2012 Women's Flyfishing Trip Reports
January - Argentina, May - Float Tubing, June - Brooks River, July - Lake Clark, Nome, Annual Flyfishing School, August - Tangle Lakes/Denali Highway, Single Day trips to Hope and Montana Creek, September - All Rainbows/All Fun, Cordova Silver Salmon Spectacular
Although volcanic eruptions in Chile continued to send ash-laden air into Argentina from time to time, we still had a great time on this year’s January trip. Luckily, the fishing was not affected, and we all caught rainbow and brown trout just as large and just a feisty as in past years.
We started out the adventure with a three-day camping trip on the Alumine and Collon Cura rivers. High winds drove us off the water and into camp, one afternoon, but a few hours later it was so calm that the bugs were biting! The staff made us a wonderful dinner over a fire pit they dug into the ground to avoid sending sparks into the air, and we told our day’s fish stories over exquisite Argentinian wine and beef. The fish were glad to see us back, and came to the flies eagerly.
After a hot shower and some tasty appetizers on the afternoon we came off the water and headed to the lodge, we set out to organize the rest of our week. It included fishing from the rafts on the Chimeuin (pronounced “chim-a-ween”) River that flows right in front of the lodge and wading perfect runs on the Malleo (pronounced “Ma-j-ho” River as well as more days on the Collon Cura (pronounced “kojon-kura”). We were also lucky enough to experience a “no-wind” day when we ventured to a wonderful small lake a two-hour drive away that was just teeming with large rainbows. We hooked them on both streamers and large dry flies all day long!
Everywhere we went, the fish were cooperative, and the water was as clear as cellophane. Large dry flies such as PMX, Stimulators, and Fat Alberts provided the floatation for a dropper with tiny pheasant tail, prince, or copper john nymphs during most of the trip. This rig offered the fish two different choices, with some taking the dry fly and others focusing strictly on the nymphs. Some of us also fished a short-line rig with two nymphs. While on the Malleo River, one of the successful nymphs that always seemed to produce was a black stone-fly nymph imitation. Streamers included various sizes of olive and brown woolly buggers with a cone head and lots of flash.
One of everyone’s favorite day floats is always the trip that begins in the nearby town of Junin de los Andes on the Chimeuin and takes place on the middle section of the river. It seems to produce fish of all sizes all day long to all of the anglers! Some large foam-decorated back eddies are popular places to linger and to target the rising fish, most of which seem attracted to the nymphs. Casting directly to an obvious rise usually brings the best results.
Just as in years past, we sighted lots of Argentinean wildlife. The famous, camel-like guanacos are usually the hit of the trip, and this year we saw them taking a drink right at the water-line as we floated by. Raising their head on their long neck to see who we were, they seemed un-perturbed by our presence. The flamingos also made an appearance every day we fished the Collon Cura. As usual, the parrots were everywhere. Flocks of them flew over us nearly every day, and we also got a big thrill when passing the huge cliffs on the Collon Cura where they nest by the hundreds.
This year, for the first time ever, we saw an Argentinean armadillo scurrying up the bank after getting a drink, as well as a huge scorpion on the bank where we stopped for lunch. Several different kinds of lizards were also sunning themselves at the same location. The red deer were spotted in many of the same areas as we had seen them in years past, and so were the many ducks, birds, and eagles.
By the second week, we had settled down to some great fishing nearly everywhere we went. We had been hoping for an appearance of the “greened-weenie” worm that falls from the willow bushes that line the river-banks and attract the fish to the feast, but had only seen a few scattered instances of them from time to time. We frequently substituted a “weenie” for the nymph on our dropper to test the waters and found a few spots where the worm was happening. In fact, one morning I hooked a large rainbow that up-chucked at least 30 worms as we landed him. Later in the week, one of the gals got a very large rainbow as well as a very large brown trout, both on the worm in a back channel where their raft had stopped for lunch.
The worms are a phenomena that happens about every fourth year, apparently, and, while this would have been “the year” for it, the “hatch” of worms wasn’t yet in full swing, as it had been on one of our previous trips.
We also were lucky enough to get to fish Lake Tromen again this year. It is a very scenic body of water, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Andes Mountains and crowned by an up-close view of Lanin Volcano, the symbol of Argentina. The lodge has one raft with a motor that can tow the other rafts to the far side the lake where winds aren’t such a problem, and that is what we did. The fishing was slow in the morning, but when we changed flies and began stripping faster, the fish took notice. The wind had also come up, however, which made it difficult to keep the raft at the proper distance from the bank. The afternoon was blustery but exhilarating and we ended the day with the largest fish we had hooked wrapped around a submerged log. Unfortunately, we never did get him loose in spite of lots of trying.
