Day 4 – Sockeyedelic

21 08 2018

Normally the Sockeye run is over at this time of the year.  Fortunately for me a fresh push of fish came in the weekend we arrived.  This would give me a short window of opportunity to put some fish in the freezer.  With that in mind we piled into the boat and headed to The Black Hole (love the names they give these fishing spots).

I figured fishing for Sockeye salmon would be just like fishing for anything else.  Drift a fly into a hole, strip it in and hang on.  Not quite.  Sockeye are continuously moving upstream at about 2 mph until they hit their spawning grounds.  During this time they don’t feed on anything.  Our guide Tim then explained to me how we were going to fish for them……flossing.  I’ve known about this method and have never done it.  Basically you are trying to bring the line through the mouth of the fish and then hook him in the corner of the mouth.  Totally legal but back here in Michigan it is a method that is hotly debated.  Once we got set up I took a position at the head of the hole and started casting.  It took a few minutes but soon I was hooked up with my first Sockeye Salmon.

After that the fish came pretty quickly.  Unfortunately on my second fish I broke my Orvis Helios 2 rod in the first section while fighting a fish.  I brought a spare (Scott Flex 8wt) but I was still pissed that it broke.  As it would turn out I would really put the Scott Flex to the test.  It ended up being my mainstay for the rest of the trip.  I also discovered just how important these fish are to the food chain.  My third fish had a scar on it from a seal.  Tim told me that about 1 out of every 10 fish will have a scar from a seal attack on it.  I ended up catching 5 with scars.

These fish we had to let go because the bacteria in the scar ruins the meat.  Because of this it took me a awhile to get my 5 fish limit.  Once I did though I told Tim that John could have my spot.  He was fishing downstream and wasn’t hooking into much of anything.  He wanted to take some fish home as well and I was glad to help him out.

My elbow and wrists were already getting sore so I needed to take a short break.  Once John got his 5 we packed it in.  Between the 3 of us we ended up keeping 13 fish.  Plenty for John and I, Phil didn’t want to take any fish home.  All that was left for this spot was to take a couple of more pics.  This is the picnic table that they use whenever a client wants to have a shore lunch.  Nothing big about a table except that earlier Tim was standing where I took this picture.  He looked up and there was a bear standing on the other side with one paw on the table.  He yelled and the bear ambled off.  Of course I had to go take a picture of the tracks.

From there we headed further upstream to a spot called The Confluence.  This is where the Nonvianuk and Kukaklek rivers merge to form the Alagnak River.  John and Phil would be fishing an eddy where the two rivers merged.  Tim told me to take my Redington Chromer 7 wt switch rod and head upstream a bit and fish the Novianuk.  I made lots of noise as I walked through the grass and waded out to my starting point.  The current was wicked fast and keeping my footing was problematic.  I started casting though and worked my way downstream.  Tim told me to take two steps down after every cast which I did.  At this rate I figured I would be done with this run in about 10 minutes.  This was the first time I had cast this rod and line combo since June so I was trying to test it’s true potential.  So far so good, even Tim commented on how well it seemed to cast.  As I worked my way down I was getting closer to Phil.  I figured that after a few more casts my fly would be ending up right near him and I was starting to debate my WHAM!!!!!!

Just that quick it happened.  Here I was planning my next move when a train swam up and slammed my fly and took off downstream.  I didn’t know what type of fish it was, all I knew was that he wasn’t going to stick around to let me find out.  I yelled out and just about that time he jumped and we all could see it was a King Salmon.  Things got very serious after that.  Catching a King on the swing is like the crown jewel of fly fishing in Alaska.  Phil got out of the water.  John got out his GoPro and started filming.  Tim started giving me instructions and all I did was pray I wouldn’t fall over in the current.  I was finally able to work my way to some slack water where I could plant my feet and dig in.  Now began the see saw battle between me and the fish.  I would reel my line in to where I could see the leader and then he would take off again.  Back and forth we did this for what seemed like an eternity.  On several occasions Tim would go to net him and he would just take off.  Tim told me the longer we take the more likely the hook would work free.  That wasn’t helping my anxiety at all.  I kept the pressure on though and after 25 minutes we were finally able to get him into the net.  We kept him in the water while we got cameras ready.  The numbers of these fish are extremely low and we were doing everything we could to return him unharmed.  The return this year was estimated to be between 45,000 and 65,000.  To put it in perspective the Sockeye run was numbered in the millions.  Once I was ready we did a quick “grip n grin” and sent him on his way.  After that I was done.  I was hoping to catch all 5 Pacific salmon species and I just got the hard one out of the way.  All that was left now was a Silver Salmon and my chance at one of those would come tomorrow.

