Waves lapped gently on the beach and the warm tropical evening greeted us as we stepped from the taxi at the hotel. Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly, ready with our fishing plans for the next day, was there to greet us. Over a welcoming margarita and dinner we got our boat assignments and did a quick gear check in order to be ready to go at seven the next morning. We couldn't wait!
The first day out we headed straight for marlin territory, but had no sightings. We did, however, find ourselves literally surrounded by thousands of leaping, splashing dolphins. Our second boat also spotted whales and sea turtles. We all came to attention when our captains advised us that the yellow fin tuna were always just under the dolphins.
And finally it was fish on! Brad and Phyllis had nearly simultaneous hook-ups as we trolled through a school. Phyllis managed to land hers just as Suzanne hooked into another fish. It's amazing how incredibly strong even a fifteen pound tuna can be. More than one run resulted in a completely bent rod as the fish dove under the boat. They posed for pictures to let us admire their shine and coloration before we released them.
On the second day, while trolling around the buoys where local fishermen bait traps to attract the sharks, our captain suddenly announced that he saw the brilliantly flashing dorado chasing bait fish. Almost before we knew it Patti had that fish hooked up. We all marveled at the incredible gold and teal and aqua colors the fish displayed during the battle. Within minutes of the release of Patti's fish, Phyllis had another one. On hers the yellow was so prominent that it lit up the water around the boat. Suzanne managed to hook up a marlin on a huge orange and white fly. After nearly an hour long battle, the prize was finally brought to the boat for photos before the release. What an accomplishment!!
Both boats caught yellow fin in the fifteen to twenty pound range, and they were a formidable challenge for all of us. Each fish put our eight and nine weight rods to the test. In the afternoon we moved in closer to shore for ship-jack tuna. If we had four rods out when we trolled through a school we had four hook-ups. At times it was absolute pandemonium on the boats as we attempted to land them all. We'd raise and lower rods, move under or over each other, let some fish run while cranking down on others and generally manage to entertain our captain and deckhand with all our antics. It was a blast!
On day three all the guys, Bob, Rob, Will and Gary, went on one boat and all the women, Patti, Suzanne, Sandra and Pudge went on the other. Brad and Phyllis had left us by this time (reluctantly), and they missed a great day. The women's boat had two dorado immediately upon arriving at the first shark buoy. One was over thirty pounds and the other was about twenty-five. They took the flies so eagerly it amazed us. And what fighters! Vicente managed to get them into the boat for pictures. We all marveled at the huge raised foreheads and the gorgeous colors before releasing them.
Bob had managed to land another marlin on the guy's boat while we were battling our dorado. That one was about 100 lbs and took nearly an hour to land. We ended that day again with lots and lots and lots of skip jack, and went back to drinks on the patio with tired arms.
Day four the wind came up as we traveled down the beach on Gary's four-wheelers. Because the waves were too high to fish, we contented ourselves with enjoying the beach, and watching the egrets and herons in some side sloughs left by last year's hurricanes. The next day some headed down the beach on the 4-wheelers and some went on the boat. We fished among the rocks lining the shore of the azure Sea of Cortez, and Suzanne snorkeled around trying to herd the fish to us. The boat contingent announced two more marlin, and two dorado.
On our last day Suzanne and I fished a fiery sunrise before heading for the plane. Boy, it was hard to leave 85 degree weather, hibiscus, boganvellia, and Mexican orchids, two swimming pools, the gracious hospitality of our hotel, skittering little crabs that ran into the surf when we trained a flashlight on them during an evening walk, and that lovely beach. But, we've already got plans for next year. If you'd like to join us to celebrate the millennium in Baja, put March 9-15, 2000 on your calendar right now! We'll be looking for you.
Spring is always our favorite time to go tubing, but this year we were beginning to wonder if Spring was even going to happen! Like many places, Alaska has had a cold, late spring with many of the lakes stubbornly refusing to open. But, it finally happened, and we were there shortly after on a beautiful, warm day.
BJ and Ginger stood the first watch as the rainbows cruised in and out along the rocky bottomed shoreline. A gorgeous, dark eighteen incher was the first conquest, with BJ playing him carefully and releasing him perfectly. Then, just as Ginger was trying to set the hook on another fish, BJ’s rod suddenly just stopped. Thinking she was hung-up, she tugged carefully on the rod, and her fly took off squarely in the jaw of the largest fish of the day.
Back and forth he ran with BJ patiently reeling in, letting him play, and reeling in again. After about six sizzling runs, we thought the fish was tiring and began to work him toward the tube for release. But he was having none of it, diving for the bottom every time we got him to the surface. He continually amazed us with the strength he had left after such a long fight. One last time BJ eased him in. Touching him was not to be, however. With one shake of his massive head, he threw the hook and was quickly gone. While she would have liked to have a picture, of course, just fighting such a fish left BJ with the shakes, and it was a few moments before she could cast again.