Due to the airport closures because of the ash, we had to return from Neuquen, a different airport than we usually use. It required that we take the morning flight back to Buenos Aires in order to make our later connecting flights. So, we found ourselves at 3:30 a.m. on a bus driving along a highway with both deer and horses crossing the road in the morning darkness. It was quite an end to our adventure.
We’re already looking toward the 2013 trip to Argentina and Chime Lodge, and we are booking now. Dates will be January 6-12, 2013. Give us a call to go along! The lodge is willing to work out a payment plan with you so you don’t miss out!
Adios for now, Pudge
We tubed in the rain, we tubed in the wind, and we tubed in the cold. Every one of the five days we were out was a real adventure. We started off in one of my favorite lakes, but it turned out that it had been one of the first to open in the area and had really been hammered by other anglers before we got there. It was really fun, but not very productive. So, the second day we tried one of my other favorite lakes nearby. The weather was really miserable, and the low atmospheric pressure really put the fish down. Nevertheless, one of the gals hooked into a very large fish just before we planned to head back to the campground for lunch and a warm-up.
The fish didn’t jump at all. It just headed for the bottom and stayed there. It didn’t appear to be a rainbow, but I couldn’t figure what else it could be. After a long, protracted battle on the 5-wt rod, the fish finally came to the surface. Much to our surprise it turned out to be a 23-inch char, which must have been planted in the lake years ago. I had never caught char in that lake before and was absolutely flabbergasted over it all.
After hot soup and some walking around to warm up, we headed out again. A different one of my favorite spots wasn’t producing at all, except for the pair of loons that circled us repeatedly. Suddenly, in the midst of our loon photography, the very same gal that had hooked up the large fish in the morning did it again! It was another char, but only about eighteen inches in length this time. Wow!
The following day two of the gals went with me to a third lake, where we experienced the only nice weather of the week. They landed quite a few rainbows, and we got some great pictures that ended up at the bottom of the lake after I lost my camera, unfortunately. What a bummer. We tried for over an hour to retrieve it, but finally gave up and got out of the water for lunch. The fishing was a bit slower after lunch, but we attributed that to an on-coming storm
Day number four we tried our luck at the lake where Alaska usually holds its Casting for Recovery retreat. We scored a couple of fish early-on, but then had several hits that we lost. After a mix of trolling and casting we stopped for lunch. Heading in a different direction after lunch, we only located one small fish with a couple of other strikes. On the paddle back to camp, though, two of the gals each hooked up with 18-inch fish within five minutes of each other. We landed them both, but only got a picture of one of them. Once again, we were bombarded by heavy rain and wind from two different storm systems in the area.
The last day turned out to be the best fishing day of the week with a number of good rainbows to their credit. It was the first day of the Memorial Day week-end, so we hit the lake really early to try to beat the expected crowds. The bad weather mostly held off even though the clouds were low and threatening all day with intermittent sprinkles. The gals got some experience using the landing nets to retrieve fish by themselves from the tube, a technique that they had been anxious to practice.
Everybody learned how to get in and out of the tube by themselves, how to cast while sitting down in the tube, and, of course, how to paddle backwards. Just like always, most people were ready to buy a tube of their own by the time we finished.
Even though we could have seen more fish, we were all thrilled at the numbers of common loons we saw. Every lake we fished had a pair that came very close to us, even swimming right below the tubes where we could see them. They also entertained us with their danger-calls when the eagles appeared. It was a great week. We’ll be doing it again next year. Join us!
Our trip to Brooks Lodge and the Brooks River this year proved to be a little too early for the salmon. Plus, the bears were just arriving for their summer feast. Alaska had one of its toughest winters in 2011-12, with record snow falls everywhere and a very late spring. Brooks was no exception, so we found the water high, cold, and somewhat off-color, which was really no surprise. In addition, we also found ourselves in a series of low-pressure systems where rain & wind storms piled-up one after the other and put down our fish.
We arrived on our first day in a veritable monsoon, where the waves were so high on Naknek Lake, where the lodge is located, that the plane had to land on Brooks Lake a few miles away. We were anxious to get fishing right after lunch, but the fish goddess had other plans. Casting was absolutely impossible due to 40-50 mph winds, so we decided to hike up to Brooks Falls to see if there were any bears around.
The Falls trail had apparently been covered with blow-down trees this spring, as we saw lots of dead spruce trees on their sides and lots of splintered stumps left behind. We even found a tree that had sheltered a mother humming bird and her chicks the year before that was now just a shattered base with the nest remnants still inside.
The falls were as beautiful as usual and we took lots of pictures, but no bears appeared. On the hike back we encountered a Park Service ranger and we stopped for a discussion with him about all the hordes of tourists that would arrive just days away. Since the wind still hadn’t declined enough for fly casting, we went to the Park Service educational program that night after dinner.
