’59 Trail, Part Eight


The ’59 Trail.
The ’59 Trail,
Unknown artist
Newspapers.com, reproduced with permission

Part 8 of my uncle, John Alldridge’s 1959 report from Canada’s Far North for the Birmingham Mail – Jerry F

Kulir Lodge, Nonvianuk Lake

I am roughing it with the rich. There are about 30 of us, mostly businessmen from Green Bay, Wisconsin, camping out on the edge of a natural fish pond 20 miles long and four miles wide.

The woods behind us are alive with bear and moose. And there is always a sporting chance that a hungry mother bear, seeking food for her cubs, will make a raid on the cook-house.

We sleep in U.S. Army tents, three to a tent, in sleeping bags that fit like fur-lined gloves.

We shave in cold water — and like it — and sit down together to enormous meals of beans and bacon and prime roast beef; served on wooden benches in a vast log cabin lodge done up with moose antlers like the second act of “Rose Marie.”

This is giving the wilderness the five-star treatment. We live rough. But we fish like millionaires. No long, tiresome hikes through the bush for us. If we want mackinaw — a monstrous trout the size of a small salmon — we go after it in aluminium motor boats.

If we fancy a little jaunt after rainbow — why, there’s a float plane sitting on the water all ready to take off and whisk us down to the other end of the lake where they practically come up and hook themselves.

And at night — or what passes for night here, for this is the “Land of the Midnight Sun” where at this time of year it never gets darker than twilight — we sit round a roaring log fire and put our boots up and drink beer out of tins and snap our braces and tell tall fishermen’s stories about the “One That Got Away.”

As a matter of fact, very few ever do get away. The fishing in this lake is quite phenomenal.

By law you are entitled to a daily catch of 10 fish — grayling, mackinaw trout, Dolly Varden pike — of which not more than two may exceed 20 inches. But on a good day you pick them out so fast that you spend most of the time unhooking them and throwing them back.

The energetic young game warden, who is here to see fair play, tells me the average catch is 0.69 of a trout an hour.

By that reckoning any toddler with a bent pin and a couple of yards of string should be able to take home a trout the size of a small salmon.

As a matter of fact I caught three myself in 35 minutes — with my rod upside down most of the time. And I’ve got pictures to prove it.

Jerry F, Going Postal
John Alldridge with his catch.
John Alldridge with his catch,
Unknown photographer –
© 2022 Newspapers.com, reproduced with permission

It doesn’t seem possible that less than 48 hours ago I was looking down on the desolate Barren Lands, 2,000 miles due east of here as the Stratocruiser flies. Anywhere else this could only be happening in a beautiful pipe dream. In North America it is a commonplace.

It happened like this: after a hard day’s flying I got back to Edmonton hoping for the first good night’s sleep in a week. Instead there was a telegram waiting for me as I got off the plane, from a friend in Anchorage, Alaska. A friend I made on a memorable Mau Mau safari in Kenya four years ago.

“Come fishing. Be my guest,” was all it said.

I looked at the map. It is roughly 1,400 air miles to Anchorage. The only plane for Alaska that week left in two hours on its way through from Minneapolis. The Sportsman’s Special they call it. There was one seat vacant. I took it.

So there I was seven hours later sailing over Alaska’s formidable back door, over some of the highest mountains in the world, with a jolly party of sportsmen who had come aboard with enough fishing gear to stock a sports outfitters’ and who sat up playing gin-rummy all night.

And two hours after that I was cruising in the very latest F.27 prop-jet liner over Katmai National Monument.

This is no mere stone memorial but the largest national park under the American flag – 2,700,000 acres of it — and the site of the greatest volcanic activity on earth. The place fairly belches volcanoes.

Jerry F, Going Postal
Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Katmai Crater – Mount Katmai, Alaska,
Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps
Licence Public domain

Inside the park is the fantastic Valley of 10,000 Smokes, and the stump of Mount Katmai which blew its top in 1912.

In these ice-cold, crystal-clear lakes and streams is some of the world’s finest fresh-water fishing—sock-eye salmon, huge Alaska rainbow, Arctic grayling.

And up there in those high woods roam the Alaska brown bear, the largest living carnivore. It’s like coming on some lost world left over by Conan Doyle

But we weren’t here for the scenery. We were here for the serious business of fishing. And those hearty sportsmen from Wisconsin could hardly wait to buy their fishing licences before they were out of their sober city clothes and dressed up, like so many jolly Boy Scouts, in tartan flannel shirts, waist-high rubber waders and red jockey caps stuffed with flies.

Some of them had paid 1,000 dollars for a week’s fishing. Most had flown 3,000 miles to get here. And they didn’t intend to waste a minute.

As for me I was the Cinderella of the party. I had no fancy dress. And what I was wearing looked sadly travel-stained by now.

I never intended to fish, anyway. The most I was hoping for was six hours’ undisturbed sleep in that sleeping bag.

But they wouldn’t hear of it. They took me up to John Walocka, the camp manager. John is a genial giant who runs his camp like an old-time Viking chief. His word is law — and millionaires tremble at the sound of it.

It is John Walocka I have to thank for the thrill of a lifetime. For after supper he put a six-ounce fibre-glass trout rod in my hand, baited it with a red-and-white dare-devil spinner, and told me to go and fish.

There were three of us in that flat-bottomed metal skiff— Glen, the guide, a brawny, bearded type, who only wants gold ear-rings and a cocked hat to pass for Captain Kidd; Harriet, my old safari chum from Anchorage, who has caught her weight in mackinaw; and me, the Innocent Abroad. Or as they call it in Alaska, cheechako.

Half a mile out from shore, with the sun dead in our eyes, we began to cast. And believe me, whipping a choppy lake with a seven-foot rod in a boat not much bigger than a bathtub is no picnic.

Yet the miracle happened. In just over half an hour the bottom of that boat was alive with squirming, flapping fish, not one under five pounds, and so beautiful that you wanted to throw them all back.

And I shall never forget as long as I live the first thrill of feeling a big one take hold of my line, then dive straight for the bottom until the rod is bent almost double. And you hang on and fight for what seems an hour while your aching wrists hold him; and then, inch by inch, reel him in, fighting gamely all the way.

I assure you I have never found a thrill to equal this…

“Fishing,” says big John Walocka, lighting a huge black cigar, “is no game for the professional. It makes him unhappy. He’s never satisfied. It’s the duffer — the cheechako — who gets the fun.”

Well, here’s one cheechako who has had the fun of a lifetime. And will never forget it…

Reproduced with permission
© 2023 Newspapers.com

Jerry F 2023