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The reintroduction to home and nature
Dolly Varden are a type of char and the Thorne River is full of them now - photo by Photo by JEFF LUND

The entire forest and water wasn’t even whispering.

They even got the birds to cooperate in the early morning hush as I stood on the shore of the Thorne River. A deer stood in tall grass a hundred yards up from me, an eagle stared. The flow was slow and deep in this portion, which is why I chose it as my put-in spot. The plan was a three-mile solo float on a $49.99 inflatable raft, then hike the road back to where I left the car.

What could possibly go wrong?

I eased myself into the vessel and listened for leaks. The raft was supposed to fit two people, but with my gear bag, five-weight fly rod and myself, the thing was well under the 300-pound weight limit, but completely full.

I know those details don’t sound like the makings of a great idea and yeah it’s bear country, the river is almost two feet higher than last summer and there is no cell phone reception, but I have been on this section of water before, I am familiar with the forest and I know how to make a shelter, fire and get found if need be. That is what made my plan adventurous, not stupid. There is a difference, kids.

I pushed off from shore into the almost imperceptible current and started nymphing for the bruiser rainbows and Dolly Varden below. Nature breathed and went about its business. The deer got in the water and started swimming to the other side; the eagle took off up river.

The river turned in deep, sweeping turns before widening a bit and quickening after a half mile or so. Rowing required more attention, so fishing stopped. A branch or sharp rock would make the story better in the long run as long as I lived, but no one looks at the long run when you are somewhere on an Alaska river in a sinking raft. The river didn’t get deep again until the end of the trip. I attached the boat to my wading belt and threw my line in the direction of sockeye salmon and Dolly Varden.

When I had had enough, I stashed the raft in the brush and started the two and a half mile walk back to the car. I had shoes in my pack, but was sure someone would pick me up, so I didn’t bother changing. It was along this line of thought that prompted me to deflate one of the compartments in the raft and carry it on my back.

If I looked pathetic enough, then perhaps it would ensure someone would pick me up.

I did look pathetic, there is no doubt. I probably looked like some sort of Bass Pro Shops mutant or transformer — fly rod in hand, back pack covered by half deflated raft, in waders and wading boots, walking on the side of the road, miles from the nearest town, in 85-degree heat.

Cars going the other direction waved, because that’s what people do here. The six cars traveling in my direction crossed the centerline as to not buzz me, but none slowed or offered a ride. I don’t really blame them I guess. People don’t just walk around on the highways around here without some sort of a plan. The day was nice, and so if I had chosen to walk, people respected it.

I got back to the car, downed three bottles of water, drove up river a mile and fished for another hour and a half.

It’s good to be home. 

To contact Jeff Lund, email