Terrific Spring Tubing 2014
Spring came very early to Alaska this year, which meant that the ice went off the lakes sooner than usual, and that made for absolutely excellent float tubing conditions! The weather was great, except for some intermittent smoke haze from a large fire burning on the Kenai Peninsula, and the fish were very cooperative.
We started out on a lake that is usually good fishing in the spring, because it is also the best location to help beginning float tubers learn about the equipment, how to paddle, and how to approach the fish. It's a popular lake and one of the first to get stocked, but still, our morning produced just a few fish. So, after lunch, we headed over to another smaller lake that I had fished with some clients the week before to see how things were going there. It proved to be an excellent choice, and the fish were waiting for us.
All three of the gals were beginning tubers, but they learned quickly about paddling backwards, getting in position to make a cast to where the fish were hanging out, and how to land a fish from a tube. Then, it was one fish after the other all afternoon. Several times they all had fish on at the same time, and the laughter and cheers could be heard far away, I'm sure.
Two novice tubers and one experienced tuber arrived at the same lake the next day, and they, too, quickly mastered the skills of successful fishing from a float tube. I set them up at all of the spots that had produced the previous day, and they caught even more fish than the first group. It was fun to watch them learn how to revive their catch from a float tube by paddling with just one foot to make the tube revolve and create oxygen for the fish. They got so good that by afternoon, they were asking to experiment with different flies and try different spots on the lake. What a day!
The third day, a couple of fly anglers who were the high bidders on a tubing day that I had donated to the auction of the Anchorage shelter for abused women (AWAIC) arrived to learn about tubing and try their luck. More experienced than the previous two days' tubers, they had the tubing skills down in no time. Still, they had never learned where to find fish in a lake, and had no experience with lake flies. So, it was fun to watch them get proficient with fish after fish, after fish.
By far the most predominant fish everyone caught were rainbow trout, but, since the new State hatchery in Anchorage is now also raising Arctic Grayling and char in its tanks, there were more than one species in the lake. Luckily, we caught a few grayling that had just been put into the lake even though they hadn't quite assimilated to their new environment. River stocking with grayling is hardly ever successful, but lake stocking generally is. Every day we saw schools of young grayling swimming around and around, as they do at the hatchery but they were not ready to take a fly. My hopes are high for more and larger lake grayling as time goes by, however.
The fly of the day was the gold-ribbed-hares-ear, hands down. Other nymph such as Prince nymphs, bead-head pheasant tails, and different colored copper John's were also producing. Many years we also use a bead-head lake-leech for the spring rainbows, but this year, for some reason, they were not nearly as successful as the nymphs.
Tubing is a wonderful way to start the season! Join us next time and see for yourself.
We couldn't have asked for better weather on the Baja Peninsula than what we had during our 2014 trip to Rancho Leonero on the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Arriving mid-afternoon, we had time to settle in, take a nice walk on the beach, and ready our gear & equipment for the next morning's fishing.
Getting up at 5:00 a.m. when its pitch black sounds terrible until you realize that's what you need to do to take advantage of the best fishing of the day. We had breakfast and were on the boat by 6:30 a.m. ready for a run out to the blue water where the last few days' catch had been marlin, Dorado, and tuna. And, that's just what we found as we trolled along. Encountering pod after pod of marlin feeding on the surface, it wasn't long until we connected. Kate turned out to be the most successful when a huge marlin grabbed the pink & white popper fly at the end of her 12-wt rod and took off in an aerial display that had us gasping! After a few leaps that splashed water everywhere, both the fish and Kate finally settled down for the long haul.
We waited and waited for the fish to surface, and just when it seemed that it was going to happen, the rod and the line would go straight down again. Steve was keeping track of the time she was fighting the fish, and when he noted one hour, we were all wondering how much longer it would take. After just about 1-hour 15 minutes, the fish began to show signs of tiring and surfaced in a series of head-shaking leaps just behind the boat. He wasn't done yet, however, and held his ground. Kate was frantically reeling for another fifteen minutes before we could actually see the stripes and the bill of a gorgeous fish.
Kate had him next to the boat twice but the deckhand wasn't able to get a good grip on him, so finally Hector, the captain of the boat, came down on deck to help. Just as they got a good hold on the bill and the huge dorsal fin we all heard a distinct "snap" that we knew was a fly rod breaking. Nevertheless, they brought the fish on-board for a few quick pictures before carefully reviving him along-side during the release. 125 pounds was the call of the captain as the fish re-joined its friends!! The rod was going in for repair, but we had a spare, so it wasn't a catastrophe.
The rest of the morning saw two more marlin hook-ups but on fish that managed to dis-connect, as well as some skipjack tuna that always brighten our day. Just like little silver bullets, they always seem twice the size they really are when we get them to the boat because of their powerful speed. Suddenly around noon a humpback whale, followed by a calf, breeched with a huge splash right near our boat, and a few minutes later the calf did the same. That was the start of over half-an-hour of unbelievable whale-watching. Several adult whales took turns slapping the water and cartwheeling behind and on both sides of the boat as though showing off the three calves we counted trying to imitate their elders. What a show! When the day was over, we returned to the resort tired but satisfied.
Our second day saw us on two pangas with the guys heading back to the marlin and the gals heading over to where the Dorado were playing. This time Kate hooked a large Dorado on the same pink & white popper fly that had caught the marlin the day before. It took about twenty-minutes for us to begin to see the golden glow of a good-sized fish in the water behind the boat. As it swam near the boat other Dorado could also be seen in the water around it, as is common. It is thought that they are attracted by the hooked fish "up-chucking" bits of food. It took only half-an hour for Kate to bring the fish along-side, where Santos, our captain, pronounced it a thirty or thirty-five pound fish. Unfortunately, the fish somehow broke free and swam away. We just had to keep the golden image in our memories. It wasn't long before she got another one that we got to the boat with no problem, though.
A bit later in the day, I also hooked a large Dorado, and it also got away as we were trying to land it. Its teeth had sawed through the tippet. I was bemoaning having a fish carrying around a fly in its mouth when Santos spotted it floating just behind the boat and we retrieved it. A couple of other hook-ups and some skipjack tuna kept us busy the rest of the day.
