Life on Canyon Creek
By Dennis Dickson
As a young boy of seven, my family moved to the outskirts of Granite Falls,
Washington. We rented an old log cabin which my mom, dad, brother and
three sisters lived in. My brother Rob and I stayed out in the laundry room.
I think my mom liked it that way.
I was an ordinary kid by most standards. I liked frogs and snakes and most
anything that would move or I could stick in my pockets. Some say that the
name Dennis was almost prophetic. . . never did understand that one.
My mom did though. I got to thinking my daily spanking was a daily ritual,
and my dad was laying into me pretty good. It wasn't my fault really. Mom
was the one who forgot to check my overalls before she washed them. I
guess frogs will drown in pockets. How was I to know? Just an ordinary
My life was outside. I lived for outside. You could beat me, but if you really
wanted to hurt Dennis, make him stay in the house all day. I considered
school to be like a big house. My fame proceeded me but that is another
Near our little log home was a stream called Canyon Creek. It's a tributary
of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River.
In the summer, my mom would have chores laid out for me that would take
me until lunch to finish. My incentive was, if I finished and did a good job, I
could spend the afternoon fishing in Canyon Creek.
When I look back on those days now, a young boy of seven, out tromping
around on a wild stream, I have to marvel. I seriously doubt I would ever
let one of my children do this. I was supposed to be fishing with my
brother, but he would usually get tired or hungry and head for home. I
wouldn't come back sometimes until dark. I sometimes got spanked for
staying out late, but if the fishing was good. . .well you know.
My introduction to fly fishing is not the noble thing you might guess. I was
a worm and sinker man, mostly. I had this ritual. I would dig worms in
mom's garden (they liked it there), and besides, who wants to dig where the
ground is hard? The Karma was, if I found lots of worms, fishing would be
' tuff so I would have to stay out late, and if I only found a few worms, I
would have to miser my offerings by only using a half a worm per hook,
and hope the "Whipper Snappers" (little fish) wouldn't steal my bait.
My dad is not what you might call a purist. He grew up in Wyoming during
the depression and as a son of a sheep farmer, if you caught or shot
something, you ate it.
He does enjoy fishing the fly though, and he would join me on occasion
when work would permit. I became intrigued by the feather and floss. Not
because of the "river runs through it" romantic kind of thing. I had more of
a pragmatic approach. I found I could catch almost as many trout, and I
didn't have to spend my time, rooting around in my mothers favorite
garden for worms. Spankings not withstanding.
Two flies is all I carried. A Grey Hackle-Yellow, and a Royal Coachman.
Single split shot, and my Sears and Roebuck steel rod, and I was on my
way. Life simply didn't get better than that.
Don't remember much about the reel. Only that it was a hand me down
from my dad, and made a sound like a rusty fence when you pulled the
line out. Always thought I was scaring fish, after I had worked so hard to
sneak up on a pool.
Size of trout is a relative term. If I was fishing the South Fork, I expected
fish big enough to bring home to eat. In Canyon Creek, whipper snappers
(salmon and steelhead smolt) were the more likely victims. I would often
carry a little plastic pail if I wasn't fishing far from the cabin. My dad had
brought home a bull dozer and dug out the neatest swimming hole right
down near the creek. I decided I would start my own fishery, and often
carried my pail of whipper snappers back to the swimming hole to grow
up. Found this was almost as fun as catching the fish.
Winter flows came and broke out the dam on my little pond fishery. I cried
alligator tears, totally convinced it was that mean old Mr. Smith, down the
way, that let my fish go.
I suffered through another school year, and finally it was summer again. I
remembered I had to weed the garden before I could go fishing. I even
found some worms as I pulled weeds, but I was a fly fisherman now, just
like Joe Brooks and Ted Trueblood. I even talked my dad into a real fly
line. The hardest was giving up the split shot.
It was a muggy August afternoon, as I headed off to the creek. It felt good
to be out. I was working my way downstream in overalls and sneakers,
flopping my fly in each pool as I went. Don't remember too much about the
hole, but as my fly swung in front of a big rock it felt like it got stuck. I lifted
back to clear the fly, but it wouldn't come. I gave a big ol' jerk, and the rod
slammed down, and the reel howled its crossing the rusty fence thing, as
the Sears line melted away. I managed to get my thumb on the whirling
reel handle, and it smacked my knuckle harder than Mrs. Ash did, for
looking up Suzie Johnson's dress.
My steel rod was heaving, reel was wrenching and some dang fish was
trying to take my rod away! I finally got my pole in kind of a bear hug, not
fully aware of what was causing all this commotion when the largest fish of
my life came completely out of the water. I couldn't believe it! A steelhead.
I knew it was because I saw one my neighbor caught a week before. I was
sick with envy. And now it was my turn.
The fish hit the water with a splash and headed off faster than the time I BB
gunned my sisters cat, and all I knew the largest fish of MY life was getting
Curt Gowdy here, wades in, throws down his rod, grabs his line with both
hands, and starts trying to hand line the steelhead in, like it is some six
inch trout. Snap! The line goes limp and Mr. Steelhead is gone. Even a
bruised thumb and soaking wet, couldn't compare with the heart ache I felt,
as a young boy on Canyon Creek.
Forty years have come and gone. I don't even know if the cabin is
there now, but it will always be with me. And some day I will return, and
reflect upon a steelhead that changed my life. Life on Canyon Creek.
~ Dennis Dickson
Dennis is a native of the Pacific Northwest, has lived in Arlington, WA, his entire life,
except for two year while attending the University of Washington and another two
years in Hawaii. Growing up near the North Fork of the Stilly, he has fly fished his
He graduated with a BS in the college of Fisheries and worked for the next eight
years as a fisheries biologist, on the Stillaguamish system. Dennis left this field
and began guiding fly fishers full time in the early 80's. After six years of guiding up
to 200 days a year, Dennis hit burn out and went back to Fisheries working as a
consultant. After two years Dennis realized he missed fishing too much and
decided to branch out. He now spends half his time guiding in places like the
Sauk, Stilly, Grande Ronde, south east Alaska for steelhead, and Bluewater
flyfishing in Mexico. His other half of the year is interspersed with fisheries work,
saving spawning streams, and building private lakes throughout the state.
He is married with three kids (two in college) and enjoys working in his community
and church, (when he is in town). He likes people and loves fish. Watching anglers
catch their first steelhead on a fly is a thrill that never goes away. You can reach
Dennis by email at: DDDicksons@aol.com or on his website: www.flyfishsteelhead.com.
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