2017 Women's Flyfishing Trip Reports
Spring Tubing at Adventure Denali, 2017
While the weather was not the best for our spring outing at Adventure Denali this year, the good fishing made up for it. The wind increased as we put the tubes together and got ready, but the gusts were so strong that we opted for a walk around the lake and a visit with Kirk Martakis the owner. Finally, the wind calmed down and we quickly pulled on our waders and made for the water.
None of the three anglers had ever been in a float tube, so the first hour or so was spent learning to manage the tube and cast from a sitting position. Using both nymphs and my favorite bead-head lake leeches every possible size of fish showed us how eagerly they had been waiting for us. As usual, the early coaching took the form of reminding them to "keep paddling, keep paddling" to keep their fish from getting slack lined. They got the technique mastered quickly. We all had a blast watching the small, 7 or 8-inch long fish flail about attempting to spit the hook. The larger fish were another, matter, however.
Kathryn connected with the first good fish, a lovely, bright, fifteen or sixteen inch specimen and the catch was on. I could hardly keep up with them. Once they perfected the use of the pliers that were in their tube, they settled down to release their own fish.
Cat caught the first of the large fish that these lakes are famous for and patiently played it as it sped out into the middle of the lake and then dove strongly for the bottom, over and over again. Finally, I helped her guide it into the lading net and she was ecstatic! Like everyone who catches these huge fish, she had trouble getting the hook out and reviving it by keeping it in the water in front of her tube while she circled around to make sure there was water going through its gills. Pretty soon it propelled itself out of her hands and headed back to the deep. Two more of these behemoths came to the landing net for her in the course of the day.
Kathryn also scored a 28-30 sized fish that we had difficulty measuring. She had lost another big one that morning so she was delighted to net this beauty. We all admired it as it posed quietly for some pictures
Celine, had not had as much fly fishing experience as the other two, but as we trolled the lake she began to identify the "bumps" she was feeling as fish and quickly tightened up the fly. Soon she too was proudly lifting some beautiful fish for us all to admire. She hooked up with a 28-inch fish late in the afternoon and played it like she had been doing it her whole life. "I watched what the others were doing to play their big fish and tried to do what they did," she said. She was a very quick learner!
We traveled to Brushkana Creek along the Denali Hiway the next day to do some dry fly fishing for grayling but found them more interested in nymphs. My usual "favorite spot" didn’t produce much, so we hiked down the trail a ways to another good spot and found some more willing takers. We stopped at the gas station for ice-cream on the way home.
Our last day saw us at the "3rd Lake" on the Adventure Denali property where grayling are usually plentiful, and while that was still the case, we couldn’t get them going like we usually do. We attributed that to the constantly changing atmospheric pressure producing cold wind, rain, and not a lot of quiet water were the fish could chase dry flies. We did score lots of small fish, however. On the way back to the cabin they did some fishing off the bank at the second lake where all of them pulled out rainbows that measured 15+ or larger.
As usual, it was hard to head for home. There’s just no place like Adventure Denali for fantastic fishing!
Sockeye & Bows at Copper on the Fly in Bristol Bay, 2017
This trip provides outstanding sockeye & rainbow fishing in this prolific tributary of Lake Iliamna with massive runs of sockeye to target, and loads of rainbows to enable us to fish with dry flies. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions this year.
Our flight from the town of Iliamna was right on time, and we all were dazzled by the scenery of the lake below (the largest lake in Alaska) as we headed for the lodge. Lunch took no time at all nor did the short trip from the lodge to the fishing location. Although we couldn’t find many salmon that afternoon, the rainbows made up for it. Dry flies, nymphs, and streamers all made an appearance.
We were ready for the great dinner that the lodge had ready for us, topped off by a great glass of wine as we gathered on the deck to watch for bears. They weren’t around until the middle of the night and we could see their huge prints in the sand and the mud the next day.
That was when we began to spot increasingly larger schools of fish in the water that were heading upriver to spawn. Everyone hurriedly changed from trout rods to heavier gear designed for salmon and went to town. They quickly learned the method that usually catches sockeye. Sockeye (or “reds” as they are called) do not bite or grab the flies. The technique is more a swing across the water at the fish’s level in the water column, where the fly becomes prey for the angler.