 

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Day 3 – Avengers Assemble

20 08 2018

So it begins.  The part I have dreamed about for years.  Fishing in Alaska.

I really didn’t know how this was all going to work but I found out Sunday, after dinner.  I was assigned a guide and there would be two other people joining me on his boat for the week.  Each night the guide is assigned a ‘beat” or section of the river that was exclusively his.  This way we wouldn’t all be piling into one spot.  Not that it really mattered, the fish were every where.  The next morning we all met down on the dock to head out.

Avengers Assemble

We set up at our first spot and got some quick instructions from Tim on what to do and where to fish.  I started out with my Orivs Helios 2 and one of the 150 flies I tied for this trip.  The hole was full of Chum Salmon and it didn’t take long for Phil to hook into one.

As for me it took a little longer.  This wasn’t going to be the slam dunk I thought it would.  I soon realized that all these weighted flies I tied weren’t weighted enough for the current.  They would only sink about 6 inches below the surface.  Not very effective when the fish are 4 feet down.  Tim added a 5 foot sink tip to my line and then I was in the zone.

That would be my only Chum of the day.  I hooked into a big male shortly after landing this small hen but I lost him.  After that things were pretty slow for me.  The other fishermen in my group were doing ok but it wasn’t the light’s out fishing I was expecting.  Tim explained to me that this week was a transition week.  The Chum run was winding down and the fish were starting to spawn and die.  The hen I caught was spawned out.  The Pinks and Silvers hadn’t started yet the the King Salmon run was over.  There were still a few around but there wouldn’t be any fresh fish coming into the river.  The Sockeye run was over as well but a smaller run did make there way into the river Sunday and we would be targeting them tomorrow.  As for now, we were making do with the hand dealt to us.  We tried a few more spots with mixed results.  At the last spot Tim set me up to fish and indicator and bead in hope of catching some char.  Phil and John were upstream above me fishing for salmon while I was downstream going after the Char and Rainbows feeding on any drifting eggs.  It worked.

Closeup view

The first fish we actually caught twice.  Tim netted it and when I looked into the net to see my first Char it was gone.  There was a rip in the net and he found it.  Next thing I know Tim is taking off downstream and netting the fish a second time.  Even though he fell through he was still hooked so Tim was able to follow the line to the fish.  This time he kept the fish away form the rip I could see him and get a few pics.  I soon followed it up with a second char.

After that the only excitement was watching all the rainbow fingerlings attack my bead whenever it was in the water.  There were dozens of them swimming around me and they were very hungry.  I would drop the bead in the water and they were all over it.  I tried to get a picture but they came out to blurry and the fish were hard to see.

After that we headed in for dinner.  Not the fish every cast scenario I have heard stores of but I wasn’t going to complain, at least not to loudly.

 

 

 

 





Day – 2 Arrival

17 08 2018

Day 2 – I woke up bright and early to catch my next flight out of Anchorage to King Salmon.  Our flight was delayed by half an hour because of rain and fog.  I was beginning to think I would never see the sun again.  Saw this sign at check in.  Made me realize that I am not in Kansas anymore.

After that I boarded the Saab 2000 with the rest of the Steelhead Alley Outfitters gang for our 1 hour flight to King Salmon.

The view was rather impressive.

After we landed in King Salmon things got interesting.  It was still raining and there was no set time for us to be picked up and flown out. We were taken to “Eddie’s” the local bar to wait for our pickup.  This is about the only place in town to eat or get a drink.  I honestly don’t know how the locals could afford to drink or eat there.  I got 2 slices of French Toast for breakfast and it was 7.95.  Doesn’t  seem that expensive but the 2 slices were once piece of toast, cut in half.  The local grocery store was selling a cooked rotisserie chicken for 35 dollars.  Don’t even ask what a case of beer goes for.  So we ate and waited for our call up.  About 2 hours later our plane arrived and I was in the first group out.  We would be flying to the lodge in a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver.  They built over 1,600 of these planes starting back in 1947 and there were approximately 900 of them still flying.