The guys reports hooking up with several marlin, that got away as well as some dorado that they couldn't land, but they, too, found that some skipjack saved the day. Both boats also headed to the beach after rooster fish, because a few had been caught by other boats, but only one day could we raise any fish. Just as in past years, it was poppers that seemed to do the trick.
Our third day was a blank. A huge plume of very cold water had appeared in our fishing area, and the fish just shut down. We tried different trolling speeds and different flies over and over again, but nothing worked. Santos, who is considered one of the premier pangeros of that area of the Baja practically stood on his head to get fish, but without success.
We spent time on the beach surf fishing two mornings and practicing using the stripping baskets when the water and the temperature were absolutely perfect. Some needle fish and coronet fish rewarded our efforts as did a balloon fish (in the puffer family). Later, on one of the days Kate & Steve returned to the beach, but I stayed in the shade on my porch and answered e-mail. One of our non-boat-fishing days we went into the village of Los Barilles and did a little shopping and got ice-cream, which is always one of the highlights of the trip.
Our rooms were quiet, air-conditioned, and comfortable, and the food was excellent. The resort staff was helpful and professional, and all-in-all we counted this a great trip. See you there next year!
Although the fishing wasn't up to par this year, the number of bears really made up for it. In my 30+ years of visiting the Brooks River I can't remember a trip that had as many bears as we saw this time. The water was pretty low, and while that made for easier wading for us, it certainly did affect the trout fishing. Coupled with the fact that they had just been hammered since opening day in early June, they just didn't like the shallow water, the new channel that had formed in the river, and the almost constant changes in atmospheric pressure, which usually puts them down.
All of the difficulties didn't stop us from fishing, it just make things tougher. When rainbow fishing we'd get some hits we didn't set hard enough on, and some follows and refusals that had us changing flies regularly. There were also Arctic grayling in the river this year, but, even they were pretty finicky about what flies they would even look at.
Time after time we had to back out of the river to avoid an on-coming bear, which also affected the fishing. But, since it was bears that we come to see on the trip, we didn't complain. Early one morning when all was quiet on the river I get the gals set up in one of my favorite spots and they were finding the fish interested in smolt patterns as the baby salmon made their way to the sea. But just when we'd found the most effective fly, a Park Service Ranger hollered that there was a bear walking right toward us. He had just emerged from underneath the observation platform where no one could see him. We quickly backed up into a marshy area nearby to let him pass along the trail, and he did so not twenty feet away.
We also fished the mouth of the river for sockeye salmon, but they were few and far between. The run just wasn't happening yet and the fish freezer at the lodge was empty. Once we saw a school of fish that appeared to be entering the river from the lake, but, much to our dismay, they changed their mind and returned to the lake were we couldn't get at them.
In different spots along the river, everyone worked on mastering their nymphing skills as well as taking some time to try-out dry-fly fishing, which none of them had had a chance to experience. From time to time the grayling were rising to dry flies, and then everyone had to work on keeping just the right amount of slack on the water for both the drift and the hook set. Occasionally the splashy rise of a large rainbow for a helpless little salmon smolt made us change flies to smolt patterns, and one of the gals got lots of hits standing in the perfect spot along the current where the bait-balls seemed to occur the most frequently. It wasn't until we removed the eyes from one of the other flies that someone else found interested fish.
In spite of the poor fishing this year the bears at Brooks Falls definitely kept us entertained. Bears were fighting over choice fishing spots on top of the falls, males aggressively pursued females ready to breed, cubs of various ages were learning from their mothers how to fish this special place, and entertaining "teenagers" recently kicked out by their mothers, were trying to survive on their own. No matter when we hiked to the falls this year the bears were there.
Bears also wander along the river searching out the fish, just as we do. They, however, have no hesitation to just jump in the water hoping to be able to pounce on a sockeye swimming by. With so few fish in the water, there were lots of hungry bears around, and we watched a huge bear eating grass underneath one of the platforms we were standing on. He had been courting his lady-love in and out of the water that afternoon but there were no fish for either of them. The big boars often follow a female that is fishing and have no hesitation in grabbing any fish that she might catch.
We had our usual cozy cabin and the food was fabulous (as usual), with two entrées at both lunch and dinner, two different home-made soups at lunch, and cinnamon buns dripping with frosting for breakfast. We gathered around the fireplace in the morning with a cup of coffee, and then again before dinner with a glass of wine. We also were delighted to be serenaded by a bag-pipe player who is a member of a group called "The Order of the Hairy Dogs," who often are fishing at Brooks at the same time as we are. We sure do enjoy fishing alongside of them!
While in the dining room we frequently saw bears wandering the beach right out in front of the lodge, and one sow was even nursing her little one there while the Park Rangers were convincing her that she shouldn't go farther along the beach because the lodge was loading a float plane with departing passengers.
We were all disappointed that we didn't catch any sockeye salmon, but it was hard to complain with the proliferation of bear activity all day, every day. I love Brooks, and we'll be back for more in 2015. Join us!!
The float tubes were ready to be inflated and the big rainbows & grayling were just hanging out in the lake waiting for us when we arrived at our cozy cabin near Cantwell, AK. It didn't take long to have a lesson in putting on the swim fins and getting in and out of the tube, and we launched in the rain for our first encounter with these very special fish. It was cold and wet with new snow blanketing the surrounding mountains.
Eileen was the first to hook up about ten minutes after she'd backed into the lake, and she did a masterful job of playing her 26 inch prize. He zinged and zoomed around the lake making one deep dive after the other just to make sure she was paying attention. Finally he succumbed to the pressure of the 8-wt rod and allowed himself to be netted. Wow, he was a beauty! A quick picture and I showed her how to release him by paddling with just one foot to make the tube move around in a circle so she could create some oxygen for him. It didn't take long for him to thrust himself out of her hands.
