What a trip! Five marlin, a dorado, the first fly-caught wahoo that Baja On The Fly knows of, and assorted tuna, perch, and coronet fish! And if all that wasn’t enough, we saw gray whales, a sea turtle, and had our own trained pelicans following the boat in each day waiting for us to feed them bait fish. Plus, the weather was great, the food was great, and the beach was all that winter-weary folks could ask. Ready to go next year yet??
Well, let me tell you more. The first day out the sun was shining, but it was windy. We had an adventure just getting put on our boat because the hotel couldn’t put out the dock due to the waves. But once the skiff got us to the boat we went fishing! We rigged up two twelve-weight fly rods with foot-long saltwater flies to troll for marlin plus two ten-weight rods rigged with somewhat smaller flies for anything else that might be around.
We caught some skip jack tuna for starters, and then Kathleen got a hit that nearly took her arm off. "Dorado, dorado," the captain hollered, just as the aqua and yellow beauty launched himself into the first of many sizzling runs. Even though we decided not to risk hurting the fish to get pictures, Gary Graham, owner of Baja On The Fly, and our superb guide, declared the fish to be about 25 pounds. Just viewing him in the water, he more than lived up to the "peacock of the sea" label that has been put on him and his kind.
Next, a fish hit my fly and took off with a speed that absolutely astounded me. I’ve caught a lot of fish with a lot of speed, but never have I seen fly line and backing peeling off my reel with such velocity! It was a rare wahoo that had graced us with his presence. He zigged and then he zagged, and then he streaked right, and left so fast that I often couldn’t keep my rod tip pointed at him because I couldn’t be sure where he was.
After ten minutes or so of such behavior, he suddenly quit, and I found him easier to reel in than I expected. It wasn’t until he approached the boat that the deck hand could declare him a wahoo. Gary found it hard to believe until we had him on the boat for pictures because there had never been a fly-caught wahoo reported in the East Cape area! Wow!
The striped marlin also made an appearance in the afternoon, and both Sandie and Dennis landed one! Watching that marlin fin slice through the water and stalk your flies is something you have to experience to believe. Unfortunately, the fish hit the fly trolled on the outside of the boat, didn’t get hooked up, and moved into our offerings and took the trolled bait fish. Even though we’d have rather had them on the fly, no one wanted to pass up the chance to play these fish.
Only it’s work, not play! On average they took a half an hour to land, but were they ever gorgeous! That bill is an amazing tool that they use to slash through bait fish while they’re feeding. You wouldn’t want to get in its way.
On the way back to the beach, the boat flew the flags of all the fish we’d caught for all the other boats to see. In the bar that evening, we checked the daily catch board and saw that we were the only successful boat!
The second day the wind had died and the water was calm and beautiful. A mother gray whale and her calf played next to the boat for nearly ten minutes, taking turns breaching and waving their flipper at us. We also had a sea turtle swimming right beside us. And it was also another fish day with two marlin. Kathleen landed hers after losing another and then I also landed one. Mine took an hour and a half because he had the line wrapped around his tail.
Our third day on the boat we again landed a marlin. As Dennis played him, we counted 48 jumps! What a fish! We’d had five others playing with our flies, but without taking. They seemed to be everywhere, but not in a taking mood.
We spent our last two mornings fishing from the beach in front of the hotel at dawn. There we caught surf perch and coronet fish, and Dennis had something on that made his reel scream before breaking off. Wonder what that was? A sierra mackerel, perhaps? We relaxed by the pool, ate an incredible dinner with Gary & Yvonne at a Mexican family’s home, and walked on the beach.
Of course, we didn’t want to come home, but next year is already in the works:
Spring Float Tubing
by Pudge Kleinkauf
Our annual float tube outing north of Anchorage for the spring rainbows was great! It’s always fun to introduce women to tubing and see them get hooked on this great way to enjoy our sport.
We’ve had a cool and cloudy spring in the northland this year, but that only helps the fishing. As we set out the first day, the darkening skies promised rain, so we donned our raincoats before launching. Although we could see fish cruising the shallows, it took awhile before Helen and Faye got used to casting from the tube and could put their fly right ahead of an on-coming fish.
