Ode to the Jansport D3 backpack

Disclaimer: this blog entry has nothing to do with fly fishing and will be long and boring if you came here for something related to fly fishing.

Lake Serene in 1980 (photo by Hal)

Lake Serene in 1980 (photo by Hal)

Let me state for the record that I am not a backpacker. Or at least I haven’t been for many decades. I do a bit of day hiking, but I haven’t done an overnight trip since I was a junior in high school. That final trip in 1980 was to Lake Serene in the central Cascades of Washington, with my elder brother, Hal (not his real name, sort of). It may have been some time May, although more likely it could have been during our spring break in April. Either way, it was a good bit early in the year for what we set out to do. In our eagerness to partake of a little backpacking we jumped the gun by at least a month, or more, to be overnighting at this elevation. The alpine lake is at about 2500+ feet and, like so many alpine lakes, it sits in a bowl surrounded by steep peaks. Despite the final part of the hike being a scramble which involved using roots as handholds as we wondered if we were really on the actual trail, I recall the day being pleasant enough.We were young, fit, and ready for whatever adventure Mother Nature threw at us. But when we arrived at the lake there was still a couple of feet of snow covering much the ground. There were a couple of other hikers at the lake when we arrived but none who (wisely) intended to spend the night. The snow made pitching our tent a challenge and once the sun got behind the rim high above the lake, the temperature dropped fast and we hit the sack early (this was a time before whiskey, which likely would have had us bundled up and sitting on a snow covered log well past dark, solving world problems). What sticks in my mind is that during the night our body heat melted the snow beneath our tent and we awoke resting awkwardly in body-shaped depressions that hadn’t been there a few hours earlier. It’s a good thing we were brothers or our close proximation may have been awkward. I don’t remember much more about the hike but had you told me then that it would be my last backpacking trip I would have given you a bewildered look. Of course I would go backpacking again, when time and money allowed for it (there was little of either when I was 17). Naturally new gear would be needed as I was still in possession of all my old stuff left over from our Scouting days. I didn’t give the matter of future backpacking much of a thought; it was something I’d enjoyed with regularity from the age of 11 until I was 15 (when I retired from the Boy Scouts). I naturally assumed backpacking was something I would do at least a little of it throughout my life. Hal, on the other hand, stayed close to his scouting roots and has continued to backpack throughout the years. He has, however, long since gone the way of ultralight gear which bears little resemblance to the equipment of 40 years ago.

Following a year behind Hal’s footsteps, I joined Boy Scout Troop #668 in 1974 as an eager 11 year-old. My timing could not have been better as the adult leadership of the troop was under new direction, led by a group of dads who were very dedicated to getting us boys outdoors regularly. Seasons permitting, Troop 668 held monthly overnight backpacking trips led by adult men with immeasurable patience. Once a summer we would embark on a “50 Miler” (though always longer) that pushed us farther into the backcountry and further tested the the tolerance of the adult leaders. We would load up our old, external frame packs with butane stoves (and extra fuel canisters), bulky 4-man tents, sleeping bags and blue foam pads, canteens filled with water, and the finest freeze-dried meals REI had to offer. Undoubtedly our packs were heavier than the guidelines provided us by our leaders, but that was  understandable. After all, it was hard to keep the weight down when carrying an extra pair of Sears Toughskins jeans, bulky cotton sweatshirts, and some sort of warm jacket. Oh, and a pair of sneakers for around camp, as god forbid one would actually wear the 5-pound leather hiking boots for anything other than slogging up the trail. Our backpacks—empty—probably weighed 7-8 pounds, with their thick aluminum frames and heavy, coated nylon pack bags attached using countless metal clevis pins. There was no such thing as “ultralight backpacking” then, and in all likelihood we probably bragged about how much weight we were actually carrying at the time. Some of us would even, unknowingly, carry more weight than we thought thanks to the occasional heavy rock placed inside packs discreetly by elder troop-mates. This form of frontier discipline was punishment for having done something stupid previously. My first rock-carrier pack was a hand-me-down frame with a canvas bag that was already probably 15 years old when I inherited it. The pack bag came with a bit of mildew and the accompanying odor. Remember the familiar smell of that old canvas, Coleman family tent when it was pulled from storage each summer? That’s what my first pack smelled like. Canvas, being heavy and prone to being even heavier when it got wet, had been replaced by the 1970’s with a newfangled, coated nylon and I was soon allowed to get a new pack bag for my old frame. Like those carried by most of the boys in our troop, it was a run-of-the-mill pack made by REI: basic, functional and inexpensive. The dads who led us on our overnight excursions generally carried much nicer packs; the Kelty Tioga was one of those packs that I remember. But the pack that stood head and shoulders above all others was the one carried by Pete Baird, our Assistant Scoutmaster at the time. Mr. Baird was an avid outdoorsman (and fly fisherman) who evoked confidence. Tall, lean and soft-spoken—though quick with a smile—when it came to hiking, he carried the weight of the troop on his back. And his pack, a tan-colored Jansport D3, happened to be the coolest thing on the trail for miles in any direction. It was big and badass. I don’t know what it cost back in the early-to-mid 1970s but even if it would have fit me (it wouldn’t have), it was out of reach of my budget, or rather that of my parents. Another thing that made Mr. Baird’s pack so awesome was that it was made by a local company. Jansport was founded in Seattle in 1968 and moved to Everett, WA in 1971. The company is now owned by a corporate conglomerate with other holdings in the outdoor industry, headquartered in San Leandro, California.

