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Pals push the boat out
FOR years Stan Deakin and Geoff Brooks were content with catching eight-ounce roach in the Bridgewater Canal.
Their minds may have wandered, but fishing together in Alaska – home to some of the biggest fish in the northern hemisphere – was just a distant dream.
But then they decided to go.
“After that experience, it’s not been the same,” said Geoff.
Geoff had got a taste for fishing in Alaska while on holiday with his wife Joan three years ago.
When she went off on a day trip with a couple from Preston, Geoff decided to go fishing and caught five salmon from the crystal clear deep blue waters off Ketchikan.
"It was another world. The water was so clear. You could see the salmon actually coming out of the depths."Geoff Brooks
On their return to the UK, Geoff could not wait to break the news to Stan and the two men vowed to return.
Lots of saving later they were on their way.
"I’d always promised Stan we’d go,” said Geoff, from Fearnhead, Warrington.
“It was expensive but we thought: ‘Money’s for spending’.”
From Manchester to Paris to Seattle to Ketchikan, the journey took them the best part of a day.
Then they took a seaplane from Ketchikan to the Prince of Wales Island which rumbled along close to the water with spectacular views of the mountains.
They finally arrived at the picturesque Sportsman’s Cove Lodge, exhausted but happy.
“It was like I expected with the sea and mountains but the accommodation reminded me of a cowboy film,” said Stan, from Paddington.
“The shops were all timber with wooden walkways.”
But although it was a holiday, it was certainly no walk in the park for the duo who had to rise at 5am to set off at 6.30am sharp.
“It was all right because you knew you were going to enjoy the day but we like a bottle of wine at night and everyone was going to bed at 7pm,” said Stan, 71, a former painter and decorator.
Nevertheless, they found it was all worthwhile when they stepped on their boat, The Mystic Lady, the next day.
“It was another world,” said Geoff, 69.
“The water was so clear. You could see the salmon actually coming out of the depths and taking the bait.
“You’d be sitting there and you’d see a humpback whale feeding 100 yards away. One whale herded all these fish together in a ball, came to the surface, snapped its jaws and then went down again.”
Killer whales were a common sight and the pair also saw bald eagles dart out of the sky to catch fish.
Stan and Geoff, who are members of Warrington Anglers’ Club, were part of a group of 30 Americans and were the only fishermen from the UK.
They were surrounded by high-powered professionals including a bank manager, a judge, a cancer specialist and a professional gambler but were treated like guests of honour.
“The Americans made us very, very welcome,” said Geoff.
“They really like the Brits and made a fuss of us because we’d travelled all that way.”
Many of the Americans had been fishing in Alaska for some years but for Stan and Geoff it was their first attempt at sea fishing so they had to get used to a weighted rod and a hi-tech radar system to track the fish.
Geoff, a former civil servant, said: “It was completely different for us but we soon got into the swing of it.”
Indeed, they did.
As part of a team of six, they caught a 63lb halibut, a 12lb cod and 9lb salmon – a far cry from the four to eight ounce roaches and perches of the Bridgewater Canal.
It was something of a dream for Stan, who had been trying to catch a salmon for much of his life but on the first day in Alaska he got one on the hook only for it to slip away.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“He was there jumping up and down,” said Geoff.
Meanwhile, Geoff was having quite a day himself.
He caught a ‘rat fish’ with bulbous green eyes, a 60lb skate that was so big that the skipper had to help him haul it over the side of the boat and a ling cod that had to be registered with the fishing authorities and won him an award.
Aside from the excitement of the fishing itself, it was the serenity of this isolated spot that had the most impact on the two men from Warrington.
“The Prince of Wales Island is just pine trees and coves,” said Geoff.
“It is so remote. You’re sitting there in absolute pristine wilderness.
“There’s no noise, there are no people, no houses and even our mobile phones wouldn’t work.
“The world could have ended and we wouldn’t have known.”