In January, the outdoor itinerary for summer is so ambitious — a schedule of old haunts with dreams of adventures in new spots. But when fall comes, what you didn’t get to sometimes outnumbers what you did.
I bookended last summer with my first-ever trip to California’s McCloud River and a two-night stay at a lodge on the Pit River. I was just as taken with the experience as I was with how long it took me to get around to going. Why had I been so content to just hit the Stanislaus, or Upper Sacramento? Not that there is anything wrong with those great rivers and pretty trout, but c’mon, what was I waiting for?
Over the past few summers in Alaska, I’ve been largely reduced to an existence of predictability. If I’m fishing, it’s more than likely at one of three places: the Dolly hole, Steelhead hole, or Black Bear Creek. Three spots on three rivers on an island with more miles of running water than I could cover in a life-time of summers.
Some of the best dry fly action I have ever had was on a creek on the east side of the island, but I’ve only been there a handful of times in the last three years. Before that, I had never fished it. The steelhead are all out of the creek, but the sea run cutthroats and rainbows are notoriously good fighters and beautiful to boot.
Yet, I haven’t been there this summer. If I want exercise I am hiking Sunnahae (2,500 feet up in two miles), or One Duck (1,100 in 1.25 miles). That’s it. There are more than 70 miles of developed trails on the island, and at least double that in trails that are off-shoots or extensions past where the forest service went. And yet, I choose my familiar two, both within a 15-minute drive.
I know I shouldn’t be whining, because 15 minutes only gets me to the frozen salmon patties at Costco in Manteca but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fully take advantage of my blessed summer situation.
You have to be careful because you can get so accustomed to a routine that it buries you and all you end up doing is re-exposing yourself to familiarity. Sometimes you need to look up.
Black Bear Creek is fed by Black Bear Lake. It’s a cold, clear lake in a depression between some of the tallest mountains on the island. There isn’t really a trail and I hear you have to use plant stems you hope have good roots to pull you up. It’s a 10-minute drive on pavement, 15 more on a joke of a gravel trail to the place you head up. Not 30 minutes from the recliner in which I am typing these words is the possibility to hike and see something unbelievable and catch massive trout.
The lake still had scattered ice sheets when I flew over it a week and a half ago so the trout have to be ravenous. Of course some people aren’t even sure there are fish in there but that’s not the point. The point is, I haven’t gone.
I wanted to go up there Monday but the clouds were too low, so I ended up fishing Black Bear Creek and occasionally looking at the partially visible peaks feeding snow melt into the lake far above me.
There is no doubt this summer will be therapeutic, fun, sweaty and slimy, but that fishing trip/hike to Black Bear Lake will be the barometer of my time back home.
Will I be a talker, or doer?
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