Women's Flyfishing Alaska
Enjoy the latest flyfishing trip reports written by Pudge Kleinkauf, is Alaskas leading woman fly fishing instructor, fly tier and guide.

2014 Women's Flyfishing Trip Reports

April - Mexico, May - Spring Float Tubing, June - Brooks Lodge , Adventure Denali

Terrific Spring Tubing 2014

2014 spring float tripSpring came very early to Alaska this year, which meant that the ice went off the lakes sooner than usual, and that made for absolutely excellent float tubing conditions! The weather was great, except for some intermittent smoke haze from a large fire burning on the Kenai Peninsula, and the fish were very cooperative.

beginning float tube flyfishingWe started out on a lake that is usually good fishing in the spring, because it is also the best location to help beginning float tubers learn about the equipment, how to paddle, and how to approach the fish. It’s a popular lake and one of the first to get stocked, but still, our morning produced just a few fish. So, after lunch, we headed over to another smaller lake that I had fished with some clients the week before to see how things were going there. It proved to be an excellent choice, and the fish were waiting for us.

All three of the gals were beginning tubers, but they learned quickly about paddling backwards, getting in position to make a cast to where the fish were hanging out, and how to land a fish from a tube. Then, it was one fish after the other all afternoon. Several times they all had fish on at the same time, and the laughter and cheers could be heard far away, I’m sure.

float tube flyfishing AlaskaTwo novice tubers and one experienced tuber arrived at the same lake the next day, and they, too, quickly mastered the skills of successful fishing from a float tube. I set them up at all of the spots that had produced the previous day, and they caught even more fish than the first group. It was fun to watch them learn how to revive their catch from a float tube by paddling with just one foot to make the tube revolve and create oxygen for the fish. They got so good that by afternoon, they were asking to experiment with different flies and try different spots on the lake. What a day!

The third day, a couple of fly anglers who were the high bidders on a tubing day that I had donated to the auction of the Anchorage shelter for abused women (AWAIC) arrived to learn about tubing and try their luck. More experienced than the previous two days’ tubers, they had the tubing skills down in no time. Still, they had never learned where to find fish in a lake, and had no experience with lake flies. So, it was fun to watch them get proficient with fish after fish, after fish.

rainbow fly fishingBy far the most predominant fish everyone caught were rainbow trout, but, since the new State hatchery in Anchorage is now also raising Arctic Grayling and char in its tanks, there were more than one species in the lake. Luckily, we caught a few grayling that had just been put into the lake even though they hadn’t quite assimilated to their new environment. River stocking with grayling is hardly ever successful, but lake stocking generally is. Every day we saw schools of young grayling swimming around and around, as they do at the hatchery but they were not ready to take a fly. My hopes are high for more and larger lake grayling as time goes by, however.

bead head lake leech flyThe fly of the day was the gold-ribbed-hares-ear, hands down. Other nymph such as Prince nymphs, bead-head pheasant tails, and different colored copper John’s were also producing. Many years we also use a bead-head lake-leech for the spring rainbows, but this year, for some reason, they were not nearly as successful as the nymphs.

women's flyfishing float trip 2014Tubing is a wonderful way to start the season! Join us next time and see for yourself.


Pudge


 

Viva la Mexico 2014!

mexico womens flyfishing trip 2014We couldn't have asked for better weather on the Baja Peninsula than what we had during our 2014 trip to Rancho Leonero on the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Arriving mid-afternoon, we had time to settle in, take a nice walk on the beach, and ready our gear & equipment for the next morning's fishing.

Getting up at 5:00 a.m. when its pitch black sounds terrible until you realize that's what you need to do to take advantage of the best fishing of the day. We had breakfast and were on the boat by 6:30 a.m. ready for a run out to the blue water where the last few days' catch had been marlin, Dorado, and tuna. And, that's just what we found as we trolled along. Encountering pod after pod of marlin feeding on the surface, it wasn't long until we connected. Kate turned out to be the most successful when a huge marlin grabbed the pink & white popper fly at the end of her 12-wt rod and took off in an aerial display that had us gasping! After a few leaps that splashed water everywhere, both the fish and Kate finally settled down for the long haul.

