2013 Beautiful Baja Saltwater Fly FishingThe tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico was a maelstrom of winds when we arrived. Fronds were ripping off the palm trees, the swimming pool actually had waves in it, the sand was whirling up off the beach in clouds, and the surf was pounding like a giant at the front door of the hotel. Needless to say, we weren't going fishing for a while.
We settled in at the lovely Rancho Leonaro resort and started things off with their wonderful margaritas and a Mexican buffet for dinner. Retiring to our large and comfortable rooms, we enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in the next morning because no boats were heading out to fish. We relaxed on the patios and by the pool, and then got a taxi and headed into the village of Los Barriles to do some shopping and have the ice cream cone we look forward to every year.
When we finally got on the water, we had to do it from the beautiful new CABO RIVIERA MARINA that is being developed near the village of La Ribera, just to the south, because the surf was still too high on the beach in front of the hotel to launch the boats. The waves still existing after the winds abated were high enough to dwarf the super panga down in the trough but the sun was shining and the air was calm, at least, so we got our flies in the water. The larger cruiser managed the rolling seas somewhat better, but it was the panga that hit the bonito bite and landed the fish. Trolling various large streamers and tube flies, we had lots of doubles on these great "silver bullets."
Although the bait was still pretty scattered by the earlier winds, which made fishing difficult, the water was in perfect shape and we were on the boats before 7:00 a.m. the next morning to get the most out of our day. With Rene as our pangero, the trusty panga absolutely slammed the skipjack & bonito (with 3 people landing over 60 of them. We also saw a sea turtle swimming lazily along. It was the cruiser that sited the marlin, and landed a couple of perfect yellow-fin tuna that we had for dinner that night. They also caught some bonito, but not nearly what the panga did. Many of the boats in the area were targeting the pods of marlin that appeared several miles out from the hotel, but with the exception of a couple of bait anglers, no one seemed to be able to interest them in anything else that day.
Our third day saw great water as well, and we took off with high hopes that the fish would have finally settled down after the storm and would be eager to bite anything we threw at them. The cruiser headed right back to where they had seen the marlin the previous day, and this time managed to grab the attention of three different fish that followed and attacked the teaser, but veered off before encountering the flies. Disappointment was clearly evident when they returned to the dock that afternoon, even though they brought back some pictures of teaser fish heads without bodies as the result of the marlin's attention.
The panga didn't do much better that day, either. Even when trolling through massive schools of bait fish right out in front of Punta Pescadero, where the manta rays were leaping all around us in spawning delight and the dolphins played and splashed for some kayakers that were in their midst, we just couldn't seem to hook up. Changing flies didn't help, so we headed to a different area. It wasn't until the third location that things started happening again. With Renee turning the panga into a curve around a nice bunch of bait, red deceivers and hot pink tube offerings finally did the trick and fish were absolutely slamming the flies as quickly as we put them back in the water immediately after releasing one of their brethren. We tried popper fishing on our way home while driving through an area where rooster fish had been reported, but never saw or touched a fish.
Then it was time to head back to the US. As is often the case, we felt like our departure time occurred just when the fishing was heating up. Oh well, we'll be heading to the Baja again next April for more saltwater excitement, so let us know if you want to go along!
After a long, cold, snowy spring, with ice remaining on the lakes for up to two weeks longer than usual, we were worried about our possible tubing success. The first lake that we fished was a popular one in the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage that had just been stocked by the AK Dept of Fish & Game. Fishing was pretty slow the first day, probably because the stocked fish were still exploring their environment, but the second and third days both produced some nice catches. The weather was gorgeous, and we were content.
A few large fish came out to play on the first day after we had spent quite a bit of time searching for them. Then as the afternoon waned, one of the gals saw that the laces on her wading boot had come loose and, as she paddled, it suddenly came all the way off!! Luckily she caught the tip of the fin just as the entire set-up began to sink. I towed her home while she paddled with just one fin.
On the second day we had some success in the morning, but it was after lunch that the fishing got hot. We had an absolute blast with the 10-12 inch stocked fish as one after the other took our gold-ribbed-hares-ear nymphs with abandon. We parked the tubes right in front of a small, bay and cast directly into shore until our arms were sore. The fish struck forcefully, and played enthusiastically. Apparently, they were happy to be free at last!
