Category Archives: Behind the Curtain

An intimate glimpse into what it is like running a fly shop in a tiny village

Thank You!

I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement from all of you.  I was going to privately respond to every one,  but holy cow!  Yakutat is a tough place to try and make it in.  There is so much negativity here.  We’ve been battling it over the fly shop,  over the hangar,  over the fuel facility…  It just gets tiring and even under the best of circumstances,  it’ll wear you down.  A few months back,  locals were trashing me on Facebook over the museum and lack of progress.  People who have never come out for a tour of course…

But how can one stay down with the kinds of friends we have all across the globe.  I’ll take some time off here,  but I promise I’ll be back soon.  Take care and THANK YOU!

I Have Finally Had Enough

No,  I haven’t made a post in a month and a half and yes,  there is a reason…

There are always people who find it fun to crap on others,  as if this will boost their own self-esteem.  I have had to deal with a handful of losers since opening the fly shop that have to place blame on why their life (or trip) sucks.  Certainly can’t blame themselves for their inability to catch fish…  I try to provide accurate information on what is happening on the rivers here in Yakutat,  so visitors can make the best decisions about their trips and know a little of what to expect.  But to some,  that is unacceptable.

In March,  it was looking like we were going to see a dramatically early run,  with high water temps and no snow.  The winter fish had already been down throughout the river for nearly a month and as the flows dropped after the mid-month storm,  tremendous numbers of spring fish were coming in all at once.

I have far less influence on when people come than most think.  Most people have scheduled vacations from their jobs and non-refundable airline tickets,  so their dates are set 6 months ahead and have no ability to adjust for an early (or late) run based on anything I type here.  But…  if the run is coming in and the best fishing of the entire season is happening when ordinarily there are few people on the river,  some people with flexible schedules can drop what they are doing and react to what is happening.

But it doesn’t increase the total number of people coming…  It just enables some people to get their trips out of the way earlier,  relieving the later crowds and having fewer people fishing over spawners like we have in May.  My reports don’t harm the river,  just shifting the people around a little bit so the entire season can be enjoyed.  If anything,  it helps the river.  But that’s not what the losers were saying…

Believe it,  or not…  I am the reason the Situk has been ruined.  One guy e-mailed saying I was selling the river out.  Let’s see…  The lodges make money on the Situk.  The rental car places make money.  The gas stations,  the restaurants,  the city government and Forest Service all make money off the Situk.  The guy running the fly shop?  Not so much.  You see,  we just started our 12th season and I have yet to make back my initial investment.  So I have literally been working every day in the shop for 12 years and writing reports and answering phone calls at 5am…  for nothing.  Zip.  Zero. Ya,  I’m selling the river out.

The bitching mostly comes from non-locals who at some point had someone “sell” them the Situk and they were just fine with that.  But they crap on me because I would dare to let someone else in on the secret.  These losers also follow my blog to find out what is happening for their trip,  but are jerks to me and dragging my reputation into the toilet because other people read my reports too.  I don’t have a lot of patience for people anymore who got theirs and then try to prevent others from enjoying the same things.  Or the guys bitching about me posting reports,  while they themselves post glory photos on their Instagram page for their much smaller audience.  Kind of hypocritical.  Essentially,  I have a group of haters who are angry that I tell people the truth of what is happening.  If you have a problem with the truth,  you may want to rethink your life.

Most of the people I have met because of the shop are an absolute delight and my life is richer because of the friendships we have made.  The tiny number of morons tend to cast an oversized shadow over the good times.  What a sad and pathetic life you have if all you can do is complain about people who are just trying to do their best.  My apologies to all the new subscribers that this is the first post you’ll read.  You deserve better,  but then again,  so do I.  I’ll be taking time off from the blog and won’t be posting any fishing reports for a while.  I’m tired.

