The first trip of the season took us to the cold and windy Naknek River after the magnificent rainbows that move down from Naknek Lake in late winter for spawning. Although it’s a trip we’ve done for a number of years, this year’s was colder than ever. As the result of a -30 wind chill factor, our first day found us drinking coffee and tying flies instead of fishing. Nanci Morris, our guide, and our host and hostess at the lodge kept us well fed and well entertained while we waited out the weather.
Day two dawned clear and cold (about 12 above zero), but windless, so when the temperature warmed to about 35 degrees above in mid-morning, we headed to the river. Although the water was startlingly clear, the icy snow banks along the river made it extremely difficult to cast. Because an ice dam had formed overnight and blocked the river for boat traffic, we did our best to cast from the bank. After a couple of hard falls on the ice, we retreated for lunch and a new plan.
We decided to pull the boats along the shore to below the ice dam and then head down river to more accessible water. As all this was coming to pass, the ice dam broke free, and our prospects brightened. We loaded into the two boats and took off amidst warnings that we’d still have to be careful of the remnants of floating ice that would be in the river.
Some elected to fish from the boats and some of us got out to wade in one of our favorite runs. It wasn’t long until the fish started hitting. We landed some nice grayling and a rainbow or two before the fish of the trip took Krista’s red-headed black bunny fly. The fight was memorable, but even more memorable was Krista’s narrow escape from a very cold swim in the river.
I was up river from Krista as she was playing her fish and suddenly became aware of a pancake-like ice floe heading down river toward her. As it floated past me, I attempted to push it farther out into the current so that it would pass in front of Krista. At the same time we all started hollering at her to back up to get out of its way. Both the rocky bottom and the size of the fish she was playing made that very difficult. Nanci was heading out to help when the ice just gently grazed Krista and floated on by. Although the crisis was averted, it made us all doubly watchful of the river on our up-stream side. The fish turned out to be an incredible 32" buck with scarlet sides and flaming cheeks. After some quick photos, we turned him back to the river and to the gene pool of these gorgeous fish.
The third day on the river proved to be warmer but by afternoon, windy again. In the morning we successfully hooked and landed several bright beauties in the 22’ to 27’ range. Some grayling were even sipping emergers while we sat on the bank and ate our lunch. About mid-afternoon, with the wind rising, Hope hooked into what would prove to be a 31’ buck. She and I were trolling with Jim, a contracted local guide, when the olive sculpin pattern slid into a deep hole where fish often lie, but which is usually too long a cast to from shore. Hope’s seven weight was put to a real test. After a long battle, that fish too, was brought to shore. After a kiss from Hope, he, too, rejoined his buddies in the river.
The trip home that afternoon was slow and a little scary as Jim carefully picked his way through shallow areas in which the huge rocks had been rendered invisible by the wind-whipped waves and the now dirty water.
Hope and I stayed another day to take advantage of warming weather, and I’m sure glad we did. While we didn’t take any of those 30inch plus fish, we made up for it in the number of fish caught. Bright, silvery fish just down from the lake as well as brilliantly colored ones took our flies with abandon. It was still cold, but worth it. We know about the cold. We’ve endured it before. But it doesn’t stop us from heading out for our first "fish-fix" of the season. And, yes, we’ll be back next year!
It was raining and it was blowing, but the fish were right where they always are in the Spring, in the shallows. We'd driven north of Anchorage to one of our favorite lakes in quite a storm, and we were all worried about whether or not we were going to be able to get out on the lake. Nevertheless, the group willingly donned rain gear, shouldered their packs and their float tubes and hiked through the dripping and newly leafed out woods to the cabin. "Wow, it sure does smell good," somebody remarked as we walked along.
By the time we got settled, re-inflated the tubes, and got wadered up, the wind was dying and the rain had settled down to just sprinkles. We'd come to fish, and that's exactly what we did. In spite of the wool hats under the hoods of our rain jackets and the fingerless wool gloves on our hands, everyone eagerly sat down on the lake shore to don their flippers, zippered themselves into their life jackets, and stepped into their float tube ready to go.
Only one of these women had ever tried out a float tube before, so, as usual, we spent the first few minutes getting used to them, learning how to turn, and practicing the "backwards bike pedaling" that characterizes the paddling stroke. There were fish rolling in front of us in the shallow water at the foot of the hill below the cabin, so, when everyone felt confident in their tube, we began casting to them. Kathy had a fish on almost right away but lost it because she'd failed to set the hook firmly.
When the group felt ready, we paddled out along the shore to an islandaround which the fish often congregate. It was amazing how easily we could see the fish and how totally unconcerned they were about us. As we cast into shore and brought the fly back into deep water, fish after fish grabbed out lake leeches or nymph patterns.
