Del Norte People: Fishing tales of yore on local rivers

Written by Chuck Blackburn March 15, 2012 12:00 am

Jack “The Swede” Husberg fishing on the Klamath River in 1973. Submitted
Jack “The Swede” Husberg fishing on the Klamath River in 1973. Submitted
Editor’s note: Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears every four weeks.

A person is blessed in life in having a loving family and good friends. Another friend in my life was Jack “The Swede” Husberg, a real gentleman in our community.

Jack was born July 17, 1900, in London, England, and passed away in 1983 at 83 years old. I was honored to be invited to give his eulogy at the Ship-A-Shore Recreation Hall. He was good friends with the Westbrook family, particularly Chopper and Hank. Both Jack and Ed Hughes fish-guided in the fall and early winter at Ship-A-Shore Resort for many years.

Jack’s parents were Swedish and they moved to Stockholm from London so that Jack could go to high school with his brother who was already there. He became fluent in three languages between the ages of 10 and 17 years, namely German, English and French. Jack moved to the United States in 1915, landing in San Francisco. His uncle was running a creamery in Smith River at the time. Jack was then introduced to the North Coast.

One night John Burre took Jack gill net fishing. Boy, did we get some big ones. Jack worked commercial fishing in 1934. One hundred and thirty nets, 90 fathoms were staggered.

When asked about commercial gill netting, Jack said, “It was a ... bloody mess.”

Jack also started sports fishing at this time and soon found that people would pay for his services as a guide for $8 a day. Jack started fishing the Klamath River in 1931 with long-time friend Tony Geroni and “just knocked the heck out of them.” He could be seen fishing with Jack in between paid parties. Since Jack rowed his boat, his two favorites were “The Queen Mary” and a “Tony Geroni-built” boat. Tony built many fine row boats and he built my current wooden drift boat in 1955. My dad, Wes Blackburn, bought it from Tony and gave it to me to professionally guide on the Klamath from 1956 to 1986. I still have Tony’s boat at Big Flat.

Jack became famous on the Klamath and Smith rivers as a great guide and a “real old salt.” Jack loved to fish bait, although some of his fishermen would go to spinners at times. One section of water between Requa Resort and Panther Creek became known as “Swede’s Alley.” I could always hear him tell his party, “Bump the bottom, bump the bottom,” and they would. On any given day when the salmon were running you could find Jack fishing “Swede’s Alley” and his clients would be bumping the bottom.

Guide Chuck Blackburn, right, rows clients on the Klamath in the old days. Submitted
Guide Chuck Blackburn, right, rows clients on the Klamath in the old days. Submitted
Jack never used a motor and pulled the oars right up until his death at 83. Jack’s oars were the heaviest that I ever grabbed when I took his boat out for a short stint. My oars--8 feet long--felt like a feather compared to his. When asked how far he had rowed over the years he said, “probably around the world.”

Jack said that 1963 was probably his best year of fishing on the Klamath when he landed 263 salmon with his parties. He got most of them in “Swede’s Alley.” I would pick up Ed Hughes first during the salmon season on the Klamath and then stop at Jack’s trailer in town to haul them to the river. Sometimes Larry Amos would also join us, “The Four Musketeers of the Klamath.” Larry and I were the young guys. I learned so much from Jack and Ed over the years. I wish that I could have tape recorded some of our discussions but I still have stored a lot in my heart and soul. It is a treasure to me.

Another tale of Jack’s occurred on the Smith River in the early fall when Bob and Joe Weitkamp, a party of mine for years on the Klamath, came up to fish with Jack on the Smith River. It was a beautiful day and they were having  some success. A lot of seagulls were flying overhead as usually occurs at Ship-A-Shore. Jack looked up at the ruckus above and one of the sea gulls let loose and it struck an open-mouthed Jack and entered his throat. Jack started a series of expletives to get this mess out of his throat while the sea gulls seemed to be entertained by the performance going on below. After rinsing his mouth out, Jack, Bob and Joe had a good laugh.

I hope that Jack and Ed are in a better place and smiling down on us in our daily ramblings. I asked Jack one day, “How did you get to 83?” and he said, “I tried to be nice. We didn’t raise too much hell, I hope.”

We sure had a good time.

Chuck Blackburn can be reached at  954-7121.