Awesome Argentina 2011
© 2011 Pudge Kleinkauf
A stay at a beautiful B&B in Bariloche, Mariana's, helped alleviate our jet-lag after our arrival in Argentina. We walked to town to find the fly shop the first day and had dinner at lovely restaurants both that evening and the next. An early morning shuttle got us to the lodge late morning on the third day. Julie, Sandy, Chrys, Margaret and I had scheduled a four-day three-night raft trip before our regular week at the lodge, so we quickly got re-packed in the dry-bags, met Mark, the new lodge manager, and took off for the river. The rafts had all been equipped with hard floors and "leaning" bars since last year, and we got used to the changes quickly.
The raft trip took place on the upper Alumine River. We all caught lots of rainbows and many browns. During the trip we saw guanacos (a camelid native to South America), lots of birds, the wild pigs, flamingos, fox, lots of ducks, frogs, the red deer, and more. Amazing rock formations jutted into the sky as we floated along, most with willow trees decorating the banks and providing hiding places for the trout. Margaret nearly put the rest of us to shame one afternoon with rainbow after rainbow she caught on a #8 Chernobyl Ant with orange rubber legs that Gus found in one of my fly boxes.
Each night the camp helpers would set up camp right on the river. They even put up a little potty for us. Very windy and cold the first night, so the potty blew over in the night. Other nights were cold, but not so windy. Dinner was always delectable. One night it was roasted chicken cooked over the open fire, the next night it was roasted goat (which I had never tasted, but which was wonderful) and the third night it was Argentinian sausages and beef. All the meals were served on a white table cloth with real silverware, and both red and white wine to top it all off-even at lunch!
We had a great time with all the bugs. Each evening the mayfly hatch took place in the air as we ate dinner, and Mark developed a close relationship with a sparkling dragon-fly at breakfast one morning. Christian, one of the guides found a huge Argentinian stonefly, so we took pix of it on my Patagonia waders.
On our last day we drifted by the parrots' nest holes on the bluffs and got back to the lodge late afternoon. Patti, Aja, and Felecia were there waiting for us. Pato, the lodge chef, greeted us with one of her great dinners. Dessert was a brownie with fruit topping and whipped cream. Another night it was a flan and then it was a chocolate cake with creamy frosting topped with fresh fruit. She also made us her wonderful little quiches and salads for lunch, along with my favorite lemon bars, and the ever present hard-boiled eggs.
Day one of the lodge trip we waded the astonishingly beautiful Malleo (pronounced Majho) River so that the novices could work on their casting before we fished from the rafts. We met the new guide, Herbie, and caught some rainbows and brownies. We headed out on the rafts to fish the spectacular Collon Cura River (pronounced "cojon cura") the next day. I got up in the front of Gus's boat to help Patti, who was the least experience of the group, and soon she was casting confidently right into the spot where Gus told her to.
The group got in some shopping in Junin De los Andes one day and we'd hoped to fish the upper Chimeuin that afternoon, but it was too late when they got back. Some hiked the four miles to the lake instead while others read or just took a little nap. (We couldn't arrange the day any other way, because the shops are open in the morning, and closed in the afternoon for siesta.) Rather than shop I had one of the guides take me down to the river below the lodge where he landed a gorgeous brown trout and I connected with some rainbows. We also had a great time photographing some of the huge, orange mayflies that were everywhere on the river.
Another day we fished the willow-studded middle Chimeuin River, part of which flows through the town of Junin De Los Andes. It's one of my favorite stretches of river. Marcos, another of the guides, and I helped Felecia work on her casting with the steeple and "over your shoulder" casts to use in the raft so she felt more confident in her casting. Fishing was fairly slow, but everyone caught lots of small trout & brownies. Felecia missed a couple of hits, but finally landed a good-sized fish that was over eighteen-inches in length, plus two more nice ones quickly afterwards. When we met for lunch Margaret & Julie reported many small fish, Sandy had caught a nice brown and Chrys some good rainbows, one of which she landed just as we were pulling into the bank at the lunch spot. Aja missed a couple of fish, and so had Pattie, but both were becoming much more confident in casting from the rafts. Both were working on the technique of setting the hook.
The major fly set up was with a #6 PMX fly with a pheasant tail or brown body and a bead-head pheasant tail or red or green copper john on the dropper. We fished streamers for a while a couple of mornings, but most of the action was on the dry flies. Some of us would trade on and off between dries and streamers throughout the day.
While we were eating lunch one day we spotted lots of rises under the willows nearby, and as we launched the rafts for the afternoon's fishing, everyone cast to them with no luck. Felecia and I and Marcos were the last to launch and we decided to stay in the spot for a while and try different things. Success occurred with a tiny caddis emerger dropped off a large PMX dry fly!
The following day the wind was absolutely howling. It was impossible to fish either wading or from the rafts. So we decided to drive to the National Park and see Lanin Volcano and Lake Tromen. Wind soon brought low clouds & rain that completely obscured the volcano. They all had to be satisfied with the great view from the porch of the lodge. We took a few pictures at the lake where the standing waves were very visible, and then made the short drive to the border between Argentina & Chile where some of them walked to the "Welcome to Argentina" sign, just as it started to pour rain. They all came back soaking wet. There is a tiny village nearby with an Artisans shop but it was closed for siesta. So we ate our lunch in a willow grove nearby and waited for it to open, but it never did, so we left. That night everyone went into town for shopping and dinner because it was Pato's day off.
