So Chuck Gentry was a scofflaw.
Well, one of his countrymen knew, and not being able to endure the burden of this knowledge, he alerted the Conservation Service and they, after a detailed and determined investigation, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Chuck had been masquerading as a Canuck while being a Yank so as to avoid paying full freight to fish for steelhead in the last frontier of wild steelhead angling.
The news made me sad. Chuck and I had history.
I first encountered Chuck’s white Toyota pickup on the Copper River Haul Road just after the turn of the century. It seemed to be everywhere. For the next 10 years, the white Toyota was a fixture on the Copper, but I never did get a clear look at its owner.
Until, one day, I asked my dear friend, Bill Burke, the mayor of Cedarvale, if he’d ever fished the Copper. To my surprise, he said he hadn’t.
We made a plan. He would drop his Honda off for servicing, then he and I would drive up the Copper to Kelly Creek, inflate a couple of rubber boats, paddle across the river and fish the productive run below the confluence of creek and river, catch some fast summer steelhead, then return to my truck. That done, I would drive Bill to Terrace Honda where he would pick up his rig.
We did that. We were all suited up, rods in hand, rafts at our sides, ready to go, when Jim pulled up. We stopped to talk. It would’ve been rude to do otherwise. In that short bit of time, the white Toyota shot by us, pulled into a parking space, and its owner spilled out, already in waders. He glanced at us, then grabbed his rod and raft and raced to the river.
As Jim, Bill, and I watched, dumbfounded, the guy rowed across the river and began to flog the very run that we were obviously intending to fish.
I looked at Bill. We’ve just been scooped I said.
That’s not right, said Bill.
I can’t believe it, said Jim.
We had only enough time to fish one run. That was the run. There was no point in fishing it now.
Too bad, Jim said, then he drove off.
I’ll drop you off in town, I said to Bill. Then I’ll meet you back at Cedarvale, and we’ll see if we can’t catch some fish there. But before we go…
You’re not going to…?
I bent down and let most the air out of the rear tire on the driver’s side of the Toyota.
Maybe that will make him think twice before he jumps the queue, I said to Bill who looked dubious as we bounced through the potholes toward town.
As I drove toward Cedarvale, I thought about what I’d done and how my dad would have viewed such vandalism. Variations on what might transpire, none of them good, coursed through my consciousness. By the time I reached the Cedarvale Loop Road, I was wracked with guilt. I pulled over in front of Dave Shuttleworth’s property. Dave had recently sold his place, and was in the process of moving. I climbed out of truck and told him the story.
It was wrong, said Dave, gravely.
You’re right, I said, but what can I do now.
I got a compressor at my place in Thornhill, said Dave.
Hop in, I said.
Dave and Pawsome, and I drove to Thornhill. I drove too fast, truth be told. After picking up Dave’s compressor and putting it the box, we bounced back up the Copper. A couple of hours had passed. As we approached Kelly Creek, I saw the white Toyota was still there. A wave of relief swept over me. We inflated the tire. I checked the numbers on the side wall and used my gauge to confirm the PSI, all the time worrying that the pickup’s owner would appear, which, thankfully, he didn’t, then we drove off.
As time went by I got to know Chuck. He was gentle, nice guy with a real concern for fish, and a passion for rivers. One night in the Back Eddy, I sheepishly told him how I’d exchanged the air in his rear tire. He laughed good-naturedly and looked a little sheepish himself.
Chuck leaves here over $4000 poorer and all of us who got to know him, and who came to really like him, are saddened at his departure.
In my gut, I have the feeling that if Charles Gentry had access to a compressor that could reinflate his stature and eliminate his wrong doing, he would seize the opportunity to use it in a heartbeat.