In the case of Mac Lightfoot, the addiction to fishing started early. At age 2, there’s documentation of a towheaded toddler, stringer of snappers in hand, beaming after a day of fishing with Grandma Edna. The spark grew to a full-bore inferno through countless trips to the beach and pier, aboard charter boats and finally out into the open ocean. Mac’s grandmother taught the boy how to fish, and with patience, encouragement and by allowing the youngster to try, fail and learn. She also cooked everything they caught, imprinting on Mac early on to eat fish.
On one such day, Edna and Mac were fishing on a pier when Edna went walking to get a cup of coffee and find a restroom. 7-year-old Mac remained behind to watch the rods. Within moments, one of the stout rods, baited with a bloodworm that was writhing enticingly upon the seafloor, bent over double, as line peeled violently from the oversized spinning reel. Looking back, the rod may have been capable of landing a Chinook, but Edna was never much concerned about matching the rod to the quarry.
Mac fought the rod as much as the fish. He wondered if he would ever land what surely was to be a giant fish, but eventually it tired. Mac struggled to heave it out of the water onto the pier, as the water was a full five feet below his feet. Edna was still on holiday, and as Mac finally succeeded in getting the creature out of the water, he jumped back in astonishment. Three-plus feet of eel lay writhing on the ground, and Mac’s sounds of alarm were recognized by some nearby adolescents who came to lend a hand. Edna came back shortly thereafter and could not have been prouder.
Other critical moments continued to build the lifelong love for angling. Edna loved to fish on charter boats that carried upwards of 50 anglers to inshore East Coast fisheries for flounder and fluke. She also loved to gamble, and always paid the entry fee into the daily derby aboard the charter. One day at age 8, Mac’s 4-pound fluke won the contest. Mac was euphoric, and entered every derby he could from that point forward.
Many years later Mac fished aboard a winter flounder charter with a longtime friend and both had entered the derby. When Mac’s friend, known as the Breadman, pulled a large flounder over the rail, it was clearly much larger than any others caught that day. In an effort to make sure it made it onto the boat, Mac aided the fish’s entry over the rail, and caught the trailer hook in the finger. The thrashing flounder helped bury the number 2 hook all the way to the shank. A combination of their combined excitement from winning the derby, the pure love of angling and the cold temperatures numbing the finger, and Mac pushed the hook point out, cut the barb and went back to fishing. Thirty years later, Mac still bears the scars on his left thumb from another fish encounter. Jigging offshore on a bluefish charter, a school of beefy fish caught sight of all that flashing metal and zoomed in on the attack. With so many fish coming over the side at the same time, the deckhands were outnumbered. Mac decided to try and remove the buried jig from the mouth of his an angry 15-pound blue and in return it clamped down on his thumb. It took the aid of the nearby angler to finally pry the mouth open. Mac’s nail-bed was permanently damaged, but that didn’t stop him from dropping back down to try and hook another fish.
As Mac’s range of angling skills expanded and fish species tally grew, it was simply inevitable that he would fish in Alaska. At age 10 he was introduced to trout fishing and began to take daily limits of brook and brown trout from nearby streams using live nightcrawlers or grasshoppers. When a friend of Mac’s fishing buddy’s Dad’s conducted a fly-fishing clinic for the boys one evening and took a limit of large trout far faster than the two boys, Mac’s interest in trout headed towards a crescendo that would eventually be reached on the Naknek River.
When he finally arrived in Alaska with a box of tackle and Edna’s rods, he knew that he belonged. Fifteen-pound rainbow trout, 50-pound king salmon, 200-pound halibut and 400-pound salmon shark would eventually be in store. But first Mac would need to understand the fisheries, pay his dues and spend time learning, just as Edna had taught him. And in homage to his deceased Grandmother, Mac brought Edna’s two rods to the Kenai River and battled countless sockeye before eventually breaking both rods. He could almost feel Edna smiling. He knew that she would have been proud to see her grandson pursuing the activity that had both brought them so much joy.