Thank goodness the next day was much better so we slogged through flooded tundra to reach one of my favorite spots on the river and got casting. It was pretty cold for any rising fish but we held out hope that the tiny salmon smolt would be out-migrating in small pods, so we put on smolt imitations and went to work. We saw just a few rainbows chasing smolt, and Leslie (for whom this was her first ever fly fishing experience) had a fish on for a few minutes as she waded along a new channel that had formed in the river, so we called it a pretty good morning as we headed back to the lodge for lunch.
That afternoon we saw our first bear across the river and finally backed away as he started swimming across towards us. The rangers had reported sightings of three or four “courting” bears around, but only that one was visible to us.
The next morning our fortunes changed. The rain stopped, the sun came out (sort-of), and the rainbows were popping on smolt in several spots along the river. Since there were no bears around we also got to fish in one of my favorite spots on the river that was protected from the wind. Sherry was the first to hook up but lost her first rainbow. As it turns out that was the small one, and just a short while later, she connected with a beautiful, large fish. She had given the trip to herself for her birthday, so she reminded us that this was her birthday fish. And, a beauty it was! An absolutely perfect 23-inch hen rainbow, just in from the lake, finally came to hand and she proudly displayed it for the camera.
Leslie also lost a fish as she was learning how to set the hook and manage a running fish, but other fish gave her a good chance to practice those skills. Her very first fish on a fly rod turned out to be a Dolly Varden char about 24 inches long. I was somewhat surprised because we don’t often see such large char in the river. She was doing a great job of applying what she’d learned, and finally brought in a super fish to claim as her “first!” Several other fish, mostly char, also got hooked up that morning, but after lunch another storm rolled in and the fishing slowed way down. After having to get up on the observation platform because a bear appeared, we finally called it a day and headed back to a glass of wine in front of the fire at the lodge.
We made periodic visits to the mouth of the river and scouted for salmon. Even though one of the pilots told us that he had seen salmon coming up the lake towards the river, they never arrived in time for us to fish for them.
On the last day of the trip the gals opted to take the tour to the Valley of Ten-thousand Smokes to see the remains of the largest volcano eruption in North America. Because it was raining, the water in the river just kept rising and getting dirtier, so they probably made a good choice. In fact, the place where we had been standing our first day was completely under water. The only thing they missed was the eagle that hung-out at the lodge all morning wowing the guests and a bear on the beach in front of the lodge. They also saw bears on the tour, so they weren’t too disappointed.
Our flight home was absolutely spectacular. Augustine volcano was crystal clear, and, as we got closer, so was Mount Spur. In one way or the other, Brooks never disappoints. Join us next year and see.
Lake Clark Air took off from Anchorage right on time, and we headed straight for the world-famous Lake Clark Pass because the weather was extra-good for flightseeing. Mountain top after mountain top and glacier after glacier appeared beneath or right beside us and kept our cameras clicking like crazy.
All too soon, the plane exited the pass, and we headed across Lake Clark to Port Alsworth, the headquarters for our super annual trip. Our cabins were ready and so was lunch, so we were on the river in record time saying hello to the Arctic grayling just waiting for us. The water was very high, but not very dirty, thankfully, but even so it covered most of the small island we usually fish from. So, I checked out the scene and finally discovered an area where the gals could stand to cast into a couple of channels full of fish.
Margaret was the first to hook-up, which was no surprise because she's fished grayling before and had the technique mastered. The others weren't far behind. Even though the water was swift and much deeper than usual, they, too, hooked and landed fish after fish after fish.
At dinner that night we discussed our plan for the following day. If the weather permitted, we were scheduled to fly out for some sockeye salmon or rainbow trout fishing. It was not to be, however, because we woke up to rain and low ceilings. So, we went hiking instead to the Tanalian River Falls. The fishing there was also wonderful in spite of the high water that covered most of the places where we usually stand. Lisa and Maggie had double catches almost more often than not, and we tried and tried to get a picture with both fish at the same time, but weren't successful.
By the time we got home that night we were really pooped, but ready to head out the next day for our tour of some of the fishing spots around the lake. The wind was making it difficult to get to some of the places that we usually fish, but we caught several nice grayling at one of the small feeder creeks that was protected from the wind. Then, we headed down to the "pike pond" for our annual pike fishing experience.
The water at the "pond" was up in the trees along the bank, which meant we had to wade out farther than we wanted to in order to make a cast. Lisa had several fish interested in her yellow fly, but she had trouble setting the hook on them. Both Maggie and Margaret also had some hits, but the fishing wasn't nearly as good as usual. Finally, Jeff, our boatman, took them to fish from the boat, and they caught some fish that way.
