By Evan Swensen
Author Masterminds Member
Charlie’s pilot made a trip 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. 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 parked off the edge of the dirt runway between two clumps of brush.
After departing Charlie, with fishing gear loaded in packs, the two fathers and two daughters took the 45-minute hike to the river, leaving Charlie tethered by the runway awaiting their return. The river, choked with red salmon stacked like cordwood, it was almost impossible to bring in a line without a fish. 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 day’s balance 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 the fun they had together fishing off the rocks and filleting salmon. Now, 30 years later, Charlie’s Pilot’s daughter 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 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.
His companions outclassed Charlie’s pilot 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 experience in Alaska’s outdoors.
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.
Compared to Charlie’s Pilot’s earlier trip to Iliamna with his daughter, this was luxury. Nothing was spared. But, comparing memories—walking to the river and fishing off the rocks with his daughter, and to the latest week’s angling adventures—prince or pauper expeditions—if he could do either one again, he’d help his daughter into Charlie, fire up Charlie’s engine, fly to Iliamna, hike to Newhalen, and fish off the rocks with his daughter.
Prince or Pauper was first published with Readers and Writers Book Club: https://readersandwritersbookclub.com.