Both Pamela, a neophyte fly fisher, and Sandra, an experienced angler also had fish within a short time, catching both rainbows and grayling as we circled the lake. The fish were very cooperative. We could look down into the water and see their huge, dark bodies swimming just below our flippers. The cold, wet atmosphere finally sent us back to the cabin for a glass of wine before dinner where we enjoyed rotisserie chicken, corn on the cob, and a delicious broccoli salad.
After just a 34 degree night, and continuing snow on the mountains, it was raining even harder the next morning, so just Pamela and I headed out during the early part of the day, having put on all of the warm clothes we had brought. Now Pamela was feeling much more confident about her hooking and landing skills, so she reacted quickly to the large tug on her fly that nearly doubled-over her rod. This was a fish that actually pulled her tube around as she tried to manage it. She kept asking when he was going to give up. I knew that this was a huge fish, so I just urged her to keep the tension on him and let him run. He was definitely in control.
The measuring tape showed about 28 inches when we finally brought the fish to the net, after about six tries. His huge tail flapped in the breeze above the wood rim. Putting her hands in the freezing water, Pamela paddled around with him while he revived, and then showed me her blue fingers after he was gone.
She hooked and landed several more large fishing that morning, and so did I. We each had some gorgeous grayling attack the flies as well. Although we were actually freezing, it was hard to get out of the water. We were so cold we could hardly paddle. We spent much of the afternoon checking e-mail and going for a walk while we waited for the temperature to rise. That night we indulged in home-made lasagna and a great salad.
Our third day dawned bright and sunny, and we were off for the lake as fast as we could get our waders on. While the water was still pretty cold, at least the ambient air temperature somewhat made up for it. On the way out to the middle of the lake we encountered beautifully colored grayling. This time it was Sandy that got us started with the big rainbows, however. She had switched to a black bead-head bunny fly from the olive woolly buggers the rest of us were using and landed a fish in the 24-inch range. Once again, the net was just barely adequate. I'd bought a new Brodin float tube landing net, but it was just barely a match for these huge fish. Eileen and Pamela were also both successful in landing other fish the same size as well as many smaller fish that entertained us with their eagerness. We grilled hamburgers for dinner after taking a walk around the lake on the new water-side trail.
Our last day saw us driving up the western end of the Denali Hiway towards Brushkana Creek where we saw a moose and her calf just walking along the road. We fished for grayling so everyone could experience river fishing as well as lake fishing. The water was still very high after all the rain, but the drive was beautiful, and we still caught some fish. The bugs were absolutely horrendous, however, and we couldn't take off our head-nets for even a second.
Our 2013 trip was so great that I knew that we had to return here this year. Adventure Denali's fish were stocked in this lake many years ago, by Kirk Martakis, the owner, who has been feeding them ever since. We watched Kirk's son, Tanner, and one of the employees feed the fish from a small boat that they row around the lake as they throw out the pellets. The fish absolutely go nuts!
Kirk now operates his lake for paid, catch and release day-fishing by guests from the various hotels & lodges at nearby Denali National Park and for guests staying at his cabins. Kirk has been enhancing the small creek running between this lake and one right nearby to provide better spawning habitat for the fish, and this spring, for the first time, he observed lots of spawners. We also provided some proof that his efforts were paying off by catching lots of fish of various sizes, from 8 inches to 28 inches. What more could you ask??
Sure was hard to say good bye, but we have another trip scheduled August 21-24 so we'll get to visit these behemoth fish one more time before the summer is over. There's still one spot left in that trip, if you want to go along!
On the edge of our seats in the small plane, we awaited our traverse of the famed Lake Clark Pass with cameras at the ready. Then, the low clouds and rain appeared, and hoped they wouldn't complete block our views. We got a mix of bumpy flying with overcast clouds hanging over the many glaciers and craggy mountains, but at least we got to see some of the scenery. We had to keep our hopes up for the return flight to see more.
Like many places in Alaska this summer, rain was the order of the day. Nevertheless, we pulled on waders & raincoats, strung up the rods, and headed off to the Tanalian River near the lodge. Spring run-off had done a major re-arrangement on the river this year, and the water was roaring along our favorite stretch. We waded around wherever we could and caught a few grayling on dry flies, but not in the numbers we usually do.
The next day proved better as we hopped a short flight to the trailhead for our hike to the Tanalian Falls. Even though there was an enormous amount of water there, as well, grayling hit our flies almost as fast as we could cast. The depth and speed of the water made us very, very careful where we waded, but the fish were ready for us. We fished with nymphs, dry flies, and even a tiny streamer or two, and all of them took fish. It was still raining, but both Nancy & Gary had several doubles on 18-inch fish, and the picturesque falls themselves provided an incredible day.
Next up was a boat day where we head down the lake to fish for pike and to some of the tributaries for more grayling. The pike were amazing this year! One after the other after the other these paddle-mouth giants took the tan and yellow 2-inch long bunny flies we were casting right from the beach. We could hardly make time for lunch, but the fire that our boat-driver, Jeff, made for us was too good to pass up. Nancy easily hooked over twenty-five fish (all with the same fly) and landed most of them. She especially, didn't want to leave for more grayling fishing but we convinced her that there was lots of other water to explore.
The afternoon saw us at the Kijik River where she hooked up right away. Her second fish was a huge one, but it dispatched the hook before we could get a picture. She and I ended our time there casting ants to eager grayling that were hiding out in a perfect small channel among all the rushing water.
We headed back to an amazing dinner complete with home-made rolls and desserts. The entrees every night at the Lodge are so large, that we have to order half-portions of the beef, chicken, and salmon dishes that make it so difficult to "clean your plate."
Sockeye salmon fishing was on the agenda the following day, and Glen Alsworth Jr, the owner/manager of The Farm Lodge where we stay, was our pilot on a remarkable float-plane flight to the Kvichak River. Much to our disappointment we just didn't hit it right and the salmon were few and far between. So, after a couple of hours spent casting to them, we only had a rainbow and two grayling to show for our efforts and decided to fly elsewhere. The day was beautiful and we got an unbelievable opportunity to see an entire swath of Bristol Bay's rivers and lakes from the air.