Our afternoon at the Kijik River was also disappointing. High water was everywhere, and it was a chore just to reach the main channel. A few hits were all we had to our credit before heavier rain sent us home to a hot shower and a great dinner. Outstanding Cornish hen was the entre of the night, with a chocolate "to die for" cake. We usually have to get half-portions since the meals are so huge.
The next day the sun was finally shining and we piled in the plane to fly over to the sockeye river to see how the fishing was doing there. Although the salmon had been in just four or five days before, we couldn't spot any on our fly-overs, so gave up on that option and headed over to some of the lakes to pursue rainbows. The scenery was spectacular as we flew through high passes with some snow patches still showing while we dropped down to the glassy lake surfaces below.
Our pilot, Carlin, set us up on five different creeks on five different lakes that he fishes regularly, but the fish just wouldn't show for us on any of them. Still, we were having an amazing experience just seeing the hidden mountain lakes that earn the Lake Clark the moniker, "Switzerland of the North". At times our view extended over Lake Iliamna and down the Kvichak River to Bristol Bay.
Since our last day is shorter than there rest, we headed out early to interact with the grayling one more time before we had to head home. The water on the river had actually subsided a few inches, and it was noticeable because it allowed us closer access to the main channel. We took advantage of it catching like crazy with dry flies, ants, and nymphs. As usual, it was very, very hard to leave.
Hope that you can go along next summer!! Let us know and we can reserve a space for you.
Once again, the Nome trip outdid itself and came through with dozens and dozens of gorgeous Arctic grayling in the 18-20-inch range, plus just as many or more pink salmon, and even some large pike to round out the options. It was great to have so many choices, but the grayling were still the stars of the expedition.
Our drive to the camp enabled us to see musk-ox close up beside the road as well as a pair of golden eagle chicks in the nest, and a cow moose who spooked as we drove by. The water was very low, and our first afternoon was devoted to having everyone put to use the skills they had learned in the beginning fly fishing class. Their casting and mending quickly improved to the point that they had very cooperative grayling grabbing their nymphs. They were so excited they could hardly remember how to keep a fish tight while they reeled it in and release it correctly. What a blast!
They soon moved up to dry fly fishing and mastering the technique of casting a long leader, and getting the fly to dead drift down river. By the time we headed back to the camp for dinner, they had each landed over 20 fish! How's that for beginners' success?
The next day we took the boat up into the main river and to a tiny little tributary where the pink salmon were absolutely stacked-up like cord-wood and went to work with the 8-wt rods and reels. These were fish in the 5-6 lb range, so more work was required to get them in. But, there certainly was no problem in getting them to take the hook in the first place. "I've never seen so many fish in one place!" someone remarked. "No wonder we can get so many hook-ups."
On the way home we stopped for some more grayling fishing and this time they had the fish going crazy for ant flies with white, orange, or black rubber legs. Drifting them down over the edge of a small drop-off right where the grayling were holding certainly did the trick.
Our third day we headed to another one of our favorite grayling spots where we could fish off of both sides of an island. Now, they had to decide whether to fish with dry flies or ants, and they were getting very accomplished with either one. Doubles, doubles, doubles, and more doubles were the order of the day, with fish displaying huge, spotted dorsal fins to wow us over and over again.
After lunch that day we stopped at a wide flats area with perfect gravel for wading. Often, when the water is high and the current is strong, this spot isn't available to us, but this time the low water made it a perfect spot for pursuing both pinks and grayling. The pink salmon were beginning to dig their nests so grayling were waiting patiently behind them for some wayward salmon eggs, which they gorge on. That enables us to pick and choose which fish to target. We always catch lots of both species in situations like this.
Day #4 is usually reserved for heading out to the pike pond to do some fly fishing for these toothy critters. Some years we don't find many fish, but this year, we were in luck, and our Polarized glasses spotted fish after fish in the little back-bay where these fish hang-out. Once the gals got the hang of casting and stripping really fast so that their flies came within the cone of vision of the fish, they got hook-ups almost right away. They had to be reminded frequently not to put their hands or fingers anywhere near the mouth of the fish as we tried to get pictures. They also learned that pike are probably the slipperiest and slimiest of all the fish species.
We did a little pink salmon fishing before lunch after the pike stopped biting, and roasted hot-dogs over a beach fire right near some fresh bear-poop that kept us alert to the possibility of a 4-legged lunch guest. The afternoon found us back at the drop-off where we had scored on so highly a previous day for grayling. Besides the ants and dry flies, we also fished with a leader containing Czech nymphs and came up with two fish on the line numerous times.
The last morning was also devoted to grayling fishing, and, as usual it was incredibly difficult to tear ourselves away to meet our shuttle back to Nome. We always have fresh Bering Sea crab for dinner in a restaurant there, and it's just the frosting on the cake as we end this super trip.
