had tied a weedless Johnson Silver Minnow.
The lake was clear, with lots of weeds and lily pads. It looked pikey.
And it was pikey.
I got a strike on my third cast but didn’t hook up. I figured after getting the quick strike that it would be wide open, but it wasn’t. So I experimented with my retrieve, trying fast retrieves and slow retrieves.
Then I tried a varied retrieve, turning my reel handle three times, pausing, then reeling three more times.
The pike crushed the spoon as it dropped during the pause.
These weren’t big fish, mind you, ranging from 18 to maybe 30 inches. But my tackle was relatively light so the fish were fun.
After I caught a couple dozen – really – I decided to try my fly rod. The only flies I had were some hideous king salmon flies loaned to me by my buddy Mark Freeman.
How nasty were these flies? Imagine taking a white chicken wing and tying it to a 3/0 hook. That was pretty much it.
Now, those kinds of flies may be awesome for kings, and I’m sure would work well for Chesapeake Bay striped bass. But trying to cast one in the wind with my 9-weight fly rod was brutal.
Bill and William were doing well with their gear, however, and having a blast. I was somewhat envious.
I returned to the boat to get my spinning gear and a different spoon as I’d loaned my one Silver Minnow to Will.
Will was on the plane’s pontoon, his boots off and his pants wet.
“What happened?” I asked.
He smiled sheepishly.
“I hung up your spoon and when I was trying to get it free I fell in,” he said. “And I still lost it.”
I shook my head.
“My grandpa gave me that lure,” I said, then laughed.
Actually, a rep from Pure Fishing had given me the lure a day earlier.
We loaded up and hit the air.
Other than Will’s unintended dip, our trip to Fiasco Lake had been anything but a fiasco.