Everyone proudly took a fish or two back to the lodge and the they had a great time cleaning them on a bank down-river from the lodge. A sow brown bear and her two cubs arrived as they were leaving and some of them got a picture or two as well.
The fishing just got better and better during the time we were there, and we even managed to get more rainbows as well. Usually, as the salmon get more plentiful, the trout move back to the lake to await the eggs that appear as more and more fish begin to spawn. More and more foot-prints also appeared on the beaches along the river and the docked boats as well, and we were careful to be sure to take bear spray for protection.
Another trip to the cleaning beach was in order and lots of salmon fillets went into the freezer for us to share on the way home. We didn’t want to leave, of course, but we couldn’t have had a better trip. Until next year!!
Nowhere Like Nome 2017
A magical fish, an unbelievably lovely wilderness river, and Alaska Native hospitality all combine to provide the trip of a lifetime, and we get to do it every year!
We started our trip on a very early Ak Airlines flight that took us from Anchorage right to Nome, where our shuttle was waiting to take us the 70-mile trip along the path that the gold rush took in the past to gold and the best grayling fishing in Alaska.
Tom Gray, the owner of AK Adventure was at the river pick-up. He and his wife BJ were our hosts for the trip, and are always ready to make us feel right at home. A quick lunch was ready for us and we ate quickly, eager to get to the fish.
We were heading to grayling water almost immediately, and the first fish of the day was on to the fly in less than 5-minutes after we all got out of the boat and began fishing. It was the first of innumerable fish that we caught on the trip. Eighteen to 22-inch beauties came to our flies over and over again to let us see how gorgeous they are and how eager to take well-presented flies.
We went home that evening to one of BJ’s special spaghetti with home-made bread and a home-made chocolate desert. We all went to bed full, and ready to do it all over again the next day. And we did. Spoiled on home-made bread, and a different desert every day. What we couldn’t eat, we saved for the next day’s lunch. Another of her specialties, sockeye salmon lasagna made another dinner a fabulous favorite.
Fifty and up to seventy absolutely spectacular fish just couldn’t get enough of our foam flies each day as well as the dry-flies and nymphs that the grayling love so much. A chez nymph rig brought an absolute frenzy to the eager grayling, as anglers enjoyed it one afternoon. The water was quite low and a school of chum salmon was making its way up a small, rushing channel with grayling in between, beside, and fighting with each other to get to the salmon fry that accompanied the chum. We had Chez “doubles” of two fish at a time over and over for nearly an hour until the fish moved on.
The pink salmon were also in the main river, eager to take a streamer and stacked up in large pods to get from the Fish River into the Niukluk tributary where they go to spawn, so we had great fun wearing out our arms one afternoon catching and releasing one fish after the other.
Our last afternoon, we visited an Alaska Salmon subsistence fishing camp to learn how Native people catch and keep salmon for food in the winter. One of our group had been waiting to catch a white fish, which native people see as a major specimen for subsistence. He managed to take 3 fish while the rest of us were watching.
We couldn’t have had a better trip and headed home with the hope to visit again and again to this special place.
Orca Adventure Lodge Fly Fishing School – 2017
With participants from Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and Alaska The Women’s Flyfishing School in Cordova, AK for 2017 had a super group. As women’s increasing interest in fly fishing grows, our students were from several different states around the country this year. They will be fly fishing for fish like bass, and crappie, and other warm water species in addition to the fish they pursued while in AK.
As it always does, our fly fishing school begins with a lesson in the basic overhead cast on a rocky beach in Cordova where a small stream absolutely teems with pink salmon. The students tie on a hot-pink fly with their first knot and line up along the shore to make their very first cast to a fish with a fly rod. All six of them manage to get the fly into some part of the fish, even if it isn’t in the mouth, and the mayhem begins.
“I’ve got one,” can be heard up and down the water, “what do I do now?” are the next thing we can all hear. Two or three students will gather around the person with a fly in its mouth while they try to land it with the techniques they were just introduced to. The fish is finally to the bank, and the first lesson in removing the hook happens. With no time, all six of them are hooking, playing and releasing an Alaska salmon, and loving it.