Meanwhile, Ginger was stalking another fish that was clearly visible in the shallow water. Just when she thought she figured out which was he was cruising, he’d turn and swim the other way. "Golly, this is frustrating," she commented as she turned her tube to follow him along the shore. Then, suddenly the water behind us erupted with fish, and we did an about face to cast to them. It was hard to determine which way they were going, so some of our hook-ups didn’t result in landed fish. When that action died down, we finally went in for lunch.
The rainbows refused to cooperate after lunch, but lots of the land-locked silver salmon were most accommodating. They hit the bead-head lake leech flies while we were trolling and fought valiantly for their size. A hail storm drove us off the lake late in the afternoon, but we were ready again bright and early the next day.
In the Spring, Alaska’s rainbows typically cruise the lake shallows, and that is where we always look first for them. Rocky points, gravel bottoms beneath overhanging logs or bushes, and pebbled areas next to drop-offs are some spots we investigate in every lake. With good polaroid glasses we can often see the fish and get to do some sight casting.
But, day number two on this trip started very slowly! Eileen and Helen had joined us, but nobody even had a bump! We couldn’t see a thing. "It’s as though the lake has simply gone dead," someone remarked. Just as we were making the decision to head down the lake to a completely new area, the wind came up. Luckily, we were staying at a camp that has some paddle boats available for use, so we decided to tow our tubes behind a couple of them to get down the lake more quickly. That turned out to be the best decision of the day!
Shortly after getting back in our tubes, fish began to rise in a small cove near us and we headed there to investigate. The water had been covered with midges all morning, with no risers, so at first we thought that was what they were taking. It was actually mayflies, however, that were causing all the excitement. Although we weren’t able to match that hatch, a yellow soft hackle did the trick for us.
As quick as we could tie the fly on, we’d have a fish. The land-locked silvers were going nuts! Over and over again four or five rods were bent with fish all at the same time! What a great opportunity to practice catch and release! Many of the fish were in the ten to twelve inch range, but quite a few fifteen and sixteen inchers also made an appearance. Helen’s perfect loop would deliver her fly, there’d be a momentary hesitation, and the line would come tight. It happened over and over again. When Eileen joined her in that part of the cove, they did a doubles thing. A loon pair was having just as great fishing as we were and dove and surfaced and dove again right behind us.
The fun went on for nearly two hours, but stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The lake went quiet. We kept trying for awhile, but soon realized that it was over. It was also getting late, so we tied up the tubes behind the paddle boats and had a race to see which boat could paddle back to the camp first. It was almost a dead heat. Our first tubing outing of the Spring always signals the real start of summer. And, except for the few days when the lake is turning over, the fishing just keeps getting better and better. Believe me, we’ll be there.
It was the perfect cast and the perfect drift, so it was no wonder the perfect fish rose with barely a ripple to take the tiny elk hair caddis. As the huge head came out of the water Carey gasped in disbelief. This was the fish she’d been waiting for all morning! Her enthusiastic hook-set dislodged the fly, however, and all that was left of that perfect encounter was a memory.
But this perfect moment was characteristic of many other such moments on this year’s trip to the Brooks River. While we go to Brooks to intercept the sockeye salmon swarming up to their spawning grounds, those fish were late this year and we had to "settle" for some of the best rainbow trout fishing we’ve had on this river in years.
The water at Brooks was extremely high and wading was difficult. We used our wading sticks constantly. The clarity of the water was excellent nevertheless, and in many instances we could see the fish holding in front of us. That gave this year’s group the opportunity to practice their accuracy, their presentation, their mending, and their drag-free drift as they stalked the trophy rainbows with dry flies such as the elk hair caddis and parachute adams, and size ten nymphs.
One morning as the fish were rising consistently in a defined feeding lane right in front of Lennie, she got very good at getting the fish to rise to her fly. "Boy, is it ever exciting to see them take the fly," she remarked. Cate changed places with her later in the day and fished straight downstream to many of the same fish. Their hard takes broke off more than one of her flies.
But not all the fish were taken on dries. A black sparkle bugger and the ever dependable egg-sucking leech also proved extremely effective at hooking fish, as Mary practiced her technique of setting the hook.
And rainbows weren’t all the group caught as we moved from place to place along the river. One afternoon, Mary landed a gorgeous, 23 inch arctic grayling with an immense, aqua-spotted dorsal fin gracefully draped over it’s back. Most of the group had never seen a grayling, and this one achieved star status.
Not to be outdone, Glenda managed to duplicate Mary’s feat the next morning. We’d decided to try one of our favorite salmon runs to see if any sockeye were beginning to show up. Instead of salmon, however, we found water that was almost too deep to wade. It was also extremely cold. Still, the fish began to rise around us and we had several hook-ups before most of the group decided that they needed to get out to get warm and have lunch. Glenda wasn’t ready to go yet. So, I gave her a size 14 parachute pale morning dun, and she went to work.