Our last day we split up with some floating the lower Chimeuin and some floating the upper. The fishing was terrific no matter where we were. It seemed as though the big browns had really come out to play, and we all caught at least one over twenty-inches! Patti, the least experienced of the group at the start, ended up with one of the largest brown of them all, a 25-inch beauty!! Aja's big fish wasn't far behind. Julie maintained her title as "queen of the brownies" though, as she definitely caught the most over the course of the trip.
Our shuttle left for the airport at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, but Pato gave us a good send-off with a hearty breakfast and lots of hugs. Mark and Gus helped us load the bags, and we were (reluctantly) on the road. Some flew back to Miami, some to Atlanta, and some to Alaska and Oregon. It's a very long journey, but well with the effort!
We started out the first day of our 2011 trip with a great rooster fish on one of our three boats, a large skipjack tuna on the second, and some really nice jack cravalle on the third. We were off to a fantastic start! It is amazing how willing folks are to get up really early in the morning when fish like these are waiting for us.
Throughout the day everyone seemed to be catching lots of the golden-painted lady fish, skipjack tuna, and long-nosed cornet fish that can hardly open their little puckered mouths. Racking up the numbers, we also managed to cruise through an unbelievably large school of spawning manta rays and watch the whales perform. An area known as Punta Pescadores seems to always have a display of manta, but it appeared to be unusually large this year. I guess the conditions were just right.
No matter which boat people were on, we all saw spouting and breaching wales in small pods that were heading back to their Sea of Cortez feeding grounds. A female and her calf both slapped the water in unison with their massive tails just for our enjoyment it seemed.
Each day everyone rotated between fishing from a cruiser and two super-pangas. (The cruiser being the larger boat, of course.) Since we all stayed pretty much "in-shore" where the action was, those who had never fished from a panga learned how wonderful they really can be for fly fishing. Much to our amazement, the fishing that day even topped the day before for all of us.
Large schools of beautiful lady fish had everyone smiling as they were landed and released, as did lots and lots and lots of skipjack tuna that can hit your fly with such force, that you are sure that you have hooked a monster. (They are not called the "silver bullets" for nothing.) We also encountered large schools of sierra mackerel, the fish we were after to make the incomparable ceviche that the hotel is famous for, as well as a prized yellow-tail tuna that was released quickly after just a couple of pictures.
The absolute highlight of the afternoon was a huge, black seething mass of bait fish known as a "bait ball" that appeared right at the surface of the small bay that we were fishing. Suddenly, the air was filled with eager birds and well as lots and lots of other fish species looking to score an easy meals in the midst of such largesse. So were we! We must have circled that spot at least thirty times with everyone hooking up on nearly each pass. WOW! Was all we could say to the folks who wanted a report later at the dock. Before dinner that night we celebrated on the hotel patio with ceviche and just-made, warm chips to compliment our margaritas.
Boat day #3 epitomized the saying that "fishing is a sport with long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of intense excitement." We trolled around in good spots from previous days with little or no success, so we scouted elsewhere. Suddenly, someone would get a hit and the party would be on for a while. Then, things would slow down again, and we were off for other locations. Again, the skip jack tuna would appear from out of nowhere to hit our green or blue and white deceivers and provide us with lots of doubles and triples. A forty-pound jack cravalle and lots of smaller ones for nearly everyone else, were the day's crowning glory.
Our half-day guided beach fishing morning was the most perfect conditions I can ever remember for that part of the trip. Calm winds, flat water, almost no wave-action, and fish swirling in and out of the schools of bait just off-shore. We sent up the 8 and 9-wt rods, had a short casting lesson, selected some small clouser minnows that imitated what we were seeing in the water, donned the stripping baskets, and went to work. As everyone got more comfortable with the equipment, they learned the "two-handed strip" to make their flies move faster. Then, we began to see fish following the flies, and getting hits where everyone had to practice setting the hook with the new technique. As usual, an ice-cream cone and shopping day in the nearby village provided the sport in the afternoon.
For our "free day" this year most of the group decided to visit the nearby hot springs for some relaxing spa fun and then visit the waterfall that is a big attraction in the area. The rest relaxed by the pool. We had hoped to spend another half-day fishing, but extremely strong winds made it impossible.
Sure was nice to get out on the water for our spring float tubing days. Blue skies, warm breezes, and returning wildlife created some great conditions. We strapped on the flippers, buckled-up the life jackets, and stepped into the tubes and some wonderful lake environments.
The first day out we started bright and early to beat what we expected would be other Saturday enthusiasts and got down to work. Four pairs of red-necked grebes hooted and tooted right beside us as they started their mating rituals. They sure were fun to watch.
But, it was the fish that we were interested in, and the first hook up of the day occurred with a brown woolly bugger and a fifteen inch rainbow as we trolled along on our way to one of the good spots on the lake. As we spread out to fish towards the bank, another nice fish took the same fly.
In the lakes in the spring, we mostly use bead-head lake leeches, gold ribbed hares-ear nymphs, and olive or brown woolly buggers. All of them were producing fish from several cruising pods of fish that we could actually see from where we had positioned the tubes. An occasional fly caught in the bushes made for some tense moments as we tried to extract it without spooking the fish.