Not Mr. Baird's pack, but just like it.

Not Mr. Baird’s pack, but just like it.

I recall fondly admiring Mr. Baird’s Jansport from afar (way behind him on the trails), and up close in camp. While all the other packs lay strewn about the ground, or leaning haphazardly against a tree, Mr. Baird’s D3 stood alone, literally and figuratively. The fold-out, D-shaped aluminum “wings” on the frame allowed for the pack to be propped upright so it stood like a sentinel in camp, and when vertical the pack was nearly as tall as I was. Aside from the revolutionary frame design, which was considerably thinner and lighter than others of the day, it was also highly adjustable and contoured to the shape of one’s body. The Jansport D3 also just looked different from anything else. Unlike packs carried by commoners, the Jansport was a front-loader, making it easy to unzip one of two main compartments and shop for the contents inside without having to empty the entire pack to find what one was looking for. It was cavernous. It was marvelous. It had no peers and, while I coveted that thing, I would never have one.

Or would I?

Fast forward to July 2019. I found myself browsing through literally countless used treasures at a church Haggle Sale in the small town of Tahuya, WA where my family has had a cabin since long before I was ever a Boy Scout. Nothing I saw captured my fancy until, tucked into a far corner of the church yard, I spied a magnificent blast from the past: Mr. Baird’s Jansport D3!  Well, not quite—this one was blue—but it was the same vintage. I picked it up off the ground (didn’t the owner know that the hip wings folded out to allow the pack to stand upright on its own?!). Mouth agape, I looked it over carefully. It was in remarkably good condition for a 40-something year-old pack: No rips in the bag, the waterproof coating on the inside wasn’t cracked and flaking. Zippers were all in working condition and the shoulder straps, hip belt and back padding were all original and largely unstained from blood, sweat and tears from the trail. While there was some corrosion on some of the bolts and hardware, the frame showed surprisingly little sign of abrasions. The leather attachment pads were all intact with only the large crampon pad showing any significant signs of wear. Inside one of the side pockets were some bungie chords and nylon straps that were of the same familiar era as straps I used back in the Boy Scout days. Wow—what a find!

What do my eyes behold?!

At the church Haggle Sale, what do my eyes behold?!

My son-in-law, Riles, was with me at the time and I’m sure he was curious amused by my strange fascination with this blue beast. I told him briefly about Mr. Baird’s pack and how I always wanted one but could never have one and…my words were met with a thousand-yard stare. He needn’t have said anything as his reaction revealed the truth: this was just a stupid old pack and I had no need for it. So we walked away and returned to the cabin for a beer. Upon returning to the family gathering place I told everyone there about my find. Again, nobody was too impressed. A couple of friends who were visiting politely pretended to take interest in my retelling of the lore that was Mr. Baird’s pack. The conversation quickly turned to any topic other than the magnificent Jansport D3 which I had just walked away from. I attempted to engage socially but I was clearly distracted. I quickly finished a second beer and, with newfound liquid courage, decided that this was my once-in-a-lifetime chance to own something that had left un indelible impression on me as a boy. So off I strode ,back to the Haggle Sale, with Riles in tow (apparently he was coming around to my way of thinking). There was an urgency to my gate as I wasn’t sure if the sale was still going on, and even if it was, I was sure that someone else would have discovered MY pack by now. My pace increased as I rounded the corner into the church parking lot. The day was warm yet I was chilled with a nervous sweat. The regret of not having bought the pack earlier in the day gnawed at my gut. Much to my relief, there the pack remained, still propped upright on its hip wings just as I’d left it earlier that day. I placed my hand firmly on top of the frame extension. If someone else wanted it now they were going to have to fight me for it. It was mine, if I could afford it (I had limited cash on me and this was not a Venmo event). Now, I’d never been to a Haggle Sale before so I didn’t know the process. I carried the pack to a pleasant-looking, blue-haired lady sitting behind a table and asked, “There’s no price on this. Do you know how much the owner wants for it?” She smiled and winked at me, “This is your first time, isn’t it?” (Of course she did not say that—she was a nice church lady!). She asked me how much I had, to which I replied (after looking in my wallet and seeing $23), “I have twenty bucks.” Her answer sent chills down my spine as she proclaimed,”Sold!” Then the guilt of having lied to this nice church lady got the best of me and I spilled the beans, “I actually have $23. Here, just take it all!”

