"By the time the Fajen left Naknek with the building materials for what would become the Ole Creek Lodge, the former military barge was already worn out. Because it was a landing craft, the bottom had been abused on rocky beaches and was almost gone. Before we loaded the barge, Hermie strengthened some compartments and rigged special pumps in others. To keep it floating, he ran the compressors and pumps continuously. When he wanted to stop for the night, he'd ease into shallow water, then cut the power to the pumps. The barge would settle onto the bottom.
When he wanted to move, he'd start the pumps and in an hour the barge would be floating. It took us thirty days to navigate the Kvichak. We were stuck so many times, I didn't think we'd ever get up the river. Several times the pumps just quit. We were lucky that they never quit in deep water. More than once we had to off-load some of the lumber onto my 32-ft commercial fishing boat because we were so stuck in the river. It took so long that we had to start shuttling materials off the Fajen to the building site. We were actually under construction with the barge miles away from the final destination" (Excerpt from Rods and Wings)
In 1962 Don & Haugen started commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. Not long after arriving in the bay he met Ole' Wassenkari another commercial fisherman who lived a few miles down the Kvichak river, on what is known today as Ole Creek.
Don and Ole became good friends. In 1965 the two drift fisherman had a great season. Over 27 million sockeye salmon returned to the bay that season. Don decided he wanted to follow the salmon up the Kvichak river to where Ole lived. So after navigating over 60 miles against the river he arrived at the small Yupik Village of Igiugig. The village is found on the southside of Kvichak river near the south western edge of lake Iliamna.
In addition to having a home on Ole Creek, Ole owned five acres of land on the northside of the river across from the village at the head waters of the kvichak river, where the lake and river meet together. Strategically it is a piece of land that gives the angler the last chance to catch salmon before they escape into the lake.
Don believed that Ole's property was the perfect place to build a lodge. Close to the Igiugig airport and right at the beginning of the river where the worlds largest run of sockeye salmon would pass by. He asked Ole if he would lease him an acre of land where he could build a lodge. To Don's surprise Ole wanted to build also but didn't know where to begin. This was the beginning of their partnership!
There was already a small cabin on the property built by Red Clark in 1960 for Ole's daughter. Which still stands on the property to this day. New materials were ordered from Seattle and barged to Bristol Bay. The two men contracted Hermie Herrmanns to transport the materials from Naknek to the building site.
Hermann's barge the Fajen was more then 100ft long and 35ft wide. The barge was a World War II landing craft.
Originally, Ole and Don planned to have the Fajen beached right in front of the property. As luck would have it, they could only get it as far as Red Clark's place, a few hundred yards down river. By the time all the supplies were unloaded the barge had settled deep into the beach sand. That was the end of the Fajen. It remains adjacent to what was Red Clark's land to this day.
From the time the first materials arrived in 1971 Don and Ole slowly developed the lodge. By 1974 they were ready to host their first clients. In the first season Ole would spend a few days at the lodge and a few days at his home on Ole Creek. The following year Don purchased Ole's half of the partnership. Although a few clients over the years have chartered an airplane to take them on a fly-out, Ole Creek Lodge has always been a non-fly-out lodge as long as it was owned by the Haugens.
Eventually the Haugen's purchased the adjacent five acres parcel which borders the actual lake and river. On this property is where the guide cabins rest and the place where the 10 guide boats are stored during the winter months today.
In 1979 Barbara Blanc, her two daughters and younger son moved to Fairbanks, Alaska to live with her parents Don and Afton Blanc. Her parents were school teachers and commercially fished on the south end of Kodiak island near Alitak Bay, partners with their son Richard and his wife Feryll Blanc at High Rock Fish Camp. Barbara and her family tried Beach seining in Portage Bay across from High Rock. However the three month season wasn't a good fit for Barbara's winter job at the University in Fairbanks.
In 1982 Barbara purchased a setnet site and permit and began fishing on the South Naknek beach in Bristol Bay. Her 11 year old son, Indy Walton after fishing the fast and short season in Bristol Bay was picked up by his Grandfather in his 185 cessna and flown back to Kodiak to help finish out the season there. Indy had a passion for boats and fishing, whenever he had a break from commercial fishing he could be found sport fishing. His uncle taught him to fish using a pop can because they didn't have a fishing pole. "Gramps" would drop him off on a mountain lake in his plane with his cousins and they would hike out the streams fishing as they'd go.