It wasn't long before the fish of the day appeared. It turned out to be a twenty-two-inch female that grabbed a black bead-head lake leech. During seven spectacular jumps, the fish did its best to escape, but finally, after a slow and persistent effort, she finally came to the net for a picture. We all hoped for more of that caliber of fish, but that didn't happen.
On a different day, the tubers found that because the fish were right up against the bank, they had to get their fly under lots of over-hanging branches and bushed and in between lots of woody debris underneath. It was quite a challenge. We ended up paddling to the bank a couple of times to break off some of the branches to open up a space to cast into, and that worked very well.
Right behind us on the lake a pair of gorgeous, black and white loons kept track of our fish and our fishing. Their curiosity about the tubes is always fun to see and their hoots and chirps wonderful to hear. I love to have them swimming around us.
One of my favorite lakes was disappointing this year. The water was still very, very cold when we got there and the few fish that we saw were pretty sluggish. We had to settle for a great view of Denali, the tallest Mountain in North America, and some wildlife watching.
As we paddled along in one area, we could see several fish swimming back and forth along a shallow area. We beached the tubes, took off our flippers, and tried to stalk them from the bank. It wasn't long, however, before they moved back into deeper water and left us fishless.
As we were getting out of the lake on the last day, a pair of over-twenty-inch fish appeared right at the bank in front of us and proceeded to swirl around each other as they prepared to enact the spring spawning ritual. Rainbows in land-locked lakes attempt to spawn, but any eggs the female might lay or the male fertilize die because they need the oxygen from moving water to survive. Still, it was fascinating to see them and dream of catching them another time.
Our last trip to the Brooks River was in 2009, and it was wonderful to be back! Some things had changed around the camp, but not enough to alter the character of this fabulous place, thank goodness.
We arrived in cold, rainy, windy weather, so a good part of our first afternoon we spent walking up to the Brooks Falls to scout for bears while the wind roared. Luckily, it died down later and we headed out to the river. There were no sockeye salmon in the river as we had hoped, so we fished for the trophy rainbows of Brooks while we waited for them.
After dinner the first night we managed to hook up several rainbows and eagerly looked forward to the next morning. We were up early and headed out to the river for a full morning of fishing in a couple of different spots where more rainbows awaited us.
That afternoon, we hiked out to the river mouth and got all excited to see a large school of sockeye moving up the lake toward the river with fish jumping for excitement too. We quickly rigged the 8-wt rods and were lined up along the current at the river mouth soon after casting away.
Sockeye are an elusive salmon, and can be hard to hook unless you're casting to a large number of fish. Nevertheless, the gals persisted and hooked several, but weren't quick enough to set the hook a second or third time as a salmon's hard mouth requires. We hoped for better luck on the next school as these first arrivers headed straight up-river without stopping to rest as late arrivals usually do.
No more salmon appeared so the afternoon saw us casting dry flies, nymphs, as well as large, black streamers to the gorgeous rainbows that were very visible right in front of us. We certainly were delighted to have them to fish for while we waited for more salmon to arrive.
Our last day proved to be very frustrating. It was raining hard again, and the water was high and dirty. While we did see another approaching school of sockeye, they decided to stay out in the lake and leave us salmonless. All day we kept checking the river to see if the salmon had arrived. Even though we couldn't keep a fish caught above the floating bridge, we decided to head up there and see if any salmon were resting in the infamous "meat-hole" on their way to the Brooks Falls and their spawning grounds. It was heartening to see a few fish right out in front of us, but again, they streaked on by ignoring our flies. Back to trout fishing we went and were happy to have them
We did have better luck with our bear watching, however. A four-year-old bear appeared over and over again near the lodge, the river, and the trail, once, even taking a nap on the beach right in front of our cabin. Another time she even laid down in the sand to scratch her back with all four paws waiving in the air. Late one afternoon we watched as a very large male bear approached the same spot where she was exploring. We waited breathlessly for the encounter, but they headed off into the woods where we couldn't see them. It is spring, after all.
A bear that had already learned that people meant fish, approached a small group of anglers and sent them scurrying one afternoon. Another day at lunch a bear ran right through camp just outside the dining room, causing everyone to abandon eating and run for their cameras. We never know where they'll turn up next.
The phenomena of fish and bears that is Brooks isn't always this slow to develop, but the bears don't usually appear in any numbers until there are lots of salmon clogging the rivers where they are easier to catch. Usually the party is in full swing when we arrive but this year's cold spring and high water were thought by biologists to put a damper on things. Even so, we enjoyed coffee in the morning by the huge fireplace in the lodge, fun cocktail hours with our fishing friends the "The Order of the Hairy Dogs," and meeting people from around the world who were also enjoying this special place. Besides, the chance to fish for trophy rainbow trout in this gorgeous little river makes it all worthwhile as does the constant excitement of seeing bears in the wild.
Beautiful Lake Clark National Park was just waiting for us as we traversed the magnificent, glacier-studded Lake Clark Pass on our flight from Anchorage to the Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, AK. The weather was cloudy and rainy, but the mountains and the lakes were visible through the fog and the small runway rose up to meet us for a smooth landing. We were out of the plane in no time, and had eaten the sack lunch that awaited us in our cabins and donned our waders in record time.
