By Dennis Dickson
The first time I met Charlie was back in the mid 80's.
It was spring and I was guiding on the upper Sauk, from
Darrington down to Bennettville. One day in April, I
noticed an old army style tent perched just in the woods
overlooking a fine pool the river. As I would enter this
drift each morning, I never actually met the man attached
to this tent, but I knew he was fishing the pool, because
I could see the fresh prints of his caulked shoes in the
sand. Not many anglers fished this section of river. Curiosity
finally got the better of me and I started my next day trip
at O' Dark hundred, as Les would say.
As we floated down stream to the camp pool, there in the misty morning
as light was just breaking over the hills, was the figure of a man out on the
water. He was already half way down the run.
"What time did he start?" I wondered.
As my anglers and I rafted in from behind, the river noise muffled any
sound. Charlie was concentrating on his fishing. I have found when you
approach someone by water you will startle them. There really isn't
anything you can say that won't. We startled him. Charlie almost lost his
footing as he wheeled around, to see who these early morning invaders
I apologized from frightening him, as I pulled my raft in near shore, as to
not disturb his fishing. I introduced myself.
Charlie is not what you might call a 'Downtown angler.' His waders had
more patches than rubber, his vest was so tattered, it was a wonder it held
together at all. He wore no hat, even in the chilly morning, and his hair
looked. . . confused. In a nutshell, Charlie looked more like a bridge person
than a fisherman. He reeled in his Pflueger Medalist fly reel and put the
biggest gosh-awful black marabou on his keeper. It looked like a river
leech perched on his rod. I couldn't believe he was actually fishing the
He saw me staring at the fly, and just kind of smiled. Charlie spoke in quiet
tones. You had to concentrate to hear him. I was ready to write him off as
a 'got lost under the bridge gang,' until he asked me if I had taken any fish
from this pool. I had to admit, I hadn't.
He then pulled from his vest pocket the most beautiful cedar fly box I have
ever seen. Like a Mercedes in a junk yard, it seemed so entirely out of
place, for the rest of his attire. He pulled a huge red marabou from his box
"Try it if you get stuck."
I thanked him and went about my fishing. Crazy old man.
I never saw him again that spring but the tent didn't move until a high
water, just before the end of the season.
The next I saw of Charlie I was fishing on my own, just before dark, on the
Stilly, North Fork. I was wading a tailout just above Hazel, when I noticed a
fisherman playing a steelhead in the tailout of the pool. It was Charlie. By
the way he handled and released the fish, it was pretty obvious, I had
seriously misjudged the man.
Charlie recognized me at once and hailed me over like an old friend. We
chatted for a while and he asked if I wanted to share the pool. He took the
Royal coachman with a pink belly fly off his own tippet and said.
"Here Dennis, fish this one."
I would love to tell you I caught a fish on that fly that evening, but I didn't.
Didn't matter. It was a lovely gesture.
Later, I found if I were to fish really late or really early, I could run into
Charlie. We would chat for a minute, then go about our fishing.
Once, I was hoping for a last hour pool, just below Boulder Creek. My
clients hadn't touched a fish all day and I figured if I could only get them
into this particular pool, in this last hour, we had a shot. As I rounded the
corner, there was Charlie just wading into the pool. He saw me about the
same time, and waded back out to shore. We walked up. Charlie kind of
leaned back on his wading staff like he had kink in his back, as we made
introductions. I told him to go back to his fishing, we would try a run down
around the corner.
Charlie looks at the young couple and I and says " Ya know Dennis, my
back is kind of acting up on me. Think maybe I have had enough for the
day." I knew Charlie had been waiting for the shadows to cover the water.
He was lying and I knew it. Before I could protest, he had turned and was
gone. Charlie was like that.
When I would see Charlie out, I would always make a fuss over his wooden
fly box, and finally got up enough courage once to ask him if he would sell
"Don't build them to sell," He muttered.
I noticed in the last few years Charlie started slowing down, but he was out
on the river most everyday. Early mornings, late evenings. Never at
mid-day and always alone.
I don't know what ever happened to Charlie. It seemed that one day he just
stopped coming. In early mornings in spring I still look for him
wading the Sauk pools, or camped along the Stilly in the fall. It's as if he
You know, I bet every river has its Charlie. You will never find him in a
club meeting, never see him hanging around the shop. Never see his
picture in a book, or read about him in print. Trade shows crowds would
make him nervous. He is the first to admit he never casts over fifty feet,
let alone enter a casting contest. But he is there, wading the steelhead
streams he loved.
The one thing you can say about Charlie though . . . The man can fish.
Best of fishing. ~ 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
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
Lighter Side Archive