The January, 2009 trip to Andes Outfitters & Chime Lodge in Neuquen, Argentina was a smashing success! “It seemed like there was at least one rainbow under every single willow,” said one of the gals, and she was right. The fun of fishing rainbows on dry flies just can’t be beat, and these are fish that don’t get much pressure, so that made things even better.
We started off the trip in Buenos Aires where three of us enjoyed seeing the 6-million dollar opening flower that is considered one of the art world’s most unique installations, as well as boating on the Tigre River, one of Argentina’s most famous resort areas.
Once we were all assembled in Barilouche, (one of us from GA, one from LA, one from WA, and two from AK) we got our Argentinean fishing licenses and headed out on the three-hour shuttle to the lodge. The trip proceeded along a famous rafting river into a canyon with unbelievable rock formations and through rolling hills reminiscent of the high desert in New Mexico or Arizona. As we came around a bend, the driver pointed out the lodge to us, perched above the lovely Chimeuin River (pronounced chim-oo-ween) and lit by the warm glow of the evening sun.
We were supposed to have fished that afternoon, but numerous flight problems made it impossible, so we oohed & ahhhed over the views from every side, including Lanin Volcano, that iconic symbol of this South American country, which we could see from the front porch, and settled down in the comfortable lodge with some of the legendary wines that we’d heard so much about. Gustavo & Willie, made us welcome and set out the plan for the next day’s fishing before we ate the first of many of Pato’s delicious dinners and then quickly crashed.
We were up early and Pato spoiled us (as she did every single meal) with a hearty breakfast and we were off to the beautiful Malleo (pronounced ma-jay-ho) river for what the guys referred to as “fishing the worm.” Wading the banks we could easily see the rises tight up against the bank and right off the ends of the over-hanging willow bushes. The temperature was over 90º and the water was warm, but that didn’t seem to slow down the fishing.
In January( the equivalent of June in North America) the chartreuse worms (actually a small caterpillar) fall into the water from the willows that line the banks of the area’s rivers. The trout take full advantage of the bounty. “Cast right there,” the guides would say as they pointed to a small opening in the over-hanging willow branches. Rise after rise after rise indicated quite clearly where the fish were.
Dampening down our excitement at actually being there, we settled down and started catching fish. Yes, we missed some takes, and yes, we lost some flies in the trees, but it was fabulous, nevertheless. After a great, river-side lunch and a glass of wine, we moved to different spots on the river. For a change of pace, I chose to nymph-fish with a rubber-leg hare’s ear and stonefly rig, which was working fabulously, while Julie ended up standing in front of a deep hole containing some of the largest rainbows she had ever seen in her whole life. That evening we all heard the story about the one she finally hooked that managed to disconnect. Willie was still talking about it three days later!
Willie’s sense of humor kept us all hooting with laughter the entire trip. We loved practicing our Argentinean pronunciations on him as much as he enjoyed practicing his American pronunciations on us.
The next day we met up with the rafts to fish the Collan Cura river. (pronounced cojon-cura), and Roy, a veterinarian, joined us to row one of them. We drew straws to see who would take the first stint in the single raft and did quick work of setting up a leader with the same large dry fly and a green-worm dropper from the day before. Of course, we got hung up, and of course, we lost flies, but it was exciting, challenging fishing that everyone was definitely up for. Tracy was really getting the hang of dropper and dry fly fishing after having fished mostly streamers in Washington state where she lives, and she hooked fish after fish.
It was Chrys’ first day ever in a raft or drift boat, and she quickly got the hang of the one-shot cast that didn’t hit the guide, and managing her line in tandem with the other angler. She liked it so much she vowed to do more drift boat or raft fishing in the future.
Each day at lunch, we drew straws again and shifted fishing partners for the afternoon session. This river is one of the longest in Argentina and we only fished part of the lower section, reserving a float on the upper section for the next day. Both parts were incredible. It was hard to choose which rise to cast to because there were so many.
Our float on the lovely Rio Alumine (pronounced Aluminé) was full of surprises. We had a few rapids to run, and some awesome mid-river rocks to admire, photograph and fish, and a wonderful lunch setting with a long back-water lagoon behind it where we could see and cast to some very spooky fish. Brush on both sides required a side-arm cast with a back-handed flip to present a fly. We’d run out of the standard green worms that day and were using not-quite-right substitutes. The fish certainly knew the difference. Roy had us fishing large streamers and big nymphs, which resulted in some large rainbows for Sandy as well as some of Argentina’s famed perca (perch) for several of us. He even stood arm-pit deep in one pool to extract a trophy perca of mine from under a submerged bush where it had run to hide out. Naturally, his waders filled up with water. What a guy!