I hoisted the pack onto my back, where it belonged, and headed toward the cabin like a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker approaching their end-point at the Canadian border. Passers-by gazed at me with admiration and envy, cheering me on as I marched proudly, weighted down by an empty pack that would surely carry a lifetime of memories (with room to spare). After most of my life without one, I finally owned a Jansport D3 like Mr. Baird’s. Once back at the cabin our guests quickly acknowledged that they had underestimated the magnificence of the pack. They gathered around to admire my find and asked me to once again recount the backstory that led to my fascination with the Jansport D3. The only thing missing was a campfire.

My life was complete.

Within minutes of having acquired my new, old pack.

Within minutes of having acquired my new, old pack.

She's a beaut, Clark.

She’s a beaut, Clark.

Over a year has passed since acquiring the the Haggle Sale Pack and it has rested comfortably in the garage at home, waiting for something exciting to happen. As Mrs. UA and I were recently clearing out garage clutter she pointed to the pack and said, “Goodwill?” I gave her a side-eye glance. Was she was insane? “Leave it where it is,” I snapped. She just doesn’t get it. A while back I performed a little preventative maintenance which included waxing the zippers and applying leather cleaner/conditioner to all the cowhide patches. The zippers slide like new and the leather now has the suppleness of a newborn calf. I plan to replace the shoulder straps with something modern, and fine tune the adjustment of the frame to fit me. I’ve had every intention of carefully going through all the components to make sure the frame hardware is not lacking structural integrity should I decide to put the pack into action. If I do that I’ll also need to do a bit of shopping at REI as currently I own only a sleeping bag that would be suitable for backpacking. But I haven’t committed to hitting the trail just yet. The last thing I would want to have happen is some sort of frame failure while miles out in the high country, so I felt that a least a couple of replacement parts would be a wise thing to carry with me. Not surprisingly, Jansport no longer supports these old packs so I can’t exactly call up customer service and order replacement parts for a pack that was probably made in the early- to mid-1970’s. But in my quest to find parts online I’ve stumbled upon similar era packs on the eBay. Though perhaps not a common item, it’s not terribly difficult to find a Jansport D3 online. Most, however, do not appear to be in nearly the good condition of my Haggle Sale Pack. And they don’t exactly give these old packs away for free, so all I’ve done is browse.

Until recently.

The listing read, “Vintage 70’s Jansport K2 External Frame Backpack D3 Excellent Condition.” The K2 designation is indicative of the fact that, in 1972, K2 (another PNW company) acquired Jansport. The “Excellent Condition” was what really caught my attention, and after carefully inspecting the photos included in the listing, I made an offer that was significantly less than what the seller wanted. Much to my delight—like the church lady at the Haggle Sale— they bit. The pack was mine, almost. It arrived a few days later and its condition far exceeded my expectations and I instantly felt bad for not paying the full asking price. The eBay Pack is in even better shape than the Haggle Sale Pack. There are no signs of wear or corrosion on any of the frame components and only some minor scuff marks on the frame itself. And while the bag has some minor staining from use, it’s in great shape as well. The zippers slide like new (I did wax them just for good measure) and the leather attachment patches don’t appear to have seen much (if any) use. The leather crampon pad has some light scuffs but is very clean. Of course I cleaned and conditioned the leather, just to give it that “new pack feel”. While I don’t know the exact manufacture date of either pack, it’s safe to say they are of the same vintage although the eBay Pack would appear to be a tad newer as evidenced by the improved buckle on the hip belt and more “modern” shoulder straps. Other than that they’re virtually identical. So now, with a donor pack, I have ample replacement components to offer the confidence I want while out on the trails. I’ve hung both D3 packs proudly in the garage until I decide to do something with them—if I decide to do something with them. I may not. After all, owning a classic doesn’t have to entail actually using it. Just knowing I now own a piece of my youth—something that was beyond my reach when I was a backpacker—may be enough. And if Mrs. UA complains I’ll just remind her that it’s not like I’m collecting 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cudas (something I’ve also wanted since my youth).

Haggle Sale pack (left) and eBay Pack (right).

Haggle Sale pack (left) and eBay Pack (right).

 

Standing tall, back-to-back.

Standing tall, back-to-back.

Old blue looks taller but its just due to frame adjustments.

Old Blue looks taller but it’s just due to frame and bag adjustments.

The straps on Big Orange suggest a newer model, maybe?

The straps on Big Orange would indicate a newer model.

Old Blue's buckle definitely suggests an earlier model.

Old Blue’s buckle (left) definitely suggests an earlier model than that on Big Orange (right).

Their final resting place, or ready for new beginnings?

Their final resting place, or a staging ground for new beginnings?

Now I just need to see if I can find a pair of vintage Sears Toughskins in my size.