Nome is definitely one of my very favorite trips. One of the gals called it "flyfishing paradise." The chance to stay with an Alaskan Native family and learn something about their culture and day to day life just adds to the fun of the trip. If you've never eaten BJ's musk-ox stew you haven't experienced the real Alaska! Come on with us next summer and see for yourself.
Like always, the first day of the school was dedicated to learning about fly fishing gear & equipment, the basics of fly casting, and then actually practicing casting, mending, and line control on the water. Little "humpy creek" was pretty devoid of humpies this year as the run of pink salmon was just beginning to arrive, so we headed back to the lodge for our leader construction and knot tying lessons. It didn't take long for everyone to master the nail knot, the blood knot, the triple surgeons, and the improved clinch knot as well as the principles of leader creation so that they could be independent on the water.
We headed to Sheep Creek, one of our favorite pink-salmon haunts, the next day. It was rainy, and the steps on the floating dock down to the boat were very slippery, but we were underway quickly. The sea-otters and seals were easily spotted on the calm water, and dolphins splashed and played out in front of the boat.
The big boat can't get all the way into the creek, so we off-loaded as close in as we could get and then hiked around to the creek. Our trusty Folstaff wading sticks got us through the seaweed and slimy "salad" along the banks until we reached the creek. Fish were splashing everywhere, so we got right to the fishing.
Hook-ups were coming quickly, but everyone still had to master the techniques of keeping the fish on the line, playing it, landing it, and releasing it safely. Vicki was the first to manage that, but it certainly didn't take long to get the rest of the group tuned-in as well. Each of them had to retreat to the bank to sit on a large rock to re-tie their leaders several times after they broke-off a fish by not letting it run. It wasn't long, though, before we were having two and even three gals landing fish at the same time. Besides pink salmon, they were also catching the larger and stronger chum salmon that had entered the creek. These hefty fish are a real challenge on an 8-wt fly rod. Once everyone learned that it took lots longer to land these fish, they were successful with most of the ones they hooked. Andrew and I were busy running up and down the bank to help with the releases, and it was great to see their confidence growing with each cast.
The following day we boated to a different bay for some cutthroat trout fishing. The fog hung low, and Ian, our boat driver, had to carefully navigate up near the beach. Andrew had captained a small skiff beside us the whole way so it could be used to ferry us to land. Then, we donned our back-packs and hiked up along the creek until we found the fish. The beach grasses were spectacular as were the scores of wildflowers scattered among them. We had bear-spray ready, but made lots of noise, so never saw one.
The creek holds tannic water that camouflages the trout almost completely. Now everyone was using a 5-wt fly rod and mastering the small wet-flies that these fish prefer. Karen hooked the first fish after having at least three other hits on her very first cast. The touch was so delicate after experiencing the hard-hitting pink salmon the previous day, that it took her a second or two to realize that she had a fish. It was a gorgeous little thing about 10-inches long glowing in the morning light. Her next cast produced a second fish, and she was off and running.
Meanwhile, all the others were also catching "cuties" down-stream aways. Soon, Andrew recommended that we hike up farther to a nice pool that was filled with pink salmon, but also had accompanying cutthroat. Once we got there we were into fish right away. Jeannie and Vicki quickly took over a spot with a couple of large, downed logs that proved to hold fish after fish once they mastered a cast that put the fly right next to the log instead of in the trees. Laura & Karen had waded carefully under a huge spruce that had fallen across the water to access the pool from the other side. A few of their flies had to be rescued, too, but they were also learning quickly about how to make short casts right to a specific spot. Everyone caught a lot of fish and got to practice removing the hook from a tiny mouth. The boat ride back to the lodge was spectacular with snow-capped mountains finally emerging from the lifting clouds and fog.
Our last day saw us back to the salmon fishing in a different bay. The tide was up when we got there, but the pink salmon were stacked up in one channel of the small creek that we could reach from the bank. We caught lots of fish for a while, but when the tide began to recede the fished moved out into deeper water where we couldn't reach them. We hiked over to a different channel of the creek, but, much to our surprise, it didn't have any fish in it. We ate lunch and kept our hopes up that as the tide fell even more, we'd be able to access the fish, but it didn't happen. So, we set up the 5-wt rods and did some trout fishing while we waited for our boat pick-up. It was a lovely, sunny day, and the sea otters made it a point to say hello on the way home.
Darn, it was hard to leave, as it always is. But, we got ourselves packed, and ordered our graduation pizza, and took it with us to the airport to eat with some wine we took along while we waited for the plane.