By afternoon they had the technique down and had learned to spot the wakes of moving fish to cast to. We’d put on one of our favorite spring flies, a size eight olive, bead head lake leech, and the fish were loving it. Several of the initial hook-ups didn’t result in landed fish, however, because Faye and Helen were also learning how to keep a tight line on a fish from a float tube. Still, the initial thrill of the hook-up and the few moments of playing a fish before it got off, were more than enough to keep them going.
And, at times it was even hard to concentrate on fishing there was so much wildlife activity going on. The loon pair that we’d heard as we were putting on our waders and fins made several appearances fishing near enough to us that we could see their velvety black heads. A mature bald eagle, too, was scouting the lake for the baby ducks and birds that make up part of their spring diet, and the gulls and terns were busy courting and squawking all around us. The swallows also appeared en-masse when the afternoon midge hatch began, and watching their swoops and dives was like being at the ballet.
After dinner we decided to walk out to an area close by the cabin and try out luck in the rain that had finally appeared. It’s the perfect place to practice a roll cast, and since the fish weren’t far out, it worked perfectly. This time, however, it was the purple bead head lake leech that worked for Helen. She landed two sixteen inch fish within minutes of each other! She could hardly bring herself to go in when Faye and I decided we were cold and wet enough and a warm cabin looked awfully good, but told the fish she’d be back the next day.
And she was! Faye started the morning off with a beautiful nineteen inch fish that she hooked, played and landed absolutely perfectly! While she and I were in the middle of releasing and reviving that fish, Helen paddled up behind us with her own fish putting a major bend in her five-wt rod! She’d been so intent on getting the fish she hadn’t said a word, and we didn’t even know she had hooked it.
Helen’s fish turned out to be a sleek twenty-incher, but we both were sad to see that he had a bad wound on his back and several other marks on his head. Still, he seemed to be an active fish, and we sent him on his way with hope that he could survive his injuries.
As we resumed fishing, a pair of swans appeared overhead heading to their nesting grounds farther north. Seeing them in flight is a rare treat. They were flying so low we could hear the swoosh of their wings and their calls to each other. And, if that weren’t enough, we were suddenly startled by a disturbance in the water nearby. That turned out to be an immature eagle struggling to get off the water with a fish in his talons. What a show!
But in spite of all the other activity, we managed to concentrate on fishing. Faye had switched to a bead head nymph, and suddenly announced that she had another fish. Now she had the routine down perfectly. Lift the rod tip to set the hook, paddle backwards to keep a tight line and not disturb the other fish, let the line slide out until the fish was on the reel, let him play, reel when he rested, and finally, bring him to the net. Beautiful! This fish measured sixteen inches. She did it again with an eighteen incher before we had to head for home.
Our Spring tubing trips are always something special. The woods smell wonderful after the rain, the wildlife is always eager to greet us, and the fish seem to be waiting patiently for our casts in the shallows of the lake.
Yep, the "brownies" I’m referring to are both the four legged kind and the dark chocolate kind. Some we watched but others we ate in between lots and lots of tough wading in the highest water in years on the Brooks River.
Our annual trek to Brooks was somewhat stymied this year by really difficult wading and very reluctant sockeye salmon. It took four of us wading together using a couple of wading sticks to even get into position on a couple of our favorite areas. Like all the other two and four legged anglers there, we waited and waited for the red salmon pretty much in vain. When we first arrived there were fish milling in the lake, so we waded out to try to fish them there as did other anglers. After futile casting to fish that managed to stay out beyond our range, we decided to wait and intercept them as they entered the river. But in several days of trying, we only had one good opportunity.
Late one morning as we were returning from some rainbow fishing, we saw fish rolling at the river mouth. So, after a quick lunch (with lots of brownies to fortify our casting arms) we headed out. Repeated casting resulted in several fish on Eileen, Joy, and Jackie’s rods but just a couple of fish landed and taken to the lodge’s freezer. Nancy and Kathy were the successful fly fishers. Nevertheless, we learned at dinner that our group was the only one to have landed any salmon at all, so we had something to celebrate. (By the time we left only one more salmon had been caught! We learned later that the fish simply weren’t showing up anywhere in Bristol Bay and Fish & Game biologists were getting worried.)