Winters in Yakutat

Pretty slow around here and hard to get motivated to do much (including blog).  But tonight is a very full moon rising over the end of runway 20.  And through all my heavy insulation in the hangar office,  you can hear the wolves howling.  They have been doing it for about a half hour now.  Life in Yakutat year ’round can be hard,  but moments like this put it all in perspective and remind me why I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And on that note…  Chris came back from Colorado about a week ago and immediately went fishing.  Well,  he went hiking anyway…  Hiked about 3/4th of the way up to the closure boundary and did not see a single fish.  Bummer for him,  but good news for the steelheaders coming later in April and May.  There are a handful of fish scattered around (I heard two of the 5 in the bridge hole were landed,  but those fish have vaporized),  but the run is not even close to starting to show.  Nothing like two years ago,  where February was pretty darned good and the run was basically over by mid-April…

Having some sleet and slush falling,  but not accumulating much.  Still a near zero snowpack,  which will make the river temp rise very quickly once we do see the warmth of April.  That is unless we get a big dumping,  which often happens in March.  Last year,  we had more fish in the river in Feb than we do now,  but 3 feet of late snow in March stalled the run and it ended up being relatively close to on-time.

Chris said the river looked perfect for fishing.  Good flow,  decent temperature.  Just no fish to be had.

And message to Doug Pautz and Wesley Reynolds…  Check your spam folders…  I answered your messages,  but I don’t think you got the reply…

Needing an Update

Yes,  I have been a little busy…  Sorry for the lack of posts…  Especially since we are having a TREMENDOUS sockeye run right now.  Last year,  we had 73 fish total through the weir.  As of two days ago,  we have over 25,000.  And basically no one here.  Is the run really strong,  or just really early…  no way to tell till it happens.  But boy,  the run is really on fire.  The parent year reached 118,000 fish and as of this date had 16,000 fish through.  We’re blowing the lid off that year.

And if you remember,  I predicted we’d see a 10,000 steelhead count…  Um…  it seems to be leveling off at right around 6,000…  In my defense,  we had a good storm right as the bulk of the steelhead were done spawning that flooded the river and made the weir non-fish tight for 4 days.  I’m going to say 4,000 fish escaped when the counters weren’t looking just because I want to be right and I have no other basis to prop up my argument…  It sure felt like a stronger run than that!

In other news…  I have my plane back finally.  It had been sitting in Sitka for the past 10 months,  after receiving a $17,000 annual that I couldn’t pay for till recently.  But she is back and we’re ready to go spend some time at the Italio cabin.  Speaking of which…

This has been a challenging year so far and so we are making a few changes.  My health problems over the past two months have taught me I need a day off occasionally…  We opened the fly shop 10 years ago this season working long hours without many days off for 9 months straight.  This summer,  we are going to be closed Sunday and Monday.  We’ll be back to 7 days a week in mid-August when silver season starts,  but in the meantime,  I’ll closing the doors two days a week to get a break.  Granted,  that probably means I’ll be out commercial fishing the Akwe with the family,  but if it isn’t a physical break,  it is a mental break from the fly shop and things I have to do around here.

It is hard living in your place of business.  You have no escape.  The phone rings 24/7,  customers come and go at all hours of the day and night…  In the past,  we said to just pull up and honk if we were closed and we’d come running downstairs to help.  I just can’t do that anymore…  Sorry.

And maybe I’ll even get a chance to fly fish for some sockeye again!  Haven’t done that in three years,  since I first showed Chris how.

Busy and Not-So-Busy

It is that summer season where I don’t have time to do all the things I want to do.  One of those things is keeping the blog updated.  I think I did a pretty good job through steelhead season,  but then I really dropped the ball through the pre-sockeye lull.

Oh,  what has been going on…  1) If you didn’t know this already,  we had an opportunity to buy the building here at the airport that the TSA and National Weather Service is in.  It is another older building that need a a lot of renovation work – exactly what I had time for…  We had been covering the “management” of it through the winter to help out a friend,  who was heading south for a couple months for some heath issues.  Well,  those health issues turned into going into hospice care till the end.  We decided to go ahead and buy into it as a partnership with another local couple,  but now it appears we have interest in renters for the remainder of the building – space that hasn’t been updated since the Forest Service moved out of it in the 70’s.  Complete with orange carpeting with cigarette burn holes throughout.  So,  this will be a complete resheetrocking of about 1,700 square feet,  new floors,  doors,  porches,  flooring, electrical,  heat and creating new ADA-compliant bathrooms and a kitchen.  By September 1st…  While we already need to remodel the other existing 5 bathrooms in the building to bring them up to ADA standards…