We also put the rafts in at a campground in the town of Junin de los Andes and fished the lower Chimeuin, and went back a second time when it was too windy to fish the lake. It quickly became several people’s favorite float, in spite of the section where the smell from the local dump was over-powering. We quickly rowed on by that. Chris, one of the lodge’s other guides joined us for those two days, and his exceptional rowing skills held the raft in the current an amazingly long time to give us ample opportunity to target the fish. The first day we ended up doing quite a bit of nymph fishing. When we stopped to get out and wade, we were in an absolutely perfect drop-off situation for nymphing. After I had caught several fish in a row, some of the others abandoned their dry flies and worms and switched to nymphs. Both Julie and Tracy caught double-digit numbers of fish at the tail-out of that rocky ledge.
It was on this river that Julie and I, on two different days, landed the two largest brown trout of the trip. Julie’s was a 26-inch hog that had everyone talking. She was still shaking with excitement when we met up with her and Gus at the take-out on the last day. Gus was so excited that he had to bring his make-shift measurements over to the ruler that I had on my rod to actually confirm the size of the fish.
All of the guides were absolutely terrific! Their expertise and professionalism were outstanding. They put us on fish, they entertained us, they picked perfect, shady spots each day for lunch, they poured the wine, they told us fish stories, and they helped make sure we caught many, many fish. A toast to them!!
Our days were filled with lots of action and laughter and camaraderie, marvelous fishing, scrumptious food and wine, a beautiful and peaceful lodge, and, also some expected and unexpected wild-life. First and foremost were the pancora crab that we’d read so much about as a staple of the rainbows diet. We searched and searched for them along the rivers, and Willie made it his mission to find them for us. First he spotted a very large specimen that we saved in the hopes of having it dried out and un-smelly enough to bring home, but something took it away during the night when we laid it out for the ants to clean out. He later found a bright orange one (a male in breeding color) and a couple of small ones that we tried to photograph but ultimately turned loose. I have a much better image of them now to copy with flies than I did before.
Different species of birds were everywhere, and the first thing I did when I got back to the US was buy an Argentinean bird book! We also had a female deer run right beside our truck, and then, just a few seconds later, her white-speckled fawn darted by to catch up with her. Another morning as we left the lodge a mother fox and her single offspring crossed the road and posed briefly before heading into the brush where they instantly because invisible.
While in Buenos Aires on the return trip, Chrys, Sandie and I headed out on an Estancia (ranch) tour that focused on the history of the gaucho. It was absolutely fascinating. We also visited the exquisite Japanese garden. It’s a leafy oasis in the hustle and bustle of the huge city.
“Definitely, a 5-star trip!” Tracy Beville, Snoqualmie, WA
Saltwater Fly fishing the Baja
Beach fishing on the Baja with a fly rod is always a blast. This year was no exception. We started out the first morning right in front of the lovely Buena Vista Beach Resort Hotel where the bait fish gather in the warm water springs that emerge from the sand.
Bait was busting everywhere in front of us as we tied on the stripping baskets, had a quick lesson in how to use them and practiced the strip-strike to make sure we didn’t pull the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. Then we spread out along the beach to cast to pod after pod of “nervous water.”
Penny hooked up first on a coronet fish near a rocky stretch of beach. A second fish followed quickly. Alison, who was nursing a sore shoulder, set the hook on another cooperative fish, which departed before we could determine what it was. Suddenly thousands of bait fish were skimming the surface of the water fleeing from something big underneath. Jack cravalle, lady fish, and sierra mackerel were all present. Even though the “ladies” would follow the fly but not take, it was exciting to see them flash silver in very shallow water.
That afternoon we got our equipment ready for the following day on the boat, and then enjoyed some margaritas and wine before a dinner of fresh dorado. The boats departed just as dawn was breaking the next morning. We quickly bought sardinia bait from one of the local bait-boats waiting just off shore. When we were ready one boat headed out to the area where dorado had been caught the previous day. Unfortunately, we encountered the old “you should have been here yesterday” phenomena and struck out. The other boat was having much better luck bringing pargo, cabrilla, sierra mackerel, jack cravele, and rooster fish to the boat.
Just as soon as we arrived at the same area, the first boat’s anglers joined in the fun. Birds were diving, fish were boiling, and hit after hit occurred as we trolled through the area. Penny hooked into what turned out to be the largest rooster fish of the trip on a sparkly red & white fly. We had a fun night comparing fish stories on the patio while eating delicious sierra ceviche on chips still warm from the oven, thanks to Lori’s great catch.
