Fishing Guide Wars And The Whiskey Of Peace
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Fishing Guide Wars And The Whiskey Of Peace

Mel had a fake hip. Steve had a fake knee. Sandy was cold. Adventure fishing for giant Rainbow trout had lured this somewhat typical group of fly fishermen to Katmai. They were huffing and puffing as their felt bottomed wading boots slid across the frosty tundra some thirty yards behind me. The dim, almost dark, pre-dawn light was broken by the glare of landing lights. The landing strobes from the armada of floatplanes that was racing towards us from all directions looked like a swarm of gigantic fireflies. Several times my little group stopped to stare, almost hypnotized by the sheer numbers of airplanes that were headed towards us. I would turn around and firmly say with a cheese ball grin; “Let’s go! Do you want to get beaten to your spot?”

We were over a half a mile away from the little lake where the floatplane that brought us had landed. Our Cessna 206 left immediately after the pilot had unceremoniously thrown my backpack and their fly rods and reels at me as I stood waist deep in the water. This was the norm and today I wanted to be one my way as fast I could herd my gimpy group along. We were in a race to the trout, to the spot they wanted to fish and we had the better part of a mile and a half to go.

Where The Trout Are

August in Katmai brings almost as many fly fishermen as Brown bears with the arrival of the Sockeye salmon. The hordes of redfish that invade the rivers to spawn are followed on their trek upstream by fat daddy Rainbows looking to get even fatter on salmon eggs.

The average Katmai trout specializes in eating anything Sockeye. Summer is one great big smorgasbord for the local trout. The meal starts in spring as they gorge on an appetizer consisting of salmon fry and smolts.

A 206 Cessna taxiing across a lake in Alaska
Racing For Rainbows

By mid to late July the salmon have started making piles of gravel where they will lay their eggs. It is just below or in these redds where the rainbows feast on the protein-rich salmon eggs. This feeding frenzy makes for big, fat and dumb fish that are exceedingly easy to catch most of the time.

As a guide, there is no easier place on the planet to give your clients a chance to catch a lot of big trout. The key, which takes awhile to figure out, is to know where the salmon are spawning. Newby guides usually learn this lesson the hard way. A new guide will go to the first spot he sees salmon in the river. Automatically he assumes that there are trout swimming around with their mouths’ open looking for his fishermen’s’ beads.

I am not going to give any secrets away because there are no secrets in fly fishing, especially in Alaska. Fish will be fish. Hungry trout like to be where lots of food is being delivered that takes little effort to eat without being disturbed. Trout Fishing 101’s very first lesson accounts for this bit of info. The Rainbows in Katmai are no different than any other trout in the world when it comes to this little fact. This means finding some salmon that are spawning, not waiting to spawn, and you will probably find some trout.

Cocktails And Fishing Tales

At 6:04 PM the previous evening, the lodge bar instantly devolved into guide hell. It was a common tragedy for the guests to share their day’s fishing successes around a platter of hors-d’oeuvres that was promptly served at 6 PM. I was always amazed how fast a tired, 70-year-old angler could sprint for a cracker and piece of smoked salmon after a very dry martini. It was always during this feeding/drinking frenzy that the next day for at least one guide would always be ruined.

I became worried as I watched and listened from the front porch as the setting sun cast a glowing halo around the form of my body. The exaltations about the days fish from the anglers inside was strangely subdued. I chalked it up to being day three of their stay and everyone was pretty much over their case of “Big Fish Fever”. My guard was down as I turned to watch the bears frolic at the mouth of the river. I felt an uneasy peacefulness in the colorful hues that danced in the mist that the splashing bears had thrown into the evening breeze. My interlude would end a very short four minutes after the platter of smoked fish and crackers hit the coffee table, but for the time being, I naively enjoyed the early evening.

