“Swirl, be aggressive. Swirl the pan counter-clockwise, the way a toilet flushes in the Northern Hemisphere. Give me the pan and I’ll show you again.” In calf-deep water of an old dredge pond near Warren, Wayne Schaffer bent over and vigorously rotated the pan underwater, causing a murky slurry of dirt, gravel, and sand to spill over the lip. “Gold particles are heavy and sink to the bottom,” he grunted as he raked the top two inches of gravel and sand from the pan. “Here,” he said, handing the pan back to Oliver Brown.
“Now shake and pull. Shake the pan hard from side to side just under the surface, then pull backwards to spill sand until there’s only about a cup remaining.” We had met Wayne the previous day in front of his summer tent site. He suggested if we wanted to take a break from fishing and pan for gold, he would teach us how.
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“Hey, Mahlon, jerk your pole downward to set the hook!” I had just missed the umpteenth strike and my audience was greatly amused. I was fishing the mouth of Stratton Creek, which empties into a dredge pond a couple miles north of Warren. It was a lovely spot, where the stream had etched a four-foot-deep channel through gravel before spilling over a sandbar into a blue pool some hundred feet in diameter. There was little brush to snarl back-casts and almost every cast yielded a strike. I could cast fine with the old telescoping steel rod but couldn’t set the hook. The rod and reel with level line were similar to one I had used sixty years ago. I challenged my hecklers, “Come here, show me.”
Since the 1970s, four of us had hunted and fished the Warren region, forty miles north of McCall, and we also had four newer members on this trip. Our group included a mining engineer, two university professors, an electrical engineer, a science teacher, a mining inspector, an executive in a hunting and fishing gear company, and a horticulturist. At an average age of seventy-five, our excursion resembled a safari, with personal sleeping tents, a cook tent, a dining tent, a pair of two-burner gas stoves (a third in reserve), a small stove for coffee, a huge ice chest with eight gallon jugs of ice, a “one-holer” outhouse without the house, a solar shower with privacy curtains, chain saws, shovels, axes, and four ATVs. The previous summer we had concluded that present-day gear favors the fisherman, so on this trip we had made it our challenge to fish with antique equipment such as my steel telescoping rod, which I had purchased at a second-hand store for eighteen dollars. Continue reading →