What’s in a Name?

By August 25, 2016November 7th, 2016Adventures

“I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
 ~ Richard Feynman

Riffle, run, pool, and… repeat.

In my experience fishermen usually name the water they fish with the aid of three things, geology, food, or people. It’s pretty simple, if you’re fishing the Split Rock Pool, then there’s probably a big rock with a cleft down it’s middle somewhere within sight. If you’re in Argentina and fishing, Tres Picos, there are probably three mountain peaks in view. If there’s a rope swing over a deep quiet pool it’s probably called The Swimming Hole.

So much for geology and on to places named for food. If there’s a fire ring and a pile of wood, you can bet that you’re fishing the most common of these, The Lunch Hole. Some others include, Biscuit Cove, or Bacon Bay.

This leaves us with water that bears the names of a famous fisherman or guide. There are a lot of these. Lester’s Run, The Virgils, Rusty’s Bar, and Billy Pate’s Rock are but a few.

There are exceptions of course, and it is these that I find most interesting. For example how does one explain names like The W. A. Hole, Heaven – Purgatory – Hell, The Fool’s Pool, The Killing Fields, The Dog Pound, Milk Beach, or Blood Beach?

Then there are name like, Dead Horse Cove, The Ramada, The Hilton, The Owl’s Tree Pool, Lost Lake, and countless others. Some of these are easy to explain, while others take a few paragraphs.

The W.A. Hole, is on the South Branch of the AuSable River, just below the Havens’ Camp. It was given its name because fishermen are insidiously lured into an intimate congress with its waters. When standing at the top of the run, one is struck with the beauty of it. If God were to come down out of the heavens and grant every fisherman the opportunity to create his dream pool… most would look like this. Each successive cast lures the unsuspecting angler into his next.

“This next drift will be the one,” I said to myself during my initiation. “If I can just reach that snag.”

And so, another unsuspecting fisherman waded up to his gunnels on a benign Michigan sandbar until accepting that he can wade no further, he turns around to wade ashore. The gentle current that was so easy to stand in just a few seconds ago is now a force with which to reckon. Each struggling step washes away more and more of the now precious footing, his waders fill to the brim, and he floats downstream and around the bend with a wet asshole.

Purgatory, Heaven and Hell, are three successive holes on a river in western Alaska. When the silver salmon run, Purgatory is their first stop. They stack up until it becomes crowded, and then some move on to Heaven. When the salmon get thick in Heaven, more than a few of their souls are harvested to the maniacal cackle of my old friend, Rusty.

“Heaven is all a fisherman could ever dream of,” Rusty will tell you. “It’s a broad sweeping pool with no snags, and loads salmon!”

Hell, on the other hand, is always the last stop. As the name implies, it’s loaded with snags and deep shadowed chambers where the light of day never shines. Rusty has avoided it for decades.

The Fools Pool, in Argentina, at the Boca of the Chimehuin, is a beautiful, turquoise bend, just deep enough that the monster brown trout cruising its depths are barely visible. In and out of view they swim until the poor fisherman standing upon the bank is convinced that, “just one more cast”, will yield the treasure he seeks. Grown men have been known to spend entire days there and depart late at night mumbling incoherently. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I once hooked and landed a nice fish there.

The Killing Field, on the Kulukak River in Southwest Alaska, was named just shortly after the movie was released; you get the idea.

The Dog Pound, on the same river, is a shallow overflow that holds so many chum salmon, that there’s hardly room for a boat. Somehow the guides manage.

Milk Beach, on the Nushagak River in Alaska, was so named because it’s a famous stretch of chum salmon water; a perfect place for milking an hour or so out of a long day, until the king salmon settle back into their holes and go on the bite.

Blood Beach, on the Lower Nush was named long before the movie “The Killing Fields” made its debut, but, again, you get the idea.

Biscuit Bay and Dead Horse Cove are both on Big Island Lake, in Maine. As the guides at the historic Megantic Club tell it, Biscuit Bay was where the lodge’s food scraps were once dumped. Dead Horse Cove is a perfect example of Yankee simplicity; one winter a draft horse broke through the ice and drowned. The body was found there in the spring.

The Ramada and The Hilton, on the Upper Nush, were both named because of the amount of spawning that occurs there.

On the Agulukpak River there are two white rocks, sculpted by time and water and current. When I was a young guide they were reverently called, The Virgils, after Virgil Ward. As the story goes, after trying everything that his guide suggested, and not catching a fish, the famous fisherman tied on his signature white-feathered jig, and it was around those rocks that he caught a legendary number of fish. I wonder if any of the young fellows walking their fishermen down the river these days even know who Virgil Ward was?

The Owl’s Tree Pool, on the Malleo River in Argentina, is simply explained. It received its name because a family of owls once inhabited the tree that over-looks the pool. It’s a lovely name.

Lost Lake is in Alaska, somewhere on the flats between the east end of Lake Beverly and the Kokwok River. It’s significance lies in the fact that it’s the only lake within miles that’s large enough on which to land a Beaver. More importantly, it’s within walking distance of the river. There’s a little creek that drains the lake and provides a nice trail back to the pick-up spot. I’d done the trip many times and knew the trail well, but one fateful day I was needed elsewhere, and a first year guide, nicknamed “Fair Enough Frank,” was given the assignment. Frank was dropped off at the lake with his fishermen and a compass and told to walk a certain heading until he found the river. Then he was to fish downstream until he came to a small stream on the right and follow it back to the lake. While walking on the tundra, through the black spruce and alders, distance sometimes becomes distorted, and after a short while, Frank’s fishermen began to question his sense of direction.

“Perhaps the compass is wrong,” one of them suggested.

“Fair ‘nuff,” Frank replied.

“Just what is magnetic deviation at this latitude, twenty-four degrees?” Asked the other.

“Fair ‘nuff,” Frank answered. Frank lost control of the situation long before he lost his bearings, and the three wandered in circles out on the tundra for the entire day. Just when it seemed that their adventure would end like a tragic verse Robert Service, Frank came across a lake that he judged just barely big enough to land a floatplane on.

“We’ll build a signal fire,” commanded one of Frank’s fishermen.

Frank acquiesced.

“Give me that radio!” Demanded the other.

“Fair ‘nuff.”

Theirs would be the last pick-up of the day for The Boss and he was tired. As he approached the lake he saw an enormous column of flame and smoke right in the middle of his approach.

“Mayday… mayday,” a panic-stricken voice called across the static of the aircraft radio. “Do you see the fire on the tundra? I repeat… do you see the fire on the tundra!”

The Boss pulled in flaps to go around and passed directly overhead.  The fire was so big that the plane jumped from the updraft.

“Mayday… mayday,” the fisherman repeated. “Do you see the fire on the tundra?”

“Who the hell is this?” Demanded The Boss. “And, give the radio back to Frank!”


“Frank?” The boss asked. “What the hell are you doing?”

“We got lost, but we found this lake,” he said hopefully. “Is it big enough to land on?”

“God-damn-it Frank, you’re fifty feet from where I dropped you off this morning!”


Riffle, run, pool, and… repeat.