For those still reading, here is a treasure trove of nostalgic Jansport images:
http://www.outdoorinov8.com/jansportimages.html

And here is a historical snapshot of the Jansport company:
http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/jansport-inc-history/#:~:text=The%20company%20is%20founded.,K2%20Corporation%20acquires%20JanSport.

For the love of Z-Axis

Z-Axis

In the wake of last week’s troubling loss of my new Winston Pure 590-4, I do have some good news to report: the lost rod has been replaced with something new. Well, new to me anyway. My recently acquired Sage Z-Axis 590-4 is at least 9 years old and likely it’s older than that.

Why this old rod to replace the lost Winston?  The answer is simple:

  1. The Z-Axis is the best rod Sage has ever made (my opinion, but also one held by many others).
  2. Before I bought the Winston I looked far and wide for a used Z-Axis 590-4 but was always too late to the party by the time I’d found one for sale.
  3. See #1 above.

The Z-Axis model lineup was in production from 2007 through 2011 and my love affair with the Sage’s “Generation 5 Technology” began in late 2007. Prior to that I had happily fished a Cabela’s 5 weight rod and had no complaints: the rod cast as well as my abilities allowed at the time. But, as is so often the case with we fly angling gear whore types, we begin to acquire more rods over time. I then upgraded to a Sage FLi 6 weight and a Sage Launch 4 weight (both were Sage’s less premium-priced rods). Shortly thereafter I had begun to hear an awful lot of praises being sung about the then-new Sage Z-Axis and, being that Sage is a local-ish western Washington-based company, it seemed appropriate to throw some business their way. With that I decided to splurge on my first high-end rod, a Z-Axis 490-4. It was love at first cast it, and since then my love for the rod has only grown. The 4 weight Z-Axis remains my favorite all-around rod of any weight. I have a couple of slower-action Sage rods which are nice for delicately presenting dry flies, but the 4 weight Z does a fine job of that and it casts much better in the wind than a slower rod. However, while it is a fast-action rod, it doesn’t feel like a broomstick by any means. It’s light in hand and the tip section has a lot of feel. It also has plenty of backbone for fighting bigger fish than a 4 weight should probably be targeting.

Varsity lineup

Varsity lineup

Because of the last statement, I picked up a gently used Z-Axis 690-4 in the winter of 2008. Now I had a stick that could throw bigger bugs, fight the wind even better and handle bigger fish than the 4 weight. I still use the 6 weight when the situation calls for it but it shares duty with my Sage XP 691-4 (purchased used in about 2010). I may prefer the XP just a tad more simply because it has a fighting butt, but the XP also has less feel so there’s no clear winner between the two. If the Z-Axis had a fighting butt, I’d probably never fish the XP.

I also have a couple of 2-handed Z-Axis rods in the 7136-4 and 8134-4. The 7136 has been my go-to steelhead rod (when I was doing more of that). The Z-Axis 7136 established a name for itself amongst the lineup of Sage Spey rods, and for good reason. A couple of years later I picked up the 8134 on the used market, thinking I might go to Alaska some day where a beefier rod would come in handy. So far the Alaska thing hasn’t happened (yet) and subsequently I’ve only fished the 8134 a couple of times. It’s similar to, but different than, the 7136 which is not surprising given that no two rod weights from the same lineage are going to feel the same. The 7136-4 and the 490-4 are particularly sweet spots in the Z-Axis lineup, in my opinion.

This brings me back to the Sage Z-Axis 590-4 which I just picked up on the eBays. Years ago I made the decision to fish even weight trout rods in 4 and 6 weight and because of that I don’t really need a 5 weight. So why, then, did I purchase the Winston 5 weight in the first place? Plain and simple: I had a 5 weight line sitting around that someone had given me a couple years ago. The line needed a reel and the reel would need a rod. It would have been a shame for that 5 weight line to go to waste, right? I made a point to fish the Winston 3 times this past Summer and Fall and really enjoyed it. Yes, my 4 weight would have served just as well on the waters I fished and the few fish I caught and I did bring the Z-Axis 490-4 as a back-up rod on one trip. And yes, I felt a twinge of guilt for having left the 4 weight Z-Axis wrapped in its tan sock, tucked inside its brown rod tube.

Was it a cruel (and expensive) twist of fate that brought me to the Z-Axis 5 weight? I believe so. Will I be disappointed? I highly doubt it. Since I love my Z-Axis 490-4, and really like my Z-Axis 690-4, I have no reason to think that the 590-4 is going to be anything but a delight. It was also consierably less expensive than had I elected to replace the lost Winston with another Winston. In the eBay listing this particular rod was described as being “clean” and I would have to agree: it appears to have been lightly-fished and well-cared for by its previous owner. I just need to take it fishing now.

The Destiny Rod?

The Destiny Rod?

