Awesome Argentina, 2010
The rivers of Argentina welcomed us back this year with higher water than we'd experienced in 2009. But, that was just to test our mettle and challenge our fly fishing skills. After a 10-year high water year, the heavy flows were still receding when we arrived. "Not as much dry-fly fishing as last year", Gus and the other guides old us, and they were right. "Just wait," they said, "Even though there might not be as many fish, the fish you catch will be larger." Right again!!
Luckily, we'd been able to add several additional days to the week we had planned because of cancellations during the week before our scheduled time, and we took full advantage of it. Martin Carranza, the owner of Chime Lodge and Andes Outfitters was able to be at the lodge at the same time we were, and we had a ball fishing with him.
Our first day everyone was pretty jet-lagged, so they made a fairly short wading day of it on the lovely Chimeuin right in front of the lodge. I, however, was tucked in bed with bronchitis and a bad cold. But, they told me all about it during one of Pato's special dinners that night, so I wasn't too disappointed. .
I mustered enough energy to get rigged up the next day when we waded and fished the wonderful Malleo River, not too far from the town of Junin de los Andes. The fish were definitely larger there, but the catching was predominantly on large streamers. We looked frantically for the little chartreuse worms falling off of the willow trees that had made our 2009 trip so much fun, but, alas, they were nowhere to be found. The temperature was just too cool for them to be hatching. So, instead of dropping them off the bend of the hook of a large dry fly, we substituted bead-head pheasant tails, which seemed to work just fine! The wind came up late that afternoon, however, and toward the end of the afternoon, Gus and I found ourselves nearly knocked into the water by gusts as we were landing a nice bow on a black, rubber-leg fly.
All but one of the other days we set-up the rafts so we could drift the Alumine River and the Collon Cura (pronounced cojon cura) Rivers. The lower Alumine is a river we fished last year that everyone loved because there seemed to be rainbow under ever bush. But, this year it was rainbows holding along current seams not too far from the banks. Julie and I caught six fish between us in one pool, all on the pheasant tail! That night over wine & dinner, Sandy reported her first brown of the trip on one of the large, ugly dry flies that we were using as an indicator for our nymphs. These are one of her favorite fish and she was delighted. Lesley had also connected big-time that same day, but most of her fish were rainbows. Julie managed once again to be the brown-trout queen of the trip. It seemed like every day she had at least one big brown to report, mostly all on dry flies, surprisingly.
Another day Lesley and Gus and I sat frustrated in the raft at a secluded pool with fish rising all around us, but without a fly that they would take consistently. Gus said that the fish were after spinners, but we just didn't have anything small enough. A tiny parachute Adams took a couple of fish and so did a very small caddis emerger, but we obviously didn't have the correct match. We moved on to more productive water where pheasant tails were really producing.
We relied heavily on large rubber-legged streamers of one sort or the other, but one day I set up a two-nymph rig and proceeded to catch fish with great success. A dark brown stonefly nymph with two black bead-heads, paired with a green brassie on the dropper had the fish going nuts when the bite was on for a couple of hours in mid-afternoon.
Absolutely perfect weather and glassy calm water enabled us to fish Lake Tromen in Lanin National Park this year within sight of the volcano. Although the wind came up in the afternoon it didn't seem to affect the fishing much. It was just difficult for the guides to row against. We'd all been looking forward to the brook trout that the lake is reported to have, and I'm delighted to say that we all caught at least one! They were the fat, spotted beauties we'd heard so much about. It was the rainbows, though, that really put on a show that day. Julie alone caught five bows over 20-inches in the afternoon alone. We also got to fish the lower Chimeuin, which we hadn't had time for last year, and that was quite an adventure. The first few miles of the river are very narrow and very, very brushy and pose a real challenge for the guides and the rafts. Rainbows tucked themselves into the fast-flowing water around every corner, but we often weren't fast enough to set the hook as the raft sped along. It seemed like a roller-coaster ride to me. Sandy was the top fish-catcher that day. She just kept rolling out a large Chernobyl ant with a dropper and picking up fish after fish.
I ended up in bed sick for another couple of days during the trip, and was lucky enough to miss the one rainy day we had. The others braved the weather like troopers and caught a lot of fish. We had a fire in the fireplace, wine ready to pour and appetizers waiting for them when they arrived back at the lodge. We cozied-up on the comfortable couches for the day's fish report and photos and then moved right on to a roasted chicken dinner that was some of the most delicious I think I've ever had. Pato spoiled us even worse this year. Her unique lunches of her special quiche, pasta salads, special little pastries and the ever-present hard-boiled egg (which I gave to Gus every day), were something we all looked forward to. We ate like queens under the spreading branches of one of the huge willows where the guides picked a perfect spot beside the river every day.
We also enjoyed the improvements in the lodge (in its second year of business). The gorgeous new decks were completed around the entire outside of the lodge, and we could sip our wine or drink our morning coffee on deck chairs overlooking the river. New storage for the rafts and equipment made our daily forays to the river much more convenient, and the wind turbines generated electricity for us (except for a brief spell when the wind died and it the men working on the new staff cabin inadvertently drained the storage batteries). Then all enjoyed the candlelight dinner.
We also got to see the guanacos several tunes this year as well as the flamingos, the flocks of parrots, the condors flying high overhead, and the wild pigs in the grasses beside the river. One morning we all trekked into delightful San Martin de los Andes for a little shopping and lunch before heading back to fishing in the afternoon.
In my 2009 trip report I said, "The guides were great! 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." Well, that goes double for this year. Another toast to them!!!!