One of the staff of the lodge took us by skiff to the mouth of the Tanalian River, where it appeared that the water was too high for us to cross the first channel and dropped us off in between the two main channels. We had the first grayling on in no time! Two of the four anglers were total novices to fly fishing, but the eager grayling helped me teach them how to present the fly dead-drift and were anxious to take it when they did. It was a fun afternoon, with the hook-ups coming fast and furious after a while. Our pick-up seemed to come all too soon.
Our second day was scheduled to be our fly-out day for salmon fishing. The weather was still cloudy, but we enjoyed the flight over Lake Iliamna to the Kvichak River and our favorite fishing spot. Sadly, the sockeye salmon were few and far between that day and we landed just one small fish and had just two other hook-ups all morning. So, after lunch, we decided to head back to one of the lakes near the lodge for some grayling fishing. Mother Nature had other plans for us, however, and we ended up enduring a very bumpy, fog-surrounded flight back to the lodge when we didn't have enough visibility to get to the lake. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading, doing e-mail, and enjoying a glass of wine before dinner.
The next day we hiked to the gorgeous Tanalian Falls and fished for grayling in the plunge pool. The water was high and there was limited space for all four to fish, but we managed, and caught lots and lots of large fish. The hike home was lovely, and at dinner that night we heard that other hikers after us encountered lots of bear poop and bear tracks. Luckily, we had missed them.
We always spend one day of the trip on the boat exploring the pike pond on Lake Clark as well as some of its tributary streams. This year, the pike were very cooperative, and everyone caught several--some of them over 30 inches in length. We had a hard time leaving, but were anxious to sample the grayling fishing on the famous Kiijik River across the lake.
The first stop on the Kiijik proved to be too deep and too fast, due to the high water, but a run on the other side of the river bar proved to be grayling nirvana. We started out with nymphs so everyone could master the technique of "high-sticking" and the fish were coming fast and furious for everyone. Soon, however, all the rising fish made us switch to dry flies, and then it seemed almost like a fish on every cast. We really didn't want to head back to the lodge, but finally did, getting back just in time to strip off the waders and head to the dining room for another of the lodge's exceptional meals.
The last day of the trip always comes too soon, but we hurried up after breakfast to get our bags packed and our rooms vacated so we could fish as long as possible. The grayling welcomed us again, as everyone tried their hand at Czech nymphing because it was gray and cold and nothing was rising. While no one caught two fish at the same time on the double nymphs, we did have several "doubles" as two women had fish on at the same time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a picture of two anglers each with a fish, but we all were thrilled at how often it happened. By the end of the afternoon, the fish were rising consistently and all the catches were on elk-hair caddis. In the final minutes three of the four all had a fish on at the same time! It was a great end to a great trip.
The flight home through the other side of Lake Clark Pass was just the frosting on the cake. The glaciers and mountains were absolutely breathtaking. It's really hard to top this trip for scenery, a great lodge, super fishing, and a chance to experience one of the least-visited of all the National Parks.
Notable Nome was waiting for us with our shuttle to the Northwest Adventures Camp standing by. Tom and Hunter had the boats ready to go when we reached the settlement of Council and we headed straight to camp. It had been raining for 3-weeks straight, and the water was high and pretty dirty, but we had high hopes for clearer days. The Niukluk River usually goes down quickly after a storm so we kept our fingers crossed. After a quick lunch we headed out to see if the Arctic grayling would welcome us in spite of the poor conditions.
We needn't have worried. Parachute Adams immediately attracted fish in the 18 and 19-inch category and they never stopped coming all afternoon. Next morning we traveled up to Ophir Creek in the rain with the remains of the gold rush all around us. But the fishing was slow. So after landing just one fish on a salmon egg imitation and striking out on both dries and nymphs we headed downriver for lunch at another spot.
We could hardly believe our luck, but after a while the weather improved, although the bugs were horrendous. Our fortunes definitely changed for the better and the afternoon fishing was unbelievable! Fat and feisty grayling slammed everything we threw at them. Doubles occurred over and over again while we tried to get pictures of them. We certainly went back to camp well satisfied. Dinner really made us happy as well. BJ had cooked up one of her outstanding musk-ox stews for us to try, and we absolutely stuffed ourselves. What a treat!
The next day we headed out to try pike and chum salmon fishing. The conditions were perfect (meaning the bugs were only bothersome and not crazy-making) and the water was just the right depth. As we poled into the pond we began to see small pike in the weeds that refused all of our flies. So, we finally headed farther in and picked up one larger pike. Another huge fellow, followed, and followed and followed a large brown bunny streamer, but wouldn't take, and we finally gave up on him.
After lunch we headed over to the chum salmon spot, and had six very large fish on the bank within half an hour. We didn't keep them as they were clearly displaying their spawning colors, but they sure were fun to catch on the 8-wts. An Alaskan Native family arrived shortly after we did to put out a subsistence net so we moved on.
Grayling were everywhere the next day and our arms actually got tired from catching them. They were all absolutely gorgeous fish with aqua-dotted dorsal fins nearly long as their entire body and pale violet and orange tints on their scales. They took stimulators and elk-hair caddis, and parachute black knats, and proved to be especially partial to #8 Chernobyl Ants and black orange-topped beetles. In fact, I ran completely out of ants before the day was over. (I'll have to remember to tie even more for next year.) The weather was gorgeous, there was a slight breeze to keep the bugs down, and we had a fire with hot dogs and smores for lunch on the river. What a day!!! Then we went home to another of BJ's creations, but this time it was moose. I always marvel at how she can cook these wild meats with no "gamey" taste and in a way that is so tender, the meat just falls off the bone. Yum!