The rainbows proved much more cooperative the next morning, when Monica landed a 22 inch beauty on her first cast into a promising run with a black leech pattern. Nancy wasn’t far behind with one 18 inches and two about 15. We also got both rainbows and grayling on dry flies.
We’re used to catching large grayling at Brooks, but the high water kept them in the lake until the last couple of days. Then our usual size 12 elk-hair caddis took several in the 20 inch range, as well as some eager rainbow.
Because the salmon were so scarce, not as many bears as usual were in the neighborhood. But we still made daily hikes to the famous Brooks Falls where they typically gather to fish. Because we were patient, we did manage to see a few, but no fish pretty much means no bears. We did enjoy the spacious new observation platform that the Parks Service installed last Fall, even if there wasn’t too much to observe.
On the river we were luckier. Every day we saw one young bear with blond ears travel along what must have been his regular route. He’d emerge on the beach, swim across both of the river channels and then travel up and across the river. We also saw the bear called Hershey Bar by the lodge staff. He’s a very large and very dark chocolate colored bear with whom we’ve had encounters in years past.
One night at dinner, while we were enjoy the ever-present brownies, someone suddenly hollered, "bear in camp". When we looked, he was right outside the dining room window! The dining room manager (all 100 pounds of her) proceeded to step out on the back porch, clap her hands loudly, and turn 1,000 pounds of carnivore into an obedient, puppy dog by yelling, "bad bear, get out of the camp." To our amazement, he put his head down, turned around, and slunk away back to the river, well chastised by the big boss of the lodge! Only in Alaska, someone remarked. And they were so right.
Brooks is different every year. There’s simply no place like it in the world, and we wouldn’t miss the show for anything. We’ll be back next year!
by Pudge Kleinkauf
"Here we go," Christine hollered just five minutes after we’d launched our float tubes this Fourth Of July week-end. And to emphasize her comment, a fat and feisty rainbow launched itself into the air between her tube and mine. It proved to be a gorgeous eighteen inch hen so silvery that hardly a blush of pink showed on her lateral line. It was a great start to a week-end filled with healthy, gleaming fish.
Christine’s first fish was followed shortly by another nearly twenty inches long, and soon her husband, Alan, was playing a fish that was a jumping fool. We lost count of the number of jumps as Alan was busy practicing the technique of keeping the rod tip up while paddling as fast as possible to keep a tight line on the fish. "Whew," he said as I netted the fish for him. "That was quite a battle." His fish too, was twenty inches, but a more deep bodied buck with rose colored cheeks. We carefully removed the brown woolly bugger that was proving so irresistible and, like the others, cradled this fish until he demonstrated clearly that he was ready to be released. The loons that were feeding nearby watched with interest, as did one of the lake’s resident eagles, and we almost expected one or the other to come for one of the thrashing fish.
The entire morning went like that. Hook a fish, play a fish, release a fish, watch the loons. Finally, we needed sustenance and stopped for lunch. We decided to fish a different area in the afternoon, and, for awhile, nothing happened. We trolled in a couple of usually productive spots with no hits. Folks in a canoe were fishing our "hot-spot" of the morning also with no success. But, when we moved above them, we were once again into fish. In fact, we had several "doubles", and for a few minutes before a long distance release, even a "triple".
It rained in the night, and the next morning a steady drizzle fell amidst the fog. Perfect fishing weather! And the fish proved it. We donned our wool hats and fingerless gloves and hit the water. Again, less than fifty yards from the cabin, the first fish hit. He and several of his friends in the area were "only" about sixteen inches in length but as eager and energetic as their cousins from the day before. And then the fish of the trip made his entrance.