The small river we fished connected two lakes, and the fish were absolutely lined up beneath the drop off into the lake waiting for whatever we presented them with. A very large char was in the mix, and Gary hooked it with a huge, black leech that Glen had given him to try. He played it for quite a while but finally lost it in the slippery rocks that we were all attempting to negotiate. Thank goodness we had a breeze and bug shirts that day or we would have been eaten alive by the bugs.
Our last day became a day for a flight and some fishing at Dick Pronenneke's cabin, made famous by the book One Man's Wilderness. Some hiking and fishing around that area put an end to a wonderful trip.
The flight through Lake Clark Pass back to Anchorage was much more representative of the spectacle that the Pass is known for. Glacier after glacier poured down from the layers and layers of snow-capped mountains shining in the sun. Pictures simply don't do it justice.
We're pre-booking for 2015 now. Come and experience it all with us.
Rain, rain, rain, and rain is what we got until the very last morning of our trip to the Niukluk River near Nome, AK this year. We started the trip with a canceled flight, which made us scramble to get on a later flight, which screwed-up in getting out bags transferred from the first flight, which resulted in our sitting in a pizza parlor all after waiting for the final Anchorage/Nome flight, which was supposed to have our bags on it. Eventually we had everything, and then our shuttle driver picked us up and we finally headed for the river.
Tom Gray, from AK Northwest Adventures picked us up at the river and took us back to the lodge by boat (which is the only way to get there), where his wife, BJ was waiting for us with some scrumptious spaghetti. Wet and very cold, we absolutely devoured it, and headed for bed immediately after. Tom and BJ are our Alaska Native hosts on this very unique river, and we stay at their hunting camp, right on the river.
A huge breakfast to keep us warm throughout the day awaited us the next morning and we wolfed it down anxious to get on the water having lost our entire first day of fishing. Thankfully, one of our favorite stretches of water along a back channel produced nice-sized grayling almost immediately. The water was high and off-color, but they seemed able to see our flies just the same. Dry flies worked for a while, but as the water rose we switched to ants, which we skittered on the surface with great success. Several 18-inch fish, with their huge, aqua-spotted dorsal fin flared, really made our day, in spite of everything.
Sue, a novice fly fisher, had come with her husband on the trip to get more experience, and to learn some of the techniques of dry fly fishing. She got both the overhead cast and the dead-drift mastered almost right away, and had three fish landed while everyone else was still busy getting geared-up. Her skills continued to improve throughout the trip. Like the rest of us, she was grateful for the ants as the day unfolded.
Although we were hopeful that the rain would stop that day, it never did, and we were all loaded up with clothes, gloves, etc. that just got wetter and wetter as the day wore on. Finally, no one could even move their fingers to tie on a fly, and we finally headed back to the lodge for a glass of wine and dinner. BJ treated us to her renowned musk-ox stew paired with the broccoli salad that tops any and all of the salads at the store or restaurants. A warm, blueberry cake drizzled with her special frosting topped it all off.
All night long it rained, and we were despairing of getting to fish at all. But, Tom directed us to a small creek that we usually fish right at the mouth, but which was now full of water. Still with a bit of clarity to the water, the fish took our Czech nymphs for quite a while. Leslie was busy catching one large fish after the other on a renegade fly, and soon both her and Sue's husbands were back with the ants. Pretty soon, all of the yellow-legged ants had disappeared from my fly box and folks switched to orange. They saved the day throughout the rest of the trip.
Leslie had told me that she had hoped to catch the queen of the grayling on the trip, and I assured her that she probably would. With both of us worrying that the dirty water might have encouraged the queen to split, she just kept fishing. Amazingly, her fish just kept getting larger and larger, until she hooked an enormous, dark fish with an astonishing dorsal fin, that measured 20 & ¾ inches! The pictures we got of it in the dark light didn't do anything to show the fish in its true glory, but that's all we could do.
Bob & Gene were also catching large fish, and decided that maybe some of the large fish that usually occupied the main river, had decided to hide-out in the small creek until the water cleared and receded.
Finally, on our last morning, the sun came out. By this time there was no chance of the water clearing before we left, so we returned to the first location we had fished from and used exclusively ants. By this time, we used any of the ants that were still hanging out in my fly boxes, and almost everything seemed to work. Of course, we didn't want to go back to the lodge to pack up, but we finally did.
BJ was ready for us with some of her very special salmon-salad for sandwiches or crackers, as well as some fresh watermelon & cherries, and some of her delicious fry bread with maple frosting.
Full but sad, we headed back to our pick-up location on the river, and RJ, our driver was right on time. The seventy-mile trip back to Nome was enlightened by sighting a bear along a small river that runs right beside the road, a group of sand-hill cranes prancing around on the beach as we drove by, and a herd of seventeen bull musk-ox just a couple of miles from town. We also made a stop at the "little trains from nowhere" left on the tundra by an old mining operation.
We finished it all off with fresh, Bering Sea red crab for dinner at a restaurant/bar in Nome before heading to the evening flight back to Anchorage. Although I hate to have rain be the focal point of a trip, in this case, we all felt proud of ourselves for having withstood it and prevailed!! Once again my beloved grayling showed everyone why I think they are so special. You can buy my grayling book, Fly Fishing for Alaska's Arctic Grayling or on Amazon. Come on up in 2015 to Alaska where these fish still exist and fish for them with us on this very extraordinary trip.
Women from Wyoming, Washington D.C. Maryland, and Montana joined us for the school this year, and we had a great time getting them all transformed into fly fishers! We started right out with some basic information about all the gear, and then headed down to a beach-side location for the first of many casting lessons.
Later in the day we sat down for our first knot-tying lesson so that they would be ready to repair their leaders the next day, should that become necessary. Nail knots and triple surgeons knots, as well as the basic clinch knot were the order of the day. A glass of wine for everyone made the learning much easier, and we headed off for one of the lodge's amazing dinners.
The next day saw us up early to get on the boat that was taking us to the lovely Sheep Bay about a 40 minute's ride from the lodge. We disembarked, made the short hike across the estuary with our trusty Folstaf wading staffs, and were soon casting away with the 8-wt rods into the thousands of pink (humpy) salmon that were pouring into the river. It didn't take long for the excitement to result in hookups and the instruction that goes along with how to keep a fish on the line, land it, and then release it safely. Several "doubles" occurred as they practiced and perfected their skills.
