Eagles Are Like That
By Dennis Dickson
A few years ago, I spent my spring months guiding on the Skykomish
River in the now popular, Wild Steelhead Release fishery from Sultan to
First light would find me and mine, fly fishing a flybar across from the Two
Bit Hole. It was called the "Two Bit," because the farmer would allow
access through his property for a quarter. Pretty neat deal that I wish
would have caught on with more landowners.
It is actually an island pool, so walk-ins couldn't get to it, and most boat
didn't put in there because they didn't want to give up the upper river
pools below the Sultan River. Anyway, it a good fish holder, fly fishes well,
and a great place to start the day.
Hal likes to start at O'Dark hundred, so we can fish first light. No big deal to
me, but he likes it, and as he is booking for the week . . .it's his party.
The river had been dropping after a recent rain, and the Skykomish was
high but very fishable. Hal had swam some nice fish the day before, all
taking the fly in the softest current seams, right in the "Hang Down."
The Skykomish meanders its way through the Snohomish River Valley in
this area. It's not what you might call teaming with wildlife, but it has its
share. There was even a family of albino deer, across from Buck Island.
Pretty cool if you have never seen one.
A few years ago, we actually started protecting our wildlife and some of
the populations have really taken off. I was fishing a Seattle boy the other
day and I pointed out a flock of geese as they flew by in ragged formation.
Something you never saw when I was boy.
He looks at the geese and says with disdain "Flying garbage cans,
Dennis." I didn't point out any more goose flocks. I figured he must have
been from Lake Washington.
Eagles have made a huge comeback. Used to be, you could spend a whole
year in the wilds and maybe see a handful. Now the rafters are out on the
winter Skagit, in numbers we fondly to refer to as "The Rubber Ducky"
hatch, looking at all the birds.
"Now if you have trouble seeing the birds, just look for the Dixie cups in
the trees," the biologist says, as they float by. The people are bundled up
in the raft. We are standing up to our wazoo in ice water. So who is the
dummy here? Suddenly I don't feel so smug.
Anyway, so not only have the eagles returned, a pair have built a gigantic
nest in a large Cottonwood across from the flybar on the Skykomish. We
have called this pool the Two Bit Flybar for years. Eagles show up a few
years ago and suddenly, now its the Eagles Nest pool.
Oh well, have to admit, the name is a lot more romantic than the Two Bit
hole. Sounds like a kick back from a Clint Eastwood movie.
So we are out on the water. The river is dropping, and the fishing is good.
Hal is carefully fishing his way down the pool. The dawn is breaking over
the hills. Pretty morning. Hal lets his fly hesitate as the fly line swims
downstream below him. He lifts up and the rod goes down. At first he
thinks he's into a steelhead, but you can tell by the shake of the rod, it's a
foul hooked sucker.
"Let it hang down too long," I muse. Suckers lie in the slack water edge off
the steelhead currents. Sure enough, A moment later, a brown sucker
thrashes in the surface. I hate unhooking suckers. Equivalent to handling a
water slug. . . and they are so ugly.
So this sucker is slashing around in the surface and, just like that, this
eagle swoops down, snatches up the fish and heads back to the nest. Hal's
reel cranks off.
Now picture this. Hal is standing in the Skykomish river silhouetted by the
morning light peaking over the hill tops. His rod is bowed but his line is
skyward because his fly is impaled in the back of this poor sucker fish. Mr.
Eagle has no idea there are any strings attached (small pun) and is flying
off with the kid's breakfast. Hal's reel is really whining now. The bird is into
the backing, and poor Hal doesn't dare jerk for fear of hooking the Eagle.
I am so amazed by the image of Hal and the Eagle outlined in the morning
light, I swear if I had the where with all to pull out my Olympus, it was shot
for National Geographic. Besides, the look on Hals face was hilarious!
The eagle finally decided something was wrong and dropped the fish on
the water. Hal's line fell like confetti. He stripped in the hapless (and dead)
sucker, and unhooked it. Hal was about to throw it out in the water.
I said, "Hey, Hal, how about tossing the sucker on the shore and let's see
Not a minute went by and in comes the eagle snatches up the now
unbridled sucker and flies back to the nest. Life is good again . . . unless
you are the sucker fish.
Best of fishing. ~ 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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