Tubing Tales 2016
This year’s float tubing days were as much fun as always despite a pair of flippers that refused to perform, and schools of fish that weren’t where they usually are.
We started off as always with some pick-up & lay down casts for first timers before I set them up in front of some old logs at the edge of the lake that always have fish nearby. It wasn’t long until everyone began to report “bumps” that signaled fish activity, but that didn’t always result in “takes”. The anglers were a determined bunch and with a little coaching they kept right at it until they actually hooked-up and progressed to the “keep paddling” stage.
Stopping paddling in the tube almost always results in the loss of a fish, and they all seemed to get that right away. Rods high and bent, plus furious paddling finally began to end in fish to be released, and everyone was pretty proud of themselves, just as they should have been. It was really fun to see them settle down to casting right at the swirls and bubbles that signaled fish and fishing success.
We made a tour straight down one side of the lake catching fish in nearly all of the places that usually produce until everyone was ready for lunch and a “relief” stop. Then we headed down the opposite side of the lake and I didn’t have to say anything about where to fish. They had it down.
The second group consisted of a young couple trying to figure out if they liked float tubing well enough to buy some for themselves, and another first-timer. They too headed down the lake with good success as they became more and more confident. The husband of the couple even hooked into an 18-inch fish that squirted a few eggs as we released her.
I explained to them that some of the lake fish do actually lay fertilized eggs even when they are in still water, but that the eggs can’t survive because they do not have running water to bring them oxygen like they do in rivers.
The third group went through the same initiation and were confidently fishing by the time we finished working the first side of the lake, when a crisis arose. One of them had a flipper come off!! Since it is almost impossible to make repairs with the fins in the water because the angler isn’t able to lift her foot up under the round tube, I towed her to the bank to fix what was wrong. She went back to fishing, but it wasn’t long until the flipper came off again, and then her other flipper was in the process of following suit!! So, I had her take off both fins, and I just towed her from place to place as she happily just kept fishing. During lunch I got a spare pare of flippers out of my van, rigged her up for the afternoon, and all was well. The original flippers turned out to have defective material in the straps.
Our spring float tube adventures are always a hoot, and usually end in people asking where they can get a float tube and what brand they should get. I show them that all of my float tubes are made by Buck’s Backs in ID, and aim them there. I remind them to buy a tube with a urethane bladder instead of an inner tube and to get a pump that inflates on both the in and the out. They’re on their way.
Adventure Denali Float Tubing, Spring 2016
Sometimes it’s hard to describe a fly fishing trip that was absolutely “over the top,” but this year’s spring tubing at Adventure Denali, in the shadow of Mt McKinley, was just that! Beautiful weather and lots of BIG fish were the order of the day. The immense rainbow trout that this trip is known for were especially accommodating in taking our flies.
Some of the large and small streamers that we always used worked well attracting the fish, but it was nymphs that took the prize—especially the Czech nymphs that I brought for us to try. I don’t know whether it was just the novelty of these flies that made them interesting to the fish, or that they were just getting tired of seeing leech patterns, but it didn’t matter. They practically inhaled them.
Maija was the first to connect with the small flies, and managed to play and land her very first fish on a fly with them. She was ecstatic as she held the mid-twenties fish right next to the tube for a picture. Not only was this was her first fly-caught fish, it was also her first fish in a float tube to boot! “I knew I was going to like float tubing,” she grinned.
Laura wasn’t far behind. She gasped as her rod tip suddenly bent straight down with the weight of a good fish. “Paddle, paddle” I kept reminding her so that she could keep the fish tight while she fought it. It wasn’t long until we began to ease the fish toward the surface, and we could see that it, too, was going to be a beauty, well over twenty inches.
Right after we had released the first fish Laura flipped her fly out to the water, and almost before she started to troll again, a second fish grabbed it and took off with it. Both of us were flabbergasted! She could hardly get herself together to remember that she needed to let the fish run or he would break her off. She planed him well, and we could see that was ready to be netted, when it suddenly took off, wrapping the leader around her flipper and snapping it. Darn!
Our day on lake #3 was absolutely fantastic. Known for its incredible of numbers of Arctic grayling, it also holds some large rainbows. The grayling took our dry flies and/or nymphs one right after the other time after time, after time, and we sometimes lost track of how many had been landed.
From time to time we’d see a small group of large rainbows swimming with the grayling around our flippers, but we only managed to hook up a couple of them. They were not as large as the others we’d caught in the first lake, but they were beautiful and we measured them at about 18-20 inches
We also did some fishing from the bank of lake #2 one afternoon and managed to catch a bunch of smaller rainbows and grayling. This lake is being seeded with fish, as it too, is prepared for use by anglers.