2) We’re also finally starting in on the hangar again.  Next month,  there will be two cruise ships coming to Yakutat for a brief visit.  The hangar will be one of their main stops,  where we’ll set up local vendors and assemble Yakutat’s motley fleet of aircraft for a bit of an aircraft museum-ish feel.  That mean I need to finally get the bathrooms in here too.  The whole hangar bay will need to be cleaned out and uncluttered,  so it is presentable…

3) We just held our first Saturday Market last weekend and there will be two more of those the last Saturdays of July and August.

4) Commercial fishing on the Akwe starts tomorrow morning at 6am and will run each week for 36 hours.  Tanis and I will fly out each Saturday night to do that and sometimes if Chris can cover the shop,  Teen and Eden will come out with us.  That’s what happens this week anyway…

5) We just picked up the mail handling contract with Alaska Central Express,  so every morning except Sunday,  we have to meet the ACE plane and haul the mail to the Post Office.  We’re one month into that now and I miss sleeping in!  I’m a little tired (and cranky) right now…

6) Our fueling project is finally moving forward after 2 years,  so that is also draining my time away,  but at least in theory that will help fund an employee,  so I can pawn some of this off on someone else to help with the workload around here.  In theory…

Oh,  there is more but I won’t belabor it right now.  Hopefully I’ll get to share some of it as exciting news,  rather than use it as an excuse for not posting any updates.  Now after my whining,  I’ll get a long-overdue fishing report in…

What Occupies our Day

Ah…  the glamorous life of a fly shop owner…  I used to have guys pass through the shop in the early years tell me they dream of running a fly shop because they love to fish so much.  They don’t say that to me anymore because they know how little I get to fish now…  When the fishing is good,  I’m chained to the counter,  so I can help you guys catch fish.  Still rewarding and a pleasure to do,  but fish…?  Not so much.  Instead,  this is what I get to do…

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Our order of 14mm mottled tangerine beads arrived with a problem.  Only about 1/4th of them had holes.  I didn’t realize this until someone came in and complained.  OOPS!  Troutbeads said the plate must have been too hot,  so the holes sealed themselves back up as they cooled.  They sent me a new batch of beads,  but it takes a month to get things up here.  One of the reasons we have to be such a “well stocked” shop – if we don’t have the goods,  we won’t sell the goods.  You can’t wait a month for our order to show up (our Simms order took a month to move from Anchorage to Yakutat this spring!).  We gotta have beads and THIS is THE bead!

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So…  Chris,  Teen and I spend an evening going through every single bead packet,  sorting the ones with holes from the ones without,  then we drilled about a thousand holes in plastic beads.  We started off trying to melt the hole through with a heated safety pin.  It worked OK,  but usually left a black spot on the bead.  Out came the screw gun and a search through the hangar for drill bits small enough.

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About 4 hours later,  we had some packets of 14mm mottled tangerine beads to sell.  And a couple holes in my finger.  So much for getting to bed early that,  or getting a blog post in that night…

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I have a lot of days that go like that.  Not exactly productive,  but you had beads to fish with.  At least someone got to fish with them,  ’cause it sure wasn’t me…  Did I mention I needed a day off?  I’ll be less crabby when I get back from a couple days at the cabin.  I promise!

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Now that the season is winding down,  I may actually get to go rip some lips again.  Maybe…

Steelheaders are Funny…

I really do love this time of year.  Spring brings warmer weather and the ability to get out and enjoy our life in Yakutat to the fullest.  We’re seeing a little traffic through the shop,  so after our long dark winter,  we have a little cash flow to start getting caught back up on our winter bills.

Chris with a nice little dolly

Chris with a nice little dolly

And we have the early arrival of the steelhead season.  Steelheaders are serious fishermen.  This is THE thing they do and enjoy.  Salmon season brings a lot more people,  but the steelheaders are SERIOUS fishermen.  It is all about the fishing.