On her fourth cast, the fly got sucked under, she set the hook, and the contest was on. "It’s a big grayling," she hollered to me, and I reeled in to watch. Glenda had learned how to play grayling on last year’s Tangle Lakes trip, and she handled this fish flawlessly. Because of its size, it didn’t come in easily. Besides, it had a heavy current to help fight her steady pressure. Eventually her patience won out, though, and she landed a fish as large and as beautiful as Mary’s.
Although we didn’t get any sockeye, we did get to see the brown bears that Brooks is so famous for. There were fewer bears this year, because there were no salmon, but a sow with twin yearling cubs made several appearances. One afternoon, she stayed in the area over two hours, resting, nursing her young ones, and feeding on grass while checking the river for fish.
We also had a couple of fairly close encounters with a three-year old bear that had been misbehaving and was being "conditioned" who were trying to teach it to stay out of the lodge. (Conditioning consisted of firecrackers and rubber bullets). One afternoon we all got corralled for an hour on the observation platform while the bear wandered along the path from the lodge and back and forth along the river.
The next day we were fishing when we heard the familiar "ho, bear" call given by folks upon siting a bear. We couldn’t see the bear and had no idea where he was, but we found out soon enough. As we turned around, he was about 25 yards behind us across a small slough. Thankfully, he was busy trying to catch some baby ducks that were swimming away from him and was paying absolutely no attention to us. Because of the high water, wading to get away from him was no easy task.
Brooks offers us her rainbows, grayling and salmon in different ways each year. If you’d like to see what she has in store for us next year, why not go along. Just give us a call.
The Tangle Lakes/Tangle River region of Alaska's Denali Highway is both a scenic delight and one of Alaska's premier fisheries for arctic grayling. We just can't get through a summer without a visit there. Our '99 trip took place in early July, and the fish were ready and waiting.
The first day of the trip always consists of folks training their eye to spot and follow the tiny dry flies as they drift toward the fish. Once they can do that, then we get to work on presentation and casting accuracy. Luckily we can practice on lovely, placid water filled with fish right outside our tents. "Boy, I have to find the fly the instant it hits the water and then never take my eye off it, or I miss the rise," Carol remarked as she cast. "Well, I'm finding that the farther away from me the fly lands, the harder time I have locating it," Sue responded.
And so it went until all five members of the group were consistently raising their rod tips as a grayling went for their fly. Once that happened, the next lessons were in placing the fly squarely in the fish's feeding lane, mending line and leader to ensure that the fish saw only the fly, and producing a drag free drift. Demonstrating that she got it all right, Sue hooked and landed a 15 inch fish, the largest of the day. (Grayling are the slowest growing of the sport fish in Alaska, and an 18 inch fish is considered trophy size.)
On the second day we wander farther afield. The morning finds us fishing the lower river where slightly rusty colored water in riffles and pools shadowed by birch, alder, and willow makes for perfect grayling habitat. Jut as the group spread out along one great stretch of water, a large, tan caddis fly began to hatch. Very soon, the air was filled with flies, and the fish went crazy. Anni and Sue quickly started hooking and landing fish after a lesson in reading the water, and Carol quietly released three fish while others were getting situated.
Christine settled herself where the water dropped off a small rock ledge and then continued down a beautiful slow run. Fish rises dimpled the water everywhere. "I can sure see why accuracy is important," she commented. "If my fly is just a few inches one side or the other of the fish they won't move to get it." Christine's husband, Allen, who was fishing the stretch of water just below her, agreed.
Allen and Christine had gone float tubing with us a number of times, but this was their first experience fly fishing moving water. They had a blast. Allen stood amidst a swarm of caddis flies and remarked that he finally realized what a hatch was. He regularly talked to his fish, and both they and we heard about it when he lost one.
The second afternoon we ventured to another nearby creek that not only holds lots of fish, but also provides one of the most beautiful wildflower viewing areas along the road. Yellow and purple arnica, monkshood, wild geranium, star flowers and tiny violets, as well as blueberry and cloud berry blossoms hide among the larger vegetation. We always have a wildflower book handy to name the different species.
Fishing in this creek often calls for fishing with nymphs as well as dry flies, and, as usual, a size ten gold-ribbed-hare's-ear did the trick. Anni was the first to hook and land a fish on a nymph, and after that she alternated between dries and nymphs with confidence. With polaroid glasses we could see a very large fish feeding in deep, quiet water below a rock. Allen proceeded to cast to it. Finally, it rose gracefully to his caddis imitation, but in his excitement, he lost it. Understanding quickly that it wouldn't rise again to the same fly or probably even another dry, he switched to a nymph. Once he got the drift right, he hooked the same fish once again! A sharp rock quickly ended their battle, however.
