Friday, April 15, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska ( Part 1 )

                                           Golovin , AK

In the Spring 1983 I was teaching in a small Eskimo village around 60 miles east of Nome Alaska. This was my second teaching position in the area around the Arctic Circle, the town is named Golovin. This village is very remote and has around 140 inhabitants that reside year round. As you can see from the photo above, it is located right on the water, on Golovin Bay, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water, the fresh water coming from many small creeks and rivers that flow from the mountains near by. The main river contributing the sweet water is from the Fish River, which is a good sized body of water that flows crystal clear into the bay.
During the winter, we experienced one of the coldest winters ever recorded, temperatures as cold as -67*, and the cold seemed to just stay. For 6-8 weeks straight we saw the high on the mercury go to -40, let me repeat that, the high was -40. During the long dark winter nights the mercury dropped to -50 ~ -55 below zero. Being so far north, it was an extremely dry cold, even being so close to the Bering Sea.
In May, I  had just received news that I would be teaching much further south, which after surviving the winter was wonderful news, for two reasons; 1) because this new village was in the Bristol Bay area , that has some of the best fly fishing on the planet. 2) Because it would be much warmer that far south, and after heating my house with wood heat during one the coldest winter's in recorded history, I was ready for a break.
That winter, I only had a wood stove for heat; unfortunately, it was not a good stove. It came with the house I was renting, it just was not a wood stove for this part of the world, and it did not hold the heat. Everyone in the village, who used wood for heat, was forced to use driftwood that came on the beaches on the other side of hills on the Bering Sea side. To get a load of wood, this took most of the day, due to the lack of sun light during the winter months. There was around four hours of light enough to take the snow machine and sled over the hills, cut the wood into logs small enough to handle and load onto the sled. Then return to cut into smaller pieces and split, so they would fit into the stove. A load of wood could last for six days, so, every weekend, I would repeat the journey, cut, load, return, cut, split, carry inside, burn. This was eight weekend straight, during the cold spell, sick, or a snow storm, didn't matter, there was no choice about getting the wood, it had to be done.
Moving further south would be a complete joy, I was going to have teacher housing also, a house with a thermostat! Life would be quite a bit easier, and, I would be in the area of Alaska that had the great rainbow trout fishing. The trade off was the hunting, the better hunting for Moose , caribou, and all the fur bearing animals was better right around the Arctic Circle. After three years I had my fill of the hunting, and one of the reasons I went to Alaska was for the Trout fishing, this change was something that would fulfill a dream.
I packed all my things, the only heavy objects I had  was a snow machine, and a four wheeler, and a Boston Whaler inflatable boat and a Yamaha 25 hp motor. All my other stuff, guns, fishing equipment, clothes, stereo, TV, did not add up to that much. I had a charter Cessna 207 come to move me to my new location; they had taken all the seats out so my things would all fit. The pilot loaded what he could, everything fit with the exception of the snow machine, which I sold at the plane, to one of the schools employees.  He was all smiles and threw rocks as he tore away on the gravel road to take home his new prize.
There was so much weight that the planes tail was on the ground, and the nose was turned  toward the sky, this was not a "tail dragger", it was a 207, the work horse , the air taxi of Alaska. The pilot assured me that the weight would be fine, and there would not be a problem and with the engine running the plane would straighten out and fly fine. We both crawled into position, he started the engine, nothing, and it still was dragging the tail. The pilot re- adjusted the cargo, and we started again, this time the tail come off the ground, and we took off. Like quite a few pilots in Alaska they prefer to fly low so you can see all the wildlife, rivers, valley's etc...
We were about 100 ft. above the ground, flying above the Tundra, when we spotted a plane that had crashed the year before. It was a Cessna 206, and it was completely destroyed, burned, all smashed, it was so bad, that it was just left where it crashed. The pilot said that they hit the ground full speed, nose first and tumbled, over and over five or six times, the pilot and the two passengers were killed instantly. We were both quiet for a moment, both I'm sure thinking of what that would have been like, the panic, the impact, the whole ordeal. When, just then the 207 started coughing, cutting out, the pilot was in a small panic, turning the fuel line off and on. "shit", he said, “I think there is water in the line", we were dropping like a stone. "Try the other tank", I screamed, He did, and the 207 started coughing again, sputtering, cutting out, we were heading down. “I don't know what to do" came from the pilot, I screamed, " just leave the second tank open, they both can't have water in the lines!", he did, and just before we were about to duplicate the plane we had just seen moments earlier, just feet above the tundra, the mighty engine of the 207 kicked back in and purred like a kitten. It was a sound I will never forget, and a situation that will stay with me forever. It was a time where your life flashes before you, funny, all I could think was that it was not my time to go. When the engine kicked back, it just made sense, it had to, and it just wasn't my time to go.
We landed in Dillingham, pulled up in front of Manokotak Air, the owner came out to greet us, we shook hands, and I saw the owner’s eyes staring down behind me with a look of aspiration. He was watching the pilot on all fours, kissing the ground hysterical, and mumbling, thanking god. “What happened? " asked the owner, "well , there was water in the fuel line,  so the engine was quitting, we were over loaded, and flying about 100 ft. above the tundra, we came within feet of becoming a tundra turd". The pilot got off the ground, walked in the office and quit. I got another pilot, and continued on to the town of Manoktak, where I started a summer of fishing that I will try and convey the over whelming  thrills and experiences that I had that year,
next time, part 2.

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