Charlie’s Prince or Pauper
Posted on 04/18/2022 Evan Swensen
Charlie’s pilot traveled to Southwest Alaska in the old 1948 Stinson Voyager, 857 Charlie. Charlie’s pilot’s daughter, her friend, and her friend’s father completed the party. They flew through scenic Lake Clark Pass and landed at Iliamna. The girls sat in Charlie’s swing-back seat, aged with forty years of use. The air through the pass was surprisingly smooth, CAVU weather was beautiful—clear and visibility unlimited. On arrival at the Iliamna airport, Charlie entered her downwind leg of the landing approach so that as she dropped her left wing and turned to base, her passengers could view their intended Newhalen River fishing site. They could see no other anglers present, and they’d have the hole to themselves. Charlie quickly landed on the north-south runway, slowing to turn left onto the east-west dirt runway where Charlie was parked and tied down off the edge of the dirt runway between two clumps of brush.
After departing Charlie, their fishing gear was loaded in packs, and the two fathers and two daughters took the 45-minute hike to Newhalen River, leaving Charlie tethered by the runway awaiting their return. The river was choked with red salmon. They were stacked like cordwood. It was impossible to bring in a line without a fish on. If they had a hookup and it got off, another took its place. They soon had their limit of six salmon apiece, filleted and packed in packs ready for the hike back to Charlie. The balance of the day was spent in catch-and-release fishing off the rocks for resident fish: rainbow, Dollies, and grayling.
As Charlie’s pilot recently fished the Newhalen, a flood of pleasant memories flowed across his mind. He remembered his teenage daughter and their fun fishing off the rocks and filleting salmon. Now, 30 years later, Charlie’s Pilot’s daugh-ter has her own family and fishes and recreates with her husband, daughter, and sons. She also remembers the ride in Charlie through Lake Clark Pass and fishing off the rocks with her dad on the NewHalen River.
On Charlie’s Pilot’s most recent Newhalen outing, he didn’t get there in the Charlie the red Stinson but came in ERA’s twin-engine, radar-equipped, instrument-rated, sleek new flying machine. He didn’t walk to the river; he went there in a twin-engine, wide-bodied jet boat and fished areas denied father and daughter on their former venture to the Newhalen. There were no daughters on this trip, just Charlie’s pilot and captains of industry. Captains who had paid thousands of dollars for their Newhalen fishing experience.
Charlie’s pilot was outclassed by his companions with their Ross reels, Cabala’s latest outdoor clothing, and gear he’d only read about in the big three outdoor magazines. The equalizer and his reason for being with the big boys on the Newhalen was his Alaska experience.
Of course, they caught their fair share of fish, kept some for lunch and dinner, captured some on film, and released most of them as father and daughter did on the earlier trip to this fishing paradise.
This was luxury compared to Charlie’s Pilot’s earlier trip to Iliamna with his daughter. Nothing was spared. But, compar-ing memories—walking to the river and fishing off the rocks with his daughter, and to the latest angling adventures—prince or pauper expeditions—if he could do either one again, he’d help his daughter into Charlie, fire up Charlie’s en-gine, fly to Iliamna, hike to Newhalen, and fish off the rocks with his daughter.