Day 7 – The Locals

24 08 2018

Today was going to be about catching some of the locals.  The Rainbow Trout, Artic Char and Artic Grayling are not migratory and are present year round.  I had never caught an Artic Grayling before or a Giant Alaskan Rainbow so they were on top of the to do list.  I’ve caught Rainbow trout before in Michigan but nothing worth bragging about.  I was hoping I could swing flies for them but the order of business today was going to be beads and indicators.  I also had a different guide today.  Tim was taking another group down to the tidal area so today my guide would be David.  I get the feeling that when guests are trying to catch the resident fish they are handed off to Dave.  It seems to be his specialty and the only way he wants to fish.  After lunch Phil and I changed that.  We got tired of catching lots of little fish and wanted something a little bigger.  That would come later, for now it was lighter rods and beads.

The first stop was on yet another island upstream from the lodge.  I broke out my 6wt TFO BVK rod and let Dave rig it up with a bead and indicator.  He told me to just cast out and drift it through the run about 10 feet from shore.  The bead bite was just starting to kick in since the Chum’s were all spawning.  For the next half hour I proceeded to catch lot’s of rainbows.  Problem was they were anywhere from a couple inches to maybe 12 inches long.  Nothing to get excited about.

Eyes were definitely bigger than his stomach.

I moved further downstream and I finally hooked into and landed a better fish.

That was the only decent fish in the hole so we picked up and moved on to another spot.  This place we would just fish from the boat, kind of like speed jigging.  Drift down quickly, let the indicator drift with the boat for about 200 yards and then motor up and start all over.  Each drift lasted maybe a minute with the fast current.  We hooked fish on every drift but landed very few.  I was able to get my Grayling (3 in total) though.

And another decent Rainbow.

And another Char

Eventually we set up on another island and waded.  No locals but I did pick up a couple of male Chum.  Fortunately they were pretty beat up and didn’t fight much.  I had already broke 2 rods and I didn’t want to make it a third.  A 6wt rod isn’t exactly ideal for a 10+ pound Chum Salmon.

Once we finished up there we told Dave that we wanted to go back to stripping flies for something bigger.  We headed downstream and started fishing for Pinks again.  We hit three places in total.  We would stop, catch a few fish and then nothing after the initial flurry.  The third stop was near the lodge and actually in the same place we saw the bears feeding the night before.  I mentioned it to Phil and then we both got a little nervous.  Dave said not to worry, he had our back.  I looked over at him and his Remington 870 was slung across his shoulder.  After almost a week it still took some getting used to having my guide carrying a shotgun while I fished.

We didn’t stay at the last spot very long.  We could see rain coming down the mountain and neither one of us wanted to get wet so we quit early.  I didn’t mind.  My initial goal was to catch one of every species available and I was able to do just that.  Nothing worth getting a replica mount made for but that was ok.  I had lots of pictures, memories and one more day to go.

 

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Day 6 – Shameless Plug Day.

23 08 2018

I really had no idea what the plan was for today, maybe catch some salmon?  One thing I knew for sure was that I was going to wear my Mad Viking Tackle Co. hat to get some picks for my friend’s company.  The other thing was wear a t-shirt I was given in the hopes of winning a free one.  The Stick It Vinyls runs a monthly contest for the person who can post a pic on Facebook showing the farthest distance from their office in Michigan.  Hopefully it wouldn’t rain today and I would be able to accomplish that.  We went downstream again but this time we were a lot closer to the lodge than yesterday.

I planned on using my Spey rod today and swing flies.  Didn’t have much of a choice since I broke two other rods.  The Scott Flex would still be coming along but my plan was Swing or Die today.  We set up at our first spot for the day and pretty much stayed their.  We had no reason to leave, it was full of Pinks and Chum and they were very grabby.  Even managed to land a couple of Silvers as well.  Actually the fish were so thick in this spot I was pretty much catching them at will.  Even when I wasn’t trying I was hooking fish.  Bring in my line to make another cast, hook fish.  Set anchor for my next Spey cast, hook fish.  Drag fly through water with lunch in my hand, hook fish.  Release fish from net after removing hook, hook fish.  At one point I got bored spey casting so I grabbed my Scott Flex and took a position on shore, after I made a lot of noise, overlooking the pool.  I spent then next hour casting to Pinks and watched them do all kinds of Pink things.  I watched them chase my fly, bump it, grab it and let go, follow it for 20 feet only to refuse it at the end, ignore it and even attack it like their life depended on it.

It was a lot of fun but it had to end.  Eventually the fish figured out that anything pink would cause them a lot of stress.  We moved on to another spot for more of the same until it was time to head back to the lodge.  During our run to the next spot I got to hear one of Tim’s now famous quotes after we saw a Bald Eagle and an Osprey on the same sand bar.

“Bald Eagles and Ospreys are the same bird, one just has a better publicist”.

We beached the boat at this spot and when I jumped out I began to have second thoughts about fishing here.

As a point of reference that reel is about 6 inches in diameter.  It still amazes me that I am sharing all of this with so many bears.

Not to much longer after that we headed back to the lodge.  I think the guide wanted to get back early since we were late the previous night.  Jessie was happy to see us back on time as well.