The joyous group of thirty-somethings from somewhere in one of the flatter parts of the lower 48 blew into the lodge like a whirlwind. Waders on a guest at 6 PM was an obvious sign that the drinking had started the second the guest had disembarked from the floatplane that delivered him home. Now the lodge of four of these guys staggering around in their felt bottomed boots. Their slips and slides as they navigated the 20 steps across the polished wood floors to the bar revealed the extent of their private celebration. Then, several seconds and a slurred drink order later, I heard the horrible words tear through the screen door; “We caught 100 fish today. Two were over 30.”

Suddenly the bar was loud and alive. The wader glad men were surrounded by a crowd of greying and bald heads. Questions were flying around the room like; “What bead was working” or “Where were you fishing, what spot?” The members of this impromptu inquisition acted as if four guys in robes and sandals were delivering sermons, not four drunk guys talking about fishing. The best part of the whole scene was not one of the listeners cared about where the younger men had fished or what they bead they had used. The boisterous conversation was nothing more than background noise for the plotting that was going on in each fisherman’s brain because they all wanted to be in that spot tomorrow.

One of my guiding brethren had joined me on the porch just as the ruckus inside had begun. Kyle was a tall, soft-spoken rangy kid from Montana who I had converted to a Scotch drinker a few years earlier. Without saying a word, he went inside for a few seconds and then magically reappeared with to tumblers full of Lagavulin. He handed me one of the glasses as he leaned over the railing beside me. Then he said the words that I knew he was going to say. “You know I am glad that I don’t have to do the schedule tonight,” he uttered slowly, in his dry, understated native Montanan way. He then put his hand on my shoulder as he shook his head in one of the grandest displays of fake empathy the porch had seen in its 50 years of existence.

The “Thanks;” that escaped my mouth before I could drown it with my last gulp of Scotch was less than heartfelt. I took a deep breath and turned to go face the 22 men and 2 women who were all going to want to stand on the same exact rocks where 100 giant trout had been landed that day. My problem was only three or four could go.

The Miraculous Healing Powers of Big Trout

Fly fishing in Katmai is a young man’s game that is played by mostly older men and women who finally have the time and resources to come to Alaska. Fishing is the easy part for these guests. The hard part is getting them to where their hopes and dreams lie on the bottom of icy some stream in the form of a large Rainbow.

The average 65 year-old angler who comes to Alaska wants nothing to do with a hike if it is longer than the distance from their cabin to the lodge bar. I can’t blame them for this. Amazingly, once the guests are regaled in the stories of spectacular fishing from others, they suddenly become champion walkers-in their minds. Fake hips, new knees or heart conditions that were health issues when an angler first arrived miraculously disappear when fish are involved. The problem with the mystical healing phenomenon that comes from tales of big trout is its very short shelf life. Its effects, on average, start to dissipate after about 50 steps from where the floatplane drops the group off.

According to their guide, the young guys had sprinted across the tundra like a herd of caribou that morning. They weren’t even the first plane on the lake and they still made it the mile and a half before any other lodges did. Not one of the groups that would be going tomorrow was going to pull off that feat. Some poor guide was going to have a long day.

A Little Walk With Some Dry Flies

Mel was a long time patron of the lodge and one of my favorites. Over the years I had watched his hair turn from jet black to almost completely silver. That was about the only part of him that seemed to be aging. That was until this year when I saw him struggle down the stairs of the Navaho when he arrived. “I got a new hip this winter. How’s the fishing;” he asked as he shook my hand. He had his normal, friendly smile but it still couldn’t hide the melancholy in his voice.

His group always consisted of his wife Sandy and Steve his business partner. The three of them had once been four but Steve’s wife had died suddenly a few years back. Steve dumpy bald guy had more joy in his pinky than most people will ever have and he spread it around like butter on toast. He had almost fallen out of the plane behind Mel, which wasn’t surprising since he was always in hurry to get fishing when he first arrived. What was surprising was that he was limping also from what I would find out was a far too recent knee replacement surgery.