Meanwhile, Sue and Christine were practicing their steeple and roll casts while standing in front of heavy brush while casting into a beautiful run full of rising fish. Anni had moved down into a short stretch of water that rushed over rocks and created a perfect, but short, bend. She had three fish in quick succession. Carol, meanwhile, was happily catching and releasing gorgeous fish with florescent blue and gold gill plates and fuscia-spotted fins.
Our third day we traveled farther down the highway to sample even different water. This year, as the result of a late spring, the water was high and extremely challenging. The morning resulted in only five fish, with Sue topping her own record by landing a 16 inch beauty. A large, glossy-coated red fox graced us with his presence, however, making the morning one to remember.
But the afternoon was different. Again, with a combination of dries and nymphs everyone in the group was landing and releasing fish repeatedly! And all were fourteen inches or over! These were beautiful, strong fish in their prime, making the afternoon a rip roaring success.
Our last morning's fishing was the most challenging of all. Heavy brush right down to the water, poses real casting challenges, which is why so few people fish this stretch of water. But the fish are plentiful and eager for those who do. Having perfected their roll and steeple casts the previous day, the group fished this water with consistent success. It was a great way to end our safari into Alaska's interior. Why not join us next year?
Believe it or not, the temperature was so high in southcentral Alaska this past 4th of July week-end, that we were almost too hot to fish! Ninety-degree heat is not what one expects in Alaska in the summer, but that is what we got. The fish were hiding out, we were smothered in sun screen, and the lake looked almost stagnant in the still afternoon. But, in spite of everything, the five of us persevered. And, every once in awhile it was worth the effort!
Both Helen and Cynthia hooked and landed fish the first evening, the smallest of which was about seventeen inches in length. Helen had float tubed before but Cynthia had to learn the technique of keeping her line tight by continuing to paddle after she felt a hook-up. It didn't take her long. The brown woolly buggers we were trolling managed to entice some whopping, silvery fish that put our five weight rods to the test.
The next day was even better. Although we really had to prospect for the fish, everybody managed to land several. Carol and Ellen had decided to go back out in the afternoon when the others were taking a break from the heat, when suddenly Ellen's rod bent nearly double. The fish never jumped; it just kept on heading to the bottom of the lake. Slowly and carefully, she inched him up towards the surface, but each time he could see us, he dove again. Thanks to her persistence, however, we managed to land him, even though he barely fit in my net. He measured out at 22 inches. "I guess it's worth coming out for a fish like that, even if I only get one," Ellen remarked. And, shortly thereafter, while Carol was trolling in the same area, she too, hooked into another gorgeous fish. This one, jumped repeatedly, though so we could get an idea of his size. He was 21 inches as close as we could tell when he let us know he was ready to be released and thrust himself out of Carol's hand.
We'd planned to take a break and fish late in the evening when we hoped the fish would be more active, but a strong wind came up and kept us on the shore. The wind wasn't all bad as it managed to disburse some of the smoke we were smelling from forest fires burning farther north. So, the group decided to go for a swim in the warm water and then get up really early the next morning and hoped the wind had died by then.
And, we got lucky. The wind was down to a breeze by morning, so we quickly had breakfast and got on the water. Cynthia had the magic touch that morning as we trolled along a drop off next to one of the islands. "I had a hit," she told us, and then in the next few minutes, had the first of several fish. This one, too, was over 20 inches in length. Carol and Ellen also had hits and landed fish, but Helen and I struck out.
As the wind began to increase, we moved to the other side of the lake where we were more protected. Once again, everyone had fish, but not as many as we had expected as hard as we worked the water. We tried fishing deeper, we tried the extremely slow retrieve trick, we tried the wobbling retrieve trick, and we tried a couple of different flies, but the fish were simply sluggish in the heat. But with fat, strong fish over 18 inches taking us into our backing, we didn't complain.
"I've been wanting to learn to fly fish and now that I know how great it really is, I'll be back," Cynthia told us as we hiked back to our cars. We'll be waiting and so will the fish.
Inconnu, the "mystery fish" as Alaska Native people refer to the sheefish, is truly the fish of legends. It's migratory habits make it the most elusive of Alaska's sport fish but its size and strength make it one of the most prized. Since few are willing to pursue this "tarpon of the north" into the depths of Alaska's wild interior, fly rod encounters with this great fish have been infrequent. But our time with the sheefish this summer was truly incredible.
Our adventure almost didn't happen as 65 mile per hour winds and standing waves on the river initially made it impossible for Woody and Art of Hook-M-Up Tours to get up the Kuskokwim River to set our camp. Finally, however, the wind died and the trip was on. The group met Woody and Art in the small Native village of Sleetmute for the boat trip to our comfortable tent camp and a great dinner of fresh king salmon. We were more than ready the next morning to go fish-hunting.
As we scanned the water for signs of fish, sudden activity at the mouth of a small slough made us stop. Something was taking salmon smolt with abandon. The 8-wt rods were ready and it wasn't long until we heard the anticipated "fish-on" call. Only, instead of sheefish, the prize turned out to be a very large pike. Several more followed him in attacking our flies, but hooking them became almost too easy and we moved on to search for our real prey.