We decided to fish another lake like that requires a 1 ½ mile hike with the tubes on our backs on the third day, and it was definitely worth it. We started out really early to pre-empt other anglers that always appear at this heavily used lake. As a result, we were able to be the first anglers that the fish encountered as they swam around in the shallows, were we could see them clearly. The women new to tubing worked hard to master the technique of placing the fly within the fish's view, and soon they were hooking up confidently.
When other anglers began to appear we moved to the back part of the lake to explore other spots I know are good fishing in the spring, but much to my surprise, we didn't catch nearly as many fish there as we usually do. I couldn't figure out if the water was still too cold for these places to be attractive to the fish, or if the pressure on the lake had been so high that the fish were already put down. The lake is a catch & release lake that is quite consistently patrolled by ADF&G, so I was hoping that the scarcity of fish didn't mean that people were killing their catch.
Even though we didn't catch the numbers we usually do, we still had some good fishing. Barbara caught a 20+ inch fish her second cast at one of the places I had pointed out to her. The others caught several fish, but none that topped that one for size. The highlight of the morning was a pair of common loons that played and surfaced so close behind us that we could have touched them with the tips of our rods. They swam right under our flippers and then dripped water from their black velvet heads as they emerged and vocalized to each other and asked us for fish. They are the same pair that inhabits this lake every year and knows that people release fish, so they fearlessly hang around us waiting for a reviving fish to be set free. When we didn't have much for them, they swam across the lake to a group of canoers to see what was happening over there.
By mid-afternoon, most of the other anglers were either gone or way at the other end of the lake, so we returned to where we had started that morning. In spite of fairly heavy pressure, however, we caught fish regularly. By now everyone was confident, mostly able to get themselves free of the underwater snags, and managing to land the fish that they hooked.
All in all, we needn't have worried about the effect of the very late spring on the fishing. Every day we fished was sunny and warm and by the end everyone was off to buy themselves tubing equipment. Success!!
A great "first" trip to this super destination was all we'd expected and more! Lots & lots of big fish, exceptional location, a fun group, and pretty good weather. What more could you ask?
We met our host, Kirk, the owner of Lake Chavey, and he took us right out to the doc for a look at his fantastic rainbows & grayling in order to get us even more excited than we already were. He reminded us that we were the very first float tubers to enjoy the lake. As we watched, big, beefy bows appeared below us like dark shadows, and grayling with their remarkable fins unfurled were tempting us to get our waders on and our float tubes in the water.
The group had some learning to do, having never been in a float tube before, but they were casting and paddling like pros in no time. Linda was the first to hook up as 28-inch fish chomped down on her orange bead-head leech and took off for the other side of the lake. In spite of never having fly fished before, she did a masterful job of managing him with only a little guidance from me. "Wow, wow, wow" was all she could say as she caught her breath while holding the fish up for a picture. That was to be the first of many more fish over twenty inches that they had to their credit before it was all over.
Not only did they have to learn how to let the line slide out after they set the hook, but they also had to learn when to paddle, and when to sit tight and let the fish run. Sometimes they did one thing well, and then had a problem with something else, but like most beginners who stick with it, they were accomplished float tubers in no time. "Don't hold on to the line - let the fish run," they reminded each other as a large fish broke one or the other of them off.
We used sink-tip lines and various woolly buggers and lake leeches throughout the trip. Olive, brown and orange seemed to be the most successful. One morning Stephanie hooked at least a half dozen large specimen with a small bead-head marabou leech on a #6 hook, and Linda hooked and played just as many with a bright red bead-head bugger. We had started with some larger flies, but, in the end it was the smaller flies that did the trick.
We also got into a school of nice grayling one morning and caught and released over a dozen before they moved on to a different part of the lake. Beautiful, 14-18-inch fish, they were eager to take both gold-ribbed hare's ear nymphs as well as #8 marabou & bunny leeches. They were rising like crazy a couple of times, but by the time we discovered what fly they wanted, the hatch was over or the rain was back. Constantly changing weather and atmospheric pressure were clearly affecting both species.
