A Day with Allen
By Dennis Dickson
Have you ever met one of those people that are so far out of step with
mainstream society, that approach life so differently you'd be tempted to
follow them around for the day, just to see what they are going to do next?
Owen was an engineer, smart, articulate, a really with-it, kind of guy. He
called and said he wanted to book a days fly fishing for himself and his
Allen was an average Joe, casual dresser, and casual talker. Told me he
was a Lineman by trade as we climbed into our fly fishing attire. Allen was
new to the sport. He had borrowed an ancient pair of rubber waders, and
these waders had no felt soles. I told him the algae rocks were going to be
slick, he would really have to be careful, wading. He just smiled.
I should have known something was "different" when, in six tries, he still
couldn't string up his rod without missing a guide, or dropping the line.
Owen suggested that he and I wade out and fish, Allen was going to be
The Stilly was at summer low. The steelhead were spooky, in the gin clear
waters of the Stilly, North Fork. Owen and I were crouched over
commando style, as we carefully crept our way into a casting position. I
remember we were standing in knee deep water, while I explained how to
gently lay the fly near the log along the far bank. I looked up in time to see
Allen stomping his way out to our casting position. Before I could say a
thing, Allen lost his step...well, almost. Allen hit those slick rocks and
started slipping and sliding all around us. He kicked up so much water
trying to gain his balance, in a split second; I was wet, Owen was soaked,
and Allen was drenched.
He straightens up, looks around, and says "So where are the fish?"
Now summer conditions a tricky. You are dealing with a fish the size and
power of a steelhead. You are casting a fly and leader more suited for
trout, if you want to fool him into biting. I spent a good while demonstrating
how to hook and play a large fish on a light tippet. The critical elements
are: Keep the rod tip up, don't grab the line and don't touch the reel handle
until the steelhead stops running. It was also a good chance to rest the
On Allen's third cast, he calmly says "I got one." Sure enough, his Kmart
rod is buckling and nice steelhead has boiled to the surface. Instead of
bringing the rod up, and hand in palming position, ready for the first run,
(We had just spent 10 minutes practicing this) Allen just lowers the rod and
starts reeling, like it was a six inch trout. Crank crank crank SNAP! The line
"Allen," I moaned,"You just broke him off!"
"So," he said simply "It's not like it's the only one." Silly me, what was I
The day proceeded in an almost orderly fashion. I recall we were fishing a
pretty run we called the "Honey Hole." Owen and I were working over
some fish at the head of the pool. Allen was casting to some in the tailout.
Owen hooks this big bright Chinook that turns tail and blasts down through
the pool. Owen is chasing the fish and I am chasing Owen. As we run by
Allen, I slowed long enough to say "Are you OK?"
Allen gestures to go on downstream like "No problem, go."
Owen ends up landing the King salmon, after pictures and congratulations,
we head back upstream to Allen. I begin to think some really horrible
things like him drowning while getting a fly unstuck, or wondering off or....
Anyway as we hiked up around the corner, there was Allen fishing away, I
As we approached, Allen stopped fishing and turned to face me. A look on
his face was like, "Boy, do I have story to tell you!"
I finally said "So how's it going?"
Allen says "Good." His stare says "Go ahead and ask me."
I say "Did you hook a steelhead?"
He says, "Yup, two!" He is holding up to fingers to complete
the gesture. He pauses - still staring.
I wait to see if he is going to speak...he doesn't.
I say, "Did you land either?"
He says, "Nope!"
I say "That's too bad," and I pause again.
Finally he says "And I know why!"
He pauses until I say, "Why, Allen?" I am not getting this dialogue.
He whips his fly out in front, and there I noticed it had
a broken hook. (Allen wasn't very good about keeping his
back cast out of the rocks.)
After staring at the fly with the hook point broken clear
off I hesitantly asked, "When did you notice the broken hook?"
"After the first one" he said nonchalantly. I found myself staring.
As the day played out, Allen had a big day. He had hooked five steelhead,
and even landed one. I could barely believe it, but I wasn't going to
complain. Owen on the other hand, had the one episode with the Chinook
and that was it. He cast well, fished well, and covered all the right water.
Luck just wasn't with him. Owen wanted a steelhead in the worst way. Me
We were finishing off the day at Picnic Table pool. Owen and I were in the
lower portion working over about a dozen fish. Allen was flailing away up
by the big rock.
"Boss Man" (Allen decided my real name was "Boss Man" about half way
through the day. Don't ask me why).
"Yes Allen," I answered fairly monotone.
"Boss Man, I got you wallet wet." He exclaimed.
"No you didn't" I said, as I reached for my back pocket under my waders.
Allen is stripping in his line.
As I got my hand down my neoprenes, I remembered I had placed my
wallet in my little blue Oscar lunch box. I carry my sundry items
from flies to chapstick in it. And today my wallet.
I as turned to look up-stream, I noticed the lid of my Oscar was open and
then reality set in. You see, Allen was fishing in front of that rock. He
managed to drop his backcast into the box, and impale my hapless wallet.
Like a wounded bird, it sailed over his head and splatted down on the
water out in front of him.
As he retrieved his line, his fly and my wounded wallet, I decided - yes
there is no one I have ever met, quite like Allen. ~ 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
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