Our last day is always a half-day because we need to get the shuttle back to Nome to catch our plane, but we had another "fish every cast" morning just to top it all off. After saying our goodbyes we headed back only to experience a wildlife-studded trip along the way. Three separate herds of musk-ox grazed on the hills beside the road as we drove along, and we also saw hawks and wild reindeer with calves on the beach. We also thought we saw a sand-hill crane, but Steve, our driver, told us it was a decoy. I still don't know if he was pulling our legs or not. Fresh Bering Sea crab was on the menu for dinner in Nome, and we absolutely stuffed ourselves before meeting our plane. This trip simply can't be beat for red-hot fishing, great Alaska Native hospitality and food, and a perfect little river. Don't miss out on the trip next year. It is definitely one of my very favorites.
Every year the Orca Lode fly fishing school is one of the highlights of my summer. Five eager and excited women from all around the country get off the plane with me ready to try out the sport of fly fishing. Only very occasionally has one or the other of them actually tried a fly rod before this, but they all are ready to get going.
The lodge picks us up at the plane and just as soon as we arrive at our destination they are all ready to get their gear and equipment from me and hear about our plan for the four days we will be together. After a quick introduction to the gear, they head for dinner and bed to be ready for our early morning departure.
Our first day is always spent doing basic fly casting practice and then we quickly move on to actual fishing in the creek near where we have been practicing. They can actually see the dark bodies of the pink "humpy" salmon fighting their way up-stream to the spawning grounds, and they are all excited to be fishing for them. It isn't long before someone hollers, "I've got one" and everyone gathers around to look at it and see where the fly is in the fish's mouth. After that the hook-ups come fast and furiously even though not all of the fish are actually landed.
We return to the lodge about mid-afternoon to give us time for the first knot-tying class (along with a glass of wine) before dinner. By the time they go to eat, they can all tie the nail knot and the blood knot and the knot(s) to tie on a fly. A real sense of accomplishment is in the air.
The next day the lodge boat takes us out to one of the many coastal streams filled with fish for them to try out. This one is in Sheep Bay and it's chocked full of pink salmon. They are all catching fish like crazy and the accommodating pink salmon make it seem really easy. Ian, our boat driver, and I have a hard time keeping up with them. Each of them has had over twenty landed fish to her credit Today they've all mastered the art of setting the hook, keeping the fish tight, landing it, and releasing it correctly. Several of the fish turn out to be dime-bright ones just in on the tide, and those end up going home with us on the boat on their way to the freezer. On the boat ride back to the lodge for this afternoon's class on reading water and finding fish, the talk is all about how the fish took the fly, why a knot failed, how to remove the hook from the fish, and more. Their confidence builds by the minute.
Our third day we head out to one of the streams that harbors chum salmon as well as pink salmon so that they can try their hand at managing fish in the 10 or 12 lb range. The fish aren't as thick as the day before, but they still manage to catch a bunch of them, including many chums. For a change of pace we take a beautiful walk at mid-day across a field of beach grass to what looks like another channel of the creek, but are disappointed to find that it is just another tidal inlet that will go dry in just a short time. Still, the day has been a success because all of them have had to tie the knots to repair or replace a leader and all have been successful in doing so. They are quickly becoming accomplished fly anglers.
Our final day is devoted mostly to dry fly fishing for the lovely little sea-run cutthroat trout that inhabit a small stream that empties into a gorgeous crescent bay full of foam-topped breakers. We've flown from Cordova in two small planes and landed on the beach at low tide, much to everyone's excitement and then hiked over small sand dunes to reach the creek. It's buggy and warm, but the fish are quite cooperative and everyone gets to experience the thrill of seeing a fish come up to get the fly. The fish aren't large, but each one is a perfect little jewel that shows the new fly anglers just why dry-fly fishing is so addictive.
After lunch, while we are practicing our side-arm cast because the wind has come up, we suddenly see large fish porpoise in a pool right below where we are fishing. Of course we all rush over to see if they are large cutthroat. They aren't. Instead, they are a very fresh school of mostly female pink salmon frolicking in the fresh water that they have come to spawn in. The gals manage to catch several of them before it is time to go because the tide necessitates we get the planes off the beach.
Although everyone could have fished for many hours more, they didn't begrudge our leaving because Gayle Ranney, Alaska's most famous woman bush pilot, and Steve Ranney, her son and the owner of the lodge, had promised them a glacier flight-see on the way home. Soon, the noses of both planes were pointed straight up Sheridan glacier, and the incredible ice panorama was spread out below. The mind-boggling sight of glacier ice up-close is absolutely awesome and all of their cameras are clicking away the entire time we were flying.
It always comes to an end with a packing frenzy, a shuttle to the airport and a "graduation" pizza party with wine at the airport as we wait for the flight that returns us to Anchorage. Everyone gets her graduation fly box and we reluctantly say goodbye--until another time and another fly fishing trip.
The fall colors were beginning to decorate the bleak hillsides of the Denali Hiway as I turned off the Richardson Hiway onto one of Alaska's most picturesque drives to one of its most revered grayling fisheries. Tangle Lakes is just one special area along the one-hundred-thirty mile road, but it is probably everyone's favorite fishery. I am no exception. Every year we journey to this amazing place and enjoy its fishing, its wildlife watching, its berry picking, and its scenery.
