Fishin’ with Mike at Jerome Lake
An Alaskan boy takes his out-of-state uncle fishing at Jerome Lake.
by Michael Hankins
From the day I set foot in the ‘Last Frontier’ I’ve been an avid fisherman. Nothing seemed more relevant. There was one brief period when fishing became unimportant. Unfortunately for my Uncle Noel, he flew to Alaska from Alabama during this downtime expecting me to be his fishing guide. That was forty-three years ago. “Noel and Gay are coming next month. Your uncle wants to go fishing. I hope you’ll find time to take him!” My face dropped like a rock. Mom couldn’t have hit me with more depressing news. I’d just graduated from high school and my priorities for the summer were set. My main function in life centered around two important things—cars and gals—in that order. Needless to say, Uncle Noel’s fishing trip didn’t fit either category. By the tone in Mom’s voice there’d be no getting out of it. The days quickly flew by and before I knew it, Uncle Noel along with Aunt Gay and her fleet of suitcases were in our driveway. I kept fingers crossed that the fishing excursion was merely a whim on his part. I should’ve known better. My hopes were dashed when Noel started unpacking all kinds of fishing paraphernalia. “That’s some collection of tackle you’ve got.” Noel had evidently been patron to every mail order firm in Field & Stream. Fishing gizmos of all types were crammed into a large woven tackle basket. Looking the stuff over, I noticed most were designed for bass. First thing we did was drive to Mt. View Sporting Goods and purchase the correct gear. An out-of-state fishing license was obtained as well. “Sooooo….. Mike. Have you planned where we’ll be headin’?” Yea, I’d picked a place. I would’ve loved taking him to a seafood restaurant, trolling for baked halibut and vegetables on a bed of white rice. Talk about a quick and easy trip! Instead, I decided on a small lake approximately one-hundred miles south of Anchorage. I’d caught decent sized Dolly Varden there years before. I figured it’d be the perfect spot for Uncle Noel to wet his line. "We’re goin’ to Jerome Lake. I hear there’s a large Dolly Varden jus’ waitin’ to meet you.” My Uncle’s eyes brightened at the mention of big ones. In the Land of Cotton, fish over eight inches in length were considered lunkers. As we talked I believe he envisioned a three-foot Dolly hanging reverently over his fireplace. We made plans to depart at six the next morning. Uncle wanted to hit the bed early and get a good night’s rest. The evening was young as far as I was concerned. I cruised over to my buddy Jeff’s with plans on being home at midnight. When the clock went off at five-thirty my eyes had barely shut. By the time I crawled out of bed Uncle Noel had showered, shaved, and packed our gear into Mom’s car. I'd planned on driving my 1968 Dodge Charger. Mom thought the constant roar of glass-pack mufflers might be irritating so we took her cushy Ford. After eating a hearty breakfast it was time to hit the road. “Mike, sure you wanna drive?” My lack of rest combined with the curves along Turnagain Arm put the man on edge. I sensed nervousness by the way his brake foot twitched at every corner. I suppose an illegal seventy miles an hour didn’t help. After crossing Ingram Creek, Uncle Noel finally relaxed. He munched on a box of glazed donuts up the long winding hill. Good thing Mom packed plenty of napkins. Making a pit stop at Johnson Pass revived us both. The cool morning air did wonders for alertness. For the first time I was beginning to enjoy our little excursion. Taking one last stretch for our legs, we headed down the highway. “Shouldn’t be much further. That’s it at the bottom!” When Noel first saw the lake he was visibly impressed. How could a person not be! Jerome Lake lies within a picturesque setting next to towering peaks. We quickly unloaded cooler and equipment. While Noel struggled to put on fishing gear I walked to the lake with my rod and reel. The water was glassy smooth. It reflected trees and mountains like a giant mirror. From what I’d been told this wasn’t a good sign. If Dollies were hungry they’d be jumping and dancing making the lake frothy. Finding a spot by a large flat rock I threw out my line. A red and white plastic bobber kept things from sinking. I placed a couple of salmon eggs on a single hook hoping fish would be hungry enough to grab them. Uncle Noel came along minutes later wearing a dull brown fishing vest stocked with colorful flies. He also had on a Sherlock Holmes hat plus hip waders. “This the spot Mike?” I informed him it was the place we’d caught some years previous. Totally satisfied, Noel went into a choreographed routine. The line from his reel danced back and forth across sparkling water. A bright red fly barely struck surface, swiftly returning with each snap of his wrist. It was evident Noel practiced this religiously because he was good. I was only happy not to be standing at his rear. Watching for a spell I kicked back on my ‘rock of comfort’ waiting for things to happen. With snacks and drink close at hand, this was my style of fishing. When I woke several hours later the sun was beaming down. Taking off a light jacket I looked around for Noel. He was at the opposite end of the lake near some tall reeds. Evidently he’d gotten warm. Unbeknownst to me he’d placed his vest and waders on top of the cooler.
