An Outdoor View: Bonefishing

Author’s note: I recently came across a journal that I kept while on a trip to Christmas Island in 1987. This column, gleaned from the family-appropriate parts of that journal, is the first of a series about that once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip. — LP


Feb. 21 — It seems as if we’ve been planning and packing for years, and now we’re finally on our way.

Five, middle-aged Alaskans comprise our rowdy band. Joe Faulhaber and Howie Van Ness live in Fairbanks, Doug Green and Chip Derrick live in Anchorage, and I live in Sterling. All except Chip, who is still at work on the North Slope, got together at the Anchorage airport. Chip would catch up to us in Honolulu.

The Western Airlines flight to Honolulu was pleasantly smooth. I was awake to see the sun rise over the ocean horizon. The reds and oranges sandwiched between the indigo sky and water held me spellbound.

In Honolulu, we rented a small station wagon at the airport, and with great effort managed to stuff all of our gear into it. This was the first time Howie and I had been in Hawaii, so we were all eyes on the ride to the Reef Hotel in Waikiki. Doug and Joe are old hands, and they take it all in stride.

We arrived at the hotel too early to check in, so we went for a drive and ended up at Diamond Head. This famous landmark is the shell of an old volcano. You can drive through a tunnel, into the very guts of the thing. We took the trail to the top of the “head,” about a 1.7-mile hike that climbs about 750 feet. The most difficult part is near the top. Just when you think you’re there, you come to a steep set of stairs. Ninety-six of them. It was quite a hike in the mid-day heat, but people of all ages were doing it. The ocean view from the top is spectacular.

We finally got into our rooms: Howie and I in one, and Doug and Joe next door. While Doug and Joe went snorkeling, Howie tied flies, and I slept.

Howie, aka “Doc Fly,” is an interesting room-mate. He has brought a healthy portion of the inventory of his Fairbanks fly shop to the party, and he promptly set up shop in our room. Fur, feathers, hooks, lines and leaders occupy every flat surface. What with all his paraphernalia, we can barely move. For the remainder of our stay, the hotel maids are limited to straightening the beds and handing us clean towels.

Howie has brought enough fly lines that each of us can lose at least three. He’s also equipped and prepared to tie flies for all five of us, enough that each of us can lose at least six dozen. When he told me this, I was dumbfounded. What have I gotten myself into?

Howie has been a fly fisherman since he was 5. I, on the other hand, am an unapologetic meat fisherman who has never caught a fish on a fly. Now, on my way to an island halfway around the world from home to fish for one of the hardest-to-catch fish in the world, I’m a little skeptical that I can catch one, my practice fly-casting on the icy driveway of my home in Alaska notwithstanding.

When I went to sleep this first night, Howie was still tying loops in fly lines, an occupation that he expects will keep him entertained for the next week.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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