We started out this year in the MacLaren Valley where persistent rain had made a raging torrent of water out of what is usually one of our favorite places to fish. We made a concerted effort to find fish in the turbulent water, but finally gave up and returned to the lodge. The next morning it was still raining, but we donned warm clothes and rain gear and headed out to an up-river creek. Being the hardy souls that we are, we rigged up nymphs with a small split shot and went to work. The fish cooperated immediately and we were on our way to a very successful (as well as a very wet) day.
Although we tried and tried to raise fish on dry flies, they were having almost none of it. It was nymphs they wanted, and only that! So, we accommodated them with a variety of hares ears, pheasant tails, prince, and other nymphs when they seemed to tire of one particular pattern. We certainly had no complaints about the numbers of fish we caught that day in spite of the rain. In fact, the river had risen several inches just during the time that we were there.
Suddenly, as we drove back along the road, we spotted herds of caribou streaming over the hillsides nearby. Binoculars revealed that they were being pursued by what looked like wolves. The herds were mostly comprised of females and calves along with a few immature bulls, and they were an amazing site to see. We watched until the danger seemed to abate and they settled down again to quiet grazing. Small pods of six or eight animals, single young bulls, and flocks of one-hundred or more dotted the hillside. We hoped they knew that the opening day of the fall hunting season was just a couple of days away.
The next day we fished the Tangle River in the very same spot where one of the women on the trip had caught over twenty fish on one afternoon while on a trip with us many years ago. The water was high and we couldn't have made it there without our trusty wading sticks. At first the fish were pretty incognito, but as the morning warmed a bit, they livened up. Both dries and nymphs were working then and she had actually topped her earlier record before lunch.
After lunch we headed over to a different spot where the river was really rushing along, but the fishing was just as good. Smaller fish would take dries in the quiet water, but the big boys wanted nymphs in the faster water. The water level was so high it was up in the trees, but, once again, the wading sticks got us to the great water we were headed for. The sun surprised us by coming out in the afternoon, but so did the bugs. Thankfully there was a breeze on the water so we were pretty comfortable.
Our last morning started out cold & foggy, and the first hour or so the fish were few and far between. We were fishing a completely different section of the river that sometimes gets fairly heavy pressure, but the bad weather was certainly keeping the number of anglers down. Finally the fish woke up to Griffiths Knats, various nymphs, and parachute black knats. It all ended on a great note with fish in the high numbers for everyone.
Absolutely everywhere I've gone this summer it has been or still was raining. All the rivers were high and pretty dirty, and the fishing was tough. The lovely little Chena River near Fairbanks, Alaska was no exception. I travel to Fairbanks every couple of years to introduce my clients to the Chena where the Arctic grayling are plentiful and cooperative. Some women come just for the day, and some come for several days. Such was the case this year.
We started out nymphing at some of my favorite places with very few rewards and then kept moving more and more up-river where the water was not so deep & fast. Finally, we landed a few fish and headed back to the campground for a glass of wine and dinner.
The weather improved the second day, but it took a lot of hard work scouting different locations for the fishing to improve. Late in the afternoon, we finally found a beautiful little run where the fish had been just waiting for our flies. After catching a sixteen-inch specimen and lots of his smaller cousins, we started back to the campground. On a quick stop at a spot that hadn't produced the day before we discovered where several fish were hiding out. They were mostly "dinks" (or small grayling) but we didn't care. They fell all over each other to take our dry flies and provided us with some delightful fishing. We did manage to catch most of them it seemed before another storm moved in and we gave up for the day.
Our third day was the most productive. The water level was falling somewhat and more fish were deciding to be cooperative. Returning to our successful spots from the day before, we were into fish right away. Bead-head gold ribbed hare's ears were by far the most productive fly followed by some juicy prince's. As we were getting ready for "the last cast" before moving on, one of the gals, who hadn't been catching suddenly hooked into the fish of the trip. After a tough, dogged fight, she finally brought a gorgeous, golden-colored, 18-inch fish to hand and we all admired his splendor. Lots and lots and lots of the "dinks" and a few of their larger cousins brought a fun finish to the day.
While we may not have caught as many fish as other years, what we definitely had more of this year were moose. We would see them in every road-side pond as we drove along, sometimes with a calf and sometimes in the company of other moose. They always seem to like the Chena River environment and we count on seeing lots of them.
The highlight of the trip, however, was the sighting of a young lynx who came out of the bushes along the road, climbed up on the pavement, and then, after looking both ways as his mother told him to, decided there was too much traffic for him and he retreated back to the bushes. It was a rare and exciting experience.
A wolf howl, an owl hoot, a loon call, and the squawk of the sand hill cranes all broke the silence of the night, and our Reel Wilderness trip this year became extraordinary wildlife experience. Even though it was hard to sleep with all that racket going on, the fact that we could just snuggle down in our comfy weatherports and listen to it all was an unparalleled delight. This definitely is a “real” wild trip. Accessible only by float plane, this wonderful camp with its yurt main lodge is a hidden gem in the vast distances of the largest state park in the US.