We waited and waited for the fish to surface, and just when it seemed that it was going to happen, the rod and the line would go straight down again. Steve was keeping track of the time she was fighting the fish, and when he noted one hour, we were all wondering how much longer it would take. After just about 1-hour 15 minutes, the fish began to show signs of tiring and surfaced in a series of head-shaking leaps just behind the boat. He wasn't done yet, however, and held his ground. Kate was frantically reeling for another fifteen minutes before we could actually see the stripes and the bill of a gorgeous fish.

Kate had him next to the boat twice but the deckhand wasn't able to get a good grip on him, so finally Hector, the captain of the boat, came down on deck to help. Just as they got a good hold on the bill and the huge dorsal fin we all heard a distinct "snap" that we knew was a fly rod breaking. Nevertheless, they brought the fish on-board for a few quick pictures before carefully reviving him along-side during the release. 125 pounds was the call of the captain as the fish re-joined its friends!!  The rod was going in for repair, but we had a spare, so it wasn't a catastrophe.

The rest of the morning saw two more marlin hook-ups but on fish that managed to dis-connect, as well as some skipjack tuna that always brighten our day. Just like little silver bullets, they always seem twice the size they really are when we get them to the boat because of their powerful speed. Suddenly around noon a humpback whale, followed by a calf, breeched with a huge splash right near our boat, and a few minutes later the calf did the same. That was the start of over half-an-hour of unbelievable whale-watching. Several adult whales took turns slapping the water and cartwheeling behind and on both sides of the boat as though showing off the three calves we counted trying to imitate their elders. What a show! When the day was over, we returned to the resort tired but satisfied.

marlins, dorado, skipjack tunaOur second day saw us on two pangas with the guys heading back to the marlin and the gals heading over to where the Dorado were playing. This time Kate hooked a large Dorado on the same pink & white popper fly that had caught the marlin the day before. It took about twenty-minutes for us to begin to see the golden glow of a good-sized fish in the water behind the boat. As it swam near the boat other Dorado could also be seen in the water around it, as is common. It is thought that they are attracted by the hooked fish "up-chucking" bits of food. It took only half-an hour for Kate to bring the fish along-side, where Santos, our captain, pronounced it a thirty or thirty-five pound fish. Unfortunately, the fish somehow broke free and swam away. We just had to keep the golden image in our memories. It wasn't long before she got another one that we got to the boat with no problem, though.

fishing from shoreA bit later in the day, I also hooked a large Dorado, and it also got away as we were trying to land it. Its teeth had sawed through the tippet. I was bemoaning having a fish carrying around a fly in its mouth when Santos spotted it floating just behind the boat and we retrieved it. A couple of other hook-ups and some skipjack tuna kept us busy the rest of the day.

boats on the shoreThe guys reports hooking up with several marlin, that got away as well as some dorado that they couldn't land, but they, too, found that some skipjack saved the day. Both boats also headed to the beach after rooster fish, because a few had been caught by other boats, but only one day could we raise any fish. Just as in past years, it was poppers that seemed to do the trick.

beautiful sunset in Mexico while flyfishingOur third day was a blank. A huge plume of very cold water had appeared in our fishing area, and the fish just shut down. We tried different trolling speeds and different flies over and over again, but nothing worked. Santos, who is considered one of the premier pangeros of that area of the Baja practically stood on his head to get fish, but without success.

 Rancho Leonero resortWe spent time on the beach surf fishing two mornings and practicing using the stripping baskets when the water and the temperature were absolutely perfect. Some needle fish and coronet fish rewarded our efforts as did a balloon fish (in the puffer family). Later, on one of the days Kate & Steve returned to the beach, but I stayed in the shade on my porch and answered e-mail. One of our non-boat-fishing days we went into the village of Los Barilles and did a little shopping and got ice-cream, which is always one of the highlights of the trip.

Our rooms were quiet, air-conditioned, and comfortable, and the food was excellent. The resort staff was helpful and professional, and all-in-all we counted this a great trip. See you there next year!