The school is always one of my very favorite trips because everybody learns to catch fish with a fly rod and begins to understand why it is that so many people rank fly fishing as their favorite sport. We'll be back at Orca again next year. If you want to learn to fish with both heavy and light-weight fly rods for both large and small fish, ours is the school for you! See you then!
The Denali Hiway definitely lived up to its reputation again this year, with fifty and sixty-fish days, lots of wildlife, new techniques to learn, and, for some, a brand-new fish to fall in love with. The Arctic grayling did it again. By the end of the trip they had become the anglers’ favorite fish on nymphs and dry flies.
We started out the trip as we usually do at a beautiful creek about a third of the way across the highway. It had been raining a lot (just like everywhere else in Alaska, it seems), so the water was high and difficult to fish from the shore. We had to forgo one of my favorite spots because the water was too swift to wade there. Instead, we stayed down near the highway where it took a while for the fish to warm up to the flies. Pretty soon Carol caught the first fish of the day, and started us on the fish-adoration phenomena that always occurs when grayling are our target.
Our second day took us to another small creek that was much more wadable, and the hooking and landing started almost with the very first cast. One fish after the other came eagerly to the bead-head prince and pheasant tail nymphs, and some of them were in the 18-19-inch range. It wasn’t long, however, before the bugs came out and the dry-fly fishing began. From then on, everyone had their choice of styles to use. We got some great practice in on how to deliver dry flies to the fish, how to mend line, and how to use the dead-drift techniques. Boy, did they ever catch lots of fish!!
Just for fun, I tied up a couple of Czech-nymph rigs and let them try catching two fish at the same time. It was challenging fishing, and they often had fish on both nymphs, but lost one of them before getting the fish to the net. We finally did accomplish the double-fish landing, and manage to get some great pictures.
Late in the afternoon, just before he headed back to the lodge for dinner, Ginny also caught a lovely grayling with a parachute Adams, and, much to our delight, it posed repeatedly so that we could get pictures of him and his shadow with the perky little Adams showing prominently.
Besides the numbers of fish, the high-point of the afternoon was the appearance of a spectacular bull caribou with huge antlers that emerged from the bushes right across the water from us. All alone, he paused a second or two to look at us and try to figure out what we were, but then, as we moved to get out our cameras, he quickly disappeared back into the willows. Regrettably, none of us had time to get a good picture of him. Other caribou were on the hills as we drove along, but all of them were much farther in the distance. What a treat!
We bushwhacked and did some very tricky wading before reaching our destination for the following day. Once again, it was the deeper water that produced the largest fish, and always on nymphs. Czech-nymphing really shone in this water, and the double fish results were very impressive. Up and down the run we fished, losing a few flies along the way as we adjusted the weighted split-shot on our leaders, but it was definitely worth it.
Grayling can always be counted on to take dry flies too, and that day was no exception. Elk-hair caddis were mostly the fly of choice that afternoon, and everyone was now well-educated in how to deliver, follow, and drift them. The glare on the water made seeing them difficult, but they had the technique down, and were as successful on the dries as on the nymphs.
It was tough saying goodbye to each other and to the amazing grayling inhabiting the lovely streams along this scenic highway. As I turned back toward civilization I was awed by the changing colors, the new snow on the mountains, and the caribou heading toward their wintering-over destinations. This place is as hauntingly beautiful as anywhere in Alaska. I feel lucky to have been introduced to it over forty years ago, and it’s never lost its appeal for me. I’ll be back in 2013. I hope that you will be with me.
Our three days of fishing for pink and silver salmon at Hope, AK and three days of fishing for pinks, and chum, and silver salmon at Montana Creek were all great fun. Several different folks each day tried their hand at learning how to cast a fly rod on moving water and how to hook a salmon in the process. Not all the casts were perfect, and certainly not all of them resulted in a fish to the bank, but it was definitely a hoot to help everyone give it a try.
There’s a lot to learn when one is starting out in fly fishing. First, people have to use the wading stick and get out into the water where the fish are. Then, they have to master getting the line and fly into the water in the right way and right to where the fish are. Then, when a fish bites, they must learn how to tighten their fingers around the cork handle of the rod and lift up to set the hook. Next, of course, comes letting the fish run so it doesn’t break the leader, but still keeping it under control and bringing it to the bank. Needless to say, there are lots of steps in that process where something can go wrong.
Some had trouble controlling the line, some had trouble setting the hook, and some had trouble feeling the bite of the fish. Still, sooner or later everyone “got it” and lots of exciting fishing took place. From a nun, who donned her waders instead of her habit, to a couple who’ve fished with me at Hope before and were back for a second go, they all had a great time hooking and landing the pinks. Shamese came for one day on each of the trips in order to sample different water and also get a chance at catching chum salmon.
