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
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
Now let me explain two indelible laws of nature:
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.
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.
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
I have decided sometimes in life, there is a very fine line between a really
great day, and a total disaster. ~ Dennis Dickson
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
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: DDDicksons@aol.com or on his website: www.flyfishsteelhead.com.
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