Adventures of Mac Lightfoot: Naknek Awakening

Mac's fascination with trout began at age 10 when he pulled a 6-inch brook trout from a stream in the Adirondacks. One day fishing the mainstem that said stream fed, one of Mac's college roommates pulled an 18-inch brown trout out of the river and Mac was astonished. The previous decade of experience reinforced that a 10-inch brown, or especially a 10-inch brook trout, was a trophy-sized creature. Little did he know.

One of Mac's early encounters with a big rainbow in Alaska absolutely obliterated preconceived notions. After a seemingly impossible battle and the eventual landing of a rainbow trout that encompassed all of two feet, Mac was simply awestruck. From that point forward, some even accused him of being horny for rainbows. To the present day, this remains true.

Little did he know what was in store on the Naknek River.

Mac arrived with a group of highly-skilled anglers. Present company included Mealy Mouth, The Enforcer, and Big and Bad. To guide the group, Mac enlisted The Angry Angler. To say that the trout landed over the next three days were massive does not adequately describe the brain-baffling sensation of seeing, holding and landing several 32-inch rainbows. On the final morning, Mac and the Angry Angler ventured alone to the lake's outlet. The Angry Angler emitted stern, but accurate instruction, and Mac proceeded to hook-up and land hens from 24- to 28 inches in succession for the next three hours. Riding a Penair flight back to Anchorage, Mac pondered the last four days in King Salmon, and realized that he had been forever changed and that he might not be able to function in normal society any longer.

The Naknek was never too far from his thoughts. Trips back to the river continued with regularity and he began to feel at home at Bear Trail Lodge. Morry and Donnalee Moorcroft became good friends, and treated Mac and Silver like they were family members. Upon arrival, Morry would pick them up and share news of the river. Gear would be quickly stashed in their cabin, gas cans were grabbed, and the two jumped in a boat and headed for rainbow water. As the years went by, the time between trips shrunk and Mac and Silver graduated to the better boat with the bigger motor.

Each big rainbow fueled the fire for more casts, deeper and more dangerous wading, and more hours spend chest-deep in howling winds, driving rain and numbing water. All the while, Mac and Silver embraced the river and occasionally held its trophy rainbows in their hands. From swinging black articulated leeches in the trough to chasing bait balls being chased by packs of 10-pound rainbows on the hunt and on to trolling the lake with Morry in the big boat, the men continued to land big trout on most trips.

The culmination of those years of training leads us to one of Mac's most gratifying and utterly gut-wrenching Naknek rainbows. Silver lay resting in the cabin, fighting a severe cold that threatened to send him back to Anchorage early. Mac sat in the lodge drinking endless cups of coffee with Morry and Donnalee, swapping stories of big rainbows. At about 11:30, Mac's caffeine intake was so great that he had to get on the water. The previous day Mac had drowned his camera while landing his first Spey-caught trout, a healthy 27-inch buck. As he sat in the boat warming the motor, Mac contemplated asking Donnalee to borrow a camera, but then decided that many good fish had already been photographed and that with half the day elapsed, the chances of catching a trophy were slim. You see where this is going.

Mac was especially dialed into the drift that day and proceeded to land multiple good fish. When the line came tight, the next trout headed for deeper water and went broadside. Five minutes of pressure on the fish, and it still refused to come out of the heavy current. Mac began to wonder if the trout was wrapped or snagged and asked Silver, who was well below him in the run, if anything looked peculiar. When Silver started to move quickly upriver to get the net, Mac began to get excited.

The epic buck was magnificent. Glistening chrome with a broad red stripe, Mac and Silver could only gawk as Mac struggled to hold up the fish. It measured 33 1/2 inches long by 19 1/2 inches in girth with a tail girth larger around than Mac's hand. It was a perfect trout. Conservative estimations on size put the rainbow at 15 pounds. As Mac released the fish, the realization that this might be the best trout he would ever catch sunk in. And he had no photo.

Now 10 years removed, Mac is finally able to appreciate the event and the pain of drowning the camera has subsided. And as you might imagine, he is driven to return to the Naknek to find another perfect fish, and hopefully take its picture.