In 1992 Indy at age 21 bought a fishing site next to his mother in Bristol Bay and set his sites on owning a 32ft drift boat. Indy Married Stephanie Bratten also from Fairbanks, AK in December of 1992. They had four children, the oldest Dagen (which means little fisherman in Norwegian), Bristol Dawn named after the beautiful sunrise on July 2nd, 1995 the day she was born, Marina (Russian origin meaning the women all the fisherman dream about) and Dylan Richard (meaning born of the ocean)
In 2006 Indy began drifting in his 18ft skiff. He would setnet one tide and drift the next. His uncle said he was "Double Dippin" participating in both fisheries. A year later Indy and his mother, as partners purchased a drift boat together and named it Double Dippin'. In 2008 they decided to re-power the boat in Homer, Alaska. Indy and his young son Dagen began the long journey up the kvichak river at the end of the commercial season.
Double Dippin was a slow boat powered by a single 200hp volvo engine turning a small 10" hamilton jet. Needless to say it took two full days to travel up the kvichak. Along the way they saw bears and were amazed by the beauty of the river and how crystal clear the Kvichak waters are. "You could see the sockeye that had escaped past the commercial nets, you could see chums and pinks beside them with rainbows and grayling trailing behind waiting to devour the salmon eggs". The boat moved slow enough that Dagen at age 14 could fish while Indy navigated up stream.
They moved so slow through the "Flats" that they instantly fell in love with the area as you couldn't help to take in all the beauty that was around them. From the flats to the Lake was the slowest part of the trip. They could see the Lake, traveling at less then 2kts they weren't sure they would actually reach the lake. On the left they past the Fajen and couldn't help but wonder their own fate. With Igiugig village slowly going by on the starboard Indy spotted a skiff he had built and sold to his Yupik friend Sherry Nelson, off the port side they had a perfect view of "Ole Creek Lodge".
Watching the anglers fishing off the beach hooking into the sockeye salmon they had missed weeks before in the bay, they finally reached the lake. "It looked like the Caribbean Ocean", flat calm and glassy as far as the eye could see. After making it across Lake Iliamna, being hauled over the 15 miles of switch backs on a semi trailer and launched into the Cook Inlet, they crossed the inlet and made it to Homer.
The boat was re-powered and the next spring they made the return trip at a much faster pace. They couldn't wait to get back to Igiugig. The Lake,tributaries and Kvichak river are the most pristine place on earth, the heart beat and birth place of the largest sockeye salmon run on earth. Untouched wilderness, the water so pure you can drink it right out of the lake and river without a second thought.
Making it just past the Ole Creek Lodge they anchored up for the night and began fishing for grayling. One of their favorite fish to catch, they finally had to put the rods away in order to get some sleep. They wished they could stay there and sport fish forever.
After owning and running the lodge for almost 40yrs, Don Haugen passed away in the fall of 2010, survived by his wife Marjorie and two daughters. In 2014 Indy Walton and Sherry Nelson reconnected via Facebook. Every time he would communicate with her he would ask her if she knew of any land for sale in the village or on the river close by. There is no land available she would say. Every year Indy would ask again and Sherry would tell him no, there wasn't any.
Meanwhile Indy and his son Dagen were fly fishing all around the Naknek river and Kenai Peninsula. Catching monster rainbows, grayling, salmon, steelhead, char and pike. In early 2018 Sherry used Facebook messenger and told Indy that a lodge on 10 acres of land right across from the village was for sale, but that it was at a very high price because of its awesome location.
On June 7th, 2018 Indy and his two boys flew into Igiugig, Margie Haugen and a couple helpers picked them up and took them across the river to one of only seven lodges on the Kvichak River the Ole Creek Lodge. June 8th is opening day for rainbows. At the stroke of midnight father and sons all hooked into three beautiful rainbows where the lake and river are joined. That night it was very clear as clear as the Kvichak River that the Walton boys were hooked.
In July after a successful commercial fishing season. Indy, Dagen, Bristol and Marina returned to the lodge. The first day they spent catching sockeyes down at Ole Creek. The next day the girls lounged around the lodge while the boys fished. When the boys returned, Bristol said "Hey Pops, I could stay right here in the lodge looking out the window in this moment forever". By the end of July the Walton kids had pooled their money together with their parents and purchased the lodge and property from Margie Haugen.
The new name of the lodge is "Last Cast Lodge" signifying that it is one of the last places to catch salmon before they escape into the lake, The Last place you ever will want to fish and the one place when your told its time to go, your reply will be "just one last cast" which we all know means five more!