We know that the really large rainbows tend to hit a trolled fly while heading straight to the depths of the lake. And that’s what this one did. He never surfaced, never jumped, and made none of the straight out runs that the other fish had demonstrated. Instead, the rod stayed bent in a downward position. "What do I do?" asked Christine. "Just hold on and keep paddling," I replied. "You’ll need to be sure you maintain the tension on the line when he does decide to surface."
It was about as long a battle as you might expect from a twenty-two inch fish that has forty feet of depth to use against you. "He’s spectacular," Christine exclaimed when he finally tired and came to the surface. And he was. So spectacular, in fact, that I couldn’t get him in the net so we could release him. Not only was he long, but he was in prime condition and one of the most thick-bodied fish I’ve ever seen in that lake. I wish we could have weighed him. It was enough, however, to admire his incredible beauty and to know that he reflected the health of the lake and the success of its catch and release fishery.
We caught lots and lots of other fish after that special one, but it is he that will epitomize this great week-end. May he go safely and make lots and lots of babies, and may we encounter him next year.
A Tangle of Grayling
by Pudge Kleinkauf
There are some places that one never tires of. And no matter how many times I fish Alaska’s Tangle Lakes area, I am struck by just how perfect a place it really is. Anglers are, naturally, always looking for fish, and Tangle Lakes has them in abundance. It is famous for having the most grayling of any place in Alaska that one can drive to. But there is much more to savor here than just the gorgeous fish with the fuscia and aqua colors on dorsal and caudal fin and the florescent green tail.
Glaciers, mountain ranges, high plateau lakes, meandering creeks, cut banks dotted by the nests of mud swallows, and hills with constantly shifting shadow patterns make Tangle Lakes a feast for the eyes and the soul. And another panorama unfolds at the anglers feet. Wildflowers of every color and size lie hidden among the willows or sprout along the creek banks. Some are so tiny that they remain virtually invisible until we’re relaxing on the tundra. Others are massed in lush clumps of deep purple or yellow blossoms waving in the breeze.
This year two groups of women had the pleasure of experiencing all that Tangle Lakes has to offer. Like always, we began by fishing the very cooperative little grayling on the Tangle River right outside our tents. Faye, Cameale, and Jackie had attended last year’s fly fishing school, and were already adept at handling the 5-wt rods. They quickly mastered the techniques of dry fly presentation and were into fish almost immediately. Pam had caught grayling on the ’97 Smorgasbord trip and simply had to review what she hadn’t done in a year to get her started. Toni quickly caught up with the others once she tied on a yellow humpy with a white calf-tail post to help her see the fly against the glare on the water.
The lower river and two other creeks proved to be even more productive when the group traveled there. Even when we switched to nymph fishing, the hook-ups came fast and furious. Pam was especially successful with an orange soft hackle fly. Resting for awhile in the moss beside the river we had a discussion about strike indicators and why it was important to learn to nymph fish without them so as to develop a "feel" for the take. This group certainly didn’t need an indicator to tell them a grayling had taken their nymph.
The women in the second group were just as successful. Glenda seemed to hold the magic rod during a couple of our sessions and always shared her spot and her secrets with the others. Christine and her son, Alexi came from New York to enjoy this special place with us and they, too, caught an unbelievable number of fish. We could hardly move Christine from one short run where she completely lost count of all the fish that took her caddis. Alexi and Glenda took the honors for large fish from one stretch of river we especially love.
Jeannie got the first fish on a difficult stretch of fast water that we fished along the way to one of my favorite runs. Mastering the art of placing the fly in quiet water with three or four fast currents in between that are ready to drag your fly line down river requires skillful line mending. But Jeannie did it perfectly and was rewarded with one of the largest fish of the trip.
And it was in what I call the "aqua water" on one of the creeks that Ellen got her first fish on a nymph. She’d learned to feel the touch of a fish that she couldn’t see, and finally landed a beauty. She was off to the women’s school just a week later, and said she felt more than ready for the next challenge on the big rods.
Just because grayling are small fish, averaging 10-14 inches, (an eighteen inch fish is trophy size) doesn’t mean that they can’t put a real bend in a four or five weight rod. Their eagerness to take a properly presented fly and their plucky spirit when hooked make them a favored sport fish, as all of this year’s women discovered. And, I’ll bet that those of them that are Alaskans will make their way back to Tangle Lakes again and again, just as I’ve done for all these years. You’re invited to go along next year.