WOW, the size of some of the fish we caught in Mexico this year was amazing! No, they weren't marlin or sailfish, they were rooster fish and jack cravalle, two great species of hard-fighting saltwater fish.
Our trip started off with a day on the cruiser with our regular guide, Lance, along to lend his expertise on our flies, help us land our fish, and just provide us with an all-around super day. As we trolled along near some of the small, beautiful coves along the sandy, rocky beaches of the azure Sea of Cortez, our captain suddenly saw schools of fish crashing on bait balls just a few feet off the bank. Needless to say, we headed right over there. The captain's and Lances practiced eyes identified the fish as roosters and jack cravalle, both prized targets for our flies.
What a blast we had cruising right through the bait fish with our clouser minnows and Lefty's deceivers at the ready. Soon we noticed that some of the fish would follow and even bump the fly, but not always take. So, Lance had us switch to various forms of poppers. The fish reacted just as we'd hoped, and the party really heated up. Finally one of the truly big boys appeared and headed for a fly being "popped" along just as fast as it could go. The take was absolutely volcanic! Water sprayed everywhere as he turned and ran, spooling line off the Ross big-game #6 reel at an incredible pace while also putting a major bend in the 12-wt rod at the same time.
The frenzy of bait balls was attracting fish all around us while the big rooster, with his awesome comb splayed-out just at the surface of the water took line at an unbelievable rate. Five times he came to the boat only to take off again before Lance could tail him. What a specimen!
With a couple of pictures and a very careful release, we sent him back to his buddies, and continued fishing. The next huge fish turned out to be a very chubby and very strong and resolute jack cravalle. Round and round the boat he ran as Penny kept her cool and dipped her rod in the water when he went under the boat, and palmed her reel just a little to keep him under control just when it seemed that he was taking off for the horizon.
Strong, steady pulls characterized a fight that went on and on as we watched and cheered. It was a real demonstration of determined woman against determined fish. The woman won and proudly displayed her beefy prize for us all to admire, before he, too, was safely returned to the water.
Conditions were actually pretty tough this year because there was no small, sardinia bait around. Now, don't get the idea that we use bait on the end of a fly rod. Ours are strictly fly fishing trips. Nope, the bait is used to tease the fish up near the surface and to help keep the fish around the boat once we locate them. When we switched to the pangas, the available bait was just too long a ride away for us to access it easily. We did manage to buy some mackerel "big bait", and trolled one of them along with no hook in it to help us fool the fish.
Most years we manage to park ourselves right in the middle of a huge school of skipjack tuna and/or white bonito. This year we had some of both. Sandy not only caught several of each, but also turned out to be the only one of the bunch who landed a nice sierra mackrel that became the exceptional ceviche that the hotel creates for us to compliment our margaritas on the deck before dinner. Lady fish were on her and Penny's species list as well. Sierra are a prized eating fish, and we were hoping to catch several to have for dinner, but every time I got one on it managed to cut my line with its jagged teeth (in spite of a 30 lb test bite tippet).
The definite species queen this year was Karen with eight different species altogether during the two days we spent on the pangas. Two large, skipjack tuna started her off one day when everyone else was still warming up. Then, later in the afternoon as other boats were pursuing more rooster fish, she proceeded to get one different species after another as we cruised over a huge, deep rock formation that went on for miles. Her 350 wt Teeny sink-tip line and small clouser minows proved to be the perfect ammunition for this spot. She caught several rare zebra perch and then moved on to needle fish, coronet fish, a Panama graysby, a spotted cabrilla-or five or six, a Mexican bonito or two, and then topped it all off with a very unique, large orangeside trigger fish that amazed even our captain. There was no way I could have named them all had I not had my trusty copy of the Fishes of the Pacific Coast in my pack.
The weather was a bit iffy, and the wind was blowing as we headed out for the first day of tubing this year. Nevertheless, it was warm and the fish were willing, so, what more could we ask?
As is typical of spring tubing, the fish are in the shallows absolutely reveling as they enjoy their release from the ice-bound water. Our first few stops, at locations that usually hold quite a few fish, proved to be disappointing, so we moved on. A fish here and a fish there hit the flies as we went exploring. When we finally found them, though, one of the gals managed to hook and land a dozen fish from a small area along a snag-filled section up close to the bank. One of them was so large, we couldn't get him in the landing net. She named "Bruno."
She had gone float tubing briefly once before but still had never caught a fish on a fly, she told me as we geared-up. She said that she would be ecstatic if she caught even one fish. Suddenly she found herself morphing into a fishing machine. Her husband wasn't doing badly either. He landed a gorgeous 22-inch fish, which was the first of several more.
Others that fished the next day at a different lake also discovered how great sight-fishing to big fish can be. These were fish that mimic spawning, even though their eggs can't hatch because they are not laid in oxygen-rich moving water. Even so, the fish are very visible as well as very intent on each other. Besides that, they are not actively feeding. Enticing them to take the fly meant diverting their attention from the opposite sex. Not an easy task.
Fish that take the fly in the spring often do so quite softly, and that compounds the problems. Setting the hook becomes trickier when you don't feel the take. "Watch your line," I told them. "It will often just quiver a bit when a fish bites." Soon their catch rate improve, but then we had to master the techniques of playing and landing fish. Now my advice was, "when you have a fish on, keep paddling." Failure to keep the fish tight resulted in some brief but exciting hook-ups.
The wildlife was also out in force as it usually is in the spring. A pair of loons courted and fed practically right beside us and also attempted to engage us in conversation. They are an absolute delight to watch with their regal black heads and arresting red eyes. Soon there would be chicks to watch as well.