The next day we rotated boats and headed out again. One boat headed out for dorado but encountered black skipjack tuna, and marlin instead. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t entice the marlin to hit the flies, but felt a little better when the captain reported that none of the other boats was hooking up either.
Our second boat found itself absolutely surrounded by leaping dolphins and yellow fin tuna. It was an amazing site and we hung over the side of the boat trying to touch the dolphins swimming right beside us. The tuna were very stubborn, however, and we briefly turned our attention to the small pods of marlin that we encountered on the way back toward shore. All of a sudden our captain slowed the boat and told us to get the flies out. A huge school of white bonita produced nearly twenty fish, one right after the other, in just a short period of time. They were beautiful, “silver bullets” between ten and twenty pounds that bent our 12-wt rods nearly double. Just as soon as we released a fish and put the fly out again, we’d have a fish on. “Double” after “double” occurred until the school of fish disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
The wind came up on our third day, but we didn’t let that stop us from going out. (It did result in our coming in a little early, but we caught fish regardless.) One boat got into a huge school of black skipjack tuna and bonito and repeated the great success that we always have when fishing them. The other boat, fishing closer to shore, encountered large schools of red snapper right on the surface. Using both fast sink and intermediate lines we took advantage of the bounty.
Lori caught a beautiful yellow snapper, and then Dan hooked into what turned out to be the fish of the trip, a large red snapper.
Mexican red snapper is a real delicacy so we sacrificed the fish to the fish gods and brought it back for dinner. The hotel kitchen absolutely out-did itself in preparing a huge platter of sautéed snapper for us to have for dinner. The hotel was offering a Mexican buffet that night, and we just added the other delights that were available to our large platter of snapper.
On Easter Sunday, the hotel again produced a magnificent brunch buffet complete with champagne. We were absolutely wowed! Afterwards we wandered into the village, but found nearly everything closed for the day. Thank goodness the ice cream store was open so that we could have a treat while we walked around. So, instead of shopping, we napped, we swam, we had massages, we swapped pictures, and walked the beach.
Just as happens every year, we were very reluctant to leave. This is one heck of a great vacation and fishing experience. If you want to try out saltwater fly fishing on the beach and encounter some fish species that are completely new to you, come on along next April for our next annual Baja Blast.
The rainbow trout fishing on our early float tubing trips this year was fantastic. The conditions were good (although we had quite hot weather for so early in the season), and the fish were plentiful, so everyone had a good view of their prey. And, they definitely took advantage of it.
Tanya started off the series of fishing days with an introduction to float tubing that had her smiling with delight after just ten minutes in the tube. “This is incredible,” she said. “I’m paddling along on the surface of the water with ease.” It wasn’t very long until she was also extolling the virtues of tubing to get you to the fish. She pulled into a shallow cove and saw fish cruising around right in front of her. And, in short order she had her first fish on. “This is great,” she said over and over as the fish ran and she learned to paddle to keep it tight. She was hooked.
The next day Rene joined Tanya and me at another lake and the fishing really took off. The two of them had fish after fish on and took turns netting for each other. These were large fish 19- inches in length and over. Finally Rene hooked the huge cruiser that we’d seen from time to time throughout the morning. The little 4-wt rod she had recently built was really put to the test as she play and landed it. It was so large it wouldn’t fit in the landing net, so I had to tail it to get it into position to photograph and then carefully release. With brilliant red and golden colors, it was a real prize of a fish.
On day three Carmen and Betsey joined Tanya and now the three of them went after the fish with gusto. Carmen had tried tubing once before and now was back for another go with her friend, who had never been tubing. “I can see the fish,” they cried to each other as they practiced casting into shore and retrieving back towards the tube. Over and over they did it. Sometimes the fish would turn and look at their fly, and once in awhile they even had a hit. Betsey connected first, but lost the fish because she held it too tight. She didn’t make the same mistake the second time, and soon we all saw a bright, shiny rainbow leaping into the air. It was a silvery prize with just a bit of flush on the gill plate and lateral line. Carmen landed another fish that was equally lovely.
Day four found Lisa, Mike, and Jill on the lake withTanya and me. Lisa had taken the beginning fly fishing class and had tried fly fishing once. Mike had also tried fly fishing once, but neither had ever been tubing. Jill was a novice at the whole thing. Nevertheless, they were ready for anything. Just like everyone who gets into a float tube, they were amazed and delighted at how much fun it is. They paddled around like pros, and had no trouble at all casting from a sitting down position.