Soon after lunch we head back to the lodge for the first lesson in knot tying and they all struggle with the nail knot and the blood knots as they learn how to construct a leader. Almost everyone will keep on practicing the knots throughout the five-day school along with other skills they need to learn.
Much of the school occurs at beautiful Sheep Creek, a remote salmon creek in Prince William Sound, AK. The water is absolutely packed with fish and their white bellies are noticeable in the dark water. Now more casting ensues and leader construction is practiced as necessary as they get a more challenging location. The boat from the lodge has driven us to this wonderful place, but, since it is too big to get up into the bay high enough, we must disembark and walk part of the way. As we head to the water several tiny creeks all have pink salmon in them and it’s amazing to watch them swim with their backs out of the water as they struggle toward their spawning location. The day passes quickly and their performance improves in every aspect of their learning.
The next day the lodge flies us to another remote area where we land on the beach as the tide is going out. The plane will be back for us after the tide turns. Now everyone is using a 5-wt rods to seek out the sea-run cutthroat trout that reside in this tidal creek. The “little jewels” as we call them, tempt the students and they see how different it can be to use a light fly rod with smaller fish. They switch flies from time to time to cast two-at-a-time into a small pond where the fish are quite furious to take the small flies. They all end up trying dry flies and are anxious to try more. The end of this day sees them all getting a flight-see to the glacier that exists near the lodge and come back with great pictures.
The last day is a short day, but with enough time to head to a beautiful bay that hosts the Cordova Bird Festival in the spring, and salmon in the summer. By now, everyone’ confidence is evident and they cast, play a fish and construct their leaders with skill.
Whether they will continue to fish for warm or cold water fish or even a saltwater fish, they now have the fundamentals on which to build. As usual, no one wants to leave things like the amazing meals, the cooperative pink salmon, other fish, and the hospitality of Orca Adventure Lodge and Cordova.
Fall was on the hills, with it’s wonderful color when we arrived at Chavey Lakes for our late summer fly-fishing trip. The huge rainbows hung in the water below us as we launched the float tubes in the largest of the three lakes that we fish in this fly fishing paradise just twenty miles or so from Denali, the largest mountain in North America. The chill in the air let us know that the trip would be chilly, and we bundled up as much as possible.
We rigged up for the big rainbows that lurk in this lovely little lake with bead-head lake leeches at first, but just a few fish took the flies. Czech nymphs proved to be a better choice with all sizes of our prey. We didn’t stay out long that evening because it was cold and a cozy fire was beckoning us in the little cabin. Spaghetti was on the menu and not a morsel was left behind.
Day two proved to be even colder than the previous one but we managed to hook several huge fish among the twenty-five inch fish that were giving us some action. Landing such large fish in a float tube is always difficult, and a couple of them slid out the net as we landed them.
We got out of the water for lunch and took a walk to the second lake to fish and warm up. Lots and lots of the fish in that lake also got hooked from the bank, which holds more and more fish each year. Suddenly a large fish grabbed a small lake leech and took off into the middle of a large group of fish that were taking their time on attacking our offerings, and the water swirled and splashed like a whirlwind. We could hardly believe they would create such an event. The fish that had started it all jumped several times and then headed down the lakes. He turned quickly and Deb wasn’t able to keep up with him.
The next day Kirk, the owner of Adventure Denali told us that the temperature was 39 degrees as we launched the tubes on “third lake” which is known for its Arctic grayling. Fish after fish chased our nymphs in the middle of the pods of fish that were all around. We had changed to pheasant-tail nymphs, which is one of grayling’s favorite. Every where a fish was, there were many others just waiting to make a take. Since the tubing was almost as cold as the previous day when we got out for some bank fishing again. The cold seemed to be making the fish ready to grab again, and we had an almost similar event to the previous day’s action. Various pods of rainbows attacked whatever fly we cast to them.
Adventure Denali is a really remarkable location, and I love taking people there every year. The location, the cozy cabin, the great fishing, and the friendly folks taking care of us make it a super place to spend some time. I hope that you can enjoy it one of these days.