Linda and Susan, fishing at one end of the line, caught quite a few doubles and we finally got a picture of one of them before they released their fish. When Jane landed a fish we all cheered as she had had several hook-ups where the fish got away. Several of them also were required to repair their leaders as fish broke them off while they were learning, and they did a great job. All in all it was a fantastic day.
The day's tide finally made it imperative that we hike back to where the boat was anchored and head back to the lodge. We got out of our waders quickly and gathered in the up-stairs lounge at the lodge that becomes our class headquarters during the time we are there. The evening's agenda was learning to tie the blood knot for adding more strength to their leaders. Everyone passed the final test with flying colors. A glass of wine helped, of course.
We made time that day to go into Cordova to visit the wonderful Copper River Fleece shop where everyone treated themselves to vests, jackets, hats, fishing shirts, etc. We always made a visit there, and, you can take a virtual tour with us by visiting their web site at http://copperriverfleece.com/arcticwomenjacket.html
Our second day the boat deposited is at beautiful Makkah Bay with an agenda of fishing for both cutthroat trout and pink salmon in the creek there. While waiting for the tide to bring in the pink salmon, we had a blast catching beautiful little sea-run cutthroat trout in the tannic waters of the creek. Every single one was released. They were pretty willing to take any of the small streamers and nymphs that we offered them, and the group was in love with the 5-wt rods in no time. Then, the pinks began to appear, marching up-stream with all the determination their spawning ritual requires, and we switched back over to the heavier rods.
Tammy and Tangi, a mother-daughter pair quickly had a double with fish that hit their flies at exactly the same moment, and the fight was on. They matched each other fish for fish after a while as their confidence built. Soon we headed out onto a long gravel bar that stretched into the entrance of the bay where the fish were absolutely stacked up. We could see their backs coming out of the water, and swirls and splashes were everywhere. Beth hardly knew where to cast there were so many fish to aim at, and, her friend, Jane even had fish jumping behind her.
Everyone caught fish and we couldn't have asked for a better afternoon. The weather was mild and the bugs were awful, but everyone had their trusty head-net and we survived. On the way home a serious rain squall hit us, and by the time we got back to the lodge we were all cold & wet. Needless to say, our wine-time was a welcome treat that day while we had a lesson on flies.
Our last full day we enjoyed a small plane flight into Prince William Sound and enjoyed it in all its splendor. The commercial fishing boats were out catching sockeye salmon, and we could see their nets stretched into the beaches from the air. Moose and swans were the two most common sightings besides the boats. The flight took us to another small river which contains both cutthroat trout and pink salmon, and we rotated between a pond with trout and the river with salmon to have our fun for the day. By now, everyone was confidently casting, playing, landing and releasing fish, and repairing a leader was no longer a challenge.
An early tide cut short our afternoon, but the good news was that meant we could do a short flight-see up on one of the glaciers nearby. Although the weather prevented us from going to the top of the glacier, we still had a spectacular flight over blue glacier ice, and vistas of glaciers winding out of surrounding mountains. What a treat!!
Our last day was a short one as we were departing on an early afternoon flight. We drove to two small lakes right near town with a small run of King salmon. The location gave us a great opportunity to practice some additional, more advanced casts, and while we were doing that Beth actually hooked up one of the "turning-red" ‘kings! We all knew it was unlikely that she could land it because it was about a 20-lb fish but we were cheering her along anyway. After five huge leaps into the air, he finally took off and broke her leader. What a way to end the school!!
Want to join us next year and become a fly fisher? We're pre-booking now. While we don't have the exact dates just yet, the school will be in the later part of July as always. See you in 2015!
The single fly fishing days that we spend on the Resurrection Creek in Home, Alaska always prove to be fun and full of excitement. Folks who have little or no experience with fly fishing are always eager to give it a try, and thrilled with all the fish they are able to catch as the day moves along.
Pink salmon are our prey, and there are lots and lots and lots of them to keep us busy. I'm always careful to tell people when they book for the experience that they most likely will not catch fish that are still good to eat because they are well into their spawning cycle and their flesh is deteriorating. No one seems to mind. Instead, they welcome learning how to release a fish safely.
The first group of three people this year included a woman named Jodi who had fly fished with me before, but it was many years ago, and she was ready to get going at it again. The other two were a couple brand-new to the sport although Cathy had taken my Beginning Fly Fishing class this spring. Mike, her husband, was impressed with how much knowledge she already had about fly fishing. One right after the other they all hooked fish, practiced landing them, and went back for another one after a safe release.
Pink flies were definitely the order of the day, and when we switched colors, the fish were definitely less interested. Fish candy flies, "nothing" flies, and other concoctions succeeded in attracting fish. By lunch time they were ready for a rest and after we ate we hiked to another part of the creek where they had more visibility but a somewhat smaller amount of fish. Undeterred, they had a great afternoon.
Four women joined me on the second day at the same location. Two of them had some familiarity with fly fishing but no experience catching salmon. They, too, were astounded by the numbers of fish in front of them. Like the previous day's anglers, they also started hooking up in a very short time.
It was hard for me to keep track of the numbers of fish each one caught they were so successful. As usual, they would accidently hook a fish in some part of its body besides the mouth, but that still gave them the opportunity to play fish and master the use of an 8-wt fly rod. Good thing we were using heavy rods because one of the women had a stray king salmon unexpectedly take her fly and give her a real run for her money! We carefully landed the (approx.) 25 lb fish took a quick picture and sent it on its way. We could see its dusky-red body swimming along with the pink salmon for quite awhile.
It always helps to be able to see the fish right in front of you, and we almost always have that experience on this river. The bellies of pink salmon turn white as they move toward spawning, which makes them very noticeable in the water. That makes it easier to direct a fly right to the fish's mouth. The large hump that develops on the back of the males is another way the fish become visible.