As often happens, the fish went crazy after the rain stopped. There were rises all over the lake, so we decided to troll awhile and rest our casting arms. "Got one," Barbara hollered as her rod tip dipped sharply and a fish jumped clear out of the water. We counted nine jumps on that fish before finally landing her. Everyone gathered around while we had a lesson on proper catch and release from a float tube. Within three casts she had another one, and then, quickly a third. This was her spot!
After losing a couple of fish on the next hook-ups we practiced the technique of keeping the line tight on the fish by paddling backwards and keeping the rod tip high. After the group mastered that skill, they landed almost every fish they hooked. "Keep paddling," they'd yell to each other as a fish would hit. I'd paddle over to help them land the fish if they needed me, but most of the time they didn't. Their confidence increased with every fish. Several times we had doubles and even triples!! Kathleen was busy releasing an active male when Pauline's rod tip dipped sharply, and while she worked that fish Betsey also connected! It was chaos for awhile with whoops of laughter, fish jumping and women paddling and trying to avoid one another's tubes and lines. In spite of it all, everyone landed her fish!
These were beautiful fifteen and sixteen inch rainbows. Some of the males exhibited the scarlet cheeks and sides that develop during spawning, but many were as bright and shiny as a new dime. It was great to see these women hooking, landing, and releasing fish with the skill of seasoned float tubers, congratulating one another on each success, and then proceeding to do it all again.
That first day proved to be the best fishing of the trip. The cloudy, rainy weather certainly had something to do with it. It was a wet but happy group that returned to the cabin for a glass of wine and snacks on the deck and dinner. Just as we were getting ready to go back out again, it started to pour, so we opted for a good book or an early bed time.
The next morning the lake was shrouded in heavy mists, but the sky above was as clean a blue as you could ever imagine. The loon called to us from the lake and we joined him and his mate on the water as quickly as we could. Although it was beaufitul, the wind returned late in the morning. When we saw white-caps on the waves we decided it was time to beach the tubes and hike around the lake to fish.
We found fish in several shallow areas near shore, but they proved difficult to catch in the bright sunlight. Casting wasn't easy either, because of the wind, but as everyone practiced their side-arm cast to get below the wind, they managed to successfully land a number of fish.
Betsey proved to be our best wildlife watcher. Visiting from Indianapolis, she wanted to see everything, and she did! Besides the loon pair, she spotted beaver, two eagles, and several species of ducks. We all kept a lookout for moose, but with no success. She decided she'd just have to wait for that treat until later in her trip.
Our spring tubing trips are always something special. Maybe it's that we've been cooped up inside for so long, maybe it's the special smell of new growth in the woods, and maybe it's those rainbows you can site-cast to. But whatever it is, we're always reluctant to leave the cabin and head back to the cars. But come fourth of July, we'll be back!
Every year we think the Brooks River can't get any better, and every year it does! It certainly deserves the reputation of one of Alaska's most unique fishing experiences. The red (sockeye)salmon, rainbow trout, and grayling combination, fished in the company of one of Alaska's greatest concentration of brown bears, just can't be beat.
The bears greated us almost immediately upon our arrival on the river this year. A large, choclate brown boar emerged from the willows just down river from our favorite fishing hole and forced us to retreat while he scanned the water for signs of salmon. After he passed we resumed fishing while keeping a watchful eye out for his return or the visit of one of his cohorts. And that wasn't long in coming. A smaller bear came crashing down the river driving a school of salmon in front of him, leaping and diving right into the swirling mass of fish. Although he didn't really pay any attention to us, we once again backed out of the water up the bank until he was safely gone.
The bears don't really gather at the Brooks falls until the salmon run is in full swing. Then they come from far and wide to take part in the summer feast. How they know when the salmon are in the river is one of the great mysteries of life that we humans ponder during our annual trek to this special spot in Katmai National Park. We watch and wonder at the numbers of bears that grow fat on the thousands of fish attempting to navigate Brooks Falls on the way to their spawning grounds.
Some bears are identifiable year after year. Bears like "Diver", who likes to snorkel for salmon in the lake, and the sow who grabs a fish a retreats to the bank to feed her cubs away from the risks posed by the dominant bears. This year a sow with a tiny brown fur-ball of a cub made her appearance on the river, much to the delight of the bear-watchers.
But it isn't just bears we're there for. We, too, want our salmon. Although we'd been given to understand that all fishing would be catch and release this year, we were delighted to find that we could keep one salmon a day after all. No matter how devoted we are to catch and release fishing, we do have to have some salmon in the freezer for dining on those long, dark Alaskan nights. Fish had to be taken immediately to a fish freezing building and could not be gutted, but we didn't mind. We've partially defrosted fish for cleaning after returning home before. It's no big deal.
Although we could only keep one fish a day, we caught and released lots more. In fact, Tanya, Shawn, Jane, and Patti probably caught seventy-five fish one afternoon when they found themselves in the middle of a huge school of salmon moving up a channel in the river. Some fish turned back upon seeing the anglers and met more fish coming from behind. The water turned to a swirling frothing mass. What a blast! We couldn't release fish or re-rig from those that broke us off fast enough. And then after almost two hours of non-stop fishing it was over and the river quieted. We retreated to rest our weary arms and celebrate our success over a glass of wine at the lodge.
