The guiding light.
The most memorable fishing trips involve more than meeting your fishing partners at a boat ramp in the pre-dawn darkness and swapping fish scales during the farewell handshake a few hours later.
In addition to productive time on the water, the most memorable fishing trips involve good food, relaxing in front of a fire while swapping fish tales enhanced - for those who are so inclined - by a wee sip o' peppermint schnapps, and the anticipation of doing it all again the next day.
Denny Hannah specialized in memorable fishing trips.
His obituary last week described Hannah - who died Jan. 7 in a Spokane hospital at age 71 - as a fishing guide of 39 years.
That's true as far as it goes. But Hannah did more than bait your hook, clean your fish and cash your check. He was a congenial fish camp host who wanted to feed, entertain and house you, in addition to hooking you up with plenty of fish.
He ran salmon camps on the Elk and Rogue rivers, smallmouth bass camps on the Umpqua River, fish camps in Alaska and - in recent years - a floating fish camp aboard a 42-foot boat named The Walk About. He specialized in weeklong fishing trips out of St. Petersburg, Alaska, working the Inland Passage and the Gulf of Alaska for salmon and halibut.
Hannah, whose middle name was Riley, advertised a week on his boat as "living the life of Riley."
Hannah and his wife, Carol, who died of cancer in 1989, "ran the most wonderful camp anyone could ever experience. They were full of warmth and hospitality," said Paul Kirsch of Tigard, a scout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays major-league baseball team who runs his own guide service during fall and winter.
Hannah took Kirsch under his wing as a rookie guide in 1985, a couple of years before Kirsch spent a year managing the Eugene Emeralds baseball team.
"He wanted to teach me. ... I guess he saw something in me," Kirsch said. "I started worked for him, and we became good friends. ... I loved working for him, we had some very, very special times. He's one of my all-time favorite people. He was a real character."
Todd Linklater of Eugene also worked for Hannah as a young guide, but Linklater was on his own when his boat happened past Hannah on the bank of the Elk River one balmy St. Patrick's Day when everyone was fishing in T-shirts.
The jovial Irishman was netting a steelhead, a common enough sight. What was memorable, Linklater said, is that "he had on this green plastic hat, and the hat had a solar power panel that kept a green propeller on it going round and round ..."
"One of my clients said, `Look, Hannah's got AC!'
"The dude had the biggest smile on his face," Linklater said, "and I told my guys, `There's a guy who loves his job!' '
Hannah had many jobs after he packed up his family of six in Ohio and moved to Lakeside on Tenmile Lake in 1968 - and almost all of them had something to do with fishing.
He tried commercial salmon fishing, charter salmon fishing in the Pacific Ocean and running a boys summer camp on Tenmile, in addition to guiding and running fish camps from the Rogue River to Alaska.
But he is probably best known for being one of the first full-time guides on the Umpqua River, adding striped bass, sturgeon and smallmouth bass to the standard stringer of salmon and steelhead seasons.
Through it all, Hannah became what The Oregonian's outdoor writer, Bill Monroe, aptly described as "an icon of Southern Oregon fishing."
Hannah's name was certainly familiar to readers of Pete Cornacchia's fishing coverage in The Register-Guard during the 1970s and 80s. Through Cornacchia's articles, Hannah provided R-G readers with tips on how to fish for the various species to be found in area waters.
But Hannah also garnered nationwide publicity for his striped bass and smallmouth bass trips on the Umpqua, appearing in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines.
Hannah's influence also was spread through the many young guides he trained over the years.
"I would stay up later than everybody else and talk with Denny, trying to pick his brain about fishing," Kirsch said. "I was soaking it all up - he was really my mentor."
Linklater also recalls sitting around listening to Hannah on days when river conditions made it impossible to fish.
"He was always upbeat, fun to work around and very cordial to the guests," Linklater said.
But Hannah never lost sight of the importance of putting fish in the boat.
Linklater tells of a 1988 trip on the Rogue River in which he was behind Hannah, who was seated on a plastic swivel chair he'd mounted at the back of his driftboat so he could operate an electric motor.
When a salmon hit on his rod, Hannah reared back so hard while setting the hook that "he broke the plastic seat and fell out of his boat backwards," Linklater said. That, of course, touched off a frenzy of activity among Hannah's "dudes."
In the turmoil, "Denny never let go of that rod, and eventually handed it to one of the clients, who landed a 20-pound chinook," Linklater said.
Anglers didn't have to work for Hannah to come away with vivid memories of him.
Patrick "Fishpatrick" Roelle of Winchester Bay was just 14 years old in 1983 when he met Hannah on the first of two trips his father booked with the prominent guide.
"We were using a little Wee Wort (lure) just below the Elk River Hatchery," Roelle said, when he hooked a huge salmon. "It was 48 pounds and 48 inches long, and it took 48 minutes to get him in, is what we figured."
Naturally, Roelle said, "I was wanting to show it off" when they pulled in among a group of other anglers below the Five Mile Hole.
But "Denny Hannah hid the fish," Roelle said. "He didn't want anybody to see it. He was totally secretive about it. He didn't want anybody to know we'd caught this 48-pound fish up there."
Ironically, Roelle would become a fishing guide himself and, for a time, even worked for the outfitter who purchased Hannah's Elk River lodge.
The sale of that property was among the issues that led to Hannah's estrangement from another young guide - his son and namesake, Denny Todd Hannah, who still fishes many of the waters his father showed him as a boy. Happily, however, he and his father reconciled in recent months.
Denny Hannah's lung illness developed rapidly and, even at 71 years of age, he was actively booking Alaskan fishing trips for the summer of 2007.
His clients may still get to go fishing, with someone. But it's doubtful their fishing trip will be quite as memorable without Denny Riley Hannah at the helm.
Mike Stahlberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||Lifestyle; Denny Hannah's death leaves Oregon anglers without a top fishing guide and cherished friend|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jan 16, 2007|
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