It usually happened suddenly – the air would become still and turn the lake glassy smooth. It wasn’t long before the trout would begin to feed.
Hastily reeling in and setting aside spinning gear, Skeet would grab his fly rod as I guided the boat toward the lily pads, where the big ones were starting to rise.
Skeet was an artist with a fly rod. I often told folks he could put a fly into a teacup at 20 yards, and I wasn’t exaggerating. The way he deftly wielded the rod reminded me of the way an orchestra conductor waves a baton.
“Aren’t you going to fish?” Skeet asked. “No, I have more fun watching you,” I replied.
I edged the boat closer to the lily pads. After only about three or four casts, he had a solid strike. The end of his pole bent and then came the sound guaranteed to pump a fisherman’s adrenaline: the whine of the reel’s drag as the fish sharply pulls away.
“Yah!” He exclaimed, with a short laugh. “Fish on!”
Because Skeet used very light gear, with only a three-pound test line, it took him a while to bring in a fish – especially if it was 16 inches or larger.
But even with the bigger ones, he rarely snapped a line, mainly because of the way he set the drag. Several minutes passed, and after the fish made a couple of spirited jumps and runs, Skeet gently guided it close to the boat. I was ready with the net. “That’s a beauty,” I declared.
“Too big to eat,” Skeet noted. “Let ‘em go.”
We pulled away from the bank of lily pads and headed toward a deeper part of the lake where we recalled catching some big ones. With so many Rainbows rising on this calm evening, we weren’t worried about catching enough small ones for dinner.
I don’t know anyone who enjoyed fishing more than Skeet Munn, my brother-in-law.
We had been fishing together for many years and every outing was a new experience, as if we were doing it for the first time.
Fishing the Rainbow electric: Skeet was 25 years my senior and taught me a particular method of trout fishing that stuck with me for years: Trolling with a boat powered by an electric motor. We set the motor at its slowest speed and let out a lot of line—50 yards and greater—trailing dark, flatfish lures that jigged about six to eight inches below the water’s surface. My most effective flatfish lure was, surprisingly, the hardest to see in the water: all black.
We fished just about every lake in the Mat-Su Valley and beyond, sometimes dragging his 12-foot aluminum skiff a quarter of a mile to reach a lake that we would often have to ourselves. Along with fishing tackle and other gear, including a heavy 12-volt battery, some of these outings were mini-expeditions requiring multiple relay carries.
One of our hike-in lakes was northeast of Wasilla and required crossing the Little Susitna River. We managed to ford the stream with water only inches below our hip boots. From there it was a two-mile hike to the lake. Someone had left an old wooden boat there, with oars, so on this particular trip the electric motor and battery stayed at home.
Skeet was a stickler for eating fish when they were fresh, so before oaring out onto the lake, we got out the frying pan and made dinner preparations at our camp. Over the years we returned to that place often and never saw a soul. Good fishermen never divulge their fishing spots, so I’ll plead the 5th.
When we were on equal footing and both using spinning gear, with identical lures, Skeet consistently caught more fish.
It took a long time, but I eventually figured it out…at least I think so. He had pulled in so many fish in his long life that he didn’t care whether he caught anything. And he possessed something that I sorely lacked: patience. “Somehow,” I thought, “the fishing gods reward him because he doesn’t care.”
Skeet loved everything about being outdoors. The smallest things made him laugh–like the yodeling calls of loons or the sudden splash of a beaver’s tail on the water. He loved to laugh. A fire, a dinner of freshly caught Rainbow trout, a setting sun reflecting its rosy glow in the lake, a tent and a warm sleeping bag and sometimes a book, were all he needed to be right with the world.
We didn’t always catch fish.
After a while, I inherited some of his ambivalence and was simply content to be out with him on the water, especially on those crisp autumn days when forest smells drifted across the lake, with yellowed leaves floating in the eddied coves and the sight of geese flying high overhead.
In 2010 at age 90, Skeet died from natural causes in an Anchorage hospital. Unfortunately, I was unable to be there. One of his nurses told me that right up until the end, he was telling jokes and regaling the staff with fishing stories.
There were surely fishermen who caught more fish than Skeet and bigger ones, perhaps with better techniques; but no one loved fishing more. My sojourns with Skeet were more than fishing trips, and I will forever treasure those times I spent with him.
Many years have gone by, but as clear as if it were yesterday, I can picture that rhythmic conductor-wave of his fly rod. Then the line would unfurl to carry the fly-tipped leader to the exact spot where the trout dimpled the lake’s surface. My sister’s husband Skeet, my friend, was the best fishermen I have ever known.