The cabin we stayed in provided us with a kitchen and bathroom and a place to sit and have our wine while the rain poured down outside. It even had Wi-Fi, but the I-Pads just didn't have enough power to get it and keep it operating so we used them to view pictures, and then got our e-mail on a computer that one of the women had with her.
We opted for some creek fishing our third day and headed over to the Denali Hiway for more grayling fishing. Although we had pretty good weather, the creeks were nearly over their banks with very, very, dirty water from the heavy rains of the previous few days. With a great deal of persistence we managed to pick up some fish on Czech nymphs which I always carry with me. We started hiking down the stream, but changed our mind after awhile because the water had washed out both the bank and the trail. We finally called it a day and opted to look at pictures on the I-Pad while having a great dinner at one of the notable restaurants between Cantwell and the entrance to Denali Park.
Returning to the lake the next morning, we got right down to business and had hook-ups right away. The gals had decided that they wanted to learn now to net their own fish from the tube since this was the last day of our trip, so we practiced and practiced how to bring the fish to you in the tube and how to maneuver the tube so as to get the fish coming head first into the net. Since these were bigger fish than the nets were used-to, we had some hilarious tries on fish determined they were not going to stay in them. Stephanie must have made four attempts with one fish before her determination won out and the fish stayed put while she removed the hook.
We were really bummed out when the trip was over. Vowing to visit the fish again next summer, we took a few last pictures of the early morning light on the mountains and then headed back for Anchorage. Thanks, Kirk!
Notable Nome was just as wonderful as always this year. The really, really, big grayling were just waiting for us in the lovely little Niukluk River right outside the lodge. Even though the water was a little high at first, that didn't stop them from eagerly taking our nymphs and dry flies everywhere we beached the boat.
Everyone had a bit of learning to do on how to use the wading sticks during our first afternoon but they quickly mastered the slow and careful water-walking that made the stick an indispensable part or their fishing gear. After that, there was absolutely no stopping them as they successfully moved up and down the river pursuing rising fish. With tips from Tom, they practiced and practiced how to lift the fish up for a photo with the dorsal fin unfurled and got some pretty good pictures in the process.
Nan caught her very first grayling (also her very first fish on a dry fly) along one of our very favorite runs. An 18-inch beauty! After that it was hard to get her to try any other fly. Both Sherry & Lisa had fished for grayling with me before, and they had fish after fish after fish, no matter what fly we were using. Doubles & even triples happened over and over again.
Our first night's dinner was a fantastic bison stroganoff that Tom's wife, BJ prepared for us with meat from a bison she'd successfully harvested. What a great cook she is! There's always homemade bread, rolls & deserts in addition to the best broccoli salad in the state! We also feasted on a baked sockeye salmon dish that had us all asking for seconds and her famous musk-ox stew that we can never get enough of.
As often happens, the Chernobyl Ant proved to be one of the primo flies of the trip. Skated across the surface of the water to create a wake, everyone had the fish fighting with each other to see who could nail the fly the quickest. Large fish and small fish alike simply went nuts over the ants. By the end of the trip, my ant box was nearly empty!!
Of course, elk-hair caddis flies were the other standout flies, as they almost always are. They are the dry fly that I tie the most of every winter in anticipation of this trip. Practicing to achieve the dead-drift that is required for success with a dry fly, they all got quite good at getting the fly drifting drag-free to rising fish. Quite a few 18, 19, and even 20 inch fish were the result.
For a change of scene we went chum salmon fishing one morning, and within minutes of getting out of the boat, everyone was hooked up thanks to Tom taking us to one of his favorite chum spots. Up and down the bank we wandered casting to dozens & dozens of striped-up chums that we could see moving along up-river. They weren't keep able, but they sure were fun to catch. Surprisingly, we saw almost no pink salmon this year. Drying rack after drying rack we passed on the river was empty of cut fish. Tom and other local folks were quite concerned about their absence.
As usual, it was awfully hard to leave such a grayling-heaven. Besides the fish, Tom & BJ's gracious hospitality makes Alaska Northwest Adventures one of our very favorite trips each summer. We headed back to Nome and a fabulous Bering-Sea crab dinner before boarding the plane for Anchorage. We'll definitely be going back next year!!
In spite of dealing with some of the highest tides of the year, we had a great fly fishing school at Orca Lodge again this year. Lots of pink salmon around for us to chase, and pretty great weather to make us happy.