For anyone interested in a model history of rods from Sage, this article is straight from the horse’s mouth: The Sage Story

 

An expensive day fishing

I recently had my best day on the Yakima river in 2 years, which also happened to be my first day on the Yakima river in 2 years. My long hiatus may be due to the fact that I just haven’t had the opportunity to fish the Yakima, or that I haven’t had the desire to fish the Yakima. Whatever the case may be, I got an email a couple weeks earlier from my buddy “Bob” asking if I’d like to join him for a day on the Yakima.

I fish with “Bob” about once a year, maybe less, depending on his tolerance for slow days on the water. He’s a good dude and an accomplished angler if you factor in that he’s been catching fish since he was a kid (which is long before I was born). But when we fish together he seems to fare as poorly as I do—sometimes worse—which can only be attributed to my bad luck as an angling person. Often the dark cloud that follows me around rains on others as well. So you can see why he doesn’t want to fish with me more often.

Anyway, I met up with “Bob” at a mutually convenient location and loaded my gear into his car, which was hitched to his chartreuse Aire raft, and we headed to Cle Elum. Once there we arranged for a shuttle at the Troutwater fly shop ($40, which we split) before heading to Pioneer Coffee shop for a cup of joe and a raspberry oat bar ($2.95). I skipped the coffee. We drove to our put-in at Bristol, a private launch that requires (on the honor system) $10 to launch. “Bob” tried to split the fee but I insisted on covering the entire $10. After all, he did drive and provide the boat. I had spent $32.95 and I hadn’t even put on my waders yet. It’s a good thing “Bob” wasn’t my guide because his tip would have been insultingly small this day.

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It was a clear, cool morning with an upstream breeze. We set out toward our eventual take-out at the Green Bridge several miles downstream. Along the way we would attempt to fool one of the 11 dish in this stretch of the Yakima. The breeze turned to a wind, which was the leading edge of a system that would eventually bring cloud cover. We looked forward to the clouds, anticipating that it would bring the fish to the surface. We awaited the arrival of the clouds, which would take their damn sweet time arriving, and angled away over cold, clear and low water.

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Eventually I landed my best Yakima fish in nearly 2 years: a 15” cutthroat that turned on my dropper and proceeded to become ass-hooked. Oh well, it made for a good initial fight on my 5 weight Winston Pure (which I had picked up last Spring and really enjoyed while in Montana and Idaho in July). It was my first Winston and I really liked the way it cast and presents dries. But I digress.

My best Yakima dish in 2 years!

My best Yakima fish in 2 years!

About the time that the wind peaked we decided it was a good time to stop for lunch. After consuming a light bite I took a spell on the oars. I hadn’t rowed a boat since selling my Streamtech a year and a half ago, and I had to admit that it felt good to be on the sticks again, despite that the wind meant having to row with the current much of the time and my torn rotator cuff argued with me the entire time.

That’s “Bob” in the front of his boat.

That’s “Bob” in the front of his boat.

The remainder of our float was fairly uneventful, and other than the fact that the wind saw to it that we enjoyed a couple of impressive wind tangles, there wasn’t much worth noting.  As the oarsman I may have put “Bob” on a small fish, but the Yakima tends to suck the life out of a person so I cannot accurately recall. We stopped to work a particular fishy looking run where “Bob” allegedly caught a decent rainbow. I was upstream not catching anything so I cannot confirm the honesty of his claim (I don’t have any reason to doubt him, but you know fishermen and their lofty exaggerations). Apparently pleased with himself, “Bob” resumed command of his watercraft and we continued downstream. Along the way I added 2 more rather unimpressive fish to my list.

I’d nothing else, the Yakima is a beautiful river.

The Yakima is, if nothing else, a rather beautiful river.

The end of an expensive day.

“Bob’s” boat at the end of the day.

The clouds finally arrived, and the wind died down, though too late to make any sort of difference in our favor. We reached our take out, geared down, and hit the road toward home. Once back at our rendezvous location, “Bob” and I bade farewell under the cloak darkness and went our separate ways. Upon arriving at home 45 minutes later I unpacked my gear. I placed my boots on the boot dryer, hung my waders from the handlebars of my upside-down-hanging-bike, stowed my other gear in the cabinet where I keep my other gear, and reached for my rod. It was nowhere to be found. I looked under the seat and in the back of my truck (where I know I hadn’t put it). I looked under the seat again. Then I mentally retraced my steps: I vividly recall removing the rod from the back of “Bob’s” car, and placing it on top of my truck bed cover as I loaded the other gear into the back seat of my truck. A sick feeling overcame me as I realized that on top of my truck bed cover is exactly where I had left my rod before driving off.

In a panic I sent Marck a text, asking him if he would take a look on his way to his office the next morning (he works close by and drives right past this spot). Jump ahead 12 hours and unfortunately Marck did not find the rod.

Whomever did find it got themselves a sweet rod. I hope they enjoy and catch many fish with it. The rod had pretty good mojo in the short time I’d possessed it.