~Pudge
 

Bear Bonanza at Brooks-2014 

bears at Brooks River fishing tripAlthough the fishing wasn’t up to par this year, the number of bears really made up for it. In my 30+ years of visiting the Brooks River I can’t remember a trip that had as many bears as we saw this time. The water was pretty low, and while that made for easier wading for us, it certainly did affect the trout fishing. Coupled with the fact that they had just been hammered since opening day in early June, they just didn’t like the shallow water, the new channel that had formed in the river, and the almost constant changes in atmospheric pressure, which usually puts them down.

fishing in the Brooks RiverAll of the difficulties didn’t stop us from fishing, it just make things tougher. When rainbow fishing we’d get some hits we didn’t set hard enough on, and some follows and refusals that had us changing flies regularly. There were also Arctic grayling in the river this year, but, even they were pretty finicky about what flies they would even look at.

Time after time we had to back out of the river to avoid an on-coming bear, which also affected the fishing. But, since it was bears that we come to see on the trip, we didn’t complain. Early one morning when all was quiet on the river I get the gals set up in one of my favorite spots and they were finding the fish interested in smolt patterns as the baby salmon made their way to the sea. But just when we’d found the most effective fly, a Park Service Ranger hollered that there was a bear walking right toward us. He had just emerged from underneath the observation platform where no one could see him. We quickly backed up into a marshy area nearby to let him pass along the trail, and he did so not twenty feet away.

We also fished the mouth of the river for sockeye salmon, but they were few and far between. The run just wasn’t happening yet and the fish freezer at the lodge was empty. Once we saw a school of fish that appeared to be entering the river from the lake, but, much to our dismay, they changed their mind and returned to the lake were we couldn’t get at them.

nymphingIn different spots along the river, everyone worked on mastering their nymphing skills as well as taking some time to try-out dry-fly fishing, which none of them had had a chance to experience. From time to time the grayling were rising to dry flies, and then everyone had to work on keeping just the right amount of slack on the water for both the drift and the hook set. Occasionally the splashy rise of a large rainbow for a helpless little salmon smolt made us change flies to smolt patterns, and one of the gals got lots of hits standing in the perfect spot along the current where the bait-balls seemed to occur the most frequently. It wasn’t until we removed the eyes from one of the other flies that someone else found interested fish.

more brown bearsIn spite of the poor fishing this year the bears at Brooks Falls definitely kept us entertained. Bears were fighting over choice fishing spots on top of the falls, males aggressively pursued females ready to breed, cubs of various ages were learning from their mothers how to fish this special place, and entertaining “teenagers” recently kicked out by their mothers, were trying to survive on their own. No matter when we hiked to the falls this year the bears were there.

bears fishing for sockeye salmonBears also wander along the river searching out the fish, just as we do. They, however, have no hesitation to just jump in the water hoping to be able to pounce on a sockeye swimming by. With so few fish in the water, there were lots of hungry bears around, and we watched a huge bear eating grass underneath one of the platforms we were standing on. He had been courting his lady-love in and out of the water that afternoon but there were no fish for either of them. The big boars often follow a female that is fishing and have no hesitation in grabbing any fish that she might catch.

bears on the trailWe had our usual cozy cabin and the food was fabulous (as usual), with two entrées at both lunch and dinner, two different home-made soups at lunch, and cinnamon buns dripping with frosting for breakfast.  We gathered around the fireplace in the morning with a cup of coffee, and then again before dinner with a glass of wine. We also were delighted to be serenaded by a bag-pipe player who is a member of a group called “The Order of the Hairy Dogs,” who often are fishing at Brooks at the same time as we are. We sure do enjoy fishing alongside of them!

While in the dining room we frequently saw bears wandering the beach right out in front of the lodge, and one sow was even nursing her little one there while the Park Rangers were convincing her that she shouldn’t go farther along the beach because the lodge was loading a float plane with departing passengers.

We were all disappointed that we didn’t catch any sockeye salmon, but it was hard to complain with the proliferation of bear activity all day, every day. I love Brooks, and we’ll be back for more in 2015. Join us!!

~Pudge

Adventure Denali Float Tubing, 2014

rainbow trout in the netThe float tubes were ready to be inflated and the big rainbows & grayling were just hanging out in the lake waiting for us when we arrived at our cozy cabin near Cantwell, AK. It didn’t take long to have a lesson in putting on the swim fins and getting in and out of the tube, and we launched in the rain for our first encounter with these very special fish. It was cold and wet with new snow blanketing the surrounding mountains.