The flight from Anchorage to Cordova displayed awesome views of the mountains, glaciers, and miles and miles of the Copper River Delta. After one of the lodge's famous meals, a walk on the beach, and a good night's sleep, we were all set the next morning to head out to Humpy Creek as soon as the tide was high enough to launch the boat. Soon, we were setting out gear down on the rocks right near where we would have the first fly casting lesson. Due to the high tides (which plagued us the entire trip) we had to keep moving the gear to higher ground as the tide came in.
The gals were quick to get the basic cast down and soon the cries of "I've got one" rang in the air as we moved from the casting spot to actually fishing. Very quickly they all "had one" at the same time, and I kept busy running up & down the beach helping them with their releases. What a blast they were having watching their fluorescent pink fly slide through the hundreds of pink salmon crowding the small creek and seeing it get nailed by an eager fish.
The boat from the lodge came to pick us up all too early, but everyone knew that when we got back to the lodge it was time for the first knot-tying lesson. They had already experienced some busted leaders and realized the importance of mastering the knots. By dinner time they could all tie a nail knot, a triple surgeons' knot, and a clinch knot and were feeling pretty proud of themselves.
We put their newly-mastered skills to work as the boat took us to "pudge bay" a lovely, hidden bay with a lovely creek at its head. The high tides forced us to work our way up to the creek by fishing at various stops along the route. Mud & bugs were the order of the day, and we hardly took off our head-nets all day. Finally, we reached the creek, and although we had only a short time left to fish before the tide forced us out, everyone hooked up with both pink and chum salmon. Their confidence was apparent when they hooked a 10-lb chum instead of a 5-lb pink.
We were back at the lodge early enough to drive up to see the sockeye salmon spawning, and to visit our favorite store, Copper River Fleece before dinner. Once again, we had difficulty choosing between the two enticing entrées, and leaving room for dessert.
The following day we flew to Martin Lake to see if we could connect with either some sockeye salmon or Dolly Varden char. After an exciting glacier-filled flight we found ourselves having to wade to shore because of rocks that threatened the plane's floats. Thank goodness for our wading sticks and an oar from the plane. That adventure was followed by an overgrown trail where we missed a turn and ended up bush-whacking our way down to the river. We located a great fishing spot, but it was devoid of fish (at least while we were there.)
All our woes were forgotten on the ride home, however, as Gayle, our pilot, took us on a spectacular and absolutely breathtaking glacier flight-see over Sheridan Glacier, gleaming in the afternoon sun. It made our day complete.
The school graduation party took place at the Cordova Airport where we shared a pizza and wine and everyone received their graduation gift of a year's membership in Trout Unlimited. It might have been the end of the school, but it was just the beginning of their life as fly fishers.
Meeting up at MacLaren Lodge, we started our trip along the Denali Highway as we always do with some fly fishing for grayling at Clearwater Creek. The river was in great shape and everyone caught fish on nymphs and dry flies. Mike, a new-comer to fly fishing, quickly learned the basic cast. He had a few hits but didn't land them until we hiked over to a spot that always delivers for us, where he caught two in a drift where the current moved toward the bank. That started him off, and he just kept casting and landing fish the remainder of the trip.
Our second day was spent on a small, clear water stream after a couple of sightings of caribou along the way. Absolutely gorgeous weather and exceptional fishing were the order of the day. Grayling after grayling grabbed our elk-hair caddis, and, when we changed to nymphs for variety, they did the same. After a while the question of the day was "Can you find a fly they won't take?"
Mary had fun rummaging through her fly boxes for tinier & tinier offerings and even had several double when she put a small dropper off the bend of a wet fly. Barb caught fish after fish right at the far bank with dead-drifted parachute Adams without moving at all, and so did Mike, our neophyte, who found a mother-load of fish in one spot where he caught fifteen fish before his tattered fly gave up the ghost.
Our hosts at Maclaren Lodge, Alan & Susie Echols, made us feel right at home, as they always do. Alan changed a flat on Barb's & Mike's car and Susie kept us well fed with her scrumptious home-made bread & desserts. Their year-round service to the area's snowmachiners is amazing, and their great weather-cam keeps us in touch.