One day we looked skyward as we heard some familiar honking, and discovered four spectacularly beautiful trumpeter swans flying low over head. Their phenomenal wing-span never fails to amaze me. As they made a couple of passes over the lake we thought for a few minutes that they were going to land and take a rest break on the lake with us, but they proceeded on to other locations. Several species of ducks and the local eagle also made an appearance, as did a very pregnant moose that came down to the water to drink right in front of us.
The last day's fishing saw lots of very stubborn fish. It is absolutely unnerving to be able to see them, quite close up, and not be able to get them to take the fly. Several changes of patterns did no good. By then, they had probably already seen and disregarded all of the bead-head lake leeches, small streamers and nymphs that usually produce takes.
We managed several fish on but not landed until the very end of the afternoon. Then, as we were paddling back to our put-in spot, we stopped at a location that holds fish some years. This was one of the years. There weren't a lot of fish, but there was one very willing buck that took the fly and absolutely took off. After seven acrobatic jumps, he was still going strong. I had to make three attempts before being able to get him in the net. He was real prize. Coppery-red gill plates and a decidedly hooked snout plus a 23-inch length established him as the fish of the week.
Day one, we headed out from Anchorage through the legendary Lake Clark Pass to Lake Clark National Park and the lodge. Overcast and rain made it difficult to see many of the hanging glaciers that decorate the flanks of the steep mountains in the pass. It was still an awesome experience. As soon as we got our waders on and had a quick lunch we headed over to the Tanalian river to fish for Arctic grayling. On her first cast, Leigh caught a 16-inch grayling on a dry fly. Ginger quickly followed with a similar sized fish on a nymph. After that, several more followed as we managed to find exactly the right drift for the nymphs. The water was fairly low, so the main concentration of fish had moved toward the far bank where the water was deeper. Everybody went back to the lodge with tales of beautiful grayling to tell at dinner.
On our second day, we headed out onto Lake Clark to fish for the lunker pike that inhabit a back bay about a 15 minute boat drive from the lodge. Boy, had the fish been waiting for us! In just a few warm-up casts, Ginger had the first fish on. It managed to spit out the hook before she could land it, but her second fish made up for it. Much bigger than the first, she beached him and held him in all his toothy splendor for pictures. Leigh and Carolyn followed quickly with yellow-spotted fish of their own. Large, slippery trophies, they put up a great fight before being brought to the bank. It wasnt long after that before Leigh hooked a fish that put all the others to shame. The first time it jumped it displayed a huge belly and head. It was enough to give us a small idea of how big it really was. The fight was protracted, but she finally pulled him to the edge of the water where Jeff, our boat captain, managed to grab him for pictures. Whew, what a monster!
We fished awhile at the mouth of the Kijik River on the way home for grayling. Not having much luck in the spot we started out in, we finally took the boat over to the other side of the river and began t pursue the rising fish we had seen from across the river. As we landed, a pair of seagulls attacked us from above. Suddenly we could see why as four chicks scrambled from a nest at the tip of the gravel island we were on. We moved out onto the river, and the chicks went in the other direction, so for awhile, all was well. When we headed back to the boat after landing several nice grayling, however, the parent gulls were back in the air again. We could see three of the babies swimming around in a nearby back eddy, but the fourth one turned out to be right in the gravel behind us. It took some maneuvering before we were able to hop in the boat and take off to relieve the parent birds stress.
The next day we did a 2 ½ mile hike up to the famous Tanalian Falls to fish for grayling. It was a cool, overcast day, which made for very pleasant hiking conditions. Although they were not in bright sunlight, the mountains and the wildflowers were on display for us. When we got to the plunge pool beneath the falls, we could see that the fish were too. Due to heavy rain the previous night, the water pouring over the fall was absolutely astounding.
Nevertheless, the fish were stacked up where they always are in the deeper, quieter water right next to the maelstrom of waves and foam created by the falls. What a great time we had! Fish after fish took the flies, no matter whether they were nymphs or dries or small streamers. They had doubles with fish on so many times I lost count. There were even six triples, where all three of them had fish on at the same time.. After a slow hike back to the lodge for another of its scrumptious dinners, we got ready for our fly-out day before heading for bed.
We flew out over Lake Iliamna to the Kvichak river the next morning to fish for sockeye salmon. Glen Alsworth Jr. the lodge owner, knew right were the fish would be and, after a smooth as silk landing on the river, he took us right to them. Once again, Leigh had the first fish on her very first cast. After her experience with the big pike, she knew just what to do with an 8 lb sockeye and had him on the beach in no time. The others werent far behind, either. Carolyn hooked up over a dozen fish after she had landed the two that she kept for the freezer. Ginger did the same.
After their arms were tired fighting sockeye, we piled back in the plane and headed to a lovely near-by lake for some afternoon char and grayling fishing. Sampling two small creeks and catching both grayling and the char that Leigh especially had wanted to see, an encroaching storm forced us to take off and head back to the lodge.
The last day provided some wonderful dry-fly fishing for grayling back on the Tanalian where we fished until we absolutely had to be back at the lodge for last minute packing and catching our flight back to Anchorage.
Our flight was right on time and our shuttle took us for the 75 mile ride along the spectacularly scenic road to Council where Tom met us on the river for the ride to the camp. Along the way we had seen musk ox, fox, and lots of fat ground squirrels.
BJ was waiting for us at the camp with lunch already on the table. We were fed, wadered, and out the door before you could blink an eye. We knew that the big grayling were just waiting for us in the champagne-clear water right below the lodge
The first afternoon was filled with 18-inch+ grayling one after the other on Chernobyl Ants with a white or yellow tuft of yarn on the top for visibility or parachute Adams and elk hair caddis dry flies. You certainly don't need a strike indicator with these fish. Just show them the fly.