But it was just a rod and I have several others. Just no other 5 weights, and no other Winston rods. And now I have a 5 weight reel and line with no rod to match.

Misery loves company so please share your most expensive day on the water (guide fees/tips don’t count).

The loneliest reel.

The loneliest reel.

 

The UA turns 10, and the Occasional Drivel®

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The UA was spawned in September 2009, but please hold off on the drumroll. While a decade of unaccomplishments may sound like quite an accomplishment, I can’t really take credit for a full ten years because the past couple have entailed little more than paying the hosting fees to keep the lights on. Meanwhile the shelves have been pretty bare.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to a bit of Weekly Drivel® Occasional Drivel®.

In mid-July (should that be hyphenated? Looks like it should be so I’m sticking with it) I made a jaunt to Montana’s Flathead Valley to fish with my buddy, Chuck the Cook, and my old pal, ol’ Lary Hutcheson. Chuck is fairly new to fly fishing, having taken it up in moderation since moving to Whitefish about 3 years ago. We hadn’t had a chance to wet a line together prior to this trip, and I was rather looking forward to seeing how his stick-waving abilities had progressed. I hadn’t fished with ol’ Lary in a few years, though I had bumped into her since then when I convinced her to buy my boat a year and a half ago. Since then she’d been insisting that I come to the Flathead Valley to see the boat. I figured the only way to get her off my back was to give in and finally accept an invitation. And so a date was set for a mid-week float in mid-July. Lary set aside the date on her busy summer guiding schedule and Chuck arranged to take a sick day off from his job as assistant daytime manager at Chuck E. Cheese. I told him to tell his boss he couldn’t come to work because his arm was in a cast (come on—that joke never runs out of funny and you know it).

Funny. Every. Time

Funny. Every. Time

Back home, July had been struggling to resemble one of Summer’s months, appearing more like March, April, May and June (which are horribly disappointing months in the PNW). I departed western Washington under cloudy, moist skies that persisted for much of the 9 hour drive, with intermittent, heavy downpours. A final, intense deluge ceased just before I arrived at Chuck’s driveway, where a cold beer and a plate of ribs welcomed me after my long drive. Chuck knows his way around a grill, and upon consuming no less than 8 pounds of pig flesh, we had a few more beers. After a few more, the time seemed right to teach Chuck how to tie an Albright knot so he could splice leader to tippet. Up this point I think he’d been fishing a single leader all season long, wondering why, by the end of summer, was so hard to tie a size 18 Royal Coachman to the end of his remaining 4 feet of leader. He looked in wonder at this magical thing called 5x that could be acquired in multiple yardages, all nicely wrapped around a thin spool. There was some fumbling with thick fingers and choice words, but I assured him that the knot would get easier with time. And if that failed, his young kids—with their small, delicate fingers—could certainly help him out in a pinch.

The plan was to meet up with ol’ Lary at her fly shop in Columbia Falls (Hilary’s Fly and Supply) at 8 the next morning and we did just that. Greetings were exchanged between old friends, introductions made between new, and we embarked on a long-ish drive up the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to our put-in. No rain fell that morning although there was a promise of it later in the day. As we rigged up our rods I noted to myself that it felt more like a mid-September’s morn, although truth be told the last time I fished with ol’ Lary on the MF Flathead it was September and it was a much warmer day than what we encountered on this trip. But enough about the weather, for now.

With the assurance that there would be mustard for our sandwiches, ol’ Lary loaded us into my old boat, which is her new boat, and we were off. Chuck took the hot seat in the bow and quickly revealed that he’d been doing some casting since moving to Montana. He handled his rod with deftness and looked like an experienced fisherman. If one didn’t know better they might think Chuck was a dirtbag fly fishing guide, what with a scraggly beard and long hair and Patagonia hat. But he’s no poser and didn’t suddenly transform himself when he moved to Montana. No, he’s looked like this since I’ve known him. I don’t recall exactly how long it’s been since he shaved or got a haircut, but he’s been farming hair far longer than the UA has had a blog. But I digress, back to fishing. We caught some fish throughout the day (all native Westslope Cutthroat trouts with the exception of one whitefish), enjoyed a beautiful float on a beautiful river, consumed sandwiches that included a magical yellow condiment, and only got rained on incessantly for the second half of the day. I think Chuck learned a lot, which was exactly why I wanted him to spend a day on the water with ol’ Lary. It was a fine day of fishing with a couple great people. I look forward to going back, assuming I get the invitation.

Lary tells Chuck exactly where to put his Royal Coachman

Lary tells Chuck exactly where to put his Royal Coachman.

With my old pal, Ol' Lary, in my old boat.

With my old pal, ol’ Lary, in my old boat.

A fine looking boat on a fine stretch of water.

A fine looking boat on a fine stretch of water.

On the MF Flathead with Charlie and Ol' Lary on a cool, rainy day in July.

Modeling our rain jackets on the MF Flathead in July.