Mel’s little trio was fun to be with on the water. All three were good anglers who could cast and mend with little direction which made for an easy day of guiding usually. That day I had guided them on the river where the lodge had a jet boat to zip guests upstream through the bears and root wads to where the river had lots of braids. This was one of their favorite places and the long hike had never been an issue.

The two men did pretty well that morning as we walked along the shallow channels sight fishing dries. Sandy caught a big fish on a little Adams right off, so she happily started documenting our little excursion with her new camera. Mel and Steve posed for her with several nice trout that they caught. Between casts, bear incursions and landing fish they caught me up on their kids and grandkids, whom I had never met. But so goes the life of a fly fishing guide, besides I felt like I knew their families after guiding them for years.

Sandy was always the den mother of the group but her mother henning of the two men this year had a more imperative tone. This was evident when Steve spotted a large Leopard Rainbow behind a log in about a foot of water. He got so excited he tripped on a rock while trying to sneak up on the fish and tie a fly on at the same time. I saw him trip and go down in a heap, which I had seen from Steve a million times before. Sandy gave him a scolding that lasted for an hour about being careful after I got him up.

It was on the walk back to the boat that I noticed the change in the group. They were tired and slow. Both men were limping pretty severely, needing to rest more often than they had that morning. They all were happy though, talking about who caught the biggest trout that day, as they struggled back to the boat across the rocks and through the trees. I had to help Mel into the boat and the plane when it arrived, Sandy giving me a sad look of thanks each time I had to push or pull him.

Mel was the first guest to race to the manager and me that evening when we walked into the lodge with our clipboard to do the schedule. He would generally let us just tell him where they were going the next day after we had heard from the other guests. I had told Pete, my manager, they would probably want to stay close to the lodge after the long hike back to the boat that day. Boy, was I wrong.

He could be a sneaky guy. There never was any malevolence in his sneakiness. But he knew how to get what he wanted on those rare occasions when he wanted to fish at a particular destination. That evening he pulled the “I want to request Sean card” right off the bat. Pete, my manager, gave me a quick look as he told Mel he would see what he could do. Pete and I knew what was coming next. It was obvious that I was going to be that poor guide who was going to have a rough day.

Almost There

“Do I have time to stop and take a leak;” Steve jokingly puffed out as our happy little group made our way to the river. Everything was going fine. The semi-biotic men were trooping along at a good pace with their nurse following behind watching every step. Mel told me we should be walking faster. “And miss the glorious sunrise?” I answered as the first hint of vaporous red light peaked over the southeastern horizon. There was no way I was going to let one of them hurt themselves just for a fish.

We were less than 400 yards away from the edge of the little canyon that held the river when I thought to myself; “We are going to make it, no problem.” I looked back to check on my crew. They were all smiles as their rods wiggled with joy as they marched over the moss and lichen. Life was good for us that morning. That is when I noticed that the breeze had switched direction bringing with it the smell of rotting sockeye and smelly bears. But more importantly, it was blowing from the direction that I knew would change our morning.

The Short Lake

The little lake was not much larger than a stock pond. It is a Mr. Peanut shaped sliver of brackish water, nondescript from the thousands of other pothole ponds and lakes that dot the Katmai tundra. What makes the lake different is that it was built with a truly evil purpose by the Devil himself. The obscure reservoir of water exists solely to dash the hopes of old fly fishermen and young fishing guides alike.

That evil micro-lagoon lies just above the river on the last piece of flat ground on the far side of the river just as it starts to wind its way into its shallow canyon. Even with the bog that surrounds it like a moat, the average angler can walk its length in 4 or 5 minutes. But the Short Lake as it is known because of its location, not its length, is just long enough to land a floatplane in when the wind is right. Thirteen out of fourteen days the wind blows across its narrow width making it impossible to land and takeoff. However, the light breeze that once was hitting my right shoulder with a glancing blow was now blowing mockingly in my face. The malevolent fish gods had changed the wind perfectly. A plane could now land 300 yards from where my group wanted to fish.

