The author is playing the role of traveling angler, trying to get the best of what Wyoming has to offer, while others head to Alaska for the fish of a lifetime. (Courtesy photo | Jeff Lund)

The author is playing the role of traveling angler, trying to get the best of what Wyoming has to offer, while others head to Alaska for the fish of a lifetime. (Courtesy photo | Jeff Lund)

The big ‘What If…’

A good river is productive enough to make you happy, yet still challenging enough to frustrate you.

A good river is productive enough to make you happy, yet still challenging enough to frustrate you.

Though this applies to even my favorite steelhead rivers in Southeast, the frustration is different when you travel because it burrows like a warble fly you can’t reach since it’s not your home river and your time is limited. The North Platte (Wyoming) has joined the White (Arkansas) and Madison (Montana) as rivers on which I had legendary days by my standards but also flopped bad enough to bring me to tantrum. It’s like the river saying “Hey, guy, it’s not that easy.”

When you are lured to fishing grounds with stellar reputations, you sometimes get reminded that the all-time fish are sacred. While I can remember every river for the good, it’s the bad that seems to preserve better in my memory. I lost an epic fish on the White. I never caught a cutthroat on the Madison. I got skunked my second day on the North Platte.

I guess fishing has to have failure because if you owned every river every time there wouldn’t be much excitement in guaranteed success. However, I don’t think I would get tired of catching 50-pound king salmon.

Anyway, a place called the Miracle Mile gets its name because of something. Reputation is a funny thing because it goes hand-in-hand with expectations and there is no clear standard, especially if it’s your first time there.

So, should the expectation be the potential for one trout at 28 inches or half a dozen, none smaller than 18 inches? It does not take much to Alaskanize this but dialogue is a bit different at home this time of year because a good day is measured in how fast one can catch a limit and how big the salmon were.

My goal on the North Platte river in south central Wyoming was one fish. I wanted it to be a corker, of course, because this is the Miracle Mile. I’ve caught 16-18 inch brown trout on the Upper Sacramento River, Pit River and the White River. The best I got on the Madison was an incredibly beautiful, but only 15-inch fish. So, I’m well short of the brown trout of a lifetime. Which is probably good, because once I bring a mega-brown to hand, then what? Am I just destined for disappointment? Will I turn into one of those dudes who dismisses things like beauty because it’s just about catching fish in that elite class? Twenty-six or bust?

I can say that I would appreciate the big fish and never lose my passion for browns even after I catch one that’s wall worthy. Of course, I also said that I would be happy with just one nice fish, per day, on the Miracle Mile.

I caught a fish on the second cast. Then the third and put my rod down so my girlfriend could have the first shot through the bottom of the run. Both my fish were rainbows around 17 inches and she caught one herself. Things were cooking fast. Later I caught another, then a sucker fish, then the brown I can come to The Mile for, a brown trout pushing 19 inches.

It was only a little later that I got greedy and figured there were bigger ones out there and I wanted one of them. Next up was the mega-brown.

It was also later that I stopped catching fish and my drought continued until we left the next day.

I left the river with that familiar feeling of incompleteness that comes with fishing. Things are great, you’re happy, the trip was worth it. But man, what if …

• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. His column “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears twice a month.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau's incumbent delegation to the Alaska State Legislature from left to right: Representative Andi Story, D-Juneau; State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. All three lawmakers have filed for re-election and are so far running unopposed. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire, Courtesy photo / Jesse Kiehl, Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Local lawmakers all seek reelection

June 1, filing deadline.

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read