It was really the five o'clock a.m. fishing that was the highlight of the trip. The river was generally misty and quiet, with the fish eager for the fight after a night of rest. And to top it all off, many mornings we were serenaded by our fishing friend, who greets the morning with his bagpipes.
"Nowhere else but in Alaska could I be in this gorgeous spot and catching salmon to the sounds of the highlands," Bernadine said. "I'd never have believed it if you told me this would happen," she added. But happen it did, nearly every morning, and often again in the evening. Rick, the bagpiper, is one of a group of anglers who fish at Brooks every year the same time we do. After his concert he often comes down to the river to fish with us.
And it isn't all salmon fishing. Brooks is famous for its rainbows, which proved especially challenging to catch this year due to extremely low water. The wading was improved as the result, but we paid the price in very spooky fish. Nevertheless, we ended with a nineteen and a twenty inch fish to our credit, plus numerous smaller ones, virtually all on dry flies.
The chance to mix salmon and rainbow fishing and bear watching all on the same trip is what makes Brooks so special to us. We already have our dates reserved for next year. Plan to join us.
A Day in the Pike Pond
by Pudge Kleinkauf
Old number thirty-five was the hardest to catch this year. We’d been fishing most of the morning and had caught and released thirty-four large toothy predators from many of our favorite spots in the area of Naknek Lake known as the pike pond, but at mid-day the fishing had come to a dead stop. Neither the flies we’d been using all morning nor any of several retrieves seemed to work so we put down the fly rods, had lunch, discussed our most successful flies of the morning and planned a different strategy.
Every year after our Brooks River trip, I stay around for a day or two to get some pike on a fly. And usually they are so aggressive and so cooperative that we can’t believe how many we can land and release in a day. So, we’ve taken to numbering each fish as Chris, our guide, expertly removes the fly with his extra long needle-nosed pliers and sends it on its way. But, for some reason, number thirty-five was a very long time in coming.
To break our deadlock, we decided to move the boat to the small bay farthest back in the "pond" and try our luck. Other years, we hadn’t been too successful there, but we were getting desperate. Old number thirty-five was there waiting for us. Just like the others, he materialized out of the weeds stalking our yellow and white dumbell-eyed bunny fly. But for awhile he didn’t take it. Short strips, long slow pulls, and jerky wobbles kept him interested but unhooked. He was keyed in on the fly, following it carefully, but very wary. And then, just as I was moving the fly behind the boat to re-cast, he lunged for it. A classic pike battle ensued. Down into the weeds he went shaking his head with amazing force, but the fly held and he, too, came in for Chris’ release.
Numbers thirty-six through sixty came to the fly much more eagerly. They weren’t all huge fish, ranging from twenty-four to thirty-eight inches, but they were combative and eager to attack the flies, and even each other.
Fish number forty-eight was one of the larger fish we caught, but, unfortunately, we were not able to release him. He’d hit the sparkle-chenille fly with a bunny wing and tail, flanked by several long thin hackle, extremely hard and had the eight-wt rod bent into a u-shape when he headed under the boat for the third time. This time when he came out, however, he was bleeding profusely. He hadn’t hit the boat or tangled in the motor, and we were at a loss to explain the blood.
When he finally came to the boat we could see that he was bleeding from a badly torn gill plate and couldn’t be revived. Chris speculated that his struggle had probably attracted a larger pike, which had attacked him during that trip under the boat. In any case, he provided dinner for the next day.
The fish that would have been number fifty-three was also memorable, but not because we landed it. Nevertheless, I’ll never forget it. We’d turned the boat and were drifting with the wind when I decided to fish with a pink and purple bunny and krystal flash fly off the end of the boat so I could get a better view into the weed-beds. As I was lifting my fly from the water to cast again, "the mouth from hell" opened right below me. I found myself looking straight down into a huge white alligator-like cavern lined with colossal teeth, which snapped shut just short of the fly.
I was so startled I nearly fell out of the boat. Boy, would I have liked to hook into that fish! Chris explained that some pike attack their prey from below, rather from the side, and this was probably just such a fish. He said he’s seen huge pike rise directly beneath ducks and just swallow them whole, much as this fish was trying to do to my fly. Needless to say, I plan to tie more of those flies for next year.
We quit this year after releasing sixty fish, having lost count of how many others we hooked into but didn’t land. Next year the goal is seventy, so stay tuned.
Tangle Lakes Safari
by Pudge Kleinkauf
"I could play with these grayling all day," Teresa remarked as yet another fish delicately took her #12 elk hair caddis. She’d been practicing and practicing the technique of mending her line and leader to get them behind her fly and now was enjoying the fruits of her efforts.
