I hope to pay tribute here to all the guys that paved the road before me on the mighty Skagit, the river I call home.
Guides like both of my grandfathers who taught me the love of fishing and the outdoors
and guides like Wes Haight, Howard Miller, Ira Yager, Al Tingley, Bill Silvis, Cecil Jordon, Bud Meyers, the Taylor Brothers and the Johnsons.
Many of these guides, including my grandfather, didn't take many pictures while fishing and most information is extremely hard to come by.
I will always try to include a picture of them if possible as I obtain more information.
Grandpa Briggs with Steelhead (Photo Circa late 1930's - early 1940's. Grandmother thinks they were Skagit Steelhead)
Grandma and Grandpa Shepard (Photo Circa 1938 Not sure what the fish is)
My love of fishing, hunting and the outdoors I owe all to my Grandfathers Ward Briggs and Howard Shepard.
One was a full time fishing guide and the other just loved to fish and hunt, and both were passionate about the outdoors.
Two guys you would never find sitting behind a desk.
I wish they were both around today to see how I followed in their foot-steps.
I also wish I had spent more time paying attention to their fishing and hunting stories than the tip of my rod while they were still around.
I only remember what they passed on to me and the special moments we shared while I was growing up.
One of the reasons for this page, to get to know who the old-timers were and maybe share a special moment with them and
hear their stories or stories from their loved ones, like I had a chance to do with Wes Haight (Below).
Wes Haight with a twenty plus pound Steelhead caught in the Irishman's Drift in 1967 on a Steelie Spoon.
Born in Concrete on December 13th, 1931 and lifelong resident,
Wes guided for the Lone Star Concrete company back -- as he says, "When there was fish in the Skagit". Lone Star employed Wes to guide
many of the company's clients on the Skagit in his sled.
Wes became a great friend and I loved re-living his wonderful
tales of what the Skagit was like back in its hey-day before he passed away on August 11th, 2001.
He was always quick to greet with a smile and a hug and loved telling his fishing and hunting stories to any that would listen.
Wes will always hold a special place in my heart and be greatly missed.
One of the greatest fishing "tales" I ever heard was told to me by Wes and
actually published in the local paper. Here it is for your enjoyment:
"Years ago when I used to guide on the Skagit River and there was lots of steelhead and
the mighty Skagit was number one in the state, I decided one evening to try above the Dalles Bridge, it was a great native
steelhead hole. About the third cast out I hooked a fish and I knew I was in trouble. It was so big that at first I thought it was
an early King salmon. Well, anyway, after 20-30 minutes of him running up and down the river, my line became hung up in one place.
I could pull him in just so far, and it became solid. I was half sick thinking I had a world record fish, when all of a sudden a
boat came drifting down. In it were skin divers looking for fishing tackle on stumps, logs, etc. One of them said he would go down
and check it out for me. After a few shaky moments he came to the surface and said it was the biggest steelhead he'd ever seen,
bigger than a King salmon. I asked what my line was hung up on and he said the fish was inside of an old car body someone had
dumped in the river years ago. I then asked him if he could chase the fish out, and he said he'd tried but that every time he got near
the car, the steelhead rolled the window up and locked the doors." Wes Haight
Information given to us by reader John W. Czarniecki. Thanks John!!
These two guides started on the Skagit in the middle 30's and took clients out for many years thereafter.
Cecil was very unfortunately killed along with several of his clients during a float between Marblemont and Rockport in the late fifties when his flat bottom river boat overturned.
He and his family lived in Lyman and they were among the original group of Tarheels in the river valley. His boy, Sonny, was a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. During the baseball off season, Sonny would help his father by locating the boat and trailer at the start of the days drift and he would pick everyone up downstream at days end.
Speaking of dear old Cecil Jordan, one of his favorite stretches of water was near the tiny town of Birdsview. We would launch his 17 foot flat bottom river boat first thing in the morning at the rough put-in just opposite where Finney Creek enters the main river.
This was in the days before the concrete ramp was installed at that point and it quite often took muscle power to get the boat into and out of the water. Using his 15 HP motor back in those early days, we would make a bee line to the south side of the river and fish a 200 yard stretch of water using anchored settings all the way down the south bank to where the famous "Split" is located.
That water was really productive back in those days with just plain old skein eggs about the size of a quarter. We took steelhead all the way down to where the river empties into a north and south channel. Many times we would limit out at that point (3 fish per fisherman) and then kick back up to the Birdsview launch site to end our day of fishing.
This quite often happened before the noon hour. The fish back in those days seemed to run much larger on the average - - 10 to 15 pounds and there were lots of fish in the high teens. Strangely enough and with all the fishing I did on the Skagit and other rivers, it took me until the early seventies to break the 20 pound barrier.
The guide fee for a full days drift down the river back in the forties was around $20.00 per person. It gradually worked up to around $35.00 in the late 50's. Just plain egg roe was the real ticket back in those days and eggs wrapped in cheese cloth was a close second. Spoon fishing was a third method.
Bud Meyers who lived in the Sedro Wooley area developed quite a reputation for fishing the Skagit with a spoon. He really perfected this art and passed it on to many of his clients.
It was rare to see anyone else floating the river back in those days.
These early day guides considered certain sections of the Skagit as their own private water and would take offense if anyone else intruded into their space. The few fisherman that were around back in those days fished from the river bank.
Catching steelhead was almost a 100% certainty if the river were in reasonable shape and they were all wild fish and we caught winter fish from late November thru the first part of May.
I had the opportunity to fish on the Skagit with several of the early time steelhead guides. Cecil Jordan was probably my favorite due to the many years I fished with him. He really loved fishing for steelhead and he was quite a teacher of the art. After he was killed on the river, I also enjoyed fishing with Bud Meyers, Howard Miller and Dick Taylor.
Each had their favorite areas and methods on the river and they were all very successful and a joy to be around. They are all gone now but the mighty Skagit will forever hold their stories of years past. I only wish I could do it all over again with them.
Good fishing and guiding,
John W. Czarniecki