The dry flies require a true dead drift, however, so we spent a little time practicing the "stop high and let the fly flutter to the surface" cast. After a great afternoon filled with fish, and a wonderful chicken dinner we hit the sack early because the alarm had rung at 3:30 a.m. that morning. We were going to be ready for an early morning the next day.
We tackled a different area of the river the next day, and the fish were so cooperative we never moved to a different section all day long. Right off a gravel drop-off, with pink salmon spawning right above, the grayling were lined up with their dark gray shapes clearly visible where the water deepened.
Once again the ants did their job, but so did small muddler minnows and woolly bugggers. We broke for lunch, cooking hot-dogs over the fire that our boat man, Hunter, had built for us with his dog keeping close watch for any scraps. Too bad for him, there weren't any. We also cooked some marshmallows and made s'mores just for fun.
After lunch we gave Czech nymphing a try in the faster runs because everyone wanted to give the two-fly rig a try. As I suspected, they absolutely loved it!! The opportunity to catch two fish on two nymphs is usually too enticing to make people turn it down. I showed them how to rig-up, and we talked about how to make a dropper off of a blood knot and they went to work. Very soon, they became aware of just how many fish they had probably been missing with their conventional one-fly rig. One of the gals managed a double hook-up six times during the afternoon! Others had almost as many. The water was low so we didn't have as many good spots to try as we usually do, but they certainly made the most of what they had. .(See my Czech Nymphing article in the August issue of Fish Alaska Magazine!)
The next day we headed out early in the morning for some pike fishing. Everyone was looking forward to this exciting change of pace, and did their efforts ever pay off! The little bay where Tom usually goes for pike was really producing for us. We could see pike of all sizes lurking in the weeds almost everywhere we looked. It wasn't long until we had the first fish of the morning. A mid-sized, yellow & brown spotted prehistoric mouth tracked the fly as it moved and grabbed it with a spectacular lunge. We released him and many others before the fish of the day made an appearance.
We'd seen this large guy in the weeds, but he had initially ignored our flies. Then, Julie got just the right angle on him and he attacked. He was so large that Neither Tom nor I could believe it. We'd fished this bay before and never seen a fish this large & beefy.
It was seven or eight runs later before the fish began to tire, and eventually he came to the boat. Julie couldn't even pick him up so Tom finally just laid him across her arms. She knew how slimy he was, and how much he would make her rain coat stink, but she held him tightly anyway. It made for a great picture.
In the afternoon we headed for two of the area where we usually find Dolly Varden char, but, on that score were disappointed. We neither saw nor hooked a char. They just weren't there. To make up for it we caught gorgeous grayling after gorgeous grayling and never got tired of saying to each other, "come quick and look at this one."
After a great moose stew that evening, we hit the sack with a plan to head out the next day to catch pink salmon and chum salmon. The pinks were there like gangbusters, and their arms got tired playing and releasing them. The chums weren't quite so cooperative, and the one that Margaret will remember is the one that ran with her fly "clear across the river."
It's always hard to leave this great river and these great fish, but that time always comes. As we headed back to Council to meet our shuttle, we vowed to fish those spectacular grayling again.
All of us piled on the Alaska Airlines jet for the short trip to Cordova on the first afternoon of the school. The anticipation was in the air, and everyone was almost too excited to eat the peanuts! The lodge van picked us up right on time and we settled in our rooms well in time for dinner. The school started with a short lesson that evening on fly rods and reels and what we would be fishing for the next four days. Everyone got their gear for the school and headed off to bed.
The next day our usual first-day location just didn't have any fish, so we ventured a little farther into beautiful Prince William Sound to another small creek that poured right into tidewater and had a large beach for the first casting lesson. They quickly put their new found skills to work on the pink salmon that were entering the creek. In spite of that, the first fish of the trip were two lovely cutthroat trout that Jessica caught, landed, and released as though she had been doing it all her life. Soon the pinks followed, and everyone got a chance to practice setting the hook, playing, and landing a 5 or 6-pound fish. After a quick lunch we headed over to the wide beach where the boat was anchored and went after the schools of fish coming right up with the tide. Janet & Julie got to boast of having our first fish "double." It was hard to head back to the lodge, for the afternoon lesson on knot tying and a scrumptious lodge dinner, but we did it.
Our second day we headed to what the lodge jokingly calls "Pudge Bay." It is a spectacular, small bay, hidden out of site of the regular boat traffic on Prince William Sound, and with a creek full of fish. We anticipated chum salmon, but there were far more pinks. Now, the casts were confident, and the releases picture-perfect. Double hook-ups on pink salmon came time after time and we choreographed a couple of great photos to show them off, especially the ones Nicole & Charlotte caught. Julie highlighted the afternoon with the catch of an approximately 15-pound chum salmon and Jessica caught a male salmon with a huge hump on his back. The sun was shining and the bugs were biting, but even so, the hike back to the anchored boat was enjoyable and full of conversation of new skills and new fishing accomplishments.
The following day was our eagerly anticipated fly-out day with Gayle Ranney, Alaska's most famous woman bush pilot. We had to take two planes because we were landing on the beach, and Steve Ranney, Gayle's son and the owner of the lodge was in the other pilot's seat. In spite of the rain, they took us to a gorgeous, crescent beach with the surf of an incoming tide pounding the beach. They expertly landed the planes on the hard-packed sand. We quickly gathered our gear and headed out to the small creek that we could see just over the sand dunes.
