Editor's Note
By Greg Thomas

Sea-run cutthroat on a busted rod.

There have been two major happenings around the FFI scene since the release of the April issue, one being the addition of Alex Suescun as our Saltwater Editor, the second being the death of my favorite spey rod, the cult classic Sage TCX nicknamed The Deathstar.

The addition of Suescun is a boon to our FFI efforts and for all of you—Suescun comes over from a long career at Salt Water Sportsman and has tendrils into the fly-fishing travel business. There’s nothing he won’t throw for, especially salty creatures of the flat-sided variety and those with flapping gils and silver dollar size scales. It doesn’t end there? put a sail-like fin on the top of a hundred-pound fish and you’ll see his eyes light up, too. Got any questions on where and when to fish the salt and he’s the man for an educated answer.

Ok, the Deathstar. FFI made a voyage through Southeast Alaska in April with the one-of-a-kind operation, Thanks Alaska. This mothership experience shuttles anglers from one remote and untouched steelhead stream to the next, in ultimate style and comfort, and then the 68-foot long Hawkeye II anchors in isolated bays that look like they jumped off the pages of a Tolkien novel. You eat snow crab, spot prawns, halibut, gray cod, and salmon, most often taken fresh off the stern of the boat, or carted up from the depths in pots. It’s a unique and relaxed Five-Star dining experience in some of the most pristine and pretty landscapes in the world, all taking place in the incomparable Tongass National Forest.

Well, on the last day of my trip I hiked across a massive muskeg swamp and then bushwhacked downhill to a remote stream, searching for a spot that my father fished years ago. A photograph is framed in his studio showing him hoisting a massive steelhead, with a broad grin on his face. I wanted to see the place in person and by the time I found its my hands were spotted with devils club; moss and needles were stuck in my hair and had traveled down the back of my neck; and my waders were coated in sweat and mud from busting through the brush, crawling over fallen old-growth trees, and sliding down steep hillsides mostly on my ass.

I finally found the run, located below a challenging falls, and soon enough spotted a half-dozen or more steelhead resting in the flow. There was ledge rock and shelves and a fairly fast flow, so the presentation wasn’t going to be easy. My motto for winter/spring steelhead is low and slow. So I tied on a pink conehead fly, worked my way to a spot where I thought I might manipulate 10 feet of T14 to the bottom, and attempted a rollcast.

Didn’t work. Got hung up in overhanging branches and when I tried ripping the fly out of the tree my rod shot back into a rock wall that I hadn’t noticed. I heard the telling sound—crack!

Let’s say I wasn’t happy and leave it at that. I sat on a rock and put the rod into a sock and planned my exit strategy. I wanted to take in the scene, and think about my dad getting that steelhead, and picture him in the very place I as sitting. And well I was doing that I was also watching those steelhead. Suddenly I thought, I am here, and who knows when I might ever be back, and I still have a rod, and perhaps there’s a way to sling that godawful pink rabbit leech just far enough to give me a chance.

I unsheathed the Deathstar and estimated that three-and a-half feet of it was missing. I crawled out onto a rock and slung the fly toward the opposite bank . . . and you know what? It kinda worked. The fly reached the zone, it had enough time to sink, and the next thing I knew there was a steelhead in the air, flipping toward the opposite bank. Was there really a chance?

Maybe. But the fish tore line off the reel and I had to practically point the rod at it to keep the leader from breaking. It was like fighting a steelhead on a stout halibut rod and in the end the whole system failed. I reeled in the line and fly, laughed outloud for a second and looked around as if somehow some other person might have seen that shit-show. But this was Southeast Alaska, deep in the Tongass, not along some of the roadside, overfished steelhead streams to the south. This was pure wild, my playground. So I loaded up the Deathstar again, sent the fly sailing and ended up with an 18-inch sea-run cutthroat to hand. Three cutthroats later, I had to end the games and get back before people started wondering.

It wasn’t classic spey casting, you can be sure of that. And I didn’t get that steelhead to hand. But I added to a story that my dad and I now share, brief periods of time in a unique and wonderful wilderness setting, far from any clutter or distractions, a place that few people see, somewhere out in the wilderness, waiting for the next adventurous angler to make the commitment and gain their own stories. Which, in my opinion, is what adventure fly-fishing is all about.