Ten seconds hadn’t passed since the wind change when the red belly of a DeHavilland Beaver fuselage coasted over our heads towards the Short Lake. It was low enough that its churning prop-wash dissipated the river’s trademark August smell of dead fish and dank bears. We were within 400 footsteps of the spot that had been dubbed “Shangri-La” years before I was born and now we were in danger of losing it to the hole poaching floatplane.

Beavers are flying boxes with two unique characteristics that make them the iconic workhorse of the Alaskan bush. The first one is that they can carry lots of weight in the form of fly fishermen, their rods and reels and most importantly their guides. The second and probably most important trait is that they can land and takeoff in a very short distance. Put these into a pot with a good pilot and stir and you will get transported to probably one of your best days fishing ever. It seemed today that it would be someone else experiencing one of those days other than my band of wayward anglers.

Mel was suddenly on my heels, quite literally, almost taking my right wading boot off when he stepped on its back end. He knew we were so close to Shangri-La, yet still far enough that it was a crapshoot as to who would get to that holy piece of trout water first if that plane landed. Our pace had instinctually picked up to almost a half-jog. No one spoke, smiled, laughed or even made a bad bear joke when I herded a bear away that was taking in the sunrise from the canyon’s edge. All of our eyes were on the red and white plane that had just made an elegant sweeping 360° right turn and softly lit on the Short Lake. That’s I recognized the familiar paint job on the aging airplane and took a deep breath and said; “Take it easy going down the trail, we aren’t in a hurry.”

All three of them looked at me like I was crazy as we stood catching our breath looking towards our spot on the river. Steve almost yelled at me, barely restraining the volume of his incredulous tone he asked; “What in the hell do you mean? They are going to beat us there if we don’t hurry!” His point emphasized with the sound of the Beaver pilot slamming the airplane’s passenger door.

“I know the guide and pilot Steve. John and Parker won’t screw us over. We are just fine;” I finished as I started down the trail. I felt relieved for the moment. The day was going to work out. The fishing would take care of itself. My only problem was going to be getting a group of tired fishermen out of the shallow canyon and back to the pickup spot after a day of landing monster rainbows.

My mind always drifted into a world of non-guiding thoughts when I was hiking with guests. These thoughts of home or my bed or of myself actually fishing were my constant companions as I hypnotically traipsed across the tundra with my covey of excited anglers behind me. This day was no different as my brain distracted me on our descent towards the gravel bar that would be our base for the day. On this day my thoughts had wandered into a pastel movie of my newly ex-girlfriend emptying my house of everything but the carpets. At the exact moment I saw her loading my TV into her van I was jarred out of my stupor by the sound of yelling from across the river.

I thought I was still dreaming when I lift my eyes from the trail to see what was going on. Looking to where the sound was coming I saw two figures walking rapidly towards us from the Short Lake. The taller of the two, John I assumed, was yelling with almost every step. We couldn’t hear what he was saying but it was definitely an angry tone that was echoing around us. Steve giggled as he listened to the ruckus from across the river. This caused him to lose his concentration and fall. Mel, Sandy and I watched him slide the remaining few feet to the bottom as he laughed the whole way. We started to laugh with him when he stood up and pointed across the river. That is when I saw the four men at a running at a dead sprint disappear into the tangle of miniature willows that lined the opposite side of the river. We had been beaten.

“The Gold Medal In The Simms Sprint Goes To…”

Rocks were rolling under my feet, grinding angrily together with every heavy stride I was taking as I ran the last 100 yards to where we intended to fish. My troupe was still standing where Steve had come to light after his little slide when I waded knee-deep into the stream. Standing among more dead Sockeyes than live ones, I lit a smoke and stared at the wall of silvery green willows across the flowing water. Limbs started shaking on a few of the trees but not enough to be a bear so I knew my competition was coming.

The rod tips were the first thing to appear, one then two and then four of them shot into the sky from the trees like little periscopes. Muffled voices and laughs oozed out of the foliage and over the mercurial river. The sounds pricked at my ears as I patiently stood in the water waiting for the fishermen attached to the rods to appear. Seconds later the first one appeared and toothily sneering at me while simultaneously saying; “Get the (expletive) out of our water!”