After several more "false alarms" we decided to head back to camp for dinner, when at a "just one more stop", a sheefish finally made an appearance. His vicious attack on the chartreuse and white streamer initially fooled us into thinking this was another pike. But he was not as easily subdued as the pike had been. He lept into the air repeatedly, twisting and turning in a series of somersaults that had us awestruck. When he finally came to the boat, we all gathered around to admire his dime-bright scales and the protruding jaw that is so characteristic of tarpon.
Although three more fish quickly followed that first one, the action came to an abrupt halt within the hour. Acting on the theory that the fishing might be better in the evening when the light was off the water, we headed back for dinner. Not long after the dishes were done and one of Jeannie's great desserts was consumed, we piled back in the boats for another go.
Of course, we headed right back to where we had found the fish that afternoon. And, although we could see fish rolling, we had no hook-ups. Woody reminded us that the rolling fish could very well be king salmon and not sheefish as the run of Kings had been strong this summer. Just as we were thinking of giving up, however, Woody and I suddenly had a double! Here before our very eyes we now had two of these incredible fish doing their leaps and bounds almost in unison. It was as though they were treating us to a fish ballet. And, very quickly Carolyn also landed a fish on the other boat. Boy, did we think we'd suddenly hit the mother lode of sheefish. Wrong! Not even another hit for an hour! Now we decided to operate on the theory that early morning would be the best fishing, so we headed in.
The next morning we cast and cast in the very same spot and came up totally empty handed. "Well, you have to remember that these are migratory fish," Woody remarked. "They move up-river quickly during the summer, and can be in an area one hour and gone the next." So, with that reminder, we went on the hunt again. When we didn't find fish, we contended ourselves with some absolutely fabulous pike fishing. We'd cruise along in side sloughs casting quickly to the banks and the fish would absolutely slam the flies. Their slashing strikes sliced off more than one of our dumbell-eyed flies. One of the fish measured 39 inches in length and boasted a huge girth.
Then that night it happened. Suddenly sheefish were everywhere! Judy had patiently cast again and again to a spot where fish had been rolling and finally was rewarded with a sensational strike. She remembered to set the hook several times to make sure the fly penetrated the amazingly hard sheefish mouth and set to work. That fish wasn't about to come in easily. He lept and ran and lept again, but she outlasted him and proudly held him up for a picture before the gentle release. She'd said she wasn't going home without a sheefish, and she didn't!
Both boats now had fish after fish. It was almost too easy. They were averaging fifteen to twenty pounds each, and our arms tired fast. After awhile it was just fun to see if we could find a fly they wouldn't take. We found out they definitely liked white with fuscia, chartreuse, orange or yellow and were suckers for cone heads, tinsel, and crystal flash as well as the dumbell eyes. We tired before they did and it was well past midnight before we forced ourselves to quit. What a night!!!!
As we journeyed down the river the next two days we had non-stop fishing for dolly varden and arctic char mixed with some lovely spotted grayling at the mouth of one small side stream where we stopped for lunch. At another location, the large grayling took dry fly after dry fly with such abandon we laughed with delight at their eagerness and could hardly tear ourselves away. The chance to experience such a river in all its moods made it hard to arrive back in Aniak, but the chance for a hot shower and Jeannie's special fry bread, home-grown salad greens, and rhubarb cake with dinner made it bearable.
Words just can't describe what an unbelievable trip this was. We're sorry you weren't there to share it with us. Shees and sheefish really do go together. We proved it, and it was awesome.
The 1999 Women's Flyfishing® school was a rip-roaring success. In spite of lots & lots, & lots of rain, the tenacious group of seven women managed to catch pink, silver, and sockeye salmon as well as dolly varden char, arctic grayling, and some beautiful leopard rainbow trout.
The adventure began as it always does with the breathtaking float-plane flight from Anchorage to the canyon of Alaska's Skwentna river. There the group was met by the Talstar Lodge boats for the fifteen minute trip up the Talachulitna River where our school takes place. As everyone scrambled out of the boats and the gear got loaded on the four-wheelers, Jack, the famous Lodge dog with one blue eye and one brown eye, greeted us with his furiously wagging tail and his unusual wolf-like stare.
The eight-foot high ferns and fuscia fireweed along the path to the Lodge always provide a great introduction to the cozy log buildings surrounded by towering cottonwood, spruce and birch. The path also introduces everyone to Alaska's famous mosquitoes and other pesky insects.
After settling into the cabins we quickly wadered-up and headed down to the river for the first of several casting sessions. Soon everyone was overhead casting with confidence and even catching trout! "He's not very big, but he's my very first trout," someone yelled! Lots of encouraging words followed. That evening, after one of Robert the fishing chef's magnificent dinners, we came in out of the rain for the first knot-tying session. When everyone was confident they could do the knots on the river (with Sandie and me standing by to help) we retired in anticipation of an early-morning salmon fishing excursion.