School was back in session recently on the Talachulitna River where seven women worked to master the finer points of flyfishing for rainbow trout, dolly varden char, and salmon. After a great float plane landing on the Skwentna River and a short jet boat ride to Talstar Lodge, we got right down to business.
We started out with the basics of the overhead cast, and before the afternoon was over, several women in the group had already hooked and landed rainbows. Robert the chef had prepared a salmon pate for us to enjoy before dinner, but since everyone was starving, they also managed to consume every last bit of the pork a’la champagne that was that evening’s entree.
After dinner we set to the task of learning to construct leaders and tie the nail, the blood, and the improved clinch knots. "The fishing was sure easier than this," someone remarked, but the group persisted until everyone was confidently tying each knot and declared herself ready for the field test the next day.
Since the river was high as the result of recent rains, (and was still recovering from flood water in June), we decided to head up-river for more rainbows the following morning and wait for the water to drop and clear before trying for salmon down at the mouth. Robert packed us a great lunch, and Steve, the lodge guide, ferried us across the river in the boat for the up-stream hike.
We practiced our group wading techniques in crossing what proved to be two new channels in the river, but finally reached our destination. There were several hook-ups but only a few small fish landed, so we headed on up-river to another of our favorite runs. We parked ourselves on a huge cottonwood log for lunch in the mid-day sun and then spread out along some great trout water. "Fish on," Michelle hollered from a nice run in which she’d found rainbows and dolly varden char holding behind spawning king salmon. She landed that fourteen inch one and three others before Ellen’s fly headed downstream in the mouth of a very large rainbow. Although that one threw the hook, she, too, landed several fish from that run.
There were other hook-ups and even a pink salmon put in an appearance before we finally trudged home for a glass of wine and dinner. A few die-hards also fished again after dinner, and while several fish were caught, the highlight of the evening was the red fox that joined us for awhile.
The next morning we headed for the mouth of the "Tal" for some salmon fishing with the eight weight rods. After some instruction in casting the sink tip lines, weighted flies, and split shot, we spread out along what usually is a long gravel bar. This year it was still partially underwater, but we made do.
The hook-ups started coming on our green or pink fish candy flies as a pod of pink salmon entered the river. Since playing a salmon is very different than playing smaller species, most of the fish got free. But mastering the techniques of setting the hook on a large fish and palming the reel when it runs were the lessons of the day. Visits from both a black and brown bear as well as the bald eagles made the morning special.
Since there is a large, deep pool at the mouth, we also anchor the boat and take turns fishing from it. Ellen managed to hook and land a large fish that we thought was a silver salmon, but which turned out to be a "jack" king salmon. "Jacks" are sexually immature salmon that return with the larger fish to the spawning grounds. Although the fish was in prime condition, he had to be released, because king salmon season on the "Tal" was closed.
Finally, when the schools were almost over, more salmon entered the now dropping and clearing river. Mary Ann stood resolutely in cold, waist deep water and hooked fish after fish from a pod swimming back and forth in front of her. "They sure are a lot harder to control than the rainbows," she panted after one of her many battles. Even though most of the fish were pink salmon, which are not good to eat when caught in fresh water, she also landed a beautiful sockeye salmon and got to play a couple of silvers (coho) as well.
The "Tal" schools are the highlight of our year. There’s no more beautiful river in Alaska than the Talachulitna nor more hospitable lodge than Talstar. Why not join us next year? We plan both a flyfishing school in July , from July 29 through August 1, and a special trip for big rainbows, September 2nd - 5th,1999.
A Flyfisher's Feast
by Pudge Kleinkauf
With three types of salmon finning in front of us, it was almost impossible to hook only the cohos. Our biggest challenge was trying to get our flies past all the chum and pink salmon that also invaded the river along with the prized silvers. We should always have such a dilemma!