It took a second for what the tubby, ruddy-faced guy with sweat dripping onto his new Orvis raincoat had just said to me to sink in. The two seconds that it took for my stunned brain to comprehend what had just been said to me was enough time for his compatriots to materialize out of the brush. This guy was definitely the leader of the group. He mumbled something to his wader-clad toadies as he pointed towards me with his fly rod. I couldn’t hear over the rushing water but it must have been hilarious by the laughter from the group.

My legs had figured out what he had said to me before my brain had and I was halfway across where they wanted to fish when I realized what he had said. The Camel in my right hand was dipped into the water and then dropped into my jacket pocket. Surging through the now thigh deep water like a water buffalo I was just about to the other side when the guy jeered at me; “Hey tough guy, what do you think you are going to do? Get out of our water!”

Sandy saved that guy’s life that morning, or maybe mine. There were just a few short steps through some shallow water and over a couple of dead salmon between the mouthy dude and myself. I was planning my approach, telling myself to be careful of slipping on the slimy salmon when I heard her voice, surprisingly quite well. “Sean, get back over here!” the petite woman yelled violently enough to jar me out of my march towards rainbow trout vengeance.

Embarrassed, I turned around and sheepishly made my way back to her while smoke from the victory cigar the fat guy had lit enveloped me like a giant shroud of failure. Mel and Steve joined her on the stony tract that was supposed to be ours for the day as I plodded back across the river towards them. “You want me to kick his ass?” Mel asked half-jokingly as I stepped out of the water.


They caught lots of fish that day. We did have to walk a bit further down, probably a half-mile or so. Mel and Steve were beat up from our first fast jaunt across the tundra, so I took it slowly. There was no need to rush, there was no one in front of us and I needed to cool down. The hike only took us a leisurely few minutes to reach a spot that the two tired, gimpy men could fish without falling in or hurt themselves when we climbed down to the water. I told them the large

Three men fly fishing in a tundra stream for Rainbow trout in Alaska
The second choice had lots of rainbows too

flight of Sandhill Cranes that passed over us as we stood on the edge of the canyon above our new spot was a good omen. Their disappointment couldn’t be hidden by their half believing smiles as they nodded, hoping that I was right. If they could have only seen what I was watching in newly sunlit water; huge Katmai Rainbows darting around the run below us as the gorged on salmon eggs.

A few hours later I noticed what looked like Parker walking down the other side of the river towards us. Mel and Steve were lying on the river rocks in the sun happily drinking some coffee that Steve had laced with some expensive bourbon. Both of them were guiding Sandy from their backsides trying to tell her how to fix her cast or to mend better. They both knew that she was a better technical fly fisherman than either one of them. I was standing next to her and mocking the two older men as she was fighting another larger trout when Parker stopped across from us

A young sow with three fat, dumb and happy cubs had been playing in a pile of dead salmon on the bank across from us. They must have heard Parker coming because they disappeared into a thicket of willows near where he was now standing seconds before he got to our spot. I almost didn’t tell him they were there because of what had happened that morning. But I didn’t want anyone to get eaten by a bear except for his chubby, smart-ass client so I yelled over the water sounds; “There’s a couple of bears in front of you. What do you want?” The last part snarling out with probably a little too much disdain on my part.

Parker looked like hell. It was late August and every guide in southwest Alaska was frazzled. There was no one getting enough sleep or any days off but he looked even worse. He had talked to me the day before and he had his usual smile, three-day stubble, and rosy cheeks. Today he was gauntly pale with an almost visible cloud of loathing parked over his head. Instantly I felt sad for him and I didn’t know why.