We hit the river around six a.m. and spread out along a long sand bar where we could see fish swimming right off the end of our fly rods. That didn't mean they are easy to catch, however. Now everyone was applying their newly learned casting skills to an 8-wt rod and a five-foot sinking tip line. "This is much easier than casting the floating line," one said, but the woman fishing right next to her disagreed. The debate ended suddenly when Lynn from California (we also had a Lynn from Alaska) hooked into a leaping silver salmon ."Hang on, Lynn," we hollered. "Palm your reel when he runs," Sandie and I advised, and it wasn't long before she was proudly holding up her prize for all to see. Both of our Barbara's also landed fish that morning, with the rest of the group also hooking up.
Over a huge brunch, complete with warm cheese rolls, we discussed once again how to drift and strip the fly, how to react when the fish touches the fly, and how to set the hook. It wasn't long before everyone was ready to venture out again to our favorite rainbow runs for the afternoon for some fishing and some roll and side-arm casting practice.
We geared up with our wading sticks for some safe wading lessons and headed out. As we hiked down the river, we walked a narrow trail through high brush. "O.K. everyone, it's time to let the bear know we're coming," I suggested just about the time we spotted a large pile of bear scat full of berry seeds. Accompanied by loud signing and hand-clapping, we emerged out onto the huge sand-bar from which we fish without ever seeing a bear. Then it was time for on-the-water knot tying, fly selection, and reading the water lessons. Most of the group began by drifting an egg imitation, since the king salmon were spawning in the river above us, and rainbows and dolly varden char gobble salmon eggs as fast as they can.
It was a lovely arctic grayling, however, that Candace first hooked into in that stretch, with a few rainbows to follow. On the hike home, Lynn from Alaska and Cheryl took rainbows from the run right below the lodge. Since we're all tired from the early morning and the long hike, we opted for wine in front of the fire and one of Robert's salmon specialty dinners with chocolate cake & coffee before retiring in anticipation of another early morning the next day.
Boy, was it ever worth getting up the next morning. The group hooked fish right and left, and everyone got to see the famous "humpies" of Alaska, as Cheryl and Candace released pink salmon with the huge spawning hump on their backs. This was the morning for practicing the proper way to release a fish.
Afternoon again found us up-river for trout fishing with strike indicators. There weren't many fish around we discovered, because they were clustered right behind a group of spawning kings salmon in an area we couldn't wade to. Oh well, our last day provided more salmon and dolly varden below the Lodge with both Barbara's and Lynn catching several fish and Candace losing what was probably the largest rainbow of the trip. There was also lots of discussion about gear for different species, waders, and what the wading stick was called.
It was still raining when the plane took off and that only added to the touch of sadness everyone felt in leaving. But the talk was already of where they'd be fishing next. And, on the bright side, we didn't have to wear our head-nets for the bugs! Talstar Lodge will be welcoming us again next year. We see you there.
In hopes of offering a trip to Nome, Alaska during the summer of the year 2000, I trekked off to the city of the Goldrush in early August to explore the fly fishing possibilities. A friend had told me there were over 200 miles of roads in the Nome area that included lots of fishable rivers. She was right!
Although the silver salmon run was so meager that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed the rivers to salmon fishing, there were still arctic grayling and dolly varden char to catch. Not every river in the area had an abundance of fish, but a woman my friend directed me to graciously shared a couple of her favorite spots. One evening the sleek, pink-spotted dollies came fast and furiously in a long run crammed full of spawning pink salmon. Another day we found beautiful, feisty grayling right along the road with not another angler in sight.
Where else in the world could you be fishing and have a musk-ox grazing right in the willows behind you. It was pretty startling until we were assured that they are perfectly harmless. Thankfully, the bears also proved harmless as we sighted them far away from where we were fishing.
The small cluster of cabins in the area known as Council, also provides access to fishing opportunities for large grayling, northern pike and dolly varden char and usually also for silver salmon. The dry fly fishing was amazing even on a cool and drizzly day that far North.
And in between fishing, we checked out some of the Goldrush history and the interpretive center for the Bering Land Bridge across which ancient peoples came to the North American Continent from Asia. There's lots to see and do in the area.
So, is your appetite for a trip to Nome whetted enough yet?? Well, stay tuned to the electronic newsletter (if you haven't signed up yet, just visit our index page and add your e-mail) as our 2000 fly fishing season takes shape and hopefully, we'll be offering you a chance to fish and travel with us to one of Alaska's most historic areas next August. Click your heels three times and repeat after me. "There's no place like Nome... there's no place like Nome... there's no place like Nome..."