Although we didn’t manage to land a coho, there were no complaints. Where else could one hook and play one fish after another for several hours without moving from the same spot? On a couple of occasions, Joy had another fish on the fly dangling in the water while she was just standing resting from the battle with a fish she’d just released.
Even numbered years in Alaska produce large numbers of pink (humpy) salmon in nearly every river that hosts salmon runs. They pour in by the hundreds, and to some, do nothing more than impede the fishing for the more desirable cohos. Actually, they are marvelous fun on a fly rod! They take a fly quite willingly and fight valiantly for their size. There’s no more cooperative fish for those learning how to set the hook, palm the reel, and manage a running fish.
And once the angler masters those techniques, they’re ready for the chum or coho salmon that we hook into. The big chums we played were exhausting. They also take a fly willingly, and put an 8-wt rod to a real test.
Fuscia, bright green, and bright orange flies all take salmon. We tie most of ours with eyeballs both for visibility and for the added weight they give the fly. All three colors caught lots of fish this trip, along with red and purple that we tried just for something different. A fly called "fish candy", (see the fly on our Calendar page for an example) , made with bright ice chenille is one or our favorites.
After we tired of catching salmon ( that seems impossible, doesn’t it?), we headed on up the Parks Highway to one of our favorite grayling creeks. Switching to a delicate tipped 5-wt and a dry fly was a real relief for our arms. Like always, the grayling were holding in their narrow feeding lanes just waiting for our delectable elk-hair caddis and yellow humpies to drift by. And, we made sure they did.
Grayling are the very best teachers of fly placement and drag-free drift. They don’t spook like rainbows when you line them or when the tell-tale v-wake forms behind your fly. They wait patiently for you to get it right, and when you do, they take eagerly. Their sail-like dorsal fin flares upwards as they come to hand for the release, and we never tire of seeing their glistening florescent colors that are so visible in the water.
In the evening after supper, we hiked above the highway bridge to explore different water. Even though we finally had to resort to wearing head nets because the bugs were so horrendous, we came upon a perfect run full of cooperative fish. Both the darkening skies and the head nets interfered with our vision, however, and we retreated until morning.
The plan had been to spend the final day float tubing for rainbows, but as so often happens in Alaska, salmon fever hit and we returned to the pinks, the chums, and the cohos instead. It was quiet and rainy in the campground at 5:30 a.m. and the river was nearly deserted as we headed out with coffee cups in hand. We knew right where to start and the fish were expecting us. Flip, drift, set, play, release. It became a dance that we could do without words to break the stillness of the morning. We wore out some flies as well as our arms, but until more people began to arrive, it was one of those lovely, misty mornings that prove the old anglers advice, that fishing is always good when it’s raining. I wish you’d have been with us.
This year’s Aniak River wilderness trip was super! We headed up river in the jet boats right after a quick lunch at the lodge and were fishing right out in front of the camp by mid-afternoon. The fish making an appearance that afternoon were mainly grayling, but later we moved into an area across from camp that proved to be a gold mine for big dolly varden and arctic char.
By August the rainbows, char, and grayling mainly lay behind the spawning salmon waiting for the eggs to drift down the river. With this section of the river chocked full of spawning king and chum salmon, the eggs were everywhere. So, we tied on egg imitations and went to work. Everyone had fish immediately. Some char were so beautifully colored that their usually pink spots were glowing burnt orange. The fish lips were painted with the same bright colors, and one of our group labeled them the “lipstick fish”.
The next morning we fished a quiet eddy at the mouth of a long slough. We’d stopped to fish for silvers but were disappointed. At the same time, the char and rainbow fishing was fabulous! Definitely worth the stop. Ruth had a 20+ inch rainbow leaping on the end of her line by her fourth or fifth cast, and the char came fast and furious after that. By the time we quit for lunch, we’d already decided that no matter where we fished in the afternoon, we wanted to return to this stretch again the next day.
And we did. It was just as great the second time around. Carolyn didn’t even hesitate when we crawled out of the boat, but headed right to the spot where she’d been so successful the previous day. And the fish were just as eager. But Woody (the owner of Hook-M-Up Tours) wanted to show us more of the river, and soon we moved on.
