Jesse’s First Fish
Posted on 11/22/2021 Evan Swensen
Kids don’t care if it’s in a plane, a boat, or just the family clunker. Jesse, for example. When he was barely three, he and I took our old converted camper Corvan and went fishing.
A Corvan was Corvair’s minivan. Both the Corvair and Corvan are extinct, but back in scatty-eight, we owned one that became our ride to Alaska’s outdoors for several years.
We got our Corvan cheap. The rear engine had caught fire and burned too much to repair, so the owners gave it to our family if we could fix it and make it run. We located a new engine Alaska Sales and Service was happy to part with for about their cost. We put it in the Corvan ourselves.
The Corvan had been a delivery vehicle, so we built seats, beds, a cooking counter, and a table in the back. We put in a propane cooking range, propane heater, and propane lights. A hole was cut in the Corvan’s side over the table, and another one in the door opposite, and we put a travel trailer-type window in each hole.
Our kids were small back then, and with bunk beds over the rear engine compartment, the table lowered, one person sleeping on the cooking counter, and another on the front seat, we could sleep six or eight depending on the ages of those with us.
Jesse and I left the rest of the family engaged in other activities, and just the two of us headed for Otte Lake near Healy. Our Otte Lake experience was way before the Parks Highway was constructed, perhaps even conceived. Business had me engaged for a few days at Usibelli Coal Mine, and so the family decided to join me and camp along the way in our Corvan and duplex 9-by-12 tent.
One of Usibelli’s coal truck drivers told me about Otte Lake, said it had a bunch of small grayling in it. So Jesse and I decided to test it. Fish were jumping when we arrived, and we quickly set up our gear. We noticed the fish were jumping, but jumping out in the lake farther than we could cast, especially Jesse.
I put on my hip boots, lifted Jesse to my shoulders, and started wading toward the jumping fish. The lake was shallow, and we waded where we could easily cast to the fish—even Jesse could reach them. He’d cast to the right and I to the left. More often than not, we had doubles on—mostly catch and release—not because of fishing philosophy; the grayling were just too darn small. For a four-year-old sitting on Dad’s shoulders, it was fishing heaven.
Finally, a few respectable enough for breakfast were kept. When my shoulders gave out, we returned to the Corvan and then to camp. Breakfast was special for Jesse as he had been the proud provider.
The Corvan’s gone, Jesse grew up, and now takes his children to the outdoors. I don’t know how much he remembers about the Otte Lake grayling, the Corvan, or fishing from Dad’s shoulders, but in my mind, I remember. It’s a good memory. One that I wouldn’t have had had I not taken the kid fishing.