When we reached the “hot spot, they were ready. Mike proved to be an excellent fish-spotter, and kept all three of the gals apprised of where the fish were concentrated. Lisa hooked, played and landed her gorgeous fish like a pro. Then, persistence really paid off for Mike when he finally hooked a fish. But, like Betsey the day before, he too lost it from holding it too tight. The next time he got it right and experienced the thrill of playing a good rainbow on a 5-wt fly rod. He was absolutely beaming when he posed for a picture with his fish. He and Jill will definitely be back for more.
The loons accompanied us all four days and provided endless entertainment for everyone. They surfaced and inspected us from very close range as well as dove for fish right under the water in front of us. They always make spring float tubing something special. We take the tubes out every spring, and on other occasions during the summer. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re missing a really great fishing experience. Give us a call if you’d like to book a day on the lake in a tube. You’ll absolutely love it!!
It always amazes me that the Brooks River in Katmai National Park is so fantastic year, after year, after year. I’ve been going there for over twenty years, and it’s never disappointed me. The salmon may not always be in, and we may not always see fish jumping Brooks Falls, but the bear watching and the rainbow and grayling fishing usually make up for it.
So it was this year. There were bears everywhere around the lodge, but the sockeye were just starting to dribble into the river on the second day of our trip. We began by rainbow trout fishing in hopes of staying at a different part of the river where all the sows with cubs were, but that didn’t seem to work so well. They seemed to be everywhere. Some of the cubs were yearlings, some were 2-year olds, and some were brand new. We were thrilled with all of them. Because we had to get out of the river frequently, we had ample time to photograph them around the observation platforms.
One bear family gave us a special treat as she “treed” her two cubs in a large cottonwood tree growing right behind our cabin! That meant that we were unable to leave the cabin for more than half-an-hour, but it was worth it. That’s what we go to Brooks for, after all. We watched as she patrolled back and forth under the tree and kept telling her babies to “stay put”. We’d seen one of the yearlings limping badly and holding up one of his front paws, but he seemed to have no trouble clamoring up the tree when mom sent him there.
Besides bear watching, we also go for fish, of course. We had our fishing licenses checked almost immediately after we arrived and we were ready to fish. We rigged up the 8-wt rods and hauled out the salmon flies and headed down to the river outlet to see if we could intercept the sockeye. Despite some hook-ups, we failed to land any. Then, when one of the sows with cubs plus a single bear all came down to the river right near where we were, we retreated to the lodge.
The second morning, we went back to rainbow fishing, and really hit the jackpot! Brooks is noted for its large fish, but they are fish that didn’t get that big by being stupid. Besides, they’ve seen everything we could possibly throw at them because of the early season pressure they get. Luckily, however, the river was very low this year, so everyone could target specific fish. Using very large black streamers they all hooked up repeatedly, and everyone landed several fish! They were beauties to boot—in the high teens and low 20’s! Many had brilliant red gill plates and the characteristic reddish lateral line. Two of us even missed lunch because we weren’t willing to stop fishing in what we called the “hot spot.”
Other attempts at sockeye fishing had the same result as earlier. Fished were hooked, but not landed. Two of the gals had to leave before the run began to build. Everyone got really good at doing the “flip” cast, though. And, surprisingly, we saw only a few Arctic grayling in the river. Not enough to even break out the dry flies.
The bears were definitely the high point of the trip. They seemed to be everywhere. Only a few of the really large boars showed up on the river while we were there, but when they did all of the other bears and all of the anglers paid close attention.
One evening the gals got to see salmon at the falls, but we knew that the would be many more as time went by. We’ll be going back in 2010, of course, so it’s time to reserve your spot right now! The bears and the fish will we waiting for you, and so will I.
The Chena River runs right smack through the center of Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city. Called “Alaska’s Heart of Gold” by some, it is an area filled with the history and old-fashioned charm of the gold rush era. About 25 miles away, the Chena River State Park surrounds the river’s upper section and offers both a winter and summer playground for folks in the Interior. While anglers find Arctic grayling throughout the Chena, it is this upper section that provides some of the State’s best fishing during the summer.
Our single days on the Chena this year were a great success. Some women new to fly fishing joined me there to get started and had a wonderful time working on their casting skills as well as their fishing skills. We started out with a quick overview of the equipment, the basic principles of fly casting, and fishing with dry flies. Then, it was on to the water to give it all a try.