We took off and started our flight north.  The fog was getting thicker and visibility was getting worse.  At one point we were flying at around 100 feet as the pilot tried to spot a path between the fog banks and hills.  About 20 minutes out and 10 minutes from the lodge he couldn’t see anymore and turned around.  Needless to say my heart sank.  This was not how I wanted my trip to start.  Once we landed we were taken back to Eddie’s where the rest of our group had a look of surprise and disappointment on their faces.  We were told it could be awhile and even started to look into renting motel rooms just in case.  About 2 hours later I was picked up for round 2.  Back into the Beaver we went.  This time though we made it a little farther than the last time.  Once I saw the Alagnak River I knew we were home free.  The pilot would be able to follow the river up to the lodge and land, which he did.

Finally!  After many years I was actually going to be fishing in Alaska.  Even though it was raining I just stood there for a moment and took it all in.

All that was left was to move my gear to my cabin and wait for everyone else to show up.  It took a few hours and an extra plane but everyone was able to get in and the clients already there were able to get out.  Around 6:30 we were all served dinner which was followed by Bear Class.  That’s right, Bear Class.  We had to learn what to do and what not to do in bear country.

Don’t run.

Make lots of noise when walking along the shore and in tall grass.

If you have a fish on and see a bear just break the line and back away.

If you see a bear yell out so that everyone in the group knows, especially the guide.  The one with the shotgun and bear spray.

Enjoy your stay.

 

Next up…..The fishing begins.





Day – 1 Liftoff

16 08 2018

After several years of trying and two cancelled trips I finally made it to Alaska.  All during my initial Flight, of which there would be four, I kept thinking that this couldn’t be actually happening.  Especially since my first flight was an hour late.  Once I landed in Seattle I had to haul ass to the other end of the airport to catch my connecting flight to Anchorage.  They had already started boarding when I arrived but I made it with a few minutes to spare.  I even got a “Good Luck” and a fist bump from a TSA agent.  He originally gave me a stern and menacing look when he asked what was in my rod case.  He was probably thinking it might be a rifle.  I told him fishing rods and his whole demeanor changed.  From then on it was “where you going?”, “What are you fishing for?” and finally a Good Luck Fist Bump.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful.  Quiet time to read and an occasional look out the window at the scenery.

9 hours later and two different planes and I was finally in Anchorage.  Nothing left to do but get some sleep and fly out to King Salmon the following day.

Next up Day – 2, Arrival.

 

 





One Last Trip

30 07 2018

Went out for a quick morning trip this past Sunday.  It was my last trip for July and last time fly fishing before Alaska.  I didn’t have very high expectations but I wanted to get in one last hike before I spend a week literally inside my waders.  I took my back-up Ross Essence 7wt to try and see if I could find any willing carp.  I found a few but on one occasion I was Carp Blocked by a Gill and on another I made a really bad cast and spooked both of them.  No big deal.  In a few more days I will bad casting to streams full of salmon that will be a little more forgiving of my bad casting.  I’ll report in after the trip with lot’s of pictures and stories.





Fishing and Tying Sunday (7/22/18)

23 07 2018

This past Sunday I woke up to do my usual fly fishing for just about anything.  I wondered what the water was going to be like with the on and off rains we had the last few days.  Turns out the water wasn’t bad.  The only problem was the double digit NE winds making sight fishing nearly impossible.  So much for an accurate weather report from my weather app.  Before I left it said NE winds were around 5 mph and it was dead calm around my house.  Apparently 10 miles south it was different.  I gave it a shot anyways and on my first cast I landed a decent bass.

After that I didn’t hook or see anything.  I gave up after about an hour and headed home.  I had flies to tie and I was running out of time.  I have plenty of streamers for my Alaska trip but I needed to tie up some surface stuff for the Grayling and Rainbows.  Originally I was going to take some mouse patterns but the guide told me no to bother.  He told me once the salmon move in the Rainbows set up behind them to feed on the eggs and anything pink.  So pink it is.

After that it was on to the smaller stuff.  I just got a box of Firehole Sticks barbless hooks and I wanted to try them out.  These things are stupid sharp and they should work out well.