I had advised everyone that we might not be able to catch any really bright fish that we could take home for dinner. No one really cared. Sure, it would have been fun to catch a shiny silver salmon, but getting the techniques down and developing some confidence was just as important. And, they all did just that.
Montana Creek this year had bear warning signs up in the campground and along the trail, so we made it a practice to hike back to the campground for lunch rather than carry food on us. We were lucky enough to get to fish one of my favorite spots most of the time. The water was much lower than usual, so the fish held up in a somewhat different place, but once everyone’s Polarized glasses could see them, they knew right where to cast. There weren’t as many pink salmon as usual, but still enough to grab the bright pink flies as they swung by.
Several gals hooked (and often also landed) the large chum salmon that were swimming right in front of us, and got a taste of what playing a really large fish is all about. “Thank goodness I learned how to palm the reel in the class,” someone said. “Otherwise I would never have landed this fish.”
A reporter and cameraman from Anchorage’s NBC station joined us for a day as well. She was determined to give fly fishing a try and had several on as she practiced setting the hook. Just at the end of the day she hooked into a huge chum salmon, and pandemonium ensued! The fish easily weighed fifteen pounds and it zoomed down-stream with gusto, pulling out fly line and backing, startling other anglers, charging from one bank to the other, and finally breaking off. Whew! What a way to end the day!
The weather wasn’t too bad, nor were the bugs, thank goodness, so all in all both the Hope days and the Montana Creek days were very successful. How about giving it a try with us next summer?
Lots of nice bows, lots of weather, and lots and lots of fun again this year at Copper on the Fly. What a great little place! Just my favorite type of small lodge with lots of personal attention, wonderful food, a cozy cabin, and super-dooper fishing. We arrived on Iliamna Air Taxi at the pick-up location on the lake just a short ride from the lodge and the boat was right there to pick us up. It didn’t take long to gobble lunch and head to the water. The river was fairly high, as was every river in the State due to all the rain we had, but we were pleased to see that the water was still quite clear so the fish would see our egg-imitations clearly.
Everyone started with a different color of bead to see which color the fish were taking right at that moment, and it didn’t take long to solve the puzzle. We all rigged up with the correct color and the hook-ups started to come fast and furiously. Those who hadn’t been very familiar with bead fishing caught on quickly and didn’t hesitate to let the rest of us know when they had a nice fish.
Fish ranged from the occasional “dink” with parr markings to the low 20s over the course of the trip, with many other trophies hooked but not landed. The single, barbless hooks, required on the Little Copper River, probably caused some of the long-distance-releases, but others were the result of the angler setting the hook too forcefully, or, as often happens, not forcefully enough.
One of the gals was completely new to fly fishing, but caught a couple of nice fish her first afternoon along with having several other hook-ups. As with everyone, she had to learn the skills of transferring her line to her rod-hand, mending to prevent the fly from dragging on the bottom, and knowing when to let the fish run. It sure was fun to see her get right on the learning curve and drastically improve her technique before the trip was over.
The Little Copper River is famous for its amazing run of sockeye salmon, and since the only other significant species that inhabits the river besides them is rainbow trout, you can imagine what an egg feast the bows have late in the summer and into Fall. Incredible “graveyards” of sockeye carcasses, 8-10 deep, lie rotting in indentations in the gravel and at the ends of gravel bars with several hungry rainbows holding in the river right below every single one to get the eggs as the current washes them out of the “yard”. At some spots the fish are right beside as well as right below the rotting salmon, and it pays to bounce your egg fly outside the carcass piles as well as right behind them.
The bows eat the rotting flesh as well as the eggs of the dead salmon, and anglers wait anxiously for the time when the rainbows have pretty much had their of eggs and “turn-on” to flesh instead. Each day we would fish with “bunny flies” of one sort or the other to see if the change had happened. Many believe that bows won’t start taking flesh flies until the first big frost, so, although the temperature got down to 38°F one night our temperature apparently just wasn’t cold enough to turn the tide. We did catch just a couple of fish on flesh-flies with a bead ahead of them on the leader, but not enough to switch rigs.
Our weather was as rainy, windy, and miserable as it was in nearly all the State during late August & early September, and one day I couldn’t manage to stand up in the gusts out in the middle of one stretch of water even with studded boots and my trusty Folstaf wading stick. We were all so wet when we got back to the lodge that night that the amount of moisture inside the cabin kept the windows fogged-up for hours. Boy, did a hot shower feel good!