We headed back towards Tangle Lakes & Tangle River the next day for the second part of our trip and bush-wacked our way over to a spot that usually offers both great nymphing water and a long stretch of quiet dry-fly fishing. The river had changed course during the spring run-off, however, and we had to change our tactics. Mary planted herself at a shaded spot where fish were rising, and Barb chose nymphing in some of the new pools. Mike parked right next to a small drop-off where fish holding. Thank goodness for our Folstaf wading sticks to help us navigate the slippery rocks that Tangle River is noted for.
After lunch we headed to a different part of the river where nymphing was definitely the way to catch fish. With bead-head gold-ribbed hares ear nymphs and a couple of small split-shot on the leader all three of them were having grabs on every cast. And, to top it all off, these were larger fish than they had been catching with several measuring 18-inches and over. Just as on previous days, every single fish was released safely. What an afternoon!
Our last morning we headed over to Rock Creek as our final stop of the trip. The water in the creek was unbelievably low and for a while, the only active fish were tiny. Cute as a button each was, but we were after larger players. Finally, with a Chernobyl ant, Mike got several good fish but couldn't convince the other two to try them. The wind was up and casting a dry fly was quite difficult, so Barb went back to nymphs, while Mary resorted to wet flies. The fishing certainly didn't measure up to that of previous days, but we did the best we could.
The folks at Tangle River Inn reserved our regular table for us and fed us royally. The buffets they offer are exceptional, and it's sometimes hard to figure out how they do it in such a remote area.
All in all the trip was terrific! There was lots of fish & lots of learning, which grayling always provide. We'll definitely be going back in 2014. Come on along!
For more information on fly fishing for Arctic Grayling buy my book, "Fly Fishing for Alaska's Arctic Grayling: Sailfish of the North"
Hope is a tiny, old-fashioned little town hidden away along Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage. The atmosphere is laid back and quiet most of the time, at least until the pink salmon start to appear in Resurrection Creek. Then, this pretty little fresh-water stream that dumps into Cook Inlet right in front of the historic Seaview Café draws lots of anglers to its banks-- us included.
Our single day fishing excursions to Hope are always lots of fun. It is the perfect place to teach people how to fish with a fly rod for the smallest of the five species of Pacific Salmon that call Alaska home. Outfitted with chest-high waders, boots, & a wading staff we take to the water with 9-ft fly rods, floating line, & pink flies. Showing folks the basic "stop in the back & stop in the front" technique of casting and the clinch knot to tie on their fly takes only a short time, and soon they are launching their flies in among the swarms of fish swimming in front of them. Hook-ups (not always in the mouth) begin to happen fast & furiously, accompanied by shouts of "I got one!"
Now everyone needs to learn how to set the hook and then let the fish play before they try to bring it in. These steps take some time, and it's a good thing they have lots of cooperative fish to help them learn. "This is so exciting," one of the women says, and the others quickly agree. Landing the fish & holding it for a picture are the highlights of the day, of course.
Quite a few people took advantage of the fishing days at Hope this year. Some had taken my beginning fly fishing class this spring, some wanted to see how to catch salmon with a fly rod, and some were just trying it out to see if it would make a good way to spend their up-coming retirement. Every fish they caught was returned to the water un-harmed. Everyone understood that the fish were too far into their spawning cycle for the meat to be good eating.
Although there is a very small run of silver salmon in Resurrection Creek, we seldom catch one. This year we saw a couple of silvers mixed in with the pinks on two of the three days we fished. Try as we might, we never caught them.
The learning/practice days that we do in Hope each year are always a highlight of my summer. We'll be back next year to do it all again.
What a trip! Six members of the Texas Women Fly Fishers club journeyed north to give salmon fishing a try and explore a bit of Alaska. They didn't know it when they left home, but they were about to experience Alaska's rainy fall weather--a lot of rainy fall weather. So much, in fact, that the gate agent announced to arriving passengers getting off the Alaska Airlines flight that much of the town of Cordova was flooded!!
We were soon to see for ourselves, as the van from Orca Lodge stopped on the way into town at the grocery/liquor store so we could shop on the way to the lodge. Standing water was everywhere, and it was absolutely pouring! Women from Texas are tough, though, and there was no whining.