“Sorry about this morning;” he started as he lit a cigarette and shuffled a loose rock with his feet, never looking at me. “That bunch of guys is a problem. They have been to the lodge before and think they own the place. John didn’t even want to book ‘em this year.” He took a drag and continued on; “We saw you guys and realized it was you when we landed. John told’em that we were going to go somewhere else, probably here.” He nodded toward our spot as he took a really long drag from his cigarette. “But they told us they were going to beat you just to mess with you and bailed out of the plane with their stuff. Sorry about that.”

“Whatever, thanks for coming down;” I said turning away from him. I told Sandy we should have lunch and I helped her towards the two semi-drunk men. They were jovially arguing over which hurt more, a knee or hip replacement when we got to them. I glimpse over my shoulder towards where Parker had been and he was gone. Looking upstream I could see him shuffling slowly towards his group of anglers with his raincoat hood up over his lowered head. The pulled up hood said it all since it was a beautifully sunny day.

Peace Offerings

The Kulik River has more trout in it in August then there probably are in the entire state of Montana. This might be a bit of a stretch but it isn’t far off. That is why

A bear standing next to a shed that says Welcome to Kulik Lodge
Fall on the Kulik River

the lodge was built there-lots of fish. Naturally, a one and a half mile river with this many fish brings in a lot of fishermen from other lodges too. Often there are more anglers than there are spots to fish, particularly when Kulik Lodge has 7 boats out and there are 60 or 70 bears running amok eating salmon on the river.

There were guides and lodges that we always tried to work with and give some space too, even when the river was sewn up with our guests. John and Parker were a couple of those good guys that we always tried to help find space, particularly if they had some older guests. My goodwill towards them and their lodge had pretty much dried up the morning they cut me off from the Short Lake.

The last day Mel and crew were at the lodge they decided to stay and fish the local river that day. Both men were tired and their Winstons seemed heavy in their hands that morning, something I had never seen from this pair in the years I had guided them. Sandy had said she had caught enough fish so she was decided to hang out in a camp chair in her waders on the island we were fishing from and read. This made for a nice day for me that consisted of watching bears eat salmon heads and staring longingly at mountainsides draped in the golden colors of the fall cottonwood leaves. Occasionally one of the men would snag a booty old redfish and break off his bead rig. If this happened I would make a big deal about how they were overworking me that morning because I had to put my coffee cup down. Sandy would look up from her book and shake her head, smiling like a mother only smiles.

Mel and Steve were enjoying their easy day of fish landing. I stood halfway between them basking in the Alaskan sun, happily bored while I ate cookies and smoked. Even the bears were good that day, for not one bear had tried to invade our little island. Everywhere I looked were happy guests with bent rods, fighting or landing trout. The guides were bored enough that the radio chatter had devolved into making fun of each other’s boat driving or casting ability.

When the red and white Beaver flew over the river I think the hackles on Mel’s neck went up before mine. He put his fly rod to his shoulder pretended it was a rifle taking imaginary potshots at the circling floatplane. His whimsical anti-aircraft barrage ended with him making a loud “KABOOM!” sound and a; “Mel, knock it off!” from a semi-dozing Sandy. Steve and I laughed under our breath as the plane disappeared onto the lake above us.

I knew that Parker was going to inflate a raft and float down with his fishermen until he could find a spot. “They aren’t going to find any good water to fish Mel;” I said matter-of-factly as I reached for my radio.

The other guides had already heard about how we had been cut off the other day and were ready. I knew Kelly was at the top of the river fishing since he spent most afternoons up there. He would look for pretty rocks on the lakeshore while his fishermen fished around the corner within yelling distance if they needed him. Anyway, I radioed him and he told me to tell me when Parker was headed down with his anglers.

The first thing I heard on my walkie-talkie was Kelly yawning and then he said; “This is weird. They have two rafts blown up and Parker just took one of them by himself. He had a big box in it and that was it. The other one is just sitting up here with another guide and four guys. John is getting ready to take off.”

About that time I heard a Beaver’s engines turn over. Then there was whine that only a radial engine can make when it is spun up. The plane rose above the trees where it was silhouetted against some fresh snow on the mountains. Gracefully John swung the floatplane around towards the lower lake as he flew over the river. Just a few seconds later we heard the dull thud of floats bouncing on the lower lake when he landed.