Resurrection Creek is tidally influenced so I alerted both groups that the tide would be coming in while we were fishing. Each day the tide rose higher than 25 feet which spread the fish out and made them a little less conspicuous. But, each tide also brought in fresher fish that were more eager to strike the fly and more active and harder to manage. Everyone met that challenge perfectly.
The second group also opted for the short hike to a different spot in the river as the crowd increased when the tide came in. Since there were four of them they had a little less space to fish in the up-river location, but they quickly set up a rotation that gave everyone a chance to hook fish.
Now they were getting so confident that we had "doubles" several times, although we weren't always able to get a picture. They were mesmerized by the spawning behavior of the fish and remarked on the aggression both females and males showed toward other fish. One female had her nest area all picked out, and even though she was not actively creating the nest she repeatedly ran-off one after the other female in the vicinity.
Just like every year, the day's accomplishments are measured by the confidence each angler exhibits at the end of the day. While they aren't taking home lots of fish, they are taking home new skills and additional familiarity with fly rod fishing. Thank goodness for pink salmon that help me teach them how.
The trip to the Tangle Lakes area in Interior Alaska is one we especially look forward to every year. Lots and lots of Arctic grayling are waiting for us there in the creeks and the lakes, and so is some spectacular scenery along the Denali Hiway. This year was no exception, and we couldn't wait to get started. After gathering at MacLaren Lodge, we headed out for the Clearwater River to wet a line and say hello to the fish.
Sherry has been on this trip before, and she connected with a good sized grayling almost right away. He came unbuttoned before she could get a good set on him, but now she knew just where he was, and a little while later, she brought him in with what turned out to be her favorite fly of the trip, a black mayfly pattern with a white parachute.
Peterson (as she likes to be called) was intent on hooking up with a nymph as the water was high and a little dirty. The spot we usually start in was as reliable as always and there were small fish rising all along the current. Kate also brought a bright fish to hand within the first half-hour we fished. These weren't some of the larger fish the creek is known for but we were happy just to be fishing.
After a great dinner at the lodge we made our plans for the next day and Sherry headed to her cabin, I headed to my van, and Peterson & Kate went to the small enclave they established across the road from the Lodge. In the morning we were raring to go and the boat was ready for us. A low ceiling promised rain for the day, and we encountered it for the entire day as we wandered a small, wilderness river pursuing fish. The coming storm was obviously putting down the fish, but Peterson started us off with a few nice fish on a nymph that she was trying and we alternated between dries and nymphs for most of the day.
Kate picked out a likely looking spot and absolutely hammered it for awhile, but with no fish to show for it. Sherry picked up a couple of fish, but it was very hit and miss. Then, as we rounded a bend in the river, a beautiful deep pool with perfect grayling water entering and exiting it was just waiting for us and the fun began.
Peterson was the first to hook up with what proved to be a glistening, aqua-tinted grayling nearly 18-inches long. A native of Vermont, she couldn't get enough pictures of it because she'd never seen such coloring on a fish. She was to spend her day commenting on the blue, green, purple, and orange spots, gill plates and shining cycloid scales that grayling display.
We could all see the fish resting at the bottom of the pool, and Kate was determined to hook one of a group of three that she had her eye on. Just as we were going to head over to the bank for lunch she scored. Another fish, as large as Peterson's, was on her line and giving her quite a time until finally relenting and letting her bring it to shore. Sherry, right around the corner was also pursuing other fish nearby. After lunch we hiked up the creek and found several other prime spots holding fish. Nymphs of various kinds provided the most success.
It was still raining the next day when we headed out to a different creek were the fish were all over our flies from the very first cast. Here again, nymphs were the order of the day. Gold ribbed hare's ears, pheasant tails, and Czech nymphs proved to be the best bets and we had one or the other on the lines nearly all the time.
By mid-afternoon, it was raining quite hard on and off, and we could see the water becoming more off-color and rising, but the fish were absolutely begging us to keep fishing, so we did. I gave both Kate and Peterson a lesson in Czech nymphing with two flies, and they both were hooting and hollering with non-stop success. We stopped several times to try to get pictures of two fish on the same leader because they were so excited about the technique.
And then we switched to ants and more fun ensued. We were very wet, but really couldn't say that we were miserable because the fishing was so exciting. Whether the ants had orange legs, a white post, or chartreuse & black stripes, the fish were all over them. Most of the time, the fly had barely landed on the water before at least one fish was right there to go for it. Usually it was more like several eager fish were after it immediately. It was an absolute feeding frenzy, and we had lots and lots of hits and misses, but it was quite a day. And, it was still raining!
The next morning the sun finally came out and we headed over to the Tangle River to try our luck. The river was high there as well, so the fishing was slow for a time, but soon we had some success on dry flies. Kate landed an 18-inch fish on a Royal Wulff on her second cast and Sherry brought out her black parachute fly and caught three nice fish right in a row.
We ate lunch and then hiked down to try a different part of the river. Once again, it was nymphs that helped us get down to the fish through the rushing water. High, but not too dirty, we enjoyed the challenge of lots of over-hanging brush, and the patience it took to place the fly right on the edge of the big current. Kate had the quickest success as she located just where fish were holding and proceeded to catch several of them.
Sure was hard to say farewell to this jewel of grayling fishing, but we'll definitely be going back next year. Now is the time to let us know that you want to go along.
What a great place! There's nothing else like Adventure Denali anywhere in Alaska. These incredible rainbow trout, were stocked in Chevy Lake near Cantwell, many years ago, and, with supplemental feeding, limited fishing opportunities, and strict adherence to catch and release policies, they've now become huge! Kirk Martakis, the owner of Adventure Denali manages the place with a fish-first philosophy and overseas every part of the operation.
A truly unique place, Adventure Denali, the only "pay to fish" operation in the State, has developed a fishery where you can pursue rainbows over 30- inches long as well as large, native grayling, that have flourished because of the feeding program for the rainbows. Tourists staying in either Kirk's cabins or in one or the other lodges on the way to Denali National Park are the typical users of the lake.