While arctic grayling can be the most eager of all sport fish to take a fly, they nevertheless can be very picky about proper presentation. Kathy and the other women had learned that on their first afternoon of our annual Tangle Lakes Safari. Even though fish were rising on the river right behind our tents, the group was getting few hook-ups at the beginning. The discussions at the picnic table about drag-free drift and fly-before-leader delivery had to be operationalized on the water for the catching to begin.
Grayling are said to be the very best teachers of proper presentation. One can cast and cast a dry fly to rise rings, but if the fly drags or the line or leader are visible to the fish, all one gets is refusal. Learning to overcome those problems is really what this trip is all about. More than one participant has been frustrated by pulling a wispy, weightless dry fly completely out of the water while learning to mend line and leader. And more than one flyfisher has cast and cast before accomplishing a drag-free drift.
Because of their small size, grayling occupy narrow feeding lanes, and correct placement of the fly on the water is also important. "I’m so glad the fish waited for me to get it right," Kathy commented. "They just kept rising to show me where they were while I worked to get my fly in the correct place," she added.
After they could hit the target consistently, the group began experimenting with a variety of dry flies besides our standard caddis. Both yellow and red humpies were successful as were parachute adams, royal coachmen, and irresistibles. Flies tied with a white post or wings for visibility were Lois’ first choice, but as their skills expanded, everyone could also successfully fish even the hard to see flies. We don’t have to fish with anything smaller than a size 12 or 14, so women can really develop their ability to focus on the fly before having to focus on the more intimidating sizes.
Although we go to Tangle Lakes primarily for the dry fly fishing, nymphing techniques are also part of the learning experience. And we don’t use strike indicators. But developing the feel of the take while nymphing is just one of the skills we practice. The other is casting with a split shot. The technique of "waiting for the bounce" of the line is a time-honored tip in Alaska for dealing with split shot. Since we have to use it so much, flyfishers must develop the ability to cast it without hitting themselves, the fly rod, or someone else if they are going to fish below the surface. Thankfully, we only need to use small shot on the Tangle Lakes creeks, so it doesn’t take too long for everyone to master the skill. Leslie hollered that she’d been "wanting to learn to do this" as she landed her fifth grayling from the depths of a great run of fast water. A number 10 or 12 gold ribbed hare’s ear with a BB shot on her leader had the fish doing her bidding.
Kathryn, too, was having fun with nymphs. She decided to alternate using dries and nymphs on the same stretch of water and was enticing the fish with both. "Even when they’re rising they’ll still take nymphs," she marveled. "Boy am I prepared now," she added.
Mastering some of the basic dry fly techniques is the whole point of the Tangle Lakes trip. But we call it a safari because we’re also there to let the desolate beauty of the area dazzle us. At times we almost can’t fish because we get sidetracked by the profusion of wild flowers or the mountains emerging from the clouds. "I’ll be coming back here," Kathy vowed, and she wasn’t alone in voicing that sentiment. We will too.
Our trip up the Nushagak River this year was every bit as exciting and productive as last year, but in quite different ways. We departed Anchorage for Dillingham, Alaska, and then transferred to a small bush plane for the trip north to the village of Koliganek to meet our host, Roger Skogen of Ketok Lodge. Roger is a 20+ year resident of the village and is extremely knowledgeable about the river, the wildlife, the plants and flowers, and especially the fish! After a great dinner of caribou chow mien and a relaxing night at Roger’s, we set of early the next morning for the trip up river.
Because of low water, (a problem all over the State this year), we couldn’t get as far up river as we’d hoped, so we opted for making camp just below a beautiful area where we’d caught lots of fish last year and decided to hike up river and down to the fishing. It turned out to be a great decision!
After helping Roger pitch the tents and grabbing a quick lunch, we set up the 5-wts with an egg fly to see what was happening. The first cast to the run right in front of the tents brought a twenty-inch rainbow to the bank. He was absolutely gorged on salmon eggs as the fish usually are that time of year. He was also only the first of dozens of fat and feisty bows we landed without even moving away from the tents.
After tiring of catching rainbows (is such a thing possible?) we retreated from the 85 degree weather for a cold drink and re-rigged with dry flies to see what the grayling were up to. Although grayling are nearly constant feeders (they are the slowest growing of all Alaska’s sport fish and must eat continually) they aren’t always taking dry flies. So, we identify areas where they are likely to be and then play the game "can you make them rise"? And make them rise we did. After about three drifts with a #12 elk-hair caddis, they couldn’t resist and we spent the rest of the afternoon hooking and landing gorgeous, shimmering grayling from 16 to 22 inches long.
Although rainbows typically do not take dry flies when they are feeding on salmon eggs, there are notable exceptions. As I was fishing for grayling, a fish slammed my caddis and line screamed off the reel almost before my brain registered that this was not a grayling. Instead, it proved to be a 22 inch rainbow that didn’t realize that he was breaking the rules. Because of his size, and my 4 lb tippet, it took me awhile to land him. And then, just when we thought he was the only exception to the rule, two other flyfishers also had rainbows on their dry flies and I had another one nearly as large. It didn’t last long, but it was great !