Like many novices, they had to work on suppressing their spinning rod tactics as they developed their fly fishing skills, but they practiced and practiced until their casts were laying out pretty straight and they could put their fly on the water approximately where they wanted it.
Along the way, fish nipped at their flies now and then just to let them know they weren’t casting to empty water. That certainly helped to encourage their efforts. They began to see why mending the line to get it and the leader behind the fly were essential, and once they could produce a drag-free drift, they began to actually connect with these eager grayling. The whoops and hollers that ensued when they did could probably be heard by all the anglers along the river.
The skills of playing and landing a fish on a fly rod came next. They knew how to avoid slack, so then it was just a matter of learning how to bring the fish to them for release. Practicing the techniques of catch and release were an important part of the entire day.
We fished the first day at a lovely area along one of the many, many exposed gravel banks on this pretty river so that they could begin to learn how to read water and locate fish. They quickly began to recognize similar types of water to those where they’d hooked fish earlier.
The second day the fourth of July traffic was beginning to build, and more campers, canoers, and picnickers appeared on the water. It was time for us to move to less-traveled places. So, I took them to one of my favorite runs on the water where I knew lots of large fish hung out, but it required the use of a wading stick to get there. They strapped on the wading sticks I provided and mastered the skills of both wading by oneself and “buddy” wading as we practiced. Their reward was some wonderful fishing.
Grayling of up to eighteen inches (a trophy fish by Alaska standards) took their royal Wulffs, parachute Adams, and elk-hair caddis willingly. As with most grayling anglers, they never tired of admiring the large, gorgeous, aqua-spotted dorsal fins and the apricot and green caudal fins.
We ended the trip with a visit to a small, little non-descript stretch of water high up in the watershed. A beautiful spot, they nevertheless wondered why we had stopped there. Once they saw the fish just waiting for their flies, they understood. They had become fly fishers!
The splendor of the mountains, the clarity of the water and the eagerness of the Arctic grayling, as well as the welcome we receive at The Farm Lodge all combine to make our annual trip to Lake Clark National Park extra special. This year’s trip through Lake Clark Pass was marred somewhat by the heavy layer of ash from this spring’s eruption of Mount Redoubt that lay on most of the snow and the glaciers, and the smoke in the air from the many fires burning in Interior Alaska. Still, the scenery was absolutely amazing and it made for a spectacular entrance to the lake.
We were off fishing in the Tanalian River in no time. Our pre-made lunches were waiting for us in our cabins and we ate them as we put on our waders and readied the rods. One of the lodge employees gave us a “lift” down to the river in one of the boats, and the first grayling of the trip had taken a fly before we’d been on the river for ten minutes. The group was mastering the skill of casting and playing a fish on long, delicate leaders, and the fish willingly helped them practice. The water was up on the river somewhat, and we were to see that was the case wherever we went this year.
Uncharacteristically hot weather had caused the snow melt to occur much more quickly than in most years.
Our second day we flew out to the Kvichak River to fish for sockeye salmon. Low morning fog required us to set down on the lower river, but we fished while we waited for the fog to clear. There were some fish, but due to a last-minute opening for the commercial boats out in Bristol Bay, the schools of fish were very small and intermittent. There were a few hook-ups there and not many more when we were finally able to move up-river. By early afternoon, we’d had enough frustration, and took off for Kiijik Lake to fish its lovely small feeder streams.
Tucked into soaring mountains, the lake provided surroundings to match our fishing. Although we didn’t catch the char we hoped for, one of the creeks produced some large grayling right near its outlet. Soon, the fish seemed to get smarter and could only be taken on large nymphs. What would have been the largest fish of the afternoon came unbuttoned from a #6 bead-head stonefly nymph just at the last moment.
The following day we hiked to the breathtaking falls on the Tanalian river and fished in the plunge pool below them. Once again, the water was extremely high, which prevented us from spreading out as far as we usually do. But, taking turns in the best water, everyone caught lots of fish.
Our boat day was an absolute hoot. We headed out onto Lake Clark to the pike pond right after breakfast, and the large pike flies were quickly stuck firmly in the jaws of some really large fish. The small bay where we were provided all the weed cover the fish could want, and they were lying quite close to shore. The casting was easy, the takes were ferocious, and the battles were exciting. When the wind came up and the fishing slowed, we headed out to find some grayling. One creek we stopped at was so flooded that we could hardly reach the fish.