On the beach by the creek we had a lesson in casting a long leader and a dry fly, and they were demonstrating the reach cast in no time. Right in the middle of the lesson, Julie even had a breathtakingly beautiful little 8-inch cutthroat take her Royal Wulff. His golden hue and red and cinnamon spots did his species proud. Soon everyone was hooking into these special fish, whose range in Alaska goes no farther north than Cordova. We loved playing them and seeing them skitter away back into the depths of the tannic water of the creek when we released them. Bear tracks and deer tracks were everywhere and we stayed on high alert the entire day.
Upstream of where we started fishing was a small pool full of fish. Only two people could fish it at a time, so we started a series of half-hour rotations in order for everyone to get a chance to practice their roll casts and side-arm casts by the brushy water. As their casts improved, they began to catch much larger "cutties" than they had in the stream below, and also produced some Dolly Varden char that we had been unable to locate in the other places that we had fished so-far. We hiked back to the beach in time to see the Gayle's plane approach the beach, set down without a bump, and taxi up to right in front of us.
On the way back to the lodge we took a slight detour to nearby Spenser glacier to do a fly-over that everyone had hoped for. Unfortunately, we only got to fly part way up the glacier until the winds became just too strong to safely continue. Still, everyone got a close-up view of something they had never seen before. It had never stopped raining the entire day, and that storm definitely robbed us of our glacier viewing trip.
The last day we were unable to fly again because of the continuing storm, so we made a plan to go to view the spawning sockeye (red) salmon nearby and to fish the incoming tide for pink and chum salmon. The drive into the forest along Eyak Lake was incredible. Old-growth timber spread branches out over the road, and the air smelled like spruce and pine. At the end of Powder Creek Road we came to the glacier-fed stream that hosts a small run of sockeye salmon. They were pairing up and digging the nests for the egg deposits as we watched.
When the tide was right, we headed back to Hartney Bay just near the town of Cordova and hit the incoming tide almost perfectly. It was amazing to see the huge schools of fish darken the water as they moved toward the mouth of the creek. Suddenly they were right in front of us by the hundreds, and the hook-ups began. Seals patrolled the water right in the middle of the fish. Again, the doubles ensued. I forget how many there were!
And, then it was time to head back to the lodge, pack, and get ready for our flight back to Anchorage. Our time was all too short. But, they all left as experienced fly fishers--confident, skilled, and ready to go fly fishing with the right leader, the right fly, and the right techniques. I have a feeling that we will fish together again. I certainly hope so.
Think that all the fishing fun is on the rivers? Think again. The lakes are also where it's at during the summer time if great fishing is what you are looking for.
Our annual canoe trip went just as smoothly as a paddle breaking the surface of the water as it moves the canoe through the still waters that offer fishing to either stocked fish or native fish. In our case, we were fishing to a combination of stocked and native fish as we headed out to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge canoe system for some wonderful fishing for rainbow trout.
It was rainy and cool, just as the fish like it when we arrived at our lake of choice for the first day. We got ready to tote the two canoes down the trail to the lake and packed along the foam outriggers that help make them incredibly stable. We loaded up the rods and the lunch and took off into a channel that the beavers had done their darndest to dam up and broke through out into the area that we wanted to fish. A pair of common loons and their two chicks tooted their welcome.
It wasn't five minutes after we stopped paddling and cast out the rods that Sue had a feisty rainbow on the end of her line. She landed two in quick succession while the rest of us were still getting rigged up. Fish were jumping everywhere. As the day went on, we managed to catch up and even pass Sue with the numbers of fish we caught, mostly on brown woolly buggers.
Rita was just learning, but it wasn't long before she became the catcher of the day, leaving all the rest of us in the dust. We decided that she must just be holding her mouth right to make all the fish come to her.
After a great lunch at our regular stopping place, we ventured into a different part of the lake. At first not much was happening, but when we anchored-up near a huge field of water lilies, the fish came to us in earnest. By the time the action tapered off, Rita had eleven fish to her credit. One was 21-inches in length.
We very carefully landed and released each fish, knowing that in the warm water they were particularly vulnerable, and took more time to stabilize before safely swimming off. As we were working on one fish someone noticed that the net from one canoe had disappeared into the lake. So, the hunt was on for the net. Thankfully, the water was calm and the light was good, so after only about a 15-minute search we saw the net upside down in fairly shallow water. We rigged a large woolly bugger and a split shot on the leader, and jugged for it. It wasn't long until it was back in the boat.
We returned to the Blue Moose Lodge for dinner with lots of stories about loons, fish that got away, and the amazing extent of the fields of lily pads on the lakes. A glass of wine and a great dinner, make the day complete.
The next day we tried a different lake, where there clearly wasn't as much action as there had been the day before. Still, it was a blue ribbon day due to the wildlife we got to see. It all started when someone noticed a huge eagle's nest in a large cottonwood tree right beside the lake that had two chicks in it and a pair of very attentive parents screeching and chirping away as they took turns bringing food to the open mouths. As we sat in the canoes watching, we suddenly saw a young moose just down the lake wading out among the lily pads to feed in the shallow water. We could even see the water dripping from his bulbous nose as he raised his head and looked around.
When it was time for lunch we relaxed in front of a wonderful, small fire and watched the fish start to rise on the lake. We paddled out to where they were, but weren't having much luck hooking them up when we noticed a white blob on the far bank. It turned out to be a pair of swans that proceeded to come closer and closer to us as the afternoon progressed. The three canoes moved from palace to place on the lake catching just a few fish here and there, until the swans were almost right next to us feeding in the lily pads. They were spectacular!.
Finally with just about forty minutes left before we had to head in, John and I found the fish. Just the other side of some lily pads where no one had fished, we were suddenly surrounded by rises. We probably hooked at least fifteen fish between us, landing about half of them in just a short time. They weren't large, but we were still thrilled to suddenly have such action.