And amazingly, we also had two large dolly varden take our dry flies along the same stretch of water the next evening. The incredible thing was that there were virtually no caddis hatching when all this activity occurred, and we were fishing water filled with salmon eggs. We couldn’t explain it, we just enjoyed it.
Early in the morning, during the heat of the day, or as the evening cooled and the breeze kept the bugs under control, we trekked up-river to one of the small creeks that feed the river. The water was low and wading was easy but the spawning red salmon kept interfering with our rainbow fishing by aggressively taking our egg flies. Both the reds and kings were stacked up at the entrance to the creek and we simply couldn’t get through them to the rainbows we could see without hooking up. So, we’d retreat to the deep slow runs farther behind the salmon to find rainbows. And often we found dolly varden and grayling as well.
One afternoon in a small riffly run that we’d overlooked on our previous hikes, I stopped to fish as the others returned to the tents. Just for fun, I began to count the grayling and rainbows that eagerly took my dry flies. But there were so many I couldn’t keep count of how many were grayling and how many were rainbows. Then, I decided that we hadn’t done any nymph fishing so I tried my hand at that. The fish were just as eager to accept my nymph as they had my dries. Sure, some of the fish were probably the same ones taking both nymphs and dries, but there’s no way to know. I stopped counting at fifty fish.
Reluctantly, we broke camp to begin our drift down river, but we fished as Roger rowed and managed to catch dollies, rainbows, and grayling. We even hooked a couple of kings and reds, but got them off before they caused problems on our 5-wts. The drift was more notable for wildlife than for fish, however. We floated past beaver dams too numerous to mention, some taller than a two story building, and saw moose, river otters, many species of ducks and birds, and lots of bear sign.
Before our last camp, we stopped at some beautiful bluffs along the river to pick wild blueberries, because Roger promised us a blueberry cobbler for desert if we picked the berries. High on the ridge, we could see the tundra rolling away to forever, the river glistening on toward the horizon and the mountains in the distance. I even had to stop stuffing my mouth with berries periodically to take it all in.
The last night we camped beside a long stretch of quiet water with lovely riffles at both the head and foot where we expected to locate more rainbows. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t. Instead, we found the mother lode of grayling. "Making them rise" with dry flies, we stayed casting until we couldn’t see our flies any more and finally headed for the tents.
We’d hoped that there might be some early silver salmon near the village as we got down river, but it was not to be. How could we complain? We’d just experienced Alaska as few people get to see it. Fish, berries, scenery, wildlife and gorgeous water. What more could you ask?
This year’s Talstar Lodge flyfishing school on the Talachulitna River in July was in such demand, that we ended up with two schools, and did we ever have fun! Some extremely enthusiastic and tenacious flyfishers mastered the skills of casting, knot tying, reading water, fly selection and more during the four days of each school. And they had a great time with each other in the bargain.
Flyfishers this year came from Colorado and Washington as well as Alaska. Three women had received the school as a Christmas gift from their husbands. Everyone quickly became acquainted, and by the end of the first day, a casual observer would have thought they’d been friends for years.
While our weather was very un-Alaskan (temperatures got into the 80’s), the food was absolutely outstanding, and the fishing was great, the catching wasn’t always easy. Due to extremely low and very warm water conditions, the salmon were reluctant to move up-river or to actively strike our flies and the bigger rainbows were hiding out waiting for the salmon eggs.
All of the students in both schools caught rainbows, however, as the result of their dogged persistence. Some fish were in the 18 inch range, (Ann got the first one of these on her first cast to a beautiful little side current) which proved to be a great confidence builder, but it wasn’t easy. These women were up and on the water around 6:00 a.m. ready for the morning "bite", and on a couple of evenings they went back after dinner and stayed until almost dark. And no matter when we got up or when we went to bed, the lodge always was ready with snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade, and the meals that they are so famous for. A hot shower was also most welcome either when we got out of our hot waders, or after a long day on the river.
But even when we got up early and could see some salmon in the pool at the mouth of the Tal we frequently had trouble hooking up. Red salmon are the most difficult of Alaska’s salmon to catch under ideal conditions, but during our time on the Tal, the warm water made the fish extremely lethargic. Often neither different flies nor different fishing techniques made any difference. The fish were almost in suspended animation and simply wouldn’t move.
In spite of the situation, our perseverance paid off occasionally and we landed some large salmon. One battle occurred while Colleen was fishing from the boat that we anchor at the mouth to fish the deep hole there, and she landed her fish to the cheering of the rest of the group. Her first salmon on a fly rod! That’s quite an accomplishment, and she was justifiable proud of herself. It was one of the largest red (sockeye) salmon I’ve seen in quite awhile.