Glassy water at Jerome Lake Grabbing a sandwich I ate lunch while downing a Coke. My portable radio wouldn’t pick up tunes being so far from town. After eating I resumed my search for the elusive giant Dolly. “Got any bites?” Startled at being awakened, I found Uncle Noel staring down at me. He had a disgusted look on his face. I reeled in tangled monofilament line from a clump of plants. “None so far…. can’t understand it?” “Might help if you had bait on your hook!” Pulling up my bobber Uncle Noel was right. The salmon eggs were long gone. I hadn’t noticed, being in la-la land. Uncle Noel on the other hand got bites he wasn’t aware of. The man had mosquito whelps on his arms and face. Plenty of insect spray kept the pests away from me. Offering a can of bug dope to my uncle, he immediately trucked off to an unfished part of the lake. Little did he realize ‘no-see-ums’ were waiting for him. A couple hours passed and I managed to stay awake. I watched as my uncle stumbled around the perimeter of Jerome Lake under siege. His arms were wailing at the sky. Turns out Arctic Terns were relentlessly dive bombing the man. The angry birds had nests nearby. After watching him try and whack the creatures I couldn’t help but chuckle. I wished I’d brought along Dad’s 8mm movie camera. Before long Noel made a beeline towards the car. “You ready Mike? I’ve had enough of this for one day!” Telling him I was eager to head back was an understatement. It was Friday and the action would be hot and heavy in Anchorage. The trip home was relatively quiet. Uncle Noel slept a good portion of it while I finished off snacks and a soda. Waking up somewhere near Bird Creek he had little to say. We were in radio range by then which was good for me. Our fishing trip ended a few minutes before seven. As we rolled into the driveway Aunt Gay and Mom were there to greet us. After hugs I recited a popular bumper sticker statement, “A bad day fishin’ beats a good day workin’!” Everyone laughed but Uncle Noel. He hurried inside with a long face. It was unfortunate we didn’t catch anything, yet on the other hand there were no slimy fish to clean. Throughout supper Uncle Noel remained mute. After eating, Aunt Gay applied Calamine lotion to his face, back, legs, and feet. He went directly to bed. I showered, ready to hit the town. Next morning when I got home Aunt Gay and Uncle Noel were gone. They’d left to visit Mt. McKinley for a few days. Mom was in the kitchen washing dishes. I knew she was mad, “What did you do to your poor uncle?”
Autumn colors at Jerome Lake “What do you mean?” I innocently replied. Mother went on to inform me she overheard Uncle Noel complaining. Not every thing could be heard but she understood this much, “Fishin’ with Mike was a total waste of time!” Word quickly spread amongst all relatives about our ill-fated fishing trip. While aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces have visited since, not one asked me to take them fishing. There were a couple of times we drove them to Sea Galley for fresh Alaskan seafood. On those trips everyone caught their limit and left happy. Looking back, things couldn’t have turned out better!
If you enjoyed "Fishin' with Mike At Jerome Lake" then check out "King Salmon Fishing in the Deshka River."