During the afternoon we made several stops, hooking up fish at each one. On the way back to camp for dinner, we convinced Woody and Art, his assistant, to drop us on the “lipstick” bank across from camp until dinner was ready. Even in the rain, the fishing was the stuff of dreams.
When we got back to camp, dinner was laid out beautifully beside a roaring fire. The shishkabobs grilling over the coals were made from caribou and quickly got dubbed “boo bobs”. They were absolutely delicious! But, that wasn’t the only meal that had everyone raving. From the egg/biscuit/bacon/cheese bake for breakfast to the char steamed over the coals for our shore lunch, we couldn’t have been better fed. And, to top it all off our last night out, we got treated to a caribou stroganof in wine sauce that had us going back for thirds. And, you guessed it, that meal got renamed “boo off”.
As we started back down the river to the lodge, the silver salmon (coho) finally started to appear. The problem was that the wind was blowing 40+ miles an hour and it was raining hard. After depositing our gear in a cabin at the lodge, we headed down to the river to fish. But these were the worst of the worst conditions and at times the only casting even remotely possible was with a spinning rod. Even then, the cast was usually way off course.
We managed to hook and land quite a few fish that afternoon in spite of everything, but finally gave up and headed back for a sauna and shower, dry clothes, and one of Jeannie’s great dinners, complete with a vegetable medley straight from her garden. The rain and wind continued long after we hit the sleeping bags.
On our last morning, it was still raining, but the wind had died. Finally, we could cast to the fish laying close to the bank as well as those who’d follow the fly from farther out. Even though we got plenty of silvers, we had to keep the pike off the line to do it. And, in the midst of everything, a small pod of sheefish began circling in front of Leslie, who managed to hook and land one.
Just as the blue sky began to appear, we had to head for the airplane. But it was just impossible to complain after the fishing we’d had. And we’re already looking forward to next year.
As the small plane lifted off from Soldotna, it was rainy and foggy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the spectacle of mountains, bays and rivers that lie across Cook Inlet in the area of Silver Salmon Creek. As we approached our destination the winds also picked up strongly. Our landing on the beach (there is no air strip) was one of the rockiest I’ve ever had, but also one of the very best I’ve ever seen an Alaskan bush pilot make. Will, the owner of Clearwater Air, is a master! We settled down over a cup of coffee at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge and then decided to brave the wind and rain and get fishing. We loaded up on warm clothes and rain gear and headed out.
The run was in full swing, and folks were landing lots of fish. We got ours as the tide was coming in, using dumbell-eyed flies of fuscia or florescent green maribou and crystal flash. Various colors of the flash fly also worked at times. That concoction uses silver, blue, gold, red, or green flashabou with diamond braid bodies and eyeballs. We tried sink tip lines, but soon reverted to a standard floating line with a long leader, even though it was harder to cast in the wind.
“Boy, are these fish ever strong,” Ruth commented as she palmed her reel to hold a running fish. Once she mastered the techniques of reeling when the fish rested and palming the reel when it ran, she did just fine against even the largest silver. “I’ve caught sockeye,” she said, ”but these fish are twice as feisty.” “They should be. They’re twice as large,” I reminded her.
Back at the Lodge, we had a fish filleting lesson at the cleaning table. It isn’t all about catching, after all. Armed with the sharpest of knives, we perfected the techniques of taking just the bright red meat off the sides of the fish and eliminating the pin bones that are so bothersome when eating salmon. Then we retired to our cabin, lit the charcoal, and proceeded to bar-b-que a fresh silver fillet for dinner.
The next morning, when we fished the creek mouth, the fish were milling around in a back water slough and proved quite willing to take the fly-for awhile. Then they seemed to develop lock-jaw. Such behavior is quite typical of silvers, but also quite unexplainable. A bit later they “turned-on” again, and several people on the bank suddenly all had fish on. In the meantime, Ruth managed to catch several starry founder that were coming in on the rising tide.