Eileen was the first to hook up about ten minutes after she’d backed into the lake, and she did a masterful job of playing her 26 inch prize. He zinged and zoomed around the lake making one deep dive after the other just to make sure she was paying attention. Finally he succumbed to the pressure of the 8-wt rod and allowed himself to be netted.  Wow, he was a beauty! A quick picture and I showed her how to release him by paddling with just one foot to make the tube move around in a circle so she could create some oxygen for him. It didn’t take long for him to thrust himself out of her hands.

women flyfishing from float tubesBoth Pamela, a neophyte fly fisher, and Sandra, an experienced angler also had fish within a short time, catching both rainbows and grayling as we circled the lake. The fish were very cooperative. We could look down into the water and see their huge, dark bodies swimming just below our flippers. The cold, wet atmosphere finally sent us back to the cabin for a glass of wine before dinner where we enjoyed rotisserie chicken, corn on the cob, and a delicious broccoli salad.

After just a 34 degree night, and continuing snow on the mountains, it was raining even harder the next morning, so just Pamela and I headed out during the early part of the day, having put on all of the warm clothes we had brought.  Now Pamela was feeling much more confident about her hooking and landing skills, so she reacted quickly to the large tug on her fly that nearly doubled-over her rod.  This was a fish that actually pulled her tube around as she tried to manage it. She kept asking when he was going to give up. I knew that this was a huge fish, so I just urged her to keep the tension on him and let him run. He was definitely in control.

catch and releaseThe measuring tape showed about 28 inches when we finally brought the fish to the net, after about six tries. His huge tail flapped in the breeze above the wood rim. Putting her hands in the freezing water, Pamela paddled around with him while he revived, and then showed me her blue fingers after he was gone.

She hooked and landed several more large fishing that morning, and so did I. We each had some gorgeous grayling attack the flies as well. Although we were actually freezing, it was hard to get out of the water. We were so cold we could hardly paddle. We spent much of the afternoon checking e-mail and going for a walk while we waited for the temperature to rise. That night we indulged in home-made lasagna and a great salad.

getting the float tubes readyOur third day dawned bright and sunny, and we were off for the lake as fast as we could get our waders on. While the water was still pretty cold, at least the ambient air temperature somewhat made up for it. On the way out to the middle of the lake we encountered beautifully colored grayling. This time it was Sandy that got us started with the big rainbows, however. She had switched to a black bead-head bunny fly from the olive woolly buggers the rest of us were using and landed a fish in the 24-inch range. Once again, the net was just barely adequate. I’d bought a new Brodin float tube landing net, but it was just barely a match for these huge fish. Eileen and Pamela were also both successful in landing other fish the same size as well as many smaller fish that entertained us with their eagerness. We grilled hamburgers for dinner after taking a walk around the lake on the new water-side trail. 

Denali Float TubingOur last day saw us driving up the western end of the Denali Hiway towards Brushkana Creek where we saw a moose and her calf just walking along the road. We fished for grayling so everyone could experience river fishing as well as lake fishing. The water was still very high after all the rain, but the drive was beautiful, and we still caught some fish. The bugs were absolutely horrendous, however, and we couldn’t take off our head-nets for even a second.

Our 2013 trip was so great that I knew that we had to return here this year. Adventure Denali’s fish were stocked in this lake many years ago, by Kirk Martakis, the owner, who has been feeding them ever since. We watched Kirk’s son, Tanner, and one of the employees feed the fish from a small boat that they row around the lake as they throw out the pellets. The fish absolutely go nuts!

Denali from the lakeKirk now operates his lake for paid, catch and release day-fishing by guests from the various hotels & lodges at nearby Denali National Park and for guests staying at his cabins. Kirk has been enhancing the small creek running between this lake and one right nearby to provide better spawning habitat for the fish, and this spring, for the first time, he observed lots of spawners. We also provided some proof that his efforts were paying off by catching lots of fish of various sizes, from 8 inches to 28 inches. What more could you ask??

Sure was hard to say good bye, but we have another trip scheduled August 21-24 so we’ll get to visit these behemoth fish one more time before the summer is over. There’s still one spot left in that trip, if you want to go along!

~Pudge 

 

 

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