An Afternoon At Fan Lake

By Jerry D. Haight

The cool serene water of Fan Lake reflected the sapphire sky and the soft billowing clouds drifting lazily by overhead. The pressures of the week before seemed to evaporate as the gentle rocking of the float tube threatened to lull Vince to sleep. The float tube was a large inner tube sewn inside of a blue canvas casing and had a comfortable canvas seat on the bottom and a canvas envelope in the back. Its neoprene bladder filled taught with air mimicked the comfort of a captain’s chair on a fine yacht, albeit on a much smaller scale.

He had everything needed. His tube contained his fishing gear such as hooks, line, leader, tippet, and extra flies with names like “Green Wooly burger”, “Grey Caddis” and “Little Trout”. He had a small cache of drinks on ice and one in a holster cooled by the waters of the lake. Vince wore polyurethane foam overalls to protect him from the chilly water of the lake and with his swim fins propelled the tiny craft. Fan Lake is an elongated body of water three quarters of a mile long and about a quarter mile wide. Its restricted use for small craft only, made it ideal for kayakers, canoeists, row boaters and float tubers. On the lake that hot summer afternoon were two fishermen in float tubes, including Vince in the middle of the lake, and two boys in a canoe at the far end. The serenity of the lake was usually broken only by the shrill chirping cry of osprey, the deep croaking of frogs and voices of other fishermen as the water carried and magnified the sound.

That afternoon, another sound penetrated the tranquility of the day. It was the drone of twin engines of a large aircraft; a PBY, a float plane owned and operated by the U. S. Forest Service used in fire fighting. More than a few rainless weeks with temperatures in the upper 80’s allowed a dry relentless wind to suck the moisture out of the surrounding forest resulting in a fire storm lurking for a place to happen. That place was on a ridge nearly four miles west of the lake.  About three miles to the east and just over a small hill was Eloica Lake, one that was about twice the size of Fan and the usual resource used to supply the PBY with it’s ammunition of water to fight fire. As the pilot guided the large plane to a vacant area of the lake, he had to descend to just a few feet above the water, lower a scoop and suck up water into it’s cavernous belly. At 90 mph, the plane took only twenty seconds to travel a half mile to fill its tank and with the added weight of the water, it slowly lifted off the lake to deliver its payload.

Vince heard the plane but suddenly became focused as he felt the rush of a tug on his line when the Rainbow leapt out of the water trying to dislodge the hook from his lip. With a mighty splash, the fish started his run as soon as he hit the water. The real whined as the line broke the drag and played out. Deftly, Vince let the fish run as he slowly reeled the line although it continued to slip as the fish fought. Slowly at first, the line started to wind back onto the reel. The large trout ran again, Vince continued to reel the line in. This process continued with each cycle wearing down the fish’s strength and resolve. When more line came in than played out, Vince knew he would win this battle and soon had the 20” trout in his net. Taking a few moments to admire his catch, he detached the hook and resuscitated the fish in preparation for its release. Vince was unaware of the drama taking place overhead.

The PBY returned from the fire and the pilot decided to replenish it’s water from Fan instead of Eloica and with that the big plane descended from  behind  and to the North of Vince about a half mile away. As Vince released the fish, the plane completed it base leg and began an inside turn for it’s final approach. The fish headed back to the depth of the lake and Vince with a very satisfied smile on his face, tossed his “Wooly burger” out in front of the float tube in preparation for the next cast. Suddenly, he gasped and his face turned pale as the blood drained.  In utter shock, his chin dropped and, in unbelief, he gawked at the sight of the PBY now, maybe 40’ high, bearing dead ahead and coming straight toward him.

It was rumored that two year’s before, under similar circumstances, a PBY had scooped up an unsuspecting float tuber and given the hapless fisherman the ride of his life that ended in the middle of a forest fire. His body and float tube were found several weeks later and his story pieced together as the pilot of the PBY was totally unaware of his passenger.  Vince, with great presence of mind, remembered that the fabric of the back of the backrest of the float tube was colored fluorescent orange, quickly turned himself 180 degrees. He hoped the bright orange would be more visible to the pilot than just waving his arms, especially, considering the matching color of float tube to the lake. Sure enough, his next view of the PBY was the rivets on the underside of the thundering plane overhead, gaining in altitude as it headed for Eloica Lake.  Vince thought he saw the PBY wag its wings as it passed overhead, but then again, maybe not. In any case, there were still fish to catch, and now, perhaps a change of underwear was in order.