The Tanalian provided our action on the last day of the trip. The dry flies weren’t working because the water was so high by then, so we changed our strategy completely. I rigged everyone with two Czech nymphs and showed them how to sweep the leader and flies along using that technique. The grayling loved it and so did the anglers. One of the gals even had two fish on (momentarily) at the same time, and we had several instances of “doubles.”
Darn we hated to leave, but we’ll be heading back next July for sure.
Nome is the home of the largest Arctic grayling you’ll find on any of our Alaska trips. Year after year they prove to be truly spectacular!! This year was no exception.
We landed in Nome on an Alaska Airlines jet and were met by Steve, our van driver for the 75- mile trip to the settlement of Council and the beginning of our trip to AK Northwest Adventures camp. Despite the fact that it was cloudy, we spotted a small herd of musk-ox near the road just about fifteen miles from town. “Bachelor bulls,” Steve said. They moved away too quickly for us to get photos. We also saw numerous bird species including both a snowy owl and a gray owl chasing the rabbits that seemed to be everywhere. Just before reaching our destination, a large, red fox wit a beautiful white-tipped tail ran back and forth across the road in front of us chasing ground squirrels.
Eddie, our boat drive, quickly loaded up our gear and we were on our way. The lodge was ready & waiting for us with a hearty lunch, which disappeared in short order as we got on our waders.
We started out at a spot on the river where Tom, the camp owner recommended, and the fish had apparently been counting the minutes until we arrived, as folks were hooked-up immediately on several different dry flies. Elk hair caddis, parachute Adams, and Royal Wulffs all brought success. Never having seen Arctic grayling before, they were absolutely dazzled by the enormous, spotted, aqua dorsal fin that this fish is famous for. They never stopped comparing the colors and size of the afternoon’s fish until we departed for supper.
The following day we headed out to a different area of the river to give terrestrials a try. The grayling were certainly up for that!! They chased, they grabbed, they even jumped completely over the top of the fly, much to the delight of the anglers. Black, Chernobyl ants seemed to be carrying a sign that sign “take me, take me,” and we obliged. Did we ever!! Several 20-inch fish presented themselves for pictures as did others “only” about nineteen inches in length.
Czech nymphing was another way we enjoyed hooking grayling at a different spot on the river. The water was just the right depth and speed for practicing this European method of grayling fishing. Using both the correct flies and the correct technique they managed to hook two eager fish at the same time on several occasions. (Fishing with two hooks is legal in Alaska except in water designated “fly fishing only.”) Once we even managed to land both fish!! It proved extremely difficult to get a picture of them both at the same time, however. (Stay tuned for my up-coming article in Fish Alaska Magazine on Czech nymphing.)
Over one of BJ’s fabulous dinners one night we began talking about all the different ways to catch grayling, and I learned that no one had ever fished poppers for bass or other warm-water fish. When I told them that grayling love poppers, and that I just happened to have some with me, they couldn’t wait to try them.
Fishing a lovely little run that was perfect for “popping” it didn’t take long for them to see how making the fly “gurgle” drove the fish absolutely crazy! They fished yellow ones, they fished black ones, and they fished green ones, they fished every different type of these little flat-faced bass favorites that I had with me. Their whooping and hollering could be heard up and down the river.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and our trip was no exception. We said goodbye to Tom & BJ & also to Eddie when he dropped us back in Council where Steve was waiting. We spent about an hour back in Nome where everyone wanted to see the famous burled arch under which mushers in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race must pass as they finish the race. After that, fresh red-crab, caught just that morning in the Bering Sea, was on the menu for dinner before we headed for the plane.
Whew! It was quite a trip!!! Next year will be just as good, I promise! Come on along and see for yourself!
In spite of predicted storms and the threat of smoky skies from the many wildfires burning in Interior Alaska, we headed out with high expectations for our annual trip to Alaska’s Denali Highway and Tangle Lakes area. A mom and daughter, who had purchased that trip that we had donated to the on-line auction of Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska’s in opposition to the Pebble Mine, a federal employee from Anchorage, and a retired teacher hooked up with me at Maclaren Lodge to start off the trip.
They were, for the most part all novice fly fishers excited about learning how to fish with a dry fly for Arctic grayling. Once we got some basic casting instruction out of the way, the catching began. They were surprisingly good at avoiding the trees & bushes on their back cast, but they still had to learn to avoid the spinning rod technique of winding up and pitching on the front cast. They were quick to understand that laying their whole flyline along the water spooked fish.
