Mike Racine is a long-time friend, and in the spirit of full disclosure, an investor in Deneki Outdoors. He contributed the great piece that runs today. We’ll like Mike do the talking.
“Fishing Reference Points”
No this isn’t a technical article on targeting fish. Famed chef/owner of the Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry, Thomas Keller, once said “‘Food has reference points. Emotional reference points that really touch you and bring wonderful memories to the surface.” At Keller’s restaurant, surprise and elation are commonplace – the result of a philosophy of finesse, integrity, and careful attention to detail, to reference points, that routinely produce an extraordinary dining experience.
Extraordinary fishing experiences are more rare. They happen in our world – that of the serious travelling angler – but not often. Yes, they are the result of careful attention to detail, of integrity and finesse applied by men like Andrew Bennett to the angling experience. However, they also require the cooperation of the weather, of great companionship, of solitude, and of the fish. These key elements transform a good fishing day to one lodged in our personal record book.
Like many of you, I’ve been fishing for decades. It has been rewarding, a lifelong sport. As I look back on those years, there were a few horrible days – ones where I wished I’d stayed home. The vast majority were good days. Way better than being at work. I caught fish, had fun with my friends and family, went home satisfied. Then there are the few, the rare, the memorable days that stand out. They are small in number – countable on one hand. We all have one or two or three. They are days in which a number of factors, Keller might call them ‘reference points,’ come together to produce surprise and elation – a pinnacle fishing day. One happened to me 3 years ago on the Arolik River during a stay at Alaska West.
Andrew and I go back a number of years. We worked together at a software company we both helped start and grow. It was a time of long hours, of working hard as a team, of enjoying success, and enduring failure. It forged an enduring friendship. During that time, I had no idea Andrew was Alaskan born and bred. But I knew he was very capable. I invited him on an annual self-guided trip down the Goodnews River in Alaska, about 50 miles south of the Kanektok and Arolik. 6 men. 3 rafts. 10 days on the river. Close quarters. I had no expectations of the youngster, but knew he would be low overhead – a good travelling companion. I was pleasantly surprised when Andrew showed up carefully prepared with well-selected equipment, handled the boat with precision, fished capably, and generally acquitted himself well in a company of skilled outdoorsmen.
Fast forward a number years. Neither of us are at the software company. I lead a group of volunteer science divers. Andrew now owns a sportfishing company with 4 geographic operation centers. And yes, I’ve invested a little money in the operation. So I’m up at Alaska West. Andrew happens to be there as well. “Chief, let’s go fishing” says I. “Absolutely! Let’s spend the day on the Arolik,” says Andrew. Done. Off we go in the company of guide and sled-driver Jay Robeson.
Which brings me back to those reference points. I knew we were going to have fun – a good day. I’m travelling with Andrew who I know well, trust, enjoy, and have a lot of respect for. Jay is genial, capable, a great boat driver and guide. He’s funnier than hell. I expected good. I got great. Why?
Because, unlike a restaurant, fishing has variable ‘reference points.’ Take the weather. You win some, you lose some. A blue bird day is always nice, but this wasn’t bluebird. It was partly cloudy, partly sunny, some wind. It wasn’t so perfect as to be easy, but not so snotty as to be impossible or uncomfortable. It added elements both of pleasure and challenge. It was late August so the bugs were gone.
We were the only boat on the upper river. We literally had it to ourselves. In a pure wilderness. Not only is this a rarity in itself, but it allows one to focus not on being good neighbors, but simply on enjoying the experience – you can concentrate on the fish, your buddies, the scenery.
The boat ran well. It started every time. Jay followed the river high into the foothills through skinny water and narrow, fast-flowing channels without hurting the boat, its passengers, or the river bottom. No one stepped on a rod tip, or dropped one in the drink. We had all the right flies and plenty of each flavor.
The conversation flowed easy and laughter was plentiful. We all knew each other well and liked each other. The jokes were funny, the stories larger than life, and we didn’t run out of cigars.
The fishing was really good. There were beautiful big late-season rainbows in good numbers, but not so many as to be ridiculous. The upper river was crystal clear – you could see enough ‘bows out in the riffles to be sight fishing a fair amount of the time, but others were hidden in the usual spots forcing an exploration of the brushy banks, the deep holes, the root-bound channels. They weren’t too easy or too tough. The occasional char and grayling mixed things up. All three of us are experienced fishermen – capable rods. Although typically a guide never takes a rod, Andrew and I finally convinced Jay to take a few shots so everyone was having fun. There were a few epic matches requiring multiple casts from a succession of the three of us to a persnickety trout that were very rewarding. It was team fishing. As we took turns throughout the day, no one waited long. We fished on foot, we fished from the boat.
It was constant all day long. The fish didn’t turn off once. The laughter never stopped. The challenge never let up. The weather and the gear cooperated. We had it to ourselves. A memorable day. A great day. It might have been a perfect day, you never know. It was as perfect as I’ve experienced to date. And it keeps me coming back.
That day on the Arolik was rare. Everything about fishing came together in way that produced greatness. The men. The fish. The weather. The equipment. The river. Much of it due to careful preparation and attention to detail, but some of it due to luck. Which is good – days like that should be rare. So that you remember them clearly and distinctly for many years.
I wish you good luck, tight lines, and hopefully, one of those great days in your fishing future.
For more smart writing about fishing in Alaska, have a look at Greg Thomas on Fresh Fish.