All Rainbows-All the Time 2017
The wonderful Copper on The Fly lodge at the outlet of the Little Copper Fly river where it meets Lake Iliamna was eagerly awaiting the seven of us as we arrived from Anchorage for some super rainbow trout fishing. We disembarked from the two float planes and then took the quick, rainy, trip from there over to the lodge and up the stairway to our home for the next five days.
We got assigned to our cabins and quickly wadered-up for some great fishing before dinner. There were thousands of sockeye salmon still swimming in the water and accomplishing their spawning ritual, so there were also lots and lots of pinky-orange eggs laying in the water for the rainbow trout, which was what we were after. Everyone caught quite a few of them with the help of the little plastic bead egg-imitations that the guides had ready.
The sockeye fill the river in the mid-summer getting ready to spawn and, we take an earlier trip to the river in July to catch those for our freezers. Now the phenomenon of the egg laying was bringing us back to fish for the beautiful trout which gorge on them to fatten up for winter. All of those fish are “catch & release” fish and must be returned to the water.
Since all of the fish we fish for are rainbow trout we all learned how to rig the “fake” egg and then bounce it along the bottom to replicate the “real-thing.” As often as not, the egg was the wrong color and it didn’t engage the feeding fish, so, after unsuccessful tries we resorted to scouring the river bottom for one with the proper color. Once we had a better “match” the fish reacted more willing. It was surprising how many times we had to change to get a closer color to get the fish’s attention.
Many of the rainbows in the Copper River are fish called Leopard Rainbows because they are spectacularly colored beauties. Caramel-colored instead of silver skin distinguishes these bows from other trout.
It was great to see everyone connecting with the fat & sassy rainbows. Sue seemed to have the magic touch for catching fish that were after fish that were higher in the water column instead of bouncing on the bottom. Between her and her husband, Brad, they practically connected with nearly all of the fish in one productive run.
Sandy has fished this river with us before and knows a lot about the techniques for fishing with a bead and the locations on the river that are particularly productive. She seems to get fish no matter where they stopped.
I met Gwen and Dan at the Pleasanton, CA. Fly Fishing Show, and found them eager to fish somewhere where there would be fishing only for rainbows. Both of them showed us how just much they loved bows with all the fish they caught.
We always have lots of opportunities for different places to stop and fish along the river, and also lots of locations where wildlife appears. Due to the large runs of sockeye, there are lots of bears on the river, and we have many opportunities to see them with their cubs. This year we had an opportunity to watch a sow teaching her two cubs how to catch a salmon. We also come across moose and other wildlife as well. The lodge itself stands high on a ridge next to the river where a grassy meadow also provides the opportunity to see birds of many species.
The fall colors appear as our time at the lodge passes, and there are already yellows and rust-colored vegetation on the hills as our flight takes off from the lodge. This is a wonderful trip and the incredible beauty of Lake Iliamna will stay with you forever.
Tangle Lakes, 2017
The weather was good and the fish were pretty cooperative when we arrived at MacLaren Lodge along the Denali Highway this summer. We’d started fishing at a creek a few miles north of the lodge where we usually have success with grayling while we got everyone together for the rest of the trip.
Next day we headed out to one of the other creeks that can be reached only by boat to find more grayling just waiting for us. With a variety of dry flies, nymphs, and ants, it seemed like everyone hooked up right away. Just for the fun of it, we tempted the fish with the rubber ants as the first fly out of the fly box, and just watched them grab and grab and grab. Whether the flies were yellow, orange, and green, or white and black, it made no difference.
Later we fished with mostly dry flies thanks to some intermittent hatchs. Caddis, mayflies, and other patterns were gobbled-up quickly. Czech nymph turned out to be the prize of the day whether with single or double offerings.
A different creek the next day gave us just as (if not more) success on black flies, no matter what pattern they were. Grayling are usually eager to take black caddis, and a black mayflys with a white post proved to be particular favorites by these fish as well.
Later that day we traveled down to the Tangle Lakes area for the remainder of the trip. We stay at either Tangle River Lodge or the very nice motor park near-by. The lodge has very good food (as does the Maclaren Lodge) so we were all well-fed.
