FIRST FISH - Louisiana resident Dan Scott pulled in the first king salmon of the season aboard the Choctaw Lady, captained by Mike Hardy, on May 17. Kile Brewer

The Legacy Lure


Deep within the confines of every serious angler’s tackle box is the lure he considers his secret weapon. Any real fisherman knows that it’s important to keep these lures inconspicuous. You will never find more than one in any given tackle container, and it will almost always be hidden underneath an assortment of seemingly useless gear.

Don’t let this fool you. Any credible fisherman will have at least a couple dozen of these lures spread out into different tackle containers, in various drawers back home, and most likely in his glove compartment.

This is because there are some lures that one can only qualify as magic. They will have universal appeal to a wide range of fish, and it is often the reason why your fishing buddy is having far greater success than you.

A lure such as this also has a name. A secret name. While it is true that all lures have names given to them by their manufacturer, this name is absolutely useless. The secret name not only gives the lure purpose, it binds it to its owner in a very personal way.

Invariably, an angler who is catching fish will draw significant interest from onlookers and envious comrades. This always begs the question, “What kind of bait are you using?”

Fishermen are nothing if not honest, so when the question is posed the angler need not lie. When answering, he simply uses his own secret name for the lure. Not only will this preserve its secret identity, but the person who asked the question will spend many frustrating hours searching for a spoon, spinner or plug that does not actually exist. Hopefully, this will lead to endless frustration and a notch on the ever-growing wall of one-upmanship to which every angler aspires.

I have a secret lure. I’ve been using it for most of the 16 years I’ve been in Alaska. When all else fails, this particular item will invariably catch fish. Trout, grayling, pike, salmon, you name it. If you looked in one of my tackle containers you would undoubtedly see one, but it would be indistinguishable from the rest.

And if you have the urge to peek be warned – I once knew a fisherman who kept a loaded mousetrap in the bottom of his tackle box. This fact only came to light one day when a loud snap was heard, and the guilty party began cursing from the back of the boat.

A year ago I went to a garage sale in Skagway. Most of the items for sale had belonged to Don Hather, who had passed a few months before. Don was a community leader who placed no limits on his charitable nature. He was a mentor to generations of students, and one of the pillars of our little Alaska community. His face at local Elks burger feeds was as much a part of Skagway as the mountains that surround it, and the sky that rotates overhead.

Don Hather was also a fisherman.

When I heard news of the garage sale, I knew I couldn’t miss it. I have plenty of fishing gear. More than I’ll ever need. But I was more interested in discovering some of Don’s secrets. You don’t get a fishing reputation like Don Hather’s unless you have a few tricks up your sleeve. So it seemed likely that a glimpse into his tackle box would hint at some of his classified information.

At the sale, fishing gear was spread out over tables, the yard, the driveway, and just about anywhere one could possibly look. I was immediately drawn to the lures that had been divided into various packages and laid out across the tables. There were many different bags containing multiple lures, and even some that were being sold independently. I saw some familiar makes and models, many of which I have in my arsenal. Still, one particular lure suddenly stood out.

What made me take notice was that this particular lure was in every one of the individual packages. Some even held two or three. In fact, this lure outnumbered every other lure at least ten to one. I took a closer look. The lure was not one I would ever have considered using. The color was wrong, the size too small. Even the hooks seemed woefully undersized for anything other than grayling or Dolly Varden.

I bought them all.

Two days later I was on my first trout fishing expedition of the season, with a seasonal friend who knows only summers in Skagway. When I was setting up my rig, the first lure I saw in my tackle box was the strange piece of metal from the garage sale. I decided to give it a shot.

On my first cast a trout inhaled the lure. I caught trout on each of the first three casts and, because that was the limit, I set my gear down and cracked open a beer.

My buddy yelled over, “Hey, what lure are you using?”

Without hesitation I answered, “The Don Hather Lure.”

Over the course of the summer, the Don Hather Lure became one of my primary go-to weapons. I used it in a variety of situations and managed to catch grayling, pike, pink salmon, Dolly Varden, and two species of trout.

Then in mid-October I was fishing for Coho salmon on the Chilkat River in Haines. A couple of hours had gone by without a bite. After tying on the Don Hather Lure, I couldn’t cast without getting a hit. The end result was a freezer full of vacuum-sealed Coho filets.

I travelled to Idaho during the winter and found an ice-free spot on the legendary Snake River where I was able to cast. Apparently, the Don Hather Lure had no idea that it had travelled out of Skagway. It caught a dozen nice brown trout, one of which was a whopping 26 inches and left me considerably soaked when I fell through the ice trying to land it.

A month later I was in Panama, staying with an aboriginal family on an island in the Kuna Yala. When I asked the host what I should use to catch fish, he went into his hut and came back with a giant lure better suited for tuna than shore fish. I declined his offer and instead went with my newest secret weapon.

It took three casts. When the barracuda hit, it immediately made a high speed run over the reef as I held on for dear life in the warm, crystal blue, chest-deep water. It jumped three times in less than 10 seconds while I slowly tried to gain a little ground. I wasn’t worried about the cuda’s teeth breaking my line because I had tied on wire leader. Still, I was concerned about the integrity of the tiny hook, which is part of what makes the Don Hather Lure is so unique.

It took about 15 minutes, but I was able to successfully land the barracuda. The little hook was slightly bent, but had managed to hold. The toothy fish was 15 pounds, and within an hour had been prepared into some of the finest ceviche I have ever eaten.

At dinner the host asked me what I used to catch the barracuda. When I handed him the lure, he looked at it closely, turning it over in his hand repeatedly while his face contorted with confusion.

He looked up and said, “This little thing? What do you call this?”

“The Don Hather Lure,” I answered.

Losing anyone in our little community always takes a toll, and how can any one of us ever fill the shoes of a man like Don Hather? All we can do is aspire to carry the fire he held within his heart. Obviously, Don left behind a legacy. Not only a legacy of kindness and charity, but one than can only be experienced with rod and reel.

That world-travelling lure now holds a special place in my tackle box. You might be tempted to peek inside, but be warned; I recently got a good deal on some mousetraps. When the day comes that I travel on unknown tides to the next life’s fishing expedition you are free to have a look, and you might just discover a few well-kept secrets. But for now, Don’s secret is safe with me.