At dinner that evening Steve Ranney, the lodge owner greeted us with the news that the river we were schedule to fish the next morning was overflowing. We really expected that and set about making an alternate plan. It was still raining the next morning as we finished breakfast and donned our wading gear. We headed out to a couple of small ponds near the road system where silvers come through culverts to access a place to spawn, and saw fish moving right away. That raised everybody's spirits and soon they were casting like mad with 8-wt rods & large flies. We'd been warned that when the tide was high the ponds would be unfishable, so we got serious right away.
Sharon was the first to hook up and landed a smaller silver on a bright green bunny fly. Pretty quickly several others had hits but had to learn how to set the hook on a big fish and then let it run so much of the initial success didn't result in fish on the bank. Frances got the technique next, and ended up catching the most fish of the day. Roz wasn't far behind, and neither were Joyce & Linda, so they kept me busy whacking fish to take back to the lodge with us. Mary's fish ended up back in the water by throwing the hook. It sure was exciting to see pod after pod of fish swim by and try using different types of stripping to try to hook them. A few fish got accidently hooked in the dorsal fin or even in the tail, and everyone was quick to recognize when the fish was not hooked in the mouth. When the tide finally drove us away we had quite a nice stringer of fish.
After a quick change of clothes at the lodge we hurried back into town so we could visit the Copper River Fleece store that I'd told them so much about before it closed. The shopping was almost as exciting as the fishing. Drinking wine and looking at each other's pictures before dinner highlighted a day that we thought might be hopeless, and everyone raved about dinner as we planned day #2.
We had hoped & planned to get to fly out to one of our favorite fishing streams, but it, too, was flooded, and the winds prevented the small planes from flying anyway. So, we headed back to the ponds of the previous day. Much to our dismay, what we found was a very large harbor seal swimming back and forth between the two ponds, herding fish in front of him and causing a real problem. He couldn't leave the ponds because the water wasn't high enough in the culverts, so we just had to put up with him. Although he was beautiful, he pretty much shot the down the fishing. So, our helper from the lodge took three of the gals on the opposite side of the road where they could access the water on the ocean side, and for a brief time they cast in and among the conventional anglers and managed to catch some fish. Once the tide came in we had a short time to fish the ponds without the seal and with a lot of frantic casting we brought several more fish to the bank. This time it was Linda who topped the day with a 10 pound silver on a tiny Kelly-green fly. Then it was back to town to visit the lovely little AK Native store and museum before dinner. (And, by the way, it was still raining.)
Our fly-out plan for the third day was canceled again, so this time we went in search of some different spots. We agreed with Steve that we would fish on one of the nearby lakes that contained beautiful sea-run cutthroat, and when the water was high, usually some silvers. Then, since the weather was somewhat improved, Steve said that he could give everyone a short flight-seeing adventure to a nearby-by glacier. So, three at a time, he loaded them in his small plane while the other three fished.
It turned out to be a fun day with Joyce catching the first cutty before she had even made a cast. He just jumped out of the water right onto her dangling fly! Then, within minutes she had another one, and suddenly the other two wanted a fly just like hers. Linda insisted on the same green fly that she had success with previously, and caught the first silver from the lake. Both of the flights were a success as everyone was able to see at least part of the glacier, and they all enjoyed spotting moose and swans from the air.
Finally, on our last day we headed for the boat and headed for Sheep Bay. An absolutely gorgeous ride when the weather is good, we still had fog and some intermittent rain, which limited the sight-seeing. The boat had to leave us off before we got to the creek because of the tide, so we hiked a mile or so over seaweed and dead pink and chum salmon to get to where we could fish. Since we only had about 3 hours before the tide came back in, we got right to it. Mary & Sharon were catching pink salmon right & left. The others caught up, with Frances catching the only chum salmon of the day and Linda catching the largest pink. Some silvers finally showed up before we had to leave but we couldn't seem to land them.
It was hard to head back to the lodge, but we had a plane to catch. Packing didn't take long, so we were off to the airport with some take-out pizza and the rest of our wine with time left over to look at some of each other's pictures.
What a crew!!!! I hated to say good-bye. But, we are already talking about a 2014 trip, so if you missed out this year, talk to Joyce and help us make a plan.