Usually there are also chum (or dog) salmon in the river when we’re there, and we have a great time catching them on a fly rod. But not this year. The Department of Fish & Game can’t explain it, but the chums simply didn’t show up in the river at all. What a disappointment.
Although everyone gets salmon fever, most afternoons we headed up river to the beautiful slow runs and graceful riffles that the Tal is famous for. That’s where the rainbows hang out and that’s where students can perfect their roll cast, their side-arm cast, their flip cast, and their basic overhead cast with a 5-wt rod. It’s also where their knot-tying skills get put to the test.
Generally, the rainbows hit best when fished with a very light tippet. But the very delicacy of the material also makes it vulnerable to breakage, and to wrapping around the rod if one’s cast isn’t well timed. So, on more than one occasion, several students could be seen perched on a stream-side log re-tying their leader with the blood knots they’d learned to perfect at the lodge. Their efforts were rewarded with some beautiful fish. Both rainbows and grayling hit their egg flies as well as their leech patterns and even their nymphs.
Finally, on the second to last day of the second school, we had some rain. That next morning the fresh water brought in some new fish, and our "takes" were much more common. Not nearly all the hook-ups resulted in fish on the bank, but the experience and practice in managing a running salmon on an 8-wt rod was invaluable. Shouts of "palm your reel", or "keep your tip up", could be heard when someone had a fish running. And everyone would be equally disappointed if the fish got off.
And, as we were hiking back to the lodge on the last day for the trip back to Anchorage and to reality, we finally saw some salmon moving up-river to their spawning beds. Even though we didn’t get to cast to them, we all felt better knowing they finally had enough water to lay their eggs to insure future runs that we’ll definitely be there to fish for. In fact, next year’s (1998) school dates are already set (July 17-20th and July 21st-24th ) and we already have some women booked. Check out the TalStar Lodge site or drop us an e-mail if you want to get in on the fun.
Ann, Susan, and Pam joined me in early August for a trip I call the smorgasbord. That’s because we fish for rainbows, grayling, and salmon, all in different places. And, we do a little float tubing along the way.
We headed north of Anchorage to Byers Lake, an aqua jewel with a view of Mount McKinley. After setting up our camp, we headed for the lake and an afternoon of tubing. We hadn’t been out twenty minutes when Susan’s rod tip headed straight down. Hanging on for dear life, she announced, "I think I have a fish on". Boy, did she. It pulled her around while the rest of us kept reminding her to keep paddling and keep her tip up. It was an epic battle, but she lost. Just as suddenly as he’d hit, he was gone, and we’ll never know why. She’d been playing him beautifully. Oh well, we philosophized, with this early a start, we’ll be bound to get another one. Well, one was what we got, and that was only a hit and not a landed fish.
It was a exquisite day with virtually no wind, the nemesis of Byers lake, so we just enjoyed ourselves trolling around. After dinner we tried again, but with no more success. As we went to bed that night, we decided to hike out in the morning and try the outlet creek. It was another great day, but we found the creek no more productive than the lake had been. Extremely low water had left the creek bottom exposed and the lovely little runs nearly dry. As we watched, four red salmon struggled to make it into the lake through water that left nearly their entire bodies exposed.
As we hiked back, eating lots of raspberries and blueberries along the way, we decided to head on north and fish for grayling. Breaking camp quickly, we arrived at our next campsite by early afternoon. In spite of all the anglers on the creek we settled down in a great river-side campsite hoping some of them would be heading home since this was Sunday.
Because the creek was low, many of the slower stretches that grayling prefer had disappeared. The few that remained were occupied by two or three people fishing. So, we got some snacks and a water bottle and set off up river to leave the crowds behind us. Along the way, we found the blueberries that this area is famous for in August, and vowed to take some time from fishing to pick them. Even so, we managed to get enough to put in our pancakes the next morning.
Dry fly fishing was slow both that day and the next, but when we switched to nymphs, everything changed. Fish that had managed to hide out from all the previous anglers, responded eagerly to our gold ribbed hare’s ear, zug bug, pheasant tails, and soft hackles. "I’m on number ten", Ann called out to the rest of us from where a tailout joined some rocky water. She was worried that her soft hackle was getting pretty battered by the fish, but she refused to change it and just kept on catching. Pam moved to the head of a swift run, put a small split shot on her leader and proceeded to land fish after fish. "Here’s another one", she’d announce. Susan found a place to practice roll casting with a nymph and was catching as well.
After spending an hour or so the next day getting blueberries to take home, we headed back south on the highway. We could see what appeared to be a large dog along the side of the road and slowed down to avoid hitting it. Instead, it was a large, rusty colored wolf that paced back and forth along the road next to what was probably a kill. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. But that wasn’t all we saw. As we got about halfway to our destination, the view of Mount McKinley, sharply etched against the blue sky on the brilliantly clear day, brought us to a complete stop. People spend several weeks in Alaska trying to get just a glimpse of the mountain, and here we had it right before our eyes on one of its premier days. Awesome!