It was perfect fishing weather (gray and drizzly) when the float plane lifted the six of us off Lake Hood in Anchorage for the forty minute flight to the Talachulitna River and the waiting rainbows. And, it was still raining when we set down in the canyon of the Skwentna River and taxied up to the waiting boats from Talstar Lodge. The departing guests reported the fishing to be excellent so we didn't worry about the weather. We probably should have. Not that there was anything we could have done about it.
After one of Robert's great soups, sandwiches, and warm cookies we hit the River in the rain. Leslie hooked up to a rainbow almost immediately, and a grayling on Joan's line quickly followed. The River was beginning to dirty up a bit, but we kept fishing. B.J. caught a rainbow and a grayling as we moved down the river, and Ruth landed the only dolly varden char of the afternoon. Sandra also landed a rainbow from one of our favorite stretches of the River. We'd hoped to wade to some of our other favorite water, but the River was a little swifter than we counted on, so we made a plan to have Dave take us across by boat the following day.
As we celebrated our first day in Heaven over a glass of wine in front of a fire in the lodge with the smell of dinner cooking, we counted eight nice rainbows landed plus the two grayling and the dolly. We also wanted to fish for salmon, so made plans for an early start the next day, polished off a great dinner and a wonderful pineapple upside down cake and headed for bed.
It rained all night. So, guess what we found when we got to the river just at dawn the next day? Chocolate milk. These were intrepid women, however, who vowed to keep fishing in spite of the conditions. But standing amid the rapidly rising water, we never even got a hit.
Robert tried to make it up to us with a magnificent brunch when we returned to the Lodge late morning and our spirits lifted enough to head out for another try in the afternoon. Again, nothing! Boy, were we depressed.
The following morning we tried again for silvers, but in vain. We were getting desperate and decided to try a small side slough hoping that the fish were holding there out of the high water. Bingo! There weren't hundreds of silvers there, but enough to satisfy us. Joan had the first hook-up on a purple egg-sucking leech and everyone quickly changed flies. After that the fish came one after another as though not wanting to miss out on the fun. And it was fun! Some of the fish were turning to their red spawning color, but they were aggressive to the fly and challenging fighters, so we didn't care that we couldn't take them home. Eventually Sandra and BJ both landed bright fish that went on the stringer for the freezer. The mood of the group took a decided turn for the better in spite of the fact that the rain just kept on coming.
On our last day the sun finally came out but the River was a long way from clearing. So we tried the slough once again. Two bright fish came to the fly almost immediately, and then nothing. We fished and fished with all the flies that had been successful the previous day, but to no avail. Fishing along the gravel bar in front of the slough seemed worthwhile just because the sun was shining there. Although we didn't hope for much, a 20+ inch rainbow in all her glory startled Sandra (and the rest of us) by taking a fuscia comet, throwing herself into the air a couple of times to make sure we got a good look at her, and then easily shaking out the hook. Even though she gave us hope, and we fished until it was time for lunch and preparations to meet the plane, not another fish made an appearance.
Like all rivers, the weather is a crucial variable on the Tal. And this year we just didn't luck out. But that won't keep us from going back to this jewel of Alaskan rivers, for the rainbows, for the salmon, and of course, for Robert's incredible cooking. We can't wait till next summer.
Three intrepid fly fishing women customized an incredible trip this summer to Cordova, gateway to Alaska's wild and scenic outer coast. They were after adventure and salmon, and what they found was a full measure of both!
It all started when Joan, who was coming to Alaska on one or our scheduled trips, told me she wanted to stay longer and asked me to put something together for her. Cordova turned out to be our destination, and when two other women decided to go along, we were off.
Luckily, we had some of the best weather Cordova had seen all summer and it enabled us to really enjoy the magnificence of the area. Cordova lies at the head of the Copper River Delta on Prince William Sound. The Delta is a 20+ mile-wide wetland area that serves as a major stop on the North American continent's north-south fly way. Myriads of birds, ducks, and swans use its rich environment on their migrations just as salmon travel through it as a major highway towards their spawning streams. Jagged peaks backdrop the town and the Delta creating a spectacular setting.
We joined up right away with Jim and T.J. of Sound Adventures for our boat trip to one of the dozens of Prince William Sound's small salmon streams. We rigged up our 8-wts with sink-tip lines and bright green and silver flies and were ready to go. The pool below the small falls literally swarmed with pink salmon! The coho (silver) salmon we were after were also entering the bay on the tide, but were much harder to hook. Pink after pink took the flies we'd intended for silvers and we finally took a break for the grilled salmon lunch T.J. prepared for us.
After lunch we moved to another part of the bay and fishing improved. A black line of fish nosed into the current, with silvers hanging on the outside of the more prevalent pinks. With a cast right to the edge of the line, a silver would peel off from the pack and nail our flies. We landed five glistening fish over ten pounds in less than 30 minutes and then started to back down the bay following the fish as the tide fell.