This report is from our second trip this year to enjoy the fun. We arrived in the rain and departed in the rain, and had rain every day except one, but we bundled up and took off in the tubes nevertheless. Neither Deb nor Stephanie had ever float tubed before, but they quickly mastered the basics of getting in and out of the tube, managing the flippers, and paddling to move around the lake. They lost some big fish because they didn't set the hook, and because they were so startled by the take that they forgot to paddle away from the fish to keep it tight, but, it wasn't long until their rods were bent, and they were ready to learn how to release and revive a fish from a float tube.
Deb caught a fish in the 28-inch range, and after a good fight, was really pleased with her success. She quickly got the technique of holding the fish and making the tube go around in circles to enable the fish to re-oxygenate. Some of the other fish were large, some were medium-sized, and some were around 12-14 inches. The water was so clear that we could look down and see many sizes of fish with our Polarized glasses.
The really large fish looked like dark torpedoes as they followed us around the lake. We couldn't decide if they thought we were going to feed them, or if they were in love with our flippers. Still, they weren't easy to catch. We used several different streamers, some black, some olive, some red (which was really successful in our June trip), and some purple, but it wasn't until we tried orange that they really got interested and we had more hits.
Stephanie landed a 30+ inch fish after a 15-minute battle. It as a gorgeous hen, that put up an absolutely unbelievable fight. Each time she thought it was ready to come in, it would take off for the bottom of the lake again. Never having had such a large fish on a fly rod, she did a great job of playing it patiently and eventually we had a fish that was docile enough to land and even pose for a picture. (See the video of just a short part of the fight on Adventure Denali's Facebook page.)
Some of the fish were Arctic grayling, which were already in the lake in the beginning, and we had fun with them as well. It was amazing what large flies they would take! They also enjoyed our nymphs. The weather wasn't really very conducive to dry fly fishing, unfortunately.
Our third day we headed east up the Denali Hiway to visit Brushkana Creek. Along the way we followed a lone caribou trotting along the road all by himself, apparently trying to find his herd. He'd stop every few minutes to sniff the breeze, and finally turned into the alders and disappeared.
We'd hoped to do some dry fly fishing at Brushkana, but just a few of the fish there were interested. The water was absolutely raging from all the recent rain, so it wasn't easy fishing, even in any of my hot-spots. Nymphs, however, were a little better if we could get them into just the right water, and we also finished the day with some fun fishing with the small streamers. As we headed back to the cabin, the afternoon light was absolutely brilliant on the yellowing aspen and the blueberry bushes, loaded with berries, were all turning red. The hills were absolutely glowing, since we finally had some sun, and the scenery was extraordinary.
It rained all that night, though, and our last day was cold and still rainy. We tubed for awhile, but then decided to take our rods and hike around the second lake on the property to try fishing from the bank. We caught several smaller fish, and we could only get the large fish interested in examining our flies, but not taking them.
With just a couple of hours left to fish, we put on more clothes and got back into the tubes. Boy it was cold! The wind was really blowing by now but, for some reason, the fish started biting like crazy. Deb had six fish on one right after the other, using a very small, black streamer, and Stephanie and I fished Czech-nymphs with great success, as well. Finally, we were just too cold to stay out there, and we headed back to the cabin for a warm fire, a glass of wine, and some hamburgers to put on the bar-b-q. It was the perfect ending to a great day.
Yes, we're definitely going back next year - twice if at all possible - so we're just waiting for you to tell us you want to go along.
The sun was actually out in Cordova on the first day of our trip this year, and that wonderful situation managed to continue through day 2 as well! We got our waders on, we picked up the sandwiches the lodge had made for us and took off for the Eyak River, to get started targeting silver salmon. The river was in great shape, but we only saw a few silvers coming up on the tide. There were Dolly Varden char around, and we caught a few of these, so we finally headed into town to make a stop at the Copper River Fleece store as we always do.
The next day the boat took us into Prince William Sound for some fishing at one of the small creeks there, and we were lucky enough to find silvers galore! Making up for the day before, we hooked them fast and furiously, and carefully released those that were beginning to develop their spawning colors. Everyone was amazed at the huge hook-noses the male fish develop, and we got lots of pictures.
A rock-solid hook-up is often hard to achieve on these large fish, so it took awhile for everyone to realize that they had to do a hook-set that was much more forceful than they would do in a trout. Once it happened, however, the classic leaps, cartwheels, jumps and more ensued. Lines took off with the speed of light, and it was fun to see all the other fish scatter as a hooked one zoomed right through them.
Things would quiet down a bit after a played fish was safely on the bank, and it was absolutely amazing to see how many dorsal fins poked out on top of the water. That was because fish that had come in on previous tides were sharing the same water with the fresh ones. The tannic water and the sun-glare made it difficult to see which fish were which from the bank, but we could always tell a fresh fish when we had one on the line. Their power and antics made for great fun while we were playing them and once we were bringing one near to shore, we could always see the bright, white, bodies of the newer arrivals.
We had taken a canoe up-river with us to make returning the fish to the boat easier, and we marveled at the huge fish that we were accumulating there. All but one of us caught a limit of fish, and they were some of the largest fish I’ve seen on this trip in several years.
Julie and Chris had fun trying different flies, mostly ones from my new book, Pacific Salmon Flies, New Ties & Old Standbys, (buy it on my web site at www.womensflyfishing.net/merchandise.htm) and they quickly developed some favorites. Pink and white clouser minnows were successful as were the raspberry & gold Sparklers. The Spook quickly became Chris’s choice. Surprisingly, we caught hardly any fish on egg-sucking leeches, the old Alaska standby fly.
Lisa and Laurie were casting the Stop Lights and chartreuse and white popsicles with good results as well. At times, the bite would go off, as it always does when fishing for silvers, and usually we could turn it back on with a change of fly or a change of color. During the high, slack tide, however, it seemed like all we could do was sit on the river bank and eat lunch.
Chris, from the lodge, our bear-watcher and helper, had a great time landing our fish and making a beautiful “flower” arrangement with them beside the boat. Everyone got lots of pictures of that, as you can imagine. Once the tide changed, things picked up again, and we fished like maniacs until it was time to go.