A drizzly day on the MF Flathead

A drizzly day on the MF Flathead.

Departing the Flathead Valley I passed by fields of mustard seed, which are grown to produce a wonderful condiment.

Departing the Flathead Valley I passed by fields of mustard seed, which is known to produce a wonderful condiment.

The next morning I woke up in ol’ Lary’s driveway, wondered how I got there, and reluctantly took my leave of the Flathead Valley, driving south toward my next destination—a favorite Idaho Panhandle River—where I would meet up with Jimmy for 3 days of hiking and wading. It rained (again) on my drive south, and as I pulled into the campground it was coming down hard. I must admit it was dreary, and the only bright spot was that on this Thursday, not many campsites were occupied. The other good thing was that typically dusty drive was dust-free, and not surprisingly the fire danger was low. Also thanks to the weather I was able to procure the best site in the campground (one that we’ve never managed to get before). Fortunately the drizzle let up and I was able to set up camp in relative dryness. It wouldn’t rain again the rest of the trip, but the tail end of the low pressure system that had been parked over the region for days ensured cooler than normal temps the first two days. Fishing was slower than we’d have expected for this time of year due to cooler than normal river temps which translated into fewer hatches. Fishing was—at best—hit and miss, such that on the first day Jimmy caught one fish while I landed several; the next day just the opposite occurred. Overall it was not as productive as what we typically encounter on this river in mid-July but the weather cooperated and it was hard to complain about anything, other than the fact that we did see more angling types on the river on the second day than we have ever seen before.

The fire danger sign is just visible through the wipers.

The fire danger sign is visible through the wipers.

A sunny day on a favorite Idaho Panhandle River.

A sunny day on a favorite Idaho Panhandle River.

Best campsite in the world.

Best campsite in the world along the banks of an Idaho Panhandle river.

A light, vegetarian meal by the fire.

A light, vegetarian meal by the fire.

Jimmy with a bent rod.

Jimmy with a bent rod.

The result of Jimmy's bent rod.

The result of Jimmy’s bent rod.

An Idaho westslope cutthroat in its natural environment.

An Idaho westslope cutthroat in its natural environment.

Be careful out there, Trebek.

Be careful out there.

Well, thanks for the last ten years. I can’t promise that I’ll keep the shelves well-stocked, but I’ll continue to keep the lights on for at least a while longer.

Fly fishing on Kiritimati: Part 3–The people and the place part

In case you missed it, Part 2 can be found here. If you’d prefer not to read Part 2 please do not click the link.

“There’s more to fishing than catching fish.”

While perhaps an overused cliche, the above quote really is true and was particularly relevant on Kiritimati. We went there to fish, and were not disappointed in that aspect of the trip. But it was the people—our fishing companions and the locals we met—that made the trip special. I certainly came away with an appreciation for the people of this remote place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

We met a few other foreigners on the island that were just passing through, but Kiritimati is not what anyone would consider a popular tourist destination. Two sailboats were anchored just off the beach at Sunset Horizon and we briefly met the crews from each boat. One boat was owned by The Great Danes, a couple from Denmark and two young crew members who had been at sea for 15 months. Kiritimati was their furthest point of travel before they would soon begin their return voyage. The other boat was under the command of Crazy Larry from Kansas City, whom we met briefly one day as we returned from fishing. Crazy Larry had a most impressive mustache that curled under his chin and muffled his voice and made it nearly impossible to determine whether or not he had a full set of teeth. He was quite the character, traveling with his two crew members: a very attractively-built, late 30-something woman from Italy with unshaven armpits, and her son boyfriend much younger male companion. I’d love to have had time to sit down with this crew and hear their full story because it would no doubt have been rather intriguing. Crazy Larry hadn’t been home to the States in nearly 20 years and this was his second trip sailing around the world. Yeah, his story would probably be the stuff movies are made of. Apparently he and his crew had been “stuck” on the island for 5 months, waiting for a necessary part for their boat that had taken 13-1/2 weeks to arrive. They were eager to get back out to sea, however some sort of hold-up with the immigration office had prevented them from departing the island. Apparently they did resolve the immigration issue and had left before we did. I wish I’d been able to capture a photo of Crazy Larry, but my hunch is that he wouldn’t have wanted any public exposure.

Our lodge companion, a young woman by the name of Waltzing Matilda, had departed her home in France after graduating from college. From there she set out to travel the world by herself, first going to Russia and from there to South Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii and then Kiritimati where she undoubtedly encountered a place very different from what she had expected. After a few days she realized that if one were not here to fish, there wasn’t much to do (she was not there to fish). Sharing our evening leisure time with Waltzing Matilda was a nice reprieve from talking about fishing with a bunch of crusty old farts. Matilda was a great sport as she accepted a gift of the Big Sexy shirt. Speaking of good sports, I promised Goose that this would be the last time I post a photo of the Big Sexy.

Waltzing Matilda and Goose.