The ’98 Silver Salmon Creek trip was especially notable for the number of bears we encountered. The set of brown bear twins we’ve watched grow up there were full grown adults this year, and they joined the regulars in fishing the creek as the silvers were running. At times there would be five or six bears along the creek at the same time. When that happened, we headed for the lodge. But even there, we saw some four legged visitors checking things out a couple of times.
The limit of fish was two per day this year, so we spent a lot of time practicing catch and release as well. Pinching down the barbs, we tried out different flies, mastered removing the hook with needle nose pliers, and cradled the sleek, silver bodies until, with a flip of their tail, they headed back to the stream.
Just as happens every year, the beach grasses were turning orange and gold, the fireweed blossoms had turned to cotton and the leaves to red, and there was even new snow on the mountains above the creek. We know that when it’s silvers time, it’s also just about the end of the season. Silvers are an awesome fish with which to end, however, and we can’t wait till next year.
It was a most unusual Kodiak trip this year: the sun shone, the temperature was in the high fifties, and the rivers were so low that the silvers decided to stay out in the salt water and wait for rain.
Typically Kodiak is rainy and cool by September, and the rivers are full of salmon. Well, this year, the rivers were full of salmon, all right, but nearly all of them were spawning and dying pink salmon and not the silvers we were looking for. In fact, in some rivers pinks were so thick we could walk on them. Even-numbered years in Alaska see the return of thousands and thousands of pink salmon. They choke the rivers and create a terrible smell as they die and decompose on the banks.
Our first day out our plan was to head south "out the road" to check out the American River, the Olds River, and, of course the Buskin River. The rivers above the highway bridges had been opened and real combat fishing was in full swing on the Olds. We hiked up-river to avoid the crowds and finally spotted a few silvers among the pinks in a couple of pools made very narrow by the low water. Although we fished and fished to them, they had already seen it all and weren’t having any of it. The dolly varden char laying behind the salmon were only a bit more cooperative.
We’d planned a stop at the American River on the way back to Kodiak, but Fish and Game had closed it completely because of low escapement so we stopped at the Buskin, just a few miles from town instead.
The Buskin River wasn’t much better than the Olds had been. Only here, the tide had deposited so many dead pink salmon carcasses on the banks that our boots squished them as we walked through to get to the water. We finally hooked a few silvers, but didn’t manage to land any. Amazingly, the half-dead pinks still took our flies until we got tired of taking them off and quit for the day.
On our second day we journeyed out to the famous Pasagshak River to fish the incoming tide. The trip was beautiful! The cottonwoods along the banks of the tiny dried-up streams were turning orange and gold, and the dwarf maple and currant bushes glowed red below them. The hillsides were ablaze with the burnished red-orange of fireweed plants gone to seed.
Our timing was perfect and we eagerly geared up and headed for the river. A few local anglers were already there but had no fish on the bank. Finally, some fish-wakes began to move up-river and the anticipation quickened. Some of the locals typically chase fish up and down the river getting off quick casts that occasionally mouth-hook a fish. One such angler finally landed a fish after a long battle. But in spite of repeated casting by everyone else on the river that morning, not one other fish was even hooked.
When the tide was too high to cast into the river channel, we ate lunch and headed back to a small creek nearby where the few silvers that were in the river had again seen lots of angling pressure and were totally uncooperative.
Finally, again fishing the Buskin on the way home, we found a few willing fish. Hooking them up amidst all the pink salmon was the real challenge, however. A couple of bright "takers" managed to get themselves un-hooked on the way to the bank. But we had fun watching some weasels that kept us company scurrying among the rocks as we fished and finally gave up as it began to get dark.
The last day we analyzed our options and decided to revisit the Olds River. At least the hike up the river was beautiful, we reasoned, and the dolly varden char were plentiful. And it was a good thing they were, because the only fresh silvers we saw were out in the salt. They may have come in on the tide that was rising as we were leaving, but we’ll never know.
Although we didn’t bring home lots of salmon, we thoroughly enjoyed the warm sunshine, the outstanding scenery, and the chance to end our season on some of the loveliest waters in the State. See you next year, Kodiak.
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