Hoppers and droppers were the favorites the day until we ran out of the size 10 Royal Wulffs posing as indicators with small nymphs on the dropper.
One of my usual spots to fish was already occupied on our last day so we went to some locations that were very brushy but very productive with bead-head nymphs. Size 14 or 16 pheasant-tail nymphs were favorites at these spots.
The ride home was decorated by lots of early fall colors of yellow and orange and I felt sad that summer was almost over. There’s still silver salmon to fish for, and the rainbows gorging on the salmon eggs, so don’t despair, and don’t put your fly rods away.
Silver Salmon Spectacular, 2017
Our Silver Salmon Spectacular trip is always the last of our season and we hate to see the time for it arrive. Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, AK is our headquarters for this great outing and we can never get enough of it. We have to face the fact that when we head out to intercept the silvers, summer’s over, however.
We arrive late in the afternoon of the first day to get organized and set up for our days of flying and boating out to target these amazing fish. We usually start by boating out into Prince William Sound to take advantage of the schools of fish that are appearing in the river mouths and estuaries. They are quite easy to spot as they swirl in the water in small bundles of five to ten fish. I tell everyone that when they see this phenomenon to cast directly into it and then strip their line like crazy. That is the technique we use for much of the time when the fish are moving up-stream.
This year we arrived on a day in 65-75 miles winds and pouring rain. The streets were flooded, the boats were tied up, and the lodge was busy sheltering its customers and providing one of the fantastic meals it is known for. The next day the atmosphere was much calmer, but the only place we could fish was a couple of ponds that harbor fish that are trapped there until a high-enough tide pushed into a culvert gives them passage out. We caught several fish and everyone got a good chance to learn to cast the 8-weight rods that are necessary for catching silvers.
The next day the water was high but one of the lodge boats said the water was fishable so we headed out to a wonderful river that was reported to have fish and where the tide would be pushing out. We piled out of the boat and strung out along the beach with rods loaded with some flies from my book, “Pacific Salmon Flies.” All of them remembered the advice to cast right into moving fish and one after the other quickly hooked a beautiful, silvery fish and the air was filled with leaping silvers.
We had planned to fish a different section of the river, but the flood of the previous few days made it impossible to get there due to deep water. So I waded through one after the other areas to finally find one that was wadable for us. We packed up and waded over and finally managed to spread out to give everyone a chance to fish. It wasn’t 5 minutes until a ten or twelve-pound specimen broke the surface and others quickly followed. The place where were fishing still held high water and the vegetation at the bottom made it difficult to land a fish, but we did the best we could. All too soon our boat captain, who came to gather up the fish, told us we’d have to leave because the tide was coming in, so we reluctantly headed for the boat and home.
We have one day fly-out on our trip so the following day Steve, the owner of Orca Lodge fired-up the small plane we headed with rods to a small, lovely creek flowing through a sandy beach and out to Hawaiian-like breakers where we landed on the beach. Our destination was still recovering from the recent storm, so we couldn’t find any silvers coming in on the tide. We hoped to find some silvers or some sea-run cutthroat already in the water, but the only fish we saw were a few “jack-silvers.” Those are immature silvers who cannot spawn but that are often swimming with the larger fish. We headed home in time to beat the tide, and decided to do some shopping. We headed over to a wonderful shop called “Copper River Fleece” where everyone indulged an item or two.
One more day we got back in the boat in the rain and traveled to an estuary that Steve knows a super beach that usually provides lots of silvers coming in on the tide. We lined up again to be able to cast to them as they entered the flow coming out of the main channel. Pretty soon the pods of fish began to appear and so did the hook-ups. One of our group finally caught her very first fish on a fly rod—a big, fat specimen. We all celebrated after she picked it up for pictures. Lucky as she was, she caught her second fish just a short time later!
Soon we noticed that the tide was coming in fast and we moved up river. As the water spread out along the beach line a few more fish got hooked but not landed, soon we had to leave because the river mouth was flooded. After returning to the lodge some of the group decided they were not yet “fished-out” and we had to leave the next day so they returned to the ponds we had fished the first day and caught a couple of fish.
All in all the trip was a great adventure. A Silver Salmon Spectacular as usual!!