The guide told me to tie up Caddis patterns that float high in the fast water.  These should do the trick.  I tied up some stimulator patterns as well.  I really don’t need that many, I”m not going to spend that much time chasing Grayling.  I Just want to catch a few nicer ones to cross of my “caught fly fishing” list and possibly have a replica made.  They catch a fair number of them on beads as well while fishing for the Rainbows so I don’t need to get to crazy.  All that is left for me to do now is arrange all my gear to make sure I have it all covered.  Weather permitting I may go out fly fishing one last time but I don’t know for sure.  MY OCD is kicking in and I’m afraid of losing or breaking something between now and Alaska.  I should probably just stick to catching walleye for the next few weeks.

 

 





Hot, Humid Sunday Fly Fishing (7/15/18)

16 07 2018

Sunday’s forecast was for temps in the low 90’s and very humid.  Not the most ideal day to take a long 4 mile walk along a very dusty road.  Add to that zero shade and no clouds helped make the trip even more miserable.  Still, I only have 3 weeks until Alaska and I wanted to drop a few more pounds and get some casting time in with my 8wt Scott Flex before then.  With that in mind, I found myself walking to my carp spot for some more humiliation, from a fish I could have cared less about a few years back.

When I first arrived I realized I didn’t have my sunglasses.  Not the end of the world but they sure do help with cutting down the glare and spotting fish.  With the non-existent wind and clear water I was hoping to see without them.  As I rounded the corner I found it it wouldn’t be that easy.  SW winds all week had blown the dust off the dirt road onto the water and created a thin film on top.  Trying to see anything was going to be a chore.  My optimism rose when I spotted a lone carp feeding on the surface.  I was trying out a fly I tied years ago when someone I took handlining promised to take me fly fishing for carp.  I’m still waiting on that phone call, the lying bastard.  It was a half ass attempt at a damsel fly nymph.  I figured it couldn’t hurt since nothing else I had tried has.  I cast beyond the carp and stripped the fly to within inches of where he was feeding.  I let the fly rest on the weeds and waited, hoping he would head in the right direction.  He did and once again I got a little twitchy and set the hook to soon.  Once I did that he took off for safer waters.

I cursed myself as I walked on until I spotted another feeding carp.  I waited a bit to make sure what direction he was heading in.  Once again I made my cast out past him and stripped it into range.  As the fly was within about a foot of him he turned and headed towards it.  Just when I thought I was going to stick him a bluegill came out of nowhere and grabbed the fly.

I had been Carp Blocked.

The Carp Blocker

I wouldn’t have minded so much if he was bigger, if I was using a lighter rod or if I had already landed a few carp.  Seeing as how I had yet to land one this year I was a little upset.  He should be thankful I have matured and let him go, otherwise he might have become mink food.  By now I was getting pretty disgusted.  Two missed opportunities and my prospects for success were becoming few and far between.  Still, I trudged on and for the next hour.  I managed to catch a few more gills and a couple of Largemouth Bass along with plenty of Carp mocking me.

At one point I stopped to take a drink, as i was putting my water bottle back into my sling pack I noticed it wouldn’t fit.  I looked inside to see what was in the way and there they were, my sunglasses.  Now I would be able to see what was swimming around a little better.  While I was scanning the area I saw a few carp casually swimming around.  I figured they would be like all the others but I gave it a shot anyways.  I made a few casts and no response.  I saw another fish come into range and made a cast out in front of him.  As the fly slowly sank down he turned and sucked it in.  I was so surprised that I about crapped myself.  I set the hook and off he went, for about 10 feet and stopped.  My leader got wrapped up in his left pectoral fin and he just stopped, like he was hog tied and just gave up.  He rolled over on his side and I pointed my rod away from him so that the leader could slide free.  Once it did he was off to the races, again.  After a few brief runs I was able to get him close and take a pic or two.  With no net and no shallow area to beach him on I figured my chance of landing him was slim.  I tried to maneuver him in between a couple of rocks but once I grabbed the leader he wanted nothing to do with that.  One splash and the fly came free.  No biggie, I was releasing him anyways and he was well on his way to go tell his friends about his near alien abduction.

After that I headed back. I managed to catch a few more Gills and a Pumpkinseed or two along the way.  Nothing to eventful, just a long dusty walk back.  Sure hope it rains soon.