The river we spend the next two days fishing didn’t produce the silver salmon we were hoping for. Silver runs all over the state have been very depressed this summer and biologists are at a loss to explain why. Nevertheless, we found chum salmon more than willing to take our flies. On the last morning, particularly, we had a blast. On her first cast Susan had a fish on and Ann and Pam weren’t far behind her. In fact, Ann had two fish that probably weighed close to 18 pounds! We’d located a particularly good area the evening before and returned there to be almost the first anglers on the water. It was worth getting up early for.
It was also great to see these women mastering the art of hooking a large fish on a fly rod, playing it skillfully, and then landing and releasing it like old hands. Their confidence built with each hook-up, and they didn’t want to leave when it was time to go. But, as they left, they were already planning the next fishing adventure. They were hooked!
Since Women’s Flyfishing is always exploring new fishing opportunities for you, we traveled into western Alaska in early August to check out salmon and trout fishing on the Aniak River. And, as the result of the great time we had, we’ll be offering you a wilderness trip to that river August 13-17th, 1998.
Even though silver salmon fishing around Southcentral Alaska was poor in early August, the Aniak was enjoying a great run of fish. We began by fishing the mouth of the river, just before it enters the Kuskowim, where our hosts, Hook-M-Up Tours has its headquarters. Although the width of the river at that point made it better for spin anglers, we managed to hook into lots of the bright, active silvers that rolled and porpoised in front of us.
The following day we traveled up-river to check out the rainbow fishing. When we beached the boat on a wide sand-bar, the first cast resulted in a twenty-inch beauty that was gorged on salmon eggs from the king and red salmon that were spawning nearby. During about a 45-minute stay in that spot, we hooked and landed large grayling and dolly varden char, as well as more feisty rainbows.
We proceeded down the river in intermittent rain squalls, stopping here and there to fish more great trout runs (one of which Woody called the supermarket) before stopping for a shore-side lunch that Woody managed to produce on a fire he coaxed along under dripping spruce trees, as we dolly fished.
Silvers were our target again on our last day. Fishing from the bank and the boat right across from the lodge the three of us landed our limit of three fish in record time. The rest of the day we spent exploring the river and fishing. We even landed pike on the flies we were using for silvers!
Our 1998, trip will be a wilderness excursion. We’ll jet boat up river, set up a tent camp as our home away from home, and then spend four days boating up and down river to fish. That arrangement will give us the opportunity to access many more miles of river and many more fish holding areas as well as to see lots of wildlife. This year we spotted sandhill cranes, moose swimming the river, bears, fox, beavers, arctic loons, and lots of other birds.
Although we won’t have all the comforts of a lodge, we’ll provide you with a "sun-shower" and more of the great food we stuffed ourselves with this year. The trip will also include flyfishing instruction (as always), all your gear, and flies. You’ll have to bring your sleeping bag and air mattress, but we’ll provide everything else. This one should fill up fast, so if you’re interested, let us know soon.
Both the weather and the fish predictions were discouraging for our annual trip to Silver Salmon Creek, but we went anyway. And, boy are we glad we did. Even though the silver salmon runs in Southcentral Alaska were practically non-existent, Silver Salmon Creek proved to be the exception. There, the fish were just late in arriving. But arriving they were when we landed on the beach in front of the lodge. We couldn’t get geared up fast enough!
The bag limit was still just one fish a day, instead of the usual three, but we didn’t care. At least there were fish, and it wasn’t raining. Since it was nearly low tide, the water was clear and the silvers resting in our favorite run were easy to see. It didn’t take long for the hook-ups to begin.
As she struggled with a twelve pound silver, Teresa kept comparing fighting such a large fish on an 8-wt rod with fighting the grayling she’d fished for earlier in the summer on a 5-wt. "This is really hard work," she remarked as she pulled her fish up the beach. But not such hard work that she didn’t get right back down to the creek and do it again, and again.
The fish were cooperative on our standard fuscia or florescent green yarn flies with dumbell eyeballs, but they also took fuscia bunny flies, egg sucking leeches, white, orange and green fish candy, and almost anything with lots of sparkle and flash. That was until the sun came out. Then the bite was definitely off. We switched to small green or purple streamers and continued to catch fish.
We cleaned fish amidst the swarms of bugs called "no-seeums" that Alaska is famous for, and then retreated to our cabin to put a fresh fillet on the bar-b-q. for dinner.
Next morning the bears were fishing our favorite hole so we backed off to a spot down river where we could see fish rolling. That spot always proves challenging because one must traverse the infamous Cook Inlet mud to get to the creek. "Walk on the insides of your ankles," I told everyone. "It’s the only way to stand up in this slime." Even though that took a little practice, everyone finally managed to get themselves firmly planted. It wasn’t long, however, before the bear arrived chasing fish downstream as the tide receded.
