Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Editor's Note

White Russians and Chrome Steel

Apparently, many of us have become lushes during the Covid-19 pandemic, with alcohol sales booming in North America and elsewhere, especially online orders of wine and spirits.

It wasn’t like we didn’t dabble in the drink prior to the pandemic but we, too, are seeing this anomaly and, occasionally, we’re fine being part of it.

Take a small gathering the other night, just three men all masked-up, keeping some distance between, standing around a small bonfire. Pre-covid, we’d have been fairly tame, drinking the middle-age delight called Coors Light, and maybe taking a whiskey and soda break somewhere in the mix.

But now, with time on our hands, a couple of the guys are venturing out; one night it was classic Old Fashioneds with the orange peel; this time it was White Russians.

Ah, the White Russian. Who can even speak those words without considering The Big Lebowski and a frustrated Jeff Bridges saying, “I’m the dude!” And how could I forget a friend embracing that Lebowski spirit during a trip to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula for steelhead? A sober friend drove the pickup while the Lebowski wannabe ordered White Russians all the way from Anchorage to Homer.

My pal isn’t the only one who’s had a taste for the White Russian, which is also called the Caucasian. The critic and essayist Edmund Wilson, who wrote Lexicon of Prohibition, was a great proponent of the drink. He was also a mentor to such writers as Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. His most famous quote is this: “I’m afraid that if I had a little more money, I’d decide to spend the rest of my life drinking beer.”

Having embraced that spirit with the White Russian, my friend’s antics didn’t stop until the seventh day of our trip when we boarded a jet in Anchorage and headed home. He barely kept his eyes open. When the flight attendant asked for our orders, he wagged her away with a finger and shook his head.

He had nothing to complain about. We fished several rivers for steelhead and coho salmon and he’d come away with a chrome-bright hen metalhead on the Anchor and a 15 or 16-pound buck coho on the Kasilof. Between, he’d landed a couple beastly 10-pound rainbows. Surprisingly, he’d managed to keep his body upright and his waders dry, and he’d fished very well. Over time, I tend to whittle down trips into defined memories. This one I remember for two things: White Russians and chrome steel.

It is steelhead time in several portions of North America, including the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest. This is good news because we’re still locked in a pandemic and domestic fishing trips hold special appeal. That’s probably true wherever you live, too. If you’re thinking of steelhead, it’s time to book your 2021 dates now, ahead of widespread covid vaccinations and a return to semi-normal travel. Two of your best steelhead options are Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska, and the Skeena River in northern British Columbia.

Prince of Wales offers small-to medium-size stream fishing for steelhead that commonly range between eight and 15 pounds. The island is located in temperate rainforest west of Ketchikan, Alaska. Its location means residents of western Washington and the Seattle metropolis could shed traffic congestion and pandemic woes and, instead, be casting for wild steelhead in a remote setting just a few hours after taking off from SeaTac International. Soooo easy. Who knew?

During a week of fishing on POW, as it’s called, you could dine on all sorts of seafood offerings, including Dungeness crab, spot prawns, side-stripe shrimp, ivory-white king salmon, and halibut. You’ll hear spruce grouse drumming in the woods, see black bears feeding on fresh sedge, and you may land several of the most beautiful wild steelhead on the planet. For a better idea of what spring steelheading in southeast Alaska is all about, check out the article called Drenched.

Canadian’s have it good, too, with prime winter steelhead options extending up and down the coast. Perhaps the best of those is found on the legendary Skeena River, which is located near the towns of Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers, in northern British Columbia.

This large river begs for the spey rod and swung flies. It routinely kicks out large steelhead. Go there this spring and you may hook into a bright metalhead that weighs between 12 and 20 pounds . . . or more. Skeena steelhead can push the 30-pound mark.

The Skeena is best known for its fall run of steelhead. The spring fishery has been pushed under the radar for many years. This fantastic run of chrome bruisers is a secret no more. If you’re interested in big fish on swung flies early in the year, in a beautiful setting, book a trip for March or April and get your tackle in order—these fish are rockets. For a better idea of what Skeena spring steelhead are like, read Dana Sturn’s article called, Skeena Spring.

These two trips could make lifetime memories whether White Russians are included in the mix or not. When I chase spring steelhead in 2021, those cocktails—at least one or two—will be included. Like music and fine cigars, drinks have a way of taking us back in time and space. What better way to recall those old “Lebowski” memories than heading back out on the water. See you out there.

—Greg Thomas, editor-in-chief


White Russian
1 1/2 oz. vodka
1 1/2 oz.coffee liquor
3/4 oz. heavy cream