The day should have been longer, but, unfortunately, it wasn't. Even so, the stillness and hush on the lake, the smooth, clear water and the wildlife viewing made it an exceptional day. We hated for it to be over.
I love the gentleness of the canoe trip, and the tranquility it always brings me.
Grayling, grayling, and more grayling made our annual Denali Highway/Tangle Lakes trip one of our best in years. They were everywhere. They were also voracious. Whether fishing with dry flies or nymphs, everyone caught fish like crazy. They weren't large fish as grayling go; mostly they were in the thirteen to fifteen-inch range, which is still a good fish on a delicate 5-wt fly rod.
The first group started off trying streamers in the high water of one of our favorite little streams, but it wasn't until we put a small split shot on, that the fish appeared. A short time later, the sun came out and so did the bugs, and we were able to switch to dry flies, while also putting on the bug repellant at the same time.
We headed off the road the following day to a creek absolutely jam-packed with eager fish. After a morning of mostly dry fly catching with elk-hair caddis, royal wulffs, and, parachute Adams, we moved up-stream for awhile to put the gold-ribbed-hare's-ear nymphs to good use. Everybody caught several sixteen-inch+ fish in the narrow, deep channels, proving once again that the biggest fish are typically in the deepest, fastest water.
A different section of one of the rivers proved to be another good hunting grounds for larger fish, after we had successfully bush-wacked our way down the bank to get to it. Now, the anglers really put their roll casts and "flip" casts to work because the bushes were usually right behind them. Wow, did they ever get good at putting their flies right where the fish were.
The second group hit most of the same spots that the first group had fished, and they, too, perfected their casts, their accuracy, and their fish-playing skills on numerous willing subjects. These gals faced even higher water than the first group, so we used a mix of small streamers and nymphs at first. Surprisingly, even when it was raining in the afternoon, the fish began to rise, and all got the dry-fly experience they were hoping for.
The next day they absolutely slammed the fish just waiting for them in a beautiful run with water so transparent that they could clearly see both grayling and whitefish slowly fining near the bottom. Even though they wanted to catch some whitefish to see what they looked like, these bottom dwellers preferred to stay right where they were and refused the flies.
Nevertheless, the grayling were more than cooperative as they hit our caddis and mayfly imitations with abandon. Right along the current seams, where they always like to sit, the fish definitely came out to play. When we fished the deep channels, they also proved how much they liked our pheasant tail and bead-head prince nymphs. The fishing was great in several spots along the creek until someone noticed a huge hornet's nest hanging out over the water they were casting into. "Just imagine what would have happened if I'd hit it with one of my casts," she said as she moved to a different spot on the river.
Our bush-whacking day proved to be just as successful as the first group's had been, but again with higher water. Dry flies proved to be the ticket in certain spots, but nymphs were definitely the better producers in other spots. They just changed places throughout the day to take advantage of both types of fishing.
Our last day started out cold and rainy with fish preferring to sit tight. Just one or two small fish treated themselves to the dry flies. Nymphs weren't doing much good either. So, I finally put on some #12 crackleback flies and the fish came to life. (The crackleback is a weird little fly that I learned about when fishing for trout in Branson MO with my friend and co-owner of the River Run Outfitters fly shop and guide service, Carolyn Parker.) After awhile, however, even those flies couldn't seem to get a rise out of the fish, so we re-rigged with one small split-shot and a #16 cased-caddis nymph that did the trick. It was great to finish out with a bang.
The pink salmon were in Montana Creek in droves when the first group arrived, but the water was very high and murky, which made for some tough fishing. From time to time the water seemed to clear a bit, and, if the light was good, we could still make out the fish by looking for the white bellies they always develop as they head upstream to spawn. Otherwise, they were just dark spots in dark water. There were also some chum salmon entering the river, and they were larger, and somewhat easier to see, so we had two different species to go after.
Of course we hooked a pink salmon or two in the giant hump that forms on the backs of the males before spawning, and we even got a couple in the tail because the water was too dark for us to direct our flies right at their mouths. But, all in all, everyone learned the techniques of setting the hook as well as playing, and landing a large fish on a fly rod. Some silver salmon were coming in as well, but we neither saw nor hooked any. After fishing the mail river for the morning, we headed out to the mouth of the river where it dumps into the Susitna River, but, although we hooked into a few, we didn't land them.
The second day's fishing was even tougher as it had rained (again) during the night and the water was even higher. Fishing along a gravel bar trying to find the slow water where the salmon hang out didn't prove very productive even though we could occasionally see fish on their way to the spawning beds.
When we were finally able to fish from one of my favorite spots where fish rest on the main river, we hooked fish almost immediately and landed two large chum salmon right away. That was very encouraging, and, even though it was still raining, we kept on fishing. It wasn't long until the water was notably rising and we knew our time was limited. Still, a bright silver salmon took one of the flies, and the fight was on. This fish didn't get turned back. We had a few more hook-ups, but ended up quitting early because the water was extremely high and very, very dirty.
Resurection Creek, Hope, AK
Fishing for pink salmon on Resurrection Creek wasn't quite up to par this year, mostly because of the high water, but we started out with some casting instruction on the lower river because the tide was out and the wading was easy. The casts were good, the mending technique improved as we went along, and the hooking was all we lacked. So, after lunch we headed up river to where I was pretty sure there would be fish, even though they were not in the bright, silvery shape that we would have preferred.
