Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
June 3rd, 2002

Eagles and Chinooks

By Dennis Dickson

It was a Wednesday evening and Wednesdays are special. As a young father with two little boys in diapers and a wife in a constant panic of cabin fever, it was extremely difficult to break away to do any quality fishing. This was doubly hard because I was a fisheries biologist, and spent my day out on the water. . . but couldn't fish it. Try to explain that one to the wife! We finally reached a compromise. I could go out after work on Wednesday evenings if I was home in time to tuck the boys in for bed. Probably why I fished the Trafton pool so much - close to home.

I had been experimenting with surface flies for steelhead at that time, and there is simply no better fish to learn on, than the Deer Creek wild summer steelhead. I came to the same conclusion twenty years ago, that I carry today. Deer Creek steelhead not only take surface flies, they prefer them over wets.

I could tell you of a magic evening where I handled six of them, all on wakers and skaters, but that's another story.

This particular evening was in mid-August, and I was in a bind. It had been hot and sunny all day and I didn't want to proceed my way down the pool, until the evening shadows covered the water. On the other hand, I was thinking about my two little boys and a bed time. I needed to fish.

I was methodically working my little orange winged muddler down the pool, covering every piece of water the best I could. I noticed the eagle in the tree. Weren't many eagles back in those days, and seldom would you see one past the end of a Chum salmon season. Never saw two birds, never saw a nest, but this mature bird would sit intently on his perch and watch me fish. As I was finishing the pool near the tailout at dusk, I had long since forgot about the Eagle. This was some of the best water, and I felt "fishy." At this time a large Chinook salmon came blasting up the skinny tailout. This large male was pushing forty pounds, and the water he was negotiating was so shallow I was surprised he could even remain upright, as he fought his way up through the riffle. I was taking this all in when out of nowhere comes this Eagle and lands right on the back of this Chinook!

Now let me explain two indelible laws of nature:

    1. Eagle talons have a biological system we call "Latent Protractile System," which means they can grab something really fast, but they can't let go . . . really fast.

    2. If you have ever filleted a large Chinook, he is all muscle and bone. Lean machine.

So the Eagle has landed, decides this the biggest dinner he has ever had, but Chinooky has other plans. He just puts it into hyperdrive and shoots on up the riffle and into the pool. . . Eagle and all.

I am sure what transpired next only took a few seconds, but as they were going right by me, I swear I could see the panic in the eye of Mr. Eagle!

At first the raptor was well above the water line, but as the King approached deeper water it was like "down periscope." The eagle was up to his shins (if they have those), then up to his chest, then up to his neck then finally only the V of his wings, as the Chinook surged ahead into deeper water. I found myself screaming "Let go, idiot!"

As if on cue, the Eagle popped to the surface, and kind of flopped his way to the shore. There he stood, hunched over, trying to figure what the hell happened. He was so tired, I am sure I could have walked over and picked him up.

I have decided sometimes in life, there is a very fine line between a really great day, and a total disaster. ~ Dennis Dickson

About Dennis

Dennis is a native of the Pacific Northwest, has lived in Arlington, WA, his entire life, except for two year while attending the University of Washington and another two years in Hawaii. Growing up near the North Fork of the Stilly, he has fly fished his entire life.

He graduated with a BS in the college of Fisheries and worked for the next eight years as a fisheries biologist, on the Stillaguamish system. Dennis left this field and began guiding fly fishers full time in the early 80's. After six years of guiding up to 200 days a year, Dennis hit burn out and went back to Fisheries working as a consultant. After two years Dennis realized he missed fishing too much and decided to branch out. He now spends half his time guiding in places like the Sauk, Stilly, Grande Ronde, south east Alaska for steelhead, and Bluewater flyfishing in Mexico. His other half of the year is interspersed with fisheries work, saving spawning streams, and building private lakes throughout the state.

He is married with three kids (two in college) and enjoys working in his community and church, (when he is in town). He likes people and loves fish. Watching anglers catch their first steelhead on a fly is a thrill that never goes away. You can reach Dennis by email at: or on his website:

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