 





Back to Walleye Fishing 8/22/18

23 08 2018

After 6 straight days of fly fishing for salmon it felt weird to be pulling wire for walleye.  It took me a bit to get the feel again but I managed to pick up 3 and a throwback in a little over an hour.  It was dead calm when I started around 8:30 pm but sometime after 9:30 pm it started to sprinkle and I felt a little wisp of a wind out of the NW.  Something didn’t feel right so I pulled lines and hauled ass to the dock.  By the time I go there the wind had picked up to a spin my boat and flip it over wind.

Go Figure.

I made a modification to a Rapala in the hopes of better hook ups with hose light hitting, short striking, lazy walleye.  Seems to work so far.  Lure still has good action and I managed to catch 2 walleye, a channel cat and a sheepshead with it.  The real test will be to see if I lose any fish at the side of the boat.





Day 5 – A Day of Remembrance

22 08 2018

The fifth day of my Alaska trip fell on the three year anniversary of my Father’s death.  It is also around the same time that he, my brother and I were supposed to go to Alaska.  Needless to say this was going to be a tough day.  I would have a lot of time to reflect on this.  We were headed downstream to an area only 6 miles form the ocean.  We would be catching fish fresh from the ocean and hopefully I would get my last 2 fish of the Pacific Salmon 5, a Silver Salmon and a Pink Salmon.  The downside of this was the 1 1/2 hour boat ride down and back.  Time that could be spent fishing if we were closer to the lodge.  The upside was the scenery and wildlife.  As it would turn out I would see more Bald Eagles than I ever have in my whole life.  I couldn’t get a decent picture of any of them though.  I was either getting bounced around on the boat to much or they were to far away.  It was still awe inspiring to see so many eagles hanging out on the cliffs waiting to do eagle stuff.

Our first stop was on a sand bar called the “Barge Bar”.  Don’t know why it is called this but somewhat felt the need to write it in the sand.

We spread out along the sand bar and started fishing.  I was using my Redington Chromer today and it didn’t take long for me to have my first fish on for the day, a chrome hen Chum.  She was just starting to show the darker bars I was used to seeing on these fish.  During the picture taking process the fish jumped and the line was wrapped around the tip of my rod.  When she took off she snapped the tip off of my rod.  Her last great act of defiance deflated me.  My favorite rod and now it was broken as well.  I am so glad I bought my Scott Flex.

Next up was my first and second Pink Salmon.  The run had just started and they would turn out to be the mainstay of my visit.  Not the biggest fish but they sure are scrappy little guys.  Later in the week I would scale down my rod weight and really have some fun with them.  Right now it was all about getting my 5.

Letting her go to do her Pink thing.

After that fish I waded back out to my spot and got back to business.  The people around me were catching fish as well so in between casting I was watching all the action.  I was watching John bring in another Pink as I half heartedly stripped my fly in.  Without warning a fish hit and took off.  I set the hook and bent the rod parallel to the water.  Once I did that she jumped and I quickly realized I was hooked up with my Silver.  Tim saw this and yelled out and I got deadly serious.  I wanted this fish bad so I made sure I did everything right.  While Tim was hustling over with the net I worked my way to shore to make things easier.  About 5 minutes later she was in the net.  While Tim got the hook out I reached into my waders to pull out a picture I had brought with me just for this occasion.  It was a picture of my Dad and Grandfather from the early 60’s heading out to go fishing for Coho Salmon and Lake Trout in Traverse Bay.  Jacob, the other guide and picture taker, realized what I wanted and helped set it up.  He told me not to rush, I had hooked this fish deep and she was bleeding out so we were going to keep her anyways.  I slowed down, took a breath and got everything set.

After that I took a couple of the standard “Grip & Grin” photos but this time Tim wanted in on it.  This picture would make it to the Lodge’s Facebook Page.  Tim also wanted one for his own collection since he needs to advertise for his guiding services as well.

Once we were done I just sat back for a moment and took it all in.  I had just completed my Grand Slam of Pacific Salmon on a fly rod.  The ultimate goal is to do it in one day but in order for that to happen I would need a day where it was just Tim and I and free reign on the whole river.  It wasn’t that important to me.  I got the picture I wanted.  Everything else from here on in was just a bonus.

After that fish we moved on to two more spots during the day.  The next one was called “Sesame Street” and the last one was called “John & Mary”.  Again, I have no idea where they come up with these names but I really didn’t care.  I was catching fish at all of them.  As a matter of fact I would land 12 Salmon today and I didn’t lose a single fish.  The last fish I caught was a male Chum.  Jacob had just started to tell me I should move when he saw my rod double over.  His next comment was “Never Mind” and he waded over with the net.

It wasn’t to much longer after that when we started for home.  We had a long boat ride back and we have to be back at the lodge by 5.  If we aren’t back by 5:30 pm. they start to wonder if something happened and shortly afterwards will send out boats to find you.  There is no reliable way to communicate out here so setting meeting times is the safe bet.  Besides, I really couldn’t complain about the view on the way back.

 

 

 

 

 

 





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.

 





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.