Adventures of Mac Lightfoot: Floating in the Bering Sea

The trip began with the usual amount of delays, the first of which occurred when the flight from Anchorage to Bethel was mysteriously cancelled. Mac and Silver were down but not out, knowing that patience was in order, even with the high-octane anticipation of traveling to a new river so central in their thoughts. With any luck the air taxi could still get them to the river before nightfall, which was quite late this far north in early August.

Thanks to the extra effort of the air taxi owner, Mac and Silver sat by the fire on the gravel bank of the river that evening, sipping Bushmills and Grey Goose, reveling in the day's events and the fact that their float would begin in the morning.

Rainbows and Dollies came to hand with regularity as the pair settled into the routine. Grayling soon entered the picture, and the next several days provided constant angling, with 100-fish days the norm. Sea-run Dollies were the main attraction, and Silver taped one to 27 inches. They blew up on the fly and tail-walked like rainbows, and in most cases, it was hard for Mac to tell which species was on the line. Most of his prior experience had confirmed that Dollies are dogged fighters, but usually stay sub-surface. These sea-run subsets were special.

Several days into the float, the pair began to catch silvers. Upon locating a promising looking slough, the two pitched flies and lures for hours with near-constant bent rods. Coho averaging 10 pounds were common, and occasionally a 15-pound hog would put a deep bend in one of their rods. Near the end of the day, Mac latched onto a 24-inch rainbow that proved to be the largest of the trip.

The pair continued to descend into the lower river. Camping spots and driftwood became sparse. The adventurers resorted to collecting firewood as they floated downriver. A cold front moved in, with wind and rain a constant companion. The next two days proved difficult, but the fish they did manage to land were surprisingly large rainbows. Turned out that the biggest rainbows of the trip were congregated in the lower river, counter to Mac's pre-trip thinking.

The last day's row was an all-day affair. Wind blew the raft upriver, and pelting rain and dropping temperatures put the non-rower in a near-hypothermic state. Settling a short distance upriver from the mouth, the pair erected camp and hoped they were far enough up the bank to avoid the tide washing into their tents or worse yet, taking the boat. As a precautionary measure, they pulled the boat high up the bank, pounded a stake into the ground and tied the boat to it. This step proved critical.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, it sounded like the river was in their tents. They scrambled to move away from the rising tide, and managed to stay dry. The boat floated in the rising water, but remained tied to the stake. Dawn found the pair bleary-eyed and ready to wrap up the trip.

The agreed-upon takeout spot should have been within a short row, but due to unclear directions, the pair missed it. As they rounded the next corner, the Bering Sea snapped into focus. The pair remained uncertain where to go, but soon spotted a truck driving along the beach some 1,000 yards away. The men attempted to reach the other side, but soon discovered they were mired in a huge mud flat that would not allow them access.

Mac jumped out of the boat and began to drag it from the mouth of the river and out of the Bering Sea. Then he jumped in, rowed it across the river, ran a mile to the slough, which was the projected takeout spot. There he collapsed in a sweaty pile. The delay in meeting the pickup service caused them to miss their flight back to Bethel. As the pair sat on the runway, waiting to be picked up, Mac tried to remain calm and fight the urge for a confrontation.

Shortly thereafter, the air taxi arrived and got them back to Bethel in plenty of time to make their flight back to Anchorage. They had caught many fine fish, had spent an exhilarating week exploring a new river, and had even floated in the Bering Sea.