Sure enough, fish were hanging out in one of my favorite spots just waiting for our flies, it seemed. Everyone hooked and landed fish and no one complained because they really weren't keepable. These single days are mostly practice days, after all, and we are just glad to have fish to cast to. Our only real disappointment was that we couldn't find any Dolly Varden char to cast to. They often provide the most excitement on this creek, but on this trip they were noticeably absent.
Late in the afternoon, after two members of the group had to leave, the other two stayed casting and hooking lots of fish in a tiny quiet spot where the fish were barely visible, but still very cooperative.
The second day's group had better luck down toward the mouth of the river. They, too, worked on their casting techniques, and soon were deliberately casting to fish they could see moving up-stream. A couple of quick "fish-ons & fish-offs" kept everyone excited. Then, quite unexpectedly, Meryl hooked a dime-bright silver salmon. Keeping his cool, and listening to my coaching, he played the fish beautiful, and then skillfully led it to the bank. It was definitely the highpoint of the morning.
After lunch this bunch also went up to my up-stream spot and began casting to the pink salmon with real confidence. Then, suddenly, someone noticed that there were some different fish in the pool. "Do silver salmon have white bellies like the pink salmon," someone asked. "Nope, I answered. They will be bigger ." and more gray in the water." "Then, I think I see some silvers," came the reply. They were right!
The silver salmon run in Resurrection Creek is very small, and it is really fun to see them heading up to spawn in the midst of the other fish. Even though they did their best, and Denise even hooked one (for a second), they just weren't lucky enough to get the silvers. Maybe next time!
This much anticipated trip to a seldom fished spring creek in interior Alaska proved to be an unexpected disappointment. We were too late, and the grayling had already headed down stream into the main Nenana river, moving toward their wintering grounds.
We had loaded up the boat and taken the short ride from the town of Nenana to the creek and the comfortable little cabin that awaited the six of us. By the time we were settled, it was getting too dark to see the trail clearly and we decided to wait until morning to fish.
The morning was gloriously sunny, the fall colors were absolutely brilliant, and the pungent smell of the woods greeted us as we set out to fish. The water was high and a little dirty, and some storm clouds were gathering north of us, and those conditions were responsible for the lack of fish, we thought at first. Nothing worked--not dry flies, not nymphs, and not even streamers beneath a small split shot. We hiked down stream managing the rough trail with our wading sticks, fishing different spots along the way, but the story was the same everywhere.
A roasted chicken dinner, a glass of wine, and a warm fire all made for a fine evening in the cabin later, and we went to bed hoping for better fishing the following day.
It was not to be. After another day of disappointment with just one fish, we decided to cut the trip short and vowed to give this lovely little creek another chance, only much earlier next year. Some went off to visit Denali National Park and Mount McKinley just a few miles south of us, and some headed over to the Denali Highway for some hiking. They may not have had fish, but they had some gorgeous, fall weather to enjoy, and they took advantage of it.
Except for the rain the first two days, we couldn't have asked for a better trip than this year's sojourn to Reel Wilderness Adventures in Wood-Tikchik State Park, the larges state park in the U.S. We took an early morning flight to Dillingham, Alaska, and from there a float plane took us out to the camp. By afternoon we were all geared-up and headed out to the world famous Agulapak River for some serious rainbow trout fishing.
Fishing with twelve-foot leaders, a strike indicator, and two tiny plastic beads meant to represent salmon eggs, is no walk in the park. It takes some practice to lob the rig up-river, do a quick mend to keep the fly floating dead-drift, and then to track the indicator as it moves down in the turbulent water filled with bright red sockeye salmon for the slightest movement suggesting a strike.
It wasn't long before the group got the hang of it and the catching began. It was, however, catching for large, colorful Arctic char, and not the rainbows we were after. But these fish were so beautiful and so eager, that it was hard to complain about the scarcity of bows. We headed back to camp for an exceptional dinner with lots of fish stories.
The next morning two of the women who had joined us from Australia decided to head out and fish for pike, their friend and another woman chose rainbow fishing again, and Joan and I opted for the small creek char fishing up the lake from the camp. By lunch time we all great stories to report of big pike, bear and moose sightings and lots and lots of char. Everyone returned to the river in the afternoon after most other anglers had returned home to different nearby lodges. High water made it difficult for the guides to maneuver the boats, but the fishing was exceptional nevertheless.
We had been keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would be good so that we might get to take the boats up to a different lake for some Arctic grayling fishing, and our wish came true. We had an early breakfast, loaded up the boats, and headed out onto lakes that were glassy calm with the scenery getting better all the time.
Jagged peaks and mountain spires connected by glaciers greeted us upon arrival at the little river we were going to fish. The group split up into three pairs with each pair taking one branch of the river and agreeing to meet back at a particular spot for lunch. Our branch of the river consisted of large pools where beefy Arctic grayling patrolled the depths for food and rose leisurely for tiny dry flies or emergers that we couldn't identify. Brenda took one pool and I took the other as we rigged up with tiny leaders topped by tiny flies and proceeded to cast. Both of us had some early interest in the caddis emerger that we were presenting, but after several very definite refusals by some of the larger fish, we changed flies. I went to a CDC emerger, and Brenda chose a peacock herl bodied dry fly with a tiny red tail. Both of us had hits immediately, and the fish just kept coming cast after cast. Bren spotted a very large fish and resolutely cast to it until it finally rose and ate. It turned out to be a twenty-one inch specimen, one of the two largest grayling of the day. The backdrop of mountains and glaciers provided a spectacular setting for our success. At lunch we learned of another twenty-one inch fish plus many more in the sixteen & seventeen range.