The fishing was pretty wild, too! We started off with some of the group going pike fishing and some heading over to the river for rainbows and char, and everyone coming back to the lodge for lunch full of stories and tales of exceptional fishing, occasional bear watching, and excitement about all the possibilities this trip has to offer.
With six different fish species to pursue, it was sometimes hard for everyone to make a decision on what to fish for next, but it was wonderful to always have an incredibly prolific river to head out to when we couldn’t make up our minds. After all, besides the pike, there were sockeye salmon, Arctic and Dolly Varden char, rainbow trout, and even Arctic grayling in its swift waters just waiting for us.
Spawning sockeye salmon bring both the char and rainbow trout to the fore as these two species feed on the eggs that the salmon deposit in the river. So, even when we would catch a bright red, spawning sockeye, no one minded as it was their presence that provided us with lots of options.
The pike fishing started out quite well in a small, hidden cove in the far reaches of the lake. We could see their dark shapes clearly against the lighter-colored, sandy bottom amidst the weeds, so it was possible to cast right to them. While we sometimes spooked them, we more often caught their interest with a moving target and they turned to attack it. They the fun began. “Come-on, come-on, come-on” we would chant as the voracious, alligator-mouthed creatures headed for the fly. At times they would turn away just at the last moment, but more often they would absolutely inhale the large yellow, orange, or white target and the fight was on. If you’ve never caught a pike on an 8-wt rod, you don’t know the meaning of ferocious.
The cooperative Arctic char in the river made for outstanding days with lots of opportunities to practice catch and release after hooking up a yellow-spotted beauty. The char’s bite was delicate and soft, and as the result we missed some of the hits, but there were more than enough fish to satisfy everyone’s dreams.
Twenty-four-inch rainbows made the day for almost everyone after long periods of work on the reel. These were gorgeous, healthy, strong fish just waiting to gobble up our egg-imitation beads once everyone mastered the drag-free drift and we found the correct color to match the real sockeye eggs.
We had other opportunities to fish pike in hidden back bays of the large lake, and a different morning, it was nearly a hit with every single cast. Our guide told us that this particular bay hadn’t been fished by the lodge’s guests for a couple of weeks, and we could surely tell that the fish were rested and ready to go. More than thirty pike to the boat in one morning was something of a record.
On the way home from that particular pike “pond” we found a small creek with hundreds of sockeye salmon staging just at its mouth waiting to head up to spawn. Mixed in with them were absolutely huge Arctic char. Casting a small egg- colored bead into the current of the creek and letting it drift out into the lake as though escaping from the salmon’s nest, enticed the char to grab it with gusto.
Our only disappointment this year was that we didn’t get to head across the lakes to the fantastic little Arctic grayling stream that we love so much. The winds made it absolutely impossible. So, we settled for some grayling fishing in the lower stretches of the river below the rainbows and char. Everyone had some great grayling stories to tell before it was all over.
As always, it was awfully difficult to leave this wondrous place, but we’ve definitely got it on our itinerary again for 2012. If you want the opportunity to fish for six different species in a true wilderness setting, just come along next year.
Montana Creek was full of fish when we arrived, and they just kept coming on the second day as well. Designed as a “getting practice catching fish” day, we had plenty of willing subjects to help new fly fishers get the hang of hooking, playing, landing and releasing fish.
Both the pink and chum salmon were eager to help teach everyone how to catch them. Some of the hook-ups were in the fish’s dorsal fin or spots other than the mouth, but they still fought like crazy as we landed them for release. That helped the gals perfect their skills on keeping the line tight and letting the fish run, skills they will need for all of the other fish they pursue in the future.
The water was high and rather murky the first day, but we could still make out the dark shapes of fish, which helped them practice targeting a particular fish and directing the fly right to it. They got better and better at it as the day went on. These fish were not dime bright and keepable, but they still provided actual targets for the practice that everyone was after. A “triple” ended their day as they all landed a fish caught right in the mouth at the same time.
The second day the water had cleared up considerably and even gone down several inches, so, while that helped with sight-casting to the fish, it also made them spookier. Darker flies helped to deal with that problem, and when we fished from a different spot than the day before they managed to catch fresher chum salmon right in the tip of the nose. They, too, accidently caught fish in places other than the mouth, which is pretty much unavoidable in these salmon-chocked waters, but the catch and release practice they got was terrific.
We had hoped that we might find some bright silver salmon among the mix of pink and chum salmon that filled the great side channel where we fished, but it was not to be. Either the run was about over, or there just weren’t any silvers around when we were there. We’ll never know which.
Lots of fly fishing newbies take advantage of these “learning” days each year, and they always have loads of fun developing their skills, getting their questions answered, and being able to put what they are learning into practice immediately. My thanks to the pinks and chums for helping me see to it that happens!
Cordova was bright and sunny this year when we arrived, and we headed out to one of our favorite bays for silvers. The tide was bringing in the fish and we were there to intercept them. It wasn't long before we started catching fish. Mike DeYoung, the famous Alaska photographer was there to chronicle some of it for his and my new book, and the silvers definitely posed for the camera after we promised to make them a star. Much fun was had by all but the silvers, which went to fish heaven soon after their picture was taken. An extremely high tide forced us to leave before we were ready, but we took the boat out whale-watching on the way home and watched the porpoise play.