The next day we took off with Gayle Ranney of Fishing and Flying for a breathtakingly beautiful flight-see and fishing on nearby Montague Island. After a quick fly-over to let us see the river we'd be fishing Gayle landed her trusty 206 on a long, wind-swept beach with foam-capped breakers on our ocean side. "About a half-mile up-river there's a great pool where the fishing has been good," she reported, as we un-loaded our fishing gear and our bear-assault pepper spray and agreed on our pick-up time. She was right! The hike wasn't difficult, but the brushy conditions kept the four of us close together and making lots of noise.
The pool was gorgeous. Although we again found lots and lots of pink salmon, the silvers were more cooperative. Everyone hooked and played silvers (as well as what seemed like hundreds of pinks), and Ruth finally landed her first on a fly rod! "Those pinks gave me lots of practice, so I was ready," she said. Our pick-up time came all too soon.
We spent our third day visiting the awesome spectacle that is Child's glacier, about a 45 miles drive from Cordova, and seeing some swans along the way. The glacier's face is less than a mile away across one branch of the Copper River. We could feel a cold blast of air as we read the warning that the calving of large chunks of ice can send waves up over the visitor's area and the parking lot! As we ate lunch we repeatedly heard the incredible grinding noise that signals the glacier's movement. Right beyond the Glacier we visited the famous million-dollar highway, built to transport copper from the nearby mines in the early 1900's but damaged in the 1964 earthquake in Alaska. Walking over it, we could also take in the wall-to-wall view of the Miles glacier and see its icebergs floating down the River.
Our last day was scheduled to be another fly-out, but threatening weather made us opt for another trip by boat. This time Jim and T.J. took us to a bay where the silvers tend to hold-up to rest but where, until the tide is high, one can fish for them from the bank. Wow! We hooked up almost as fast as we could put a fly in the water. Fish were every where. Ruth now had the drill down pat and confidently landed fish after fish. So did Joan and Candace. We kept Jim busy just cleaning fish.
But, all too soon it was over. The tide ended our fishing and the time ended our trip. But all agreed, that this should be one of the planned trips for the year 2000 schedule. So, stay tuned. I'm working on it and will have dates and details available soon on our monthly electronic newsletter. (If you haven't yet signed up for the newsletter, you can do so on the main page of the site.) Come on and go with us next time.
On last year's trip to Kodiak Island we had almost no water, and this year we were absolutely waterlogged! Just goes to show that mother nature controls no matter what we do. We persisted as long as we could and then finally just gave up. Here's what happened.
I arrived in Kodiak the day before the group and found pretty high water from what the fly shops told me had been 7 inches of rain over the previous ten days. The water was high, but not unfishable. Caught a 15 lb silver while checking out the situation. Weather was nice and water level was falling, so optimism seemed in order.
Picked up the group early the next morning and after everyone got their gear to their B&B and grabbed their waders and rods, we hit the river. Caught some "tomatoes" (coho salmon in their red spawning colors) in one area and then moved on to more promising water. We could see silvers holding in one slow run and a pool above, but they were having none of what we were serving. By that time the sun was shining brightly and the river was clearing. In fact, the dolly varden char fishing proved to be excellent!! Both Lisa and Kathleen were catching dollies left and right in a lovely set of riffles that dropped into the pools and in some of the pools themselves. All in all it wasn't a bad day. That night the rain began.
On day number two we set out for the Psagshak River an hour's drive from Kodiak. That River is best fished on the incoming tide so we timed our arrival to intercept fish as they swept in with the tide. But the seals were there before us and managing very effectively to block the entrance to the River and deter the fish. We determined that there were simply not going to be any fish on that tide and turned out sites to the Olds River.
Upon arrival at the Olds, we found lots and lots of people in spite of hard rain and some strong wind gusts. The rivers were beginning to rise about this time, but were still wadable. We headed up river and, we hoped, away from the crowds, and Kathleen hooked a nice silver in the first run we stopped at. He managed to quickly un-hook himself by heading into the considerable deadfall along the bank. At our next stop, we had several hook-ups and some exciting action playing fresh and feisty silvers, but again, the branches, logs, and debris won out . And the river just kept rising. We managed to wade to one more spot by hooking arms and using two wading sticks, but all we landed were pink salmon. We decided to head back while we could still cross.
As we drove home we planned on a very early morning trip back to the Olds, which seemed to be holding a good number of fish. But, after a night of pouring rain and wind gusts that shook the house, I was doubtful of what we would find. The rivers were absolutely raging! One was over its banks and the others were not far behind. And, it was still raining with wind gusts over 50 miles an hour.!!
Finally we threw in the towel, headed back to the airport, and made arrangements to take an earlier flight back to Anchorage. The take off into that storm was horrendous! I've never been so glad to reach cruising altitude in my life. The fall colors were glorious as we looked down, and we knew the fish were there, but we'll just have to enjoy the Island and its bounty another time. We never give up, however, and will be right back there next September! Come see what the year 2000 trip holds in store.
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