The trials and tribulations of the annual pilgrimage to Haines, Alaska, wherein the faithful endure as many as two weeks of soul-destroying insults and mockery, loosely organized around the migratory habits of one unfortunate species of salmonid.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

History of The Program

By Marlon Bessie

It wasn't always like this. In the old days, the beforetimes,
Haines and the fish swimming thereabouts remained a bit
of a mystery, even when we were there.

I cannot take credit as any sort of originator. I was merely a
conduit for those who came before me and gladly spread the
word. In March of 1994, I met Doug Schildwatcher on a work
course. Doug was in Whitehorse Tower at the time. Two days
of northern fish stories ended with Doug inviting me to drop in
anytime and he would set me up right. In September 1994,
after a transfer to Yellowknife and a free in-house "fam" flight to
Whitehorse, I took Doug up on the offer. He drew me a crude map
of Haines area's fishing spots and sent me off. That first year I
pretty much just caught Dollies and snagged the odd pink at the
Chilkoot lake. I did see some of the local land two silvers.
More importantly, the hook was set...

The next year Doug invited me to join his group in the great RV
adventure for a week in early October. A mid-summer transfer to
Edmonton Tower for Doug cancelled the trip and sent the pro-program
away from the RV design. Undeterred, I cast about at work for
interested parties and landed a game young Brian Konwitschny, who
met me in Whitehorse courtesy of the "fam." We spent three days
fishing, primarily on the mudflats near the Haines airport pullout on
the Chilkat and found rooms at the Halsingland. We could not identify
properly a chum from a silver and had many a shocked fisherman
wondering what we were doing when we threw back everything we
caught. A fellow from Haines Junction thought we were amusing boobs
and showed us a few spots along the Chilkat, including 21 Mike and
the landing above Mosquito Lake.

Nineteen ninety-six was an anomalous year. Brian and I plus fellow
Yellowknife ATC Tim Davis drove the 2,400 kilometres to Haines and
back for three days of fishing. That year saw us again at the Halsingland.
We fished mainly at the Chilkoot and there was quite a run on. Brian
and Tim each caught two, but it wasn't until the last hour of the last day
that I finally caught a real, live properly identified silver salmon.

Next year we were back on the flight and rental-car routine. Five of us
made the trip. Jim Russell had – gasp -- an eight-foot Ugly Stik (TM) and
heavier reel, which made casting and fighting these larger fish a bit easier
for him. Good thing too, because Jim caught a 25-pound silver by the
airport on the 'Kat, which stands as the largest fish ever on the program.
Also that year we got Halsingland rooms with their own entrances and
discovered the convenience of their walk-in freezer. (The Hotel proprietors
decided they'd rather let us loose in their kitchen than carve up our fish in
our rooms.) Also that year, as we left, we booked in for the following year
with the hotel owner and were offered room 25 and 26, the even-better private
entrance rooms.

By 1998, the modern PROGRAM was pretty much established. Fights, rental
cars, THE rooms at the Halsingland, fishing spots on both rivers. The big
surprise that year was Mike Boyles and the magic of the waders. Mike showed
the value of being able to wade around freely on both rivers and was the
one to first mine THE POOL on the 'Koot. Not surprisingly, the next year
everyone had a pair of waders.

Thus was born THE PROGRAM. So, mock the individual if you will (actually a
mandatory part of the PROGRAM), but never mock the PROGRAM.
-- mb

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