We retreated for lunch and returned to the creek during what we hoped would be the bear’s afternoon nap time. And we got lucky. We fished for four uninterrupted hours with everyone landing fish. Leslie, particularly seemed to have the knack that day. She’d decided to try a different fly and was getting two hook-ups to everyone else’s one on a small green tuft of yarn with a multi-colored flashabou tail. Of course, our problem then was keeping watch over the fish in case the bear showed up.
And show up they did. A pair of twin yearling cubs provided most of the entertainment. We’d seen them last summer as new little fur balls learning to fish with their mother. This year, they were on their own, leaping and charging up the river after fish and generally cavorting in the water together. We’d retreat to watch them as they got so greedy that they’d drop a fish they had in their mouth to chase others and then return to the spot where the previous fish had been and look around wondering where it went.
More and more fish continued to enter the river as the group departed and my son flew in to join me for a couple of days of fishing (a treat for doing such a good job on our web site). Just for fun, he and I gave the (in)famous "pink polliwog" fly a try in the calm estuary water near the creek mouth. The polliwog is a huge abomination of spun pink deerhair with a pink maribou tail on a 2/0 hook. It’s fished with a two handed strip as rapidly as possible over the surface to tempt the silvers to rise. And, strange as it seems, they do. Huge wakes form behind the fly and hooked noses come right out of the water to grab it. It’s a pain to cast, and tiring to strip, but great fun just the same.
We always seem to have a marvelous time at Silver Salmon Creek, even when the silvers are off the bite for awhile, the bugs are horrendous, and someone slips in the mud. It’s that kind of place, and we’ll be there again in 1998. Join us.
As happened at many of our destinations this summer, the water was low and warm when we arrived at Kodiak Island. And when that happens, the salmon generally are reluctant to enter the rivers. Although we could sometimes see them finning in the saltwater just offshore, they seemed to want to stay out beyond the reach of our fly rods.
But we knew that there had to be some fish around, so we set out to look for them. We generally fish four or five road-accessible rivers on the Island, and that first day we managed to fish three of them. One bright silver and three other hook-ups were all we had to show for our efforts at days end, however. In spite of that, we’d had a great time catching and releasing at least fifty chum salmon and a few other pink salmon that were far enough into their spawning cycle that we didn’t want to keep them. And then that night, the rains came!
The next morning we donned our rain coats and our wool hats and fingerless gloves and set out in the rain just before dawn. Even with our early start we found people at one of our favorite spots when we arrived. They’d camped near the river in the pouring rain so we figured they deserved one of the best holes.
The rain and rising water were finally moving fish, and we were there to intercept them. But so were lots of other people. Nevertheless, we’d been early enough to get into a good run and for awhile the hook-ups came fast and furiously. Needless to say we didn’t land them all. Learning to set a hook hard in the bony mouth of a silver salmon takes some practice, and we also were still getting lots of hook-ups with chums that we released. Still, we had three fish on the bank when we decided to drive to another river that is best fished on an incoming tide, and it was there that the fish of the trip made his appearance.
Henrietta, a woman from Texas on her first ever fly fishing trip, was calmly and patiently casting a 2/0 red and silver flash-fly into one of my favorite runs when suddenly her line went slack. By that time, she’d experienced enough hook-ups that her brain reacted by telling her arm to "set the hook". She realized immediately that this was no chum salmon. Although chums are every bit as large as silvers, their behavior when hooked can’t compare with that of a fresh silver.
This fish barreled down river like he’d been shot out of a cannon, jumping a couple of times along the way so we got some idea of his size. I warned Henrietta that this was a large fish and she was in for a long fight. She took a deep breath to calm her excitement and then settled down for the long haul. "Don’t leave me," she said. "Don’t worry, I’m right beside you," I replied, "just take your time."
It was a battle, as I’d predicted, but Henrietta played the fish perfectly. With her 8-wt rod being put to the test, she both let the fish run and palmed her reel at the just right times to control him. But eventually he tired and she began to move him to the bank. He still had one or two short runs left in him, but she prevailed.
A cheer when up from the rest of us when the fish was on the bank. He proved to be a magnificent specimen. As the heaviest salmon almost always are, this fellow had an incredible girth as well as an impressive length. He was the almost pure white color that the freshest salmon sometimes are and sported the beginning of the hook nose that develops so prominently on spawning fish.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a scale with me, but measuring length and girth enabled me to put his weight at between sixteen and seventeen pounds! What a fish! The rest of our afternoon produced only one other hook-up, but we headed home satisfied.
Out last day began again with rain, but the fish were moving. And so we did too. By the time the rain finally ended we had only a couple of hours of fishing left before we had to head back to town and the plane. Still, we stumbled on a run full of dolly varden char and hooked and released several before seeing some salmon move into the run. Then a few more casts produced two beautiful silvers that were quickly dispatched and cleaned before we had to leave.
Kodiak is usually our last trip of the year and there is always a sadness that the season is over mixed with the beautiful fall colors and bright silvers on the end of our fly lines. You can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be back again next year!
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