These and other challenges made life miserable for them as for any beginners, but they were all very determined, and soon some pretty good casts, deliveries, and dead-drifts were being demonstrated on the water. They were also catching fish. The high water on the first creek made it difficult for some to keep track of the fly and for others to spot the takes, but their persistence paid off in every one of them getting hook-ups. By the time we returned to the lodge for dinner, they were already beginning to feel like fly anglers.
The second day we boated up one of the nearby creeks and they commenced to catching fish like crazy! One of the them had five fish before the others even had their lines in the water. She especially liked that the fish would rise for the fly in the pure, cold water, and that made her able to see the fish take her offering. They spread out along the beautiful run, which came down from the hills & mountains nearby , and used parachute Adams, Royal Wulff’s with a white wing, red and yellow humpies, and, as they got better at following the fly, also some standby elk-hair-caddis. They loved it.
We moved to another part of the creek after lunch where we could see large schools of whitefish (which look a lot like grayling at first, but which do not take a dry fly) taunting us with their habit of sitting very visibly in the pool right in front of us. Streamers finally took several nice grayling, and hooked one white fish that got off before we had to release it.
The Tangle River, which we fished the next day looked cloudy and dirty for reasons we didn’t understand. It is usually an exceptionally clear river. A large algae-bloom in the lake above was apparently causing the problem. Nevertheless, people were catching fish, so we didn’t despair. Soon, we were catching fish as well, even though the condition of the water made for a not as beautiful waterway. as usual. In the afternoon, we headed to a brushy spot that requires some bush-wacking to access, and we found the absolute mother-lode of fish. While we usually fish that section with nymphs, the fish seemed to be in the mood for taking anything and everything we threw at them. A hatch was on, even though the teeny tiny mayflies were impossible to imitate, but the fish didn’t require that we had the exact imitation. What a blast they had!
The last morning we headed over to a nearby creek for our last fishing of the trip. A storm was coming and the fish weren’t very cooperative, not until I pulled out some “secret” flies that I’d never tried for grayling before. Guess that I’ll be using them again in the future!
Tangle Lakes and the Denali Highway are a very special part of Alaska. One that we really look forward to visiting each year.
See you next year. Pudge
Canoeing and creek fishing were on tap as we gathered at the Blue Moose Lodge near Soldotna, AK ready to roll. The group assembled the first night for dinner and preparation so that we could hit the water early the next morning. After the usual tasks of getting fishing licenses, making sure everyone had the right gear, and assigning canoes, we hit the sack.
Morning saw Ellen, the head mistress/diva/boss of the lodge (and also of the doggie care business the lodge operates) was putting breakfast on the table as we arrived for coffee. Mike, Ellen’s husband, (and the other boss of the lodge and the dogs) was busy loading canoes on his pick-up. The weather was gorgeous and we couldn’t wait to get started.
After a dusty drive on a very bumpy dirt road, we got busy transporting the canoes paddles, pfd’s, lunch, rods, flies, etc. etc. down a half-mile trail to the lake. Mike uses some unique outriggers on his canoes (because he guides families with kids on the lakes ) to help them stay balanced, so those went with us as well. The lake was spread out before us like a reflective mirror, ringed with mountains and dotted with water lilies going to seed as well as several bachelor loons.
Access to the section of the lake we were heading for was through a very debris-filled channel that the local beavers had been working hard to close off. We prevailed, and soon emerged onto water where the fish were already jumping in anticipation of our arrival.
We positioned the canoes over a very visible weed-bed, dropped our “rocks-in-a- mesh-bag” anchors, and proceeded to cast. Brown woolly buggers did the trick, as they usually do on these lakes, and before long, Penny landed the first fish of the day. Lots more followed before we headed to a lake-side camp spot for lunch. Afterwards, we caught fish both trolling and when the canoes were “parked.”
The next morning we headed out for some creek fishing for Dolly Varden char and rainbows. The fish were mixed in with spawning sockeye salmon, so we went armed with bear-spray as well as with egg-imitation flies & beads.
It always takes everyone awhile to get the hang of fishing with beads & egg imitation flies. Rather than making a regular fly cast, it requires a lob of the egg & its accompanying lead split-shot up-river, mending, and then managing to keep the fly bumping along the bottom without getting hung-up on the rocks. “Salmon eggs don’t float,” I keep reminding everyone. “Your fly must be on the bottom where the real eggs are if you want to fool the fish.”
The water in this little creek is glacially influenced, and it wasn’t the crystal clear water that everyone was used to. So, besides mastering a different presentation, their eyes also had to adjust to seeing fish in cloudy water. Luckily, the char and rainbows always swim close behind the spawning salmon, waiting for the egg-laying to take place, so that is where we direct the flies. The large, red salmon are easy to see, and soon most anglers can make out the smaller, darker shapes of the fish we are after.