Because steelheaders tend to be so serious,  they tend to be very competitive.  Competitive means one can’t share their particular secrets with your competition.  Subtle deception is a necessary ingredient for beating those around you and even those who will be coming in the weeks that follow.  You must have a leg up on even the people who will be fishing long after you have already returned home.

Me with a fish on in my favorite fishing hole

Me with a fish on in my favorite fishing hole (my secret location)

Ahh…  fishing reports…  It is hard to believe that we are now beginning our 8th season in the fly shop.  8 years of trying to keep my reports page as up to date and accurate as possible.  The majority of the reports I receive are as accurate as I could hope for – from the perspective of the fisherman.  Obviously you have a lot of skill-level and effort to factor in,  since some guys have a lot of skill and knowledge of this river and will undoubtedly be more successful.  And you have those who don’t do this particular river but once a year and are less successful.  Their reports are going to be a bit less enthusiastic.

A bright-as-a-dime hen steelie

A bright-as-a-dime hen steelie

Then you have the “competitors”.  They seem to have a compulsion to distort,  or fabricate their accuracy.  Granted all fishermen lie – in fact we have a license to lie!  Size,  numbers,  patterns…  I think I’m pretty good at sifting through the fudge to find what may actually be happening on the river.  But then you have the flat-out lie-their-pants-off fishermen…  They crack me up.

Chris took this photo of a juvenile bald eagle during the winter steelhead run,  who got himself soaked in the Situk and couldn't fly - ice forming on his wings and no way to help the poor doomed bird

Chris took this photo of a juvenile bald eagle during the winter steelhead run, who got himself soaked in the Situk and couldn’t fly – ice forming on his wings and no way to help the poor doomed bird

You really think I’ll believe that after 8 years of you never catching anything,  you’d be returning every single year for the same slot?  Really?  I don’t sit around hanging on every word every fisherman utters.  There are those who I trust and those,  who I verify.  And those I completely ignore.  I do sometimes post the outlier report just for variety,  but usually you can read the guy who’s level of bullshit exceeds his ability to justify why he comes back to do so poorly year after year.

My favorite (sarcasm here) is the guy who demands accurate reports that he reads religiously before he comes,  then tries to give crap reports while he is here.  There are a LOT of these guys.  They want to know what to truly expect,  then want to give everyone else false info.  Hey,  what ever floats your driftboat.  If you think you are clever,  you aren’t.  Everyone can read you like the open book you are.  That’s OK though.  I enjoy the game.  It is all part of the life of a fly shop owner I guess.  Weeding through the nonsense,  so I can hopefully be as helpful as possible to the people who deserve my encouragement and support.

March 30th,  2008,  Teen is doing the final cleaning of our construction dust before we officially open two days later...

March 30th, 2008, Teen is doing the final cleaning of our construction dust before we officially open two days later…

Don’t get me wrong,  I really love what I do.  This has been a fun and educational 8 years.  Starting out,  I knew a lot about salmon,  but virtually nothing about steelhead.  It has been my customers,  who have enlightened me about the ins and outs of these wonderful trout.  I still only fish about 2 weeks a year on average for steelhead,  so most of you still know more than I do.  I appreciate your patience and kindness to this ignorant recovering commercial fisherman.

A chrome-bright Situk steelhead

A chrome-bright Situk steelhead

After 8 years,  the fly shop still isn’t paying us.  We continue to grow our inventory to where a real fly shop should be and that doesn’t leave anything left (yet).  16 hours a day,  9 straight months without a break with no pay…  but we are still thoroughly having a great time.  A great time because of you.  Thank you for helping us and joining us for this journey.  This shop is succeeding because of you.  Without you,  we’d be nowhere.  Sometimes I’m not sure where we are,  but we’re still open and still getting a little better with each passing day.

One of Chris' many steelhead on that damn Dolly Llama

One of Chris’ many steelhead on that damn Dolly Llama

Now if all your fishing reports could be based on some sort of reality,  that would be a help.  But I’ll take what I can get…  even if sometimes just for the entertainment value.

A fly shop devoid of any fly fishing stuff - this is a week after we opened and there was still this much empty space!

A fly shop devoid of any fly fishing stuff – this is a week after we opened and there was still this much empty space!