Kelly told me that their fishermen were just standing there grousing at their guide. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he said there was a chubby, round-faced guy with a cigar cussing a lot. This perked me up. I am sure Mel could hear the joy in my voice when I told him that the guys who poached us were at the top of the river. The day kept getting better. I told Kelly to let me know when they launched and he said he would.

Twenty minutes had passed with no word when Kelly and his crew came zipping down river in his sled. When his boat got to where we were fishing he cut the engine and told me that the other raft and its load of guests were still up on the lake but Parker was about here. Kelly then fired up his boat and spun it around. This scared a couple of bears out of the water and into the brush. The two little bears had been minding their own business fishing dead Sockeyes off of the bottom of a deep hole in the river just below where we were fishing.

Parker wasn’t a big guy at all. When I saw him paddling down towards me in the small raft that was carrying him and the box I kind of thought about Smurfs. It was probably the blue raft that made me think of Smurfs. Anyway, I must have had a strange smile or expression on my face when he landed because he said; “What is so funny?”

“Nothing other than a little guy in a raft with a 2-foot cardboard box in the middle of nowhere Alaska;” I finished trying to sound as distant and unfriendly as I could. “So what’s the deal with the box?” I finished by looking at Mel who was looking at me while a trout jumped at the end of his line trying to shake Mel’s hook.

“Well,” he said a little sheepishly; “John knew you were pretty ticked off about our guys poaching your water. He also knows that you will make our lives pretty tough from here on out if you are given an opportunity. I mean, I saw what you did to those guys at Brooks the other day and I know we don’t want to be them.”

The Brooks thing wasn’t out of the norm and Parker was just as guilty as I was of doing it. A new guide tried to walk his guys into my spot from the other side of the river thinking it was too wide for my guests to cast across. When he got his two fishermen set in the water directly across from me and my people I decided it was time to give a little roll casting lesson to one of my anglers. I did this by taking his fly rod to demonstrate. While “demonstrating”, I cast his bead rig right into the soft, gooey red flesh of the back of a big male Sockeye which immediately swam right through the offending guide’s clients fly lines. My point was made and the young guide moved on after we got our mess untangled.

“Anyway, John knew that when you saw us next you would make it your duty to mess with us and probably rightfully so. He figured today that you would just leapfrog your boats down the river in front of our raft so there was no place for us to fish;” he said with a little chuckle.

“Yup, that is what we were going to do;” I said with a mischievous grin.

He walked over and grabbed the box out of the raft and handed it to me. “This is from John. He didn’t want any hard feelings; “ Parker said as he extended his hand and I took it. After our handshake, he keyed the mike on the radio he had taken out of his raincoat and said; “You guys can start fishing.”

Parker slowly shuffled back to his raft and got in as I headed to my boat with the box. Mel and Steve had reeled up and were hot on my heels when I set the box on the bow and opened it with my knife. All I could see inside the cardboard was a month’s worth of wadded up Anchorage newspapers at first. Then with all of the drama of a magician performing his finale, I plunged my hands deeply into the newsprint for my onlooker’s benefits. I pretended to search around for a few seconds, feigning failure at finding anything. Then I all the flair I could muster, I shot my hands towards the heavens, revealing a half gallon of fine Kentucky bourbon in each one.

Booze is expensive in the bush. Good booze is really expensive. I put the big bottles of amber fluid down on the deck of my boat and waited for Parker to float by me. “Tell John he didn’t have to go this far, this is a little much;” I said still a little surprised by the two bottles. I had figured it was a fifth, not two big bottles

“He wanted to make everything right and say he was sorry for our guests;” he said with a pause. Parker looked up into the early autumn sky as he drifted by, taking in the vastness of the beautiful office he worked in. When he was about three casts away he shouted back upstream at me without turning around; “Besides John just put it on those guys’ tabs.”