We couldn't have asked for better weather for this year's All Rainbow trip to Copper on the Fly on the Little Copper River at Lake Iliamna in Bristol Bay AK. We did have occasional wind, but we managed just fine. The river was high the day we arrived, but it cleared quickly, much to our delight. The bows were ready to play right off the bat.
The two lodge boats took the six of us to some of our favorite spots and spread us out along the best sections of water. The two who hadn't been there before connected with the fish almost immediately. The egg-imitation technique that is used for rainbows in the fall takes a little getting used-to for some, but it wasn't long until they abandoned their "training wheel" strike indicators for the great drift fishing that is so effective on this beautiful river.
The river had cleared and dropped the second day and some of the really big fish were more visible. That made targeting them especially fun. Just as with all egg-imitation fishing, the color of the bead had to be just right or all we got were refusals, however. And, besides the correct bead color, a correct drift was required for a solid take. Everyone perfected the "up-stream-big mend" cast without too much trouble and soon could feel the slight hesitation that meant they had a fish on.
Gina and Ken from AZ, both experienced fly anglers but new to this type of fishing, started right out with a competition to see who could catch the most fish, and it wasn't long until they were both in the 20+ category. Then, it was all about fish size. Catching and landing a rainbow on a very small hook was new to them, though, and so, we started hearing about the fish that got played, but not landed.
Tanya quickly got it all right (she has fished here with us before, so it wasn't too surprising) and the serious catching began. It seemed like her rod was bent every time I looked. Many fish 20+ were the result. She was the first to be successful with a large "flesh fly," too. Casting a huge, articulated bunny leech she was bringing fish after fish to the net. They weren't all large. In fact, we got a picture of a fish where the fly was easily half as long as it was.
Larry, Sandy and I were all hauling in lots of fish as well. Different locations brought more and more fish to everyone. One afternoon, it was Larry who was calling for the net from the guide because of another large fish, and on our last morning it was Sandy who became "angler of the day" with all of her 20+ fish. Much to our surprise, we got into quite a few Dolly Varden char as well this year but none in the 20-inch range
Like previous years, we all kept our eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife. As the boat headed up-river our second morning a sow and three cubs, partly shrouded in the fog and startled by the noise of the motor, splashed out of the water and headed up the bank right in front of us. That evening while we were enjoying a glass of wine before dinner, another large bear appeared in the marsh just across the river from the lodge sloshing along checking out the dead sockeye salmon along the bank. Then, mostly because of high winds, we didn't see any bears for the next day and a half. But what we did see, again right across the river from the lodge, was a huge, beautiful silver-gray lynx. Steve, the chef attributed the visit to the smell from the bar-b-que where he was making shish-ka-bobs for dinner. What a treat it was to watch the big cat just sitting on its haunches licking his chops while we got some pictures.
Just as we were about to dock the boat at the lodge the next afternoon we came upon a startling scene. A sow and three 2-year-old cubs were having an encounter with a huge boar that was apparently attempting to have one of the cubs for dinner. The mother bear was trying to protect her cubs at the same time she was trying to determine what threat we might be to them. We slowed down as much as possible and watched as she stood up to look us over and then ushered the cubs away.
We went to warn Steve, who was making dinner, of the danger just over the hill, and then returned to the scene to see what was happening. By that time, the sow had moved her cubs to a safer spot and was sitting down in front of them. The boar was nowhere to be seen. Later in the evening, however, we spotted him and a second bear fishing in the marsh. The second bear had an unusual light-colored "saddle blanket" of fur across his back.
The last morning on our way to the river, a wolf ran along the bluff right above us as we sped by. That was the same morning we saw five bears before we ever wet a line, and another one as we returned to the lodge to head to our plane. We speculated that since we had gotten up 45 minutes earlier than usual and were heading out to fish just at dawn, that we'd gotten a good show while everything was quiet.
The sand-hill cranes on their fall migration high above us also squawked their hellos several times each day, as they do every year, and we were dazzled by the take-off of two immature eagles from the bank right in front of us, and then by their play in the sky above us while mom & dad watched from parallel branches right beside the river.
Only in Alaska!! What an incredible trip!!! What a way to end our 2013 fly fishing season! Until next year! Best Fishes to you all!