After lunch we all spread out on a stretch of river down-stream of the lunch spot. All of us put flies in front of several large fish cruising near a beaver dam, but not interested in our offerings. As we moved downriver, though, we found much more cooperative fish. All of the others opted to stay with dry fly fishing, but since the water was right for it, I switched to a Czech nymph rig of two flies, one or both of which interested the feeding fish immediately. The day wasn't nearly long enough, but the total catch of grayling was well over fifty fish.
A full moon appeared over the trees as we later headed for bed, and the night was full of wilderness sounds. Wolves howled back and forth to each other across the lake as did a pair of owls and the loons. What a treat it was to listen to it all.
The last day of the trip, two of the group chose to go pike fishing, two went to the small char rivers where they could cast without having to deal with the long leaders, and two of us went to the rainbow river. We all caught fish, and this also seemed to be our most productive day of wildlife viewing. A young bear appeared on the river shortly after we had begun fishing but retreated when the guides hollered at him as he got too close. He appeared and re-appeared several times during the day. Others sighted a cow and calf moose as well as another bear. All of us also heard the sand-hill cranes off and on throughout the day. Eagles, beavers, loons and more put in an appearance as well.
The camp's lodge, really a huge yurt, and the snug weatherports that constitute the cabins provided a wonderfully comfortable setting for our adventures. The float plane came all too quickly to pick us up, but we'll definitely be back next year.
The Eyak River near Cordova provided our first and last stops of the trip this year, and the silvers were definitely "in." They proved to be more cooperative early in the trip before we had had a couple of days of splendid, completely unusual, bright, sunny, hot weather. Some were bright as a dime fish just in from the ocean, and some were darker fish that had been in the water for a while. Typically, the bright fish proved to be the more aggressive and acrobatic, but we also caught some big, bucks that were decidedly reddish in color but equally as active. The river was pretty clear, for water that was often tinged with glacier silt, and not very crowded at first, but as its shores became more populated, we were glad that we'd gotten an early start.
We were able to boat out into spectacular Prince William Sound one day to a small, back-water area where the fish usually rest, and were lucky enough to find the hole filled with mostly silvers. A few pink salmon were still hanging around, but, thankfully, we hardly ever hooked them up. The silvers, on the other hand, were a different story.
As the tide was going out, and up until slack tide, they were eager to take our flies no matter what the pattern, or how they were stripped. Then, everything got pretty "slack" at slack tide. As we began to notice evidence of the incoming tide, however, the action picked back up with a lot of instances with more than one fish on a fly line. Brenda and Kate matched each other fish for fish the entire time we were there. Green seemed to be the color of the day with green head starlight leeches, and chartreuse everglow flies some of the preferred offerings. We kept just a few fish for Brenda to send to her mother, mostly because we couldn't haul many more down the beach to the boat.
Our fly-out day was absolutely unbelievable. The flight over the Copper River Delta from Cordova was breathtaking. We landed on a long beach that just beckoned us to go beachcombing instead of fishing. No way. Not only were there lots of silvers to welcome us to the small creek, but there were also lots of cutthroat trout for something different.
Bear tracks were absolutely everywhere, and we had our bear-spray at the ready, but we had no problems, mostly because we routinely hollered "ho-bear" at the top of our lungs. We left very reluctantly when the tide began to come in and took time for lunch on a huge drift-wood log right beside the plane. We'd have loved to hang around, but had to get the plane off the beach.
Our reward for a somewhat shorter fishing day was an amazing flight-see over one of the glaciers near Cordova. A true river of ice, it poured down from the mountains over miles and miles of area. The cracks and crevices, hundreds of feet deep, were glistening shades of blue. A couple of mountain goats were visible on the surrounding mountains.d It's something that you simply can't describe to someone else. You have to experience it for yourself. Our special thanks to Gayle Ranney, owner of Fishing & Flying!
We were lucky that day to be back early enough to also drive out to Childs Glacier to watch its dramatic calving into the channel of the Copper River right in front of us. The waves the icebergs generated were huge and the noise was deafening. A short hike took us over to the Million Dollar Bridge, which has now been restored since one of the sections toppled into the river during the 1964 earthquake. From there we had a view of Miles Glacier and its surrounding mountains behind its icebergs that floated down the river and under the bridge we were standing on. To top it all off, there wasn't a cloud in the sky so our views were unimaginable. We got back to the lodge just in time for another great dinner, a glass of wine, and some fish telling stories.
I'm always on the lookout for new fly fishing destinations for my clients, and this year, I've been lucky enough to come across a super one. It's the result of a dream by two friends of their own special place on a river they love in Bristol Bay and eventually turning it into a small fishing lodge. Mostly, they and their families and friends go there to fish through the summer and fall, and they have now begun taking fishing clients from time to time. This spring they contacted me to see if I would be interested in checking out their dream site for a possible trip in 2011.
I jumped at the chance to spend a few days with them chasing rainbows at their special place, and sure am glad that I did. After visiting their small, cozy, and squeaky clean operation, catching rainbows by the dozens, marveling at the gorgeous fall colors and the evening light on the river spread out below, and devouring great food, they didn't have to work too hard to convince me to organize a trip with them.
Each of the days I was at the camp, we took the boats out early in the morning and rigged up to fish for rainbows. Being fall, we had most of our success with bunny and egg imitation flies on floating lines. The river is just the size I like, presenting the opportunity to cast clear to the far bank in many spots. Small braids, beautiful glides, and deep pools emptying into moderately fast runs, makes great habitat for fish. Not many dollies or grayling on this trip, but plenty of bows to keep you casting all day.
This location can only host six people at a time, just the size place I like, and the fishing is all wade and cast¸ something else I really like and that I know many of you like too. A few pictures of the fish and the area accompany this exploratory trip report so you can get an idea of where you'd be staying and fishing.