Our third day was somewhat overcast as we took off for the Martin River. Flying over the Copper River Delta where we saw seven moose was a real treat, and the silvers were waiting for us there as well. A wide black line of fish was making its way up the river toward a small creek where they would spawn, and once again we had good success. It began to rain earl in the day and then just kept getting worse as the day wore on. Soon the water became cloudy and started to rise, and it became decidedly harder to hook the fish. It was easy to see when newly arrived fish joined the others as they were much more willing to bite. In the midst of it all, Chris caught a nearly 30-inch steelhead, which was carefully released. By the end of the day we were like a bunch of drowned rats, and it was fabulous to get back to the lodge for a glass of wine and one of Christian (the chef’s) amazing dinners.
Our fourth day we went by boat to another of the many small creeks that enter Prince William Sound, and it took us awhile to get to biting fish because the tide was coming in. We fished the beach to pods of arriving fish, but with no success due to the five large seals that were patrolling the creek mouth and driving away the fish. Finally, the tide receded far enough that we could wade up-stream where the fishing was more productive. Once again, we put the fish in the canoe to head back to the boat, where we had to get on board quickly so it didn’t get beached on the out-going tide.
We only had a couple of hours to fish before heading to the airport on our last day, so we went to some near-by ponds and tried our luck with no results. The lodge had our silvers all filleted, vacuum sealed and frozen for us to take home and we very reluctantly made our departure.
Next year?? You bet!! Orca Adventure Lodge will be waiting for us. Come on along!
Rain & wind, rain & wind, and more rain & wind! Our trip this year started with a delayed flight from Anchorage to Iliamna which turned into a flight for half of us from Iliamna to the lodge and the other half stuck in Iliamna until early the next morning. We were finally all assembled with a good breakfast under our belts and raring to go fishing. Wind was still blowing but we decided to give it a try, and Steve and Shaun both found us fairly sheltered spots from which to cast.
The fish were there, but not as cooperative as usual due to the high, dirty water, but we persevered and landed some beauties. The rain started again about mid-morning and continued all the rest of the day dirtying the water even more. Still Chrys hooked into one of the largest rainbows of the trip on an olive and white Dolly Llama fly that Steve had been having success with. It quickly disconnected, but not before we got a look at its tail and girth. It was the fish to beat for the remainder of the trip. Sandy and Barb were also catching fish with streamers of various kinds because it was so hard to cast the beads in the wind. Besides, we just couldn’t seem to interest the fish in the typical bead-routine.
I helped Spenser, Barbra’s 16 year old grand-son on his first trip to Alaska, master lob and side-arm casting to counter the wind, as well as the skills of bead-fishing so he was able to fish with several of the techniques the rest of us were using. As he and I were progressing slowly down a great stretch of water, he hooked up several times, only to lose the fish because of not forceful enough hook-sets. Then, as I was showing him how to drift his fly so that it would fall off of gravel shelf down to the waiting fish, he connected with a beauty. He did a great job of playing it and getting over to the bank so Shaun could net it. An 18-inch prize, it was his first fish on a fly rod!
Finally a few of the group cried “uncle” and headed back to the lodge, while the rest of us slogged on. Steve moved us to a couple of different places to avoid the wind, and we had mixed success. A number of fly-changes during the day got Joan five fish in a row from one rather small run, however, and then Debbie scored with six in a row from another spot just up-river of her. At the same spot I hooked, but lost, a very large fish on a flesh fly right below a pile of rotting sockeye salmon. Surprisingly only one more fish that day took a flesh fly.
By late afternoon we were all wet and cold and ready to go back to the lodge for wine and another one of Steve #2’s phenomenal dinners. We were lucky enough to spot a sow and three cubs fishing in the grasses below the lodge and spent quite a while watching them that evening as darkness fell. The discouraging rain continued all night, and we knew what to expect the following morning. Before dawn the next morning the four bears made a visit to the lodge and stood on the porch looking in the window and trying to get hold of Steve #2’s small dog who was furiously barking at them from inside. The three people staying in one cabin saw some of the ruckus with their flashlights, but those of us in the big cabin mostly slept through it all.
Loading up the boats right after breakfast, we were determined to give it our best in spite of continued wind & rain. It was our last full day and we wanted to make the best of it. Sandy, Chrys, Joan, and I started out at one of Shaun’s favorite spots where the wind was fairly tolerable. It rained on and off all day, but not a really hard rain, for which we were thankful. A few fish came our way mostly on black and white Dolly Llamas and bead-head black leeches. It wasn’t until Shaun decided to give beads another try that we really scored. “Here’s the color,” he announced as he hooked up just seconds after making his third cast. He and I went through all of our egg boxes to find a color match and rigged the rest of them up in no time.
“Fish,” “fish,” “fish” they hollered one after the other, and the bite was definitely on. Sandy thought she was stuck in the gravel at one point, but quickly realized that it was a very large fish on the end of her line, and not a snag. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a fish head downstream quite that fast, but he must not have been solidly hooked and he popped off pretty quickly. “This might have been a fish larger than yours,” she called to Chrys, but since we never got to measure either of them, it will have to remain a mystery.
Our last stop of the day proved very productive as well, and when the other boat pulled up alongside us we showed them the successful bead color and they proceeded to up their numbers of fish quite quickly. We really didn’t want to go home because the wind had calmed a lot and the rain was tapering off, but Steve #2 had promised us rack of lamb and French onion soup for dinner, and so we finally turned the boats downstream. Just as we headed home, however, we came round a bend and saw a sow with four cubs on the bank. Shaun cut the motor and we drifted along as they scrutinized us carefully, but didn’t run. Then, Sandy spotted a large boar on the opposite bank, obviously interested in the bear family across the river. He took off into the bushes and up the hill.
Dinner was absolutely incredible, and we had a very special goodbye party with lots of toasts to everyone’s fish. The folks on the first plane the next day needed to be ready to go with bags on the porch by 7:00 a.m. (while it was still dark, and we all walked around with flashlights just in case the bears were still around.) But it was a glorious morning after all the wind and rain, and we marveled at the beauty of Lake Iliamna and the lodge area. It will all be waiting for us again next year. Join us!