Waltzing Matilda and Goose.

Our lodge was in the heart of Ronton (London), which is the main settlement on the island and home to somewhere around less than 2000 people. We spent our days fishing and didn’t have much time to take in the town until our last evening. After returning early from fishing, we decided to take a bag of candy and walk around the streets near the lodge, meeting the locals and passing out sweets to the kids.  We took our French traveling friend with us lest the children be put off by a bunch of old American fishermen walking around handing out candy from a van. Mathilda’s charm obviously worked because the candy didn’t last long.

A likely looking group of candy recipients approaches.

A likely looking group of candy recipients approaches.

Matilda makes friends as she passes out candy.

Matilda makes friends as she passes out candy.

The locals were friendly and politely accepted candy with warm smiles. None of the children were greedy and freely shared their bounty with others.

This little guy was a bit shy, but his father politely thanks Matilda for the candy.

This little guy was a bit shy, but his father politely thanked Matilda for the candy.

Jimmy hands out candy to a truckload of happy kids.

Jimmy hands out sweets to a truckload of happy kids.

After the candy was gone we decided to walk down the street to one of the local bars and see what the evening night life on Kiritimati was like. Passing through town we got a very small glimpse of life on the island. The people were friendly and quick to greet us with smiles and waves. The town was bustling in the relative comfort of the evening.

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 works at the security gate at the entrance to Sunset Horizon Lodge.

Nantara works the security gate at the entrance to Sunset Horizon Lodge.

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One of the bars bore a large sign that said, “Anglers”, making it a clear choice for our group. However the joint was closed so we headed to another nearby establishment that was open for business. The barkeep at the Lady Wheel Bar was undoubtedly glad to sell us a round of Budweiser from the slightly-below-room-temperature refrigerator. As we choked down enjoyed our beer, our hostess from the lodge, Lisa, joined us, though not to drink, mind you, as she was 7 months pregnant. Lisa had seen us enter the bar and was concerned we would get sidetracked and not make it back to the lodge in time for dinner. It was her job to herd us back in time for a very special celebration that the staff had prepared for us on our last night. We would not be late for the festivities.

Visiting the one local bar that was open.

The beer was almost cold at the Lady Wheel Bar, where we were joined by our hostess, Lisa.

Our friendly barkeep and Goose.

Our friendly barkeep, Ririi, and Goose.

Marck and Cap'n Jesse celebrate the last day of having to drink room temperature Budweiser

Marck and Cap’n Jesse celebrate the last day of having to drink room temperature Budweiser.

Back at Sunset Horizon Lodge, it was time for our big feast and celebration (luau) to begin. The staff had prepared a grand feast that included a spit-roasted pig and more side dishes than I can recall. The pig was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. I think even the boys from the Lone Star state, Gus and Woodrow, agreed that it was worthy of Texas BBQ standards.

Roasted to perfection.

Roasted to perfection.

As we feasted we were entertained by three very talented youngsters who performed a traditional dance. It was quite a treat.

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It was a fantastic last evening and a really nice show of hospitality by the staff at the lodge.

Waltzing Matilda and Lisa.

Waltzing Matilda and Lisa.

Texas Gus and Goose.

Texas Gus and Goose.

Our gracious server,

Reaitati, one of our gracious servers at Sunset Horizon Fishing Lodge.

The lodge manager, and Goose.

The Sunset Horizon Fishing Lodge manager, Aretima, and Goose.

Marck and Billy Joe don't appear to be happy about leaving int he morning.

Marck and Billy Joe don’t appear to be happy about leaving in the morning.

Jimmy, Cap'n Jesse, Billy Joe, Texas Gus and Woodrow, Joe, Goose, UA, Marck, Waltzing Matilda and Kuri (one of our guides during the week).

Jimmy, Cap’n Jesse, Billy Joe, Texas Gus and Woodrow, Joe, Goose, UA, Marck, Waltzing Matilda and Kuri (one of our guides).

And that’s a wrap on our visit to Kiritimati. The next morning we would rise at 4:30am for an early morning truck ride to the airport and 7:30 flight back to Honolulu. Next year I hope to go back and spend more time outside of the lodge, seeing more of the local flavor.

Here are a few more random shots from around Ronton and other nearby villages.

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Upon return to the marina we were greeted most days by a crowd of enthusiastic children.

Upon return to the marina we were greeted most days by a crowd of enthusiastic children.

A truckload of children on their way to school.

A truckload of children on their way to school.

Children playing in schoolyard one morning.

Children playing in one of the schoolyards.

One of several schools near Ronton.

St. Francis High School.

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A cemetery outside of the town of Ronton.

A cemetery outside of the town of Ronton.

 

 

I discovered this blog while doing a search for local information about Kiritimati. It’s quite well done so if you have interest in reading some firsthand insight into the island I recommend having a look-see: A Snapshot of Life on Kiritimati (Christmas Island)