The next day was rainy and miserable, but we spent it on the Eyak River casting interminably for the fish, which seemed to have made themselves scarce. Often, the first fish of the season come in from the ocean and scram right up to the spawning grounds without stopping to rest a bit where we can get at them. By the time we "called uncle" we were ready to head back into town for a coffee. We also made our annual trip into the Copper River Fleece shop www.copperriverfleece.com and had a ball trying on all the wonderful jackets, vests, and more.
Day number three saw us in the small plane flying out over the incredible Copper River Delta for some flightseeing on our way to a small creek where the silvers were reported to be making an appearance. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with the mountains ringing the Delta bright with some new snow. We landed on the beach well above the pounding surf (the result of the previous day's winds), and headed over to the creek. Bear prints as well as deer, and weasel tracks were all over in the sand, and we made plenty of noise to make sure they all knew that we were there. The fish, however, never made an appearance even though we tried lots of different flies, and hiked up and down the creek. Our guess was that they, too, had headed straight up to the spawning grounds, having come in on the highest tides of the month. Our consolation for the missing fish was to get an incredible flight-seeing trip over the Sheridan glacier on the way back to the lodge. Just seeing some of the deep blue crevasses in the river of ice coming down the mounting was breathtaking. The storm was back the next day wilder than ever with fifty-mile an hour winds and high seas, making silver fishing impossible. We settled for some fun fishing for cutthroat trout in a small lake somewhat protected from the winds. The same situation presented itself the next day and the cutthroat were again our salvation, along with fat and feisty Dolly Varden char.
a hike over some treacherous terrain to access. Many, many pink salmon were still in the water, but a little serious scouting discovered a few early silvers making an appearance. Some well-placed flies eventually connected and the fish displayed the spectacular acrobatics they are so famous for. Shaking their heads like crazy in an attempt to dislodge the fly, they leapt and splashed and zoomed across the water. Only a couple managed to get away using such tactics.
Because the winds continued blowing and the rain continued falling the next day as well, we returned to the same creek for another try at the fish. There weren't as many silvers as the day before and our hook-ups seemed not to be as solid because the fish we did connect with managed to unbutton.
The boat ride back to the lodge that day got rougher and rougher as the winds increased and we were all glad to be back on solid ground. Once home we learned that the storm had now taken on an even more ferocious face. The blow was now referred to as having "hurricane-force" winds and the rain was coming down in sheets. The Alaska State Ferry got canceled for the third time in a little over a week, and stranded passengers hung-out at the lodge drinking coffee.
We got up to similar conditions on our last day, and while some intrepid bait-anglers braved the elements, fly anglers pretty much hung-around and tried to wait out the maelstrom. We certainly can't list this year's trip as one of our best, but was still wonderful to see the mountains, the glaciers, and the swans gathering for their fall migration.
We sure did end the 2011 season on a high note! Big bows were everywhere as we stepped into the Copper River for the first, official Women's Flyfishing® guided trip to Copper on the Fly on Lake Iliamna. We'd learned all about these wonderful fish on last year's exploratory trip and, because we had more time this year, we had more opportunities to explore the nooks and crannies of this wonderful little river.
Because it was fall, we started off with various colored egg-imitation beads until we found just what was working. When we scored, it would often be fish after fish after fish, pretty much right in the same spot. Up and down the river we went to the guide's favorite spots, catching fish at all of them.
After a while it seemed that the fish would get smart to us in one location or the other, and then we switched over to large, black, articulated leeches, woolly buggers and bunny flies, sometimes with a bead in front of it and sometimes not. It really didn't seem to matter, they were hungry, and as long as we made a good presentation, they were on it.
Copper on the Fly is a small lodge perched high on a hill just at the mouth of the Copper River as it flows into Iliamna Lake in Bristol Bay. It's the dream-come- true creation of a couple of air traffic controllers turned lodge owners and guides, who have morphed a family recreation spot into a great, small flyfishing haven (or maybe it's heaven) for a few guests at a time.
Five lucky people went along with me for the trip and we rotated guides and boats throughout our four-day stay. We got very well acquainted with each other in the one, large guest cottage that sits right next to the main lodge building connected by a great, board-walk that topped the rusty red and gold of fall tundra. We spotted a sow and twin cubs crossing the river from the porch as we enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner one night, and then watched them for nearly an hour as they wandered along the river sniffing out sockeye salmon carcasses for their dinner. We decided it was the same sow and cubs as we'd seen last year when the cubs were very small.
Dinner each night was a raucous event with everyone telling fish stores as fast as they could, glassing the glowing copper-colored river banks for wildlife, exchanging digital cameras with the day's pictures, and, of course devouring the shrimp, ribs, and other delights that emerged from the tiny kitchen and the back porch bar-b-q.
We also saw wildlife on the river each day with a couple of very large brown bears checking us out but willing to depart when we grouped up and started hollering at them. One afternoon we had to actually stop fishing to watch the thousands upon thousands of shifting formations of sandhill cranes honking and flying overhead. I've never seen a spectacle quite like it. Lots of Canadian geese were doing the same thing, just in lesser numbers. A couple of moose were also around, and, much to our delight, we also saw a pair of wolves cross the river right above where we were fishing. Another really, really large, almost black brown bear appeared in the river grasses below the lodge early one morning and kept us watching him until we left for fishing. Through it all a pair of Northern Harrier hawks swooped and hovered above the glowing orange grasses after small rodents. How beautiful they were to watch.