Surprisingly enough we didn’t see many bears this trip as in the past. We figured that, as bear experts say, the bears hunker down during bad wind storms because they can’t smell each other. Only one big guy walking a ledge above the river right across from us got us in his sights. We could tell that he thought about crossing the river toward us a couple of times but finally proceeded on his way. I was glad that he left so that I could go back to dredging the deep hole that I was fishing with a black, cone-head articulated leech. I’d hooked and lost a fish that would have been well into the twenties and wanted another go at him. Instead, I hooked a somewhat smaller fish that gave me a classic run and jump battle before I brought him to the net. Twenty-one inches, I wasn’t complaining!
Despite the lack of bears we did see thousands and thousands of sand-hill cranes in the air on their southward journey. Their tell-tale squawk helps us pin-point their huge flocks high up in the atmosphere. One morning we also saw a huge, bull moose with a very impressive rack walk out of the bushes just up-stream of us and wade out into the river. He kept looking back at us and as he got to the far bank, he turned and appeared to be walking/swimming right down toward us. He had a very steep bank to climb, and he avoided it for awhile, finally deciding that he would tackle that rather than interact with us. Big as he was, he simply disappeared into the trees, lucky that hunting season had closed the day before.
Our last day of the trip began with a glorious sunrise and a perfect fall morning, but by afternoon, it was windy and rainy again. We had some exceptionally good fishing that morning with everyone’s fish-count in the teens or twenties, so we were disappointed when the fishing fell off due to the change in atmospheric pressure.
We are already planning our dates for 2013. This is a couples trip, so if you, or you and your significant other want to enjoy some really outstanding fall trout fishing, let us know. Watch the newsletter for dates for this and other trips next summer. See you then! ~Pudge
See our article on Copper on the Fly in the August, 2012 issue of “Fish Alaska Magazine” www.fishalaskamagazine.com
Cordova Silver Salmon Spectacular, 2012
This year’s trip to Cordova saw folks from NY and CT making their first trip to Alaska and having their first opportunity to fish for Pacific Salmon with us. Having fished some of the famous rivers in the East, they were more than ready to try out the water and the fish on the other side of the country.
We got right to it on the first day of our trip by flying out into gorgeous Prince William Sound for a landing on a wilderness beach right beside a lovely little creek where we quickly strung up our rods and got down to business. Nancy was just getting into fly fishing and had never cast an 8-wt rod before, but she learned quickly, and was putting her fly in just the right place in no time. We saw a few silvers in the main pool, and even hooked some that had been around long enough to start turning red, but none of the ocean-bright fish made an appearance. So, we hiked up-stream a bit to a wonderful spot that was absolutely chuck-full of sea-run cutthroat trout. These little beauties always delight everyone although they are nowhere near the size of the salmon.
Our flight back to the lodge that afternoon included an incredible glacier flight-seeing trip over Sheridan Glacier with the surrounding mountains gleaming brightly in the late afternoon sun. To top off the trip, Gale Ranney (Alaska’s most famous woman bush pilot), spotted several groups of mountain goats on the steep slopes, and got us up so close that it seemed like we could reach out and touch them.
The next day clearly made up for the lack of bright silvers the day before, with fish leaping out of the water right in front of us before we could even get a fly attached to our leaders. Everyone was into fish almost immediately! What a change from the previous day! Not all of the fish got landed, and not all of the fish that were landed were shiny bright, but the sheer numbers of fish absolutely made our day. Nancy had lots and lots of opportunity to catch fish and was quick to learn the steps in setting the hook on a large fish, letting it play, and then getting it to the bank. Boy, was she ever proud of herself at the end of the day!!!!
The following day we had another opportunity to fly and went to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Its outflow river had silver salmon staging at every creek mouth and resting in every backwater. WOW, did we catch fish! It seemed like we couldn’t take them off the hook fast enough. Needless to say, we all went home with our limit of three fish.
Not too long before we were schedule to head back to the plane, a large brown bear came out of the bushes behind us and had us scurrying to group-up together to warn him off. He turned out to be a very well behaved bear who just looked from us to the fishing hole and back several times before he decided it was wise to just head down river to the next fishing spot. We only got nervous when he turned back around a couple of minutes later to reconsider his decision and we all held our breath until he disappeared into the willows.
The flight back to the lodge was absolutely breathtaking. The early evening sun absolutely lit-up the new snow on the jagged peaks and created burnished shadows on the spruce below, and the world-famous Copper River glowed along its many channels like silver ribbon beneath it all. No pictures could ever do it all justice.
The last day of the trip saw us fishing the famous Eyak River not far from the town of Cordova. Although it had been fishing well a couple of days before, that fishing that day was decidedly slow. That was except for one bright silver to the bank and a couple of other hits, as well as the pink-spotted Dolly Varden char that kept tapping at Nancy’s hook.
It was a super trip with lots of fish. Just what Cordova is famous for. We’ll be heading down there again next year, of course, so if you missed out this year, don’t let it happen again. We’ll be waiting to hear from you!