“Once I got the technique down, I really started catching fish,” Candace announced to the others. She sure did! She managed seven nice char and one beautiful rainbow before lunch!
Not wanting to carry food on us and attract the bears, we ate lunch sitting on soft, cushiony mounds of ferns and cranberry bushes, back near the vehicles. Afterwards we headed to a different stretch of water for which we all needed Mike’s help to access because it required some tricky wading. Our afternoon was as good as the morning, and it was hard to head back to the lodge.
That night over a fantastic bar-b-qued steak, we discussed whether to canoe or creek fish the following day. One of the group had been ill on our creek day, so she really wanted to go to the creek. The others readily agreed.
The char were harder to find the next day. There just didn’t seem to be as many of them around. Plus, they wanted a different color of egg than the day before, and it took us awhile to figure that out. They can change color preference for no apparent reason, but a storm was rolling in and there didn’t seem to be as many sockeye around so we speculated that one or both of those were the reason.
Still, we had some good luck in a couple of runs where we could cast to visible fish, and the storm held off until we were pretty much done fishing, so we counted it as another good day on an over-all great trip. If you want to combine some lake and creek fishing next year, just let us know!
Silver (coho) fishing in Alaska in the Fall simply can’t be beat. These are the fish that many fly fishers wait for all season long. Why? Because they are incredible fighters and jumpers. No other Pacific salmon is such an acrobatic adversary.
So it was that September found us back at Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova targeting our favorite prey. So it also was that it was raining or threatening rain the entire trip. But we had first class rain gear and we were ready.
On our first day the weather started out sunny and we quickly made plans for our fly-out day. Gayle Ranney (Alaska’s most famous woman bush-pilot) gassed up the plane, loaded us onboard, and took off into beautiful Prince William Sound. Glaciers shone snowy white in the distance. We landed on a wave-decorated black-sand beach and hiked over to one of my favorite little creeks. The silvers grabbed our flies eagerly to tell us they were glad that we were there.
We cast furiously knowing that we only had about three hours before the tide came back in and we had to get the plane off the beach. Cooperative silvers swirled and waked to show us exactly where they were. A small pool, filled with fish that had come up on the previous tide, provided fantastic sport. Because we didn’t want to overload the plane for the return trip, we only kept a few fish and released all the others to go make babies.
We had time before dinner for a drive out to Childs Glacier and we took advantage of it. In spite of intermittent sprinkles, the views of the Glacier and the nearby “Million Dollar Bridge”, first completed in 1910, were amazing. To add to the experience, swans and their cygnets glided serenely on many of the ponds along the road. A glass of wine, a great dinner, and early to bed got us ready for the next day.
We weren’t nearly as successful the following day. The Eyak River was in perfect shape (which it isn’t very often) so we couldn’t explain the lack of fish. They just weren’t there. After trying several different spots and wearing out our arms casting, we headed for the lodge.
Even though a storm was predicted on day three, Steve told us that he thought we could take the boat and fish a small creek not too far from the lodge and still beat the brunt of the storm back. It was already raining (which is par for the course in Cordova), but it was the wind that we needed to be aware of. The creek was small, as many of them are in that area, and dumped right into the Sound. A mile+ hike with several creek crossings took us to a great spot. Somewhat like our first day’s experience, it was an up-stream pool that provided all the fun. Steve stood watch for bears and manned the camera while we fished, and it was almost an “every cast” experience.
Silvers of all sizes couldn’t get enough of our Everglow and Clouser flies. One of Ginger’s fish was a really large male with the characteristically bulb-like nose. His flanks were turning red and his head and teeth were huge, and he was so powerful that we weren’t sure that Ginger’s 8-wt rod could handle him. Patience on her part won the day as she finally eased him into the bank for pictures.
This time we had to be mindful of both the tide and the on-coming storm. We fished up until the very last second and then quickly made our way back to the anchored boat. Even so, the anchor was no longer on dry ground, and Steve had to wade out a ways to get it and pull the boat to shore. The storm built behind us as we hurried back to the lodge.
The wind just kept howling and the rain just kept pouring all night long! Some of the gusts literally shook the lodge. Needless to say, the rivers were all blown out the next day so we headed out to see if we could find any Dolly Varden char in a small creek near town. No luck there, but a nearby lake produced some lovely cutthroat trout and one Dolly.