Our trip ended as it always does back at the first lake, where the big bows were clearly visible as they followed us up and down the lake. We’ve decided that they are in love with our flippers, since we have no other explanation for this behavior. By this time, the gals had the techniques down pat and fish after fish came to the net.We still have a couple of spots available for our August 25-28, 2016 trip to this great lake system, so let us know if you want to go along. You won’t be disappointed!!
Sockeye & Bows
Copper on the Fly,
We headed out to the village of Iliamna, on the largest lake in the State of Alaska on a bright, sunshiny morning for the salmon and rainbow trip that gets our salmon seasons started. From there we switch to a Dehavilland Beaver on floats to access the Copper on the Fly Lodge, which has no runway. The trip over lots of large and small islands is both exciting and beautiful. We set down at “Tillies” to wait for the arrival of the skiff that would take us over to the lodge itself, and soon everyone was there getting settled.
A quick lunch and gear distribution get us ready for our first foray into the Little Copper, a rainbow-filled beauty of a small river that empties into the lake right in front of the lodge. As we head up-stream the river gets narrower and more and more scenic.
The first afternoon provided rainbows for everyone, even the novice fly anglers. The fish weren’t huge, but they were certainly available and we caught them with both dry flies and nymphs. The parachute Adams proved to be the fly of the afternoon as fish after fish bombarded it with gusto, even if a hook-up didn’t always result.
On all of our other days the fish goddess provided the sockeye we were waiting for in and everyone got a chance to do battle with one of these amazing fish even though we were in different parts of the river. Sockeye salmon are notorious for their lack of “grab” for a fly, and prove quite difficult to get solidly hooked up, as well as hooked up in the mouth. Everyone experienced fish decorated with various flies in their tails, and dorsal fins quite regularly. It was a real hoot to watch the antics of these delicious fish! Although it wasn’t easy to learn the technique that is used to catch sockeye, we’d finally end the day with a bunch of fish on the stringer, and everyone pretty satisfied.
Throughout the days, we frequently put down the 8-wt rods used for sockeye fishing and lined-up the more delicate 5-wt rods to pursue the rainbows that were everywhere. A mix of dry flies with a nymph dropper did the trick for several anglers and produced some pretty nice fish. A couple of people were lucky enough to have two fish on the line at the same time as the result. All of the rainbows were very carefully released throughout the trip.
The fish of the trip was a spectacular 20-inch “leopard rainbow” caught by Dorene on a tiny #12 Adams. Leopards are a special strain of rainbows that live in some rivers around the state, and they are sought-after by everyone who fishes bows. They are identified by the spots decorating their heads and even their eye- lids as well as by their caramel-colored skin.
I also rigged a nymph/nymph leader with Czech nymphs that was a real success. Although they didn’t always provide two fish, they gave us lessons in reading which of the two flies they preferred. They also enthralled the anglers that had never used a nymph.
The only disappointment of the trip was that we never saw a bear!! This is the first year that happened even though we kept the monoculars fixed on the grasses below the lodge and the hills along the river. Bears are always present when there are salmon in the river, and this was quite a surprise. I’ll bet that there was a siting of one just after we left!
The trip was a decided success, and everyone ended up going home with some sockeye for their freezer. Steve, Shaun, and “little” Shaun (plus Steve the chef) keep us well guided as well as well fed, and were always there when we needed them. Thanks! Guys! From all of us! See you next year!
Unbelievable Nome, 2016
Every year our trip to Nome for Arctic grayling fishing seems to get better and better, and this year was no exception. Huge runs of pink salmon resulted in thousands of salmon in the river, and grayling that were just hanging out around them waiting for the bigger fish to lay their eggs.
Looking down through the crystal clear water, you could easily differentiate the dark grayling from the pinks, whose white bellies gave them away at every turn. Not many salmon were actively spawning yet, so the grayling kept feeding on dry flies and nymphs. Parachute Adams and Royal Wulff’s seemed to be the preferred dry fly patterns, with a double dropper of Czech nymphs heading up the nymph fishing possibilities.
Everyone caught lots of grayling in our favorite spot on the Niukluk River with both dry flies and nymphs, with the most excitement occurring when a pink and aqua-spotted fish rose gracefully to sip the fly with hardly any disturbance of the water. Sometimes the huge dorsal fin that grayling are noted for appeared above the surface just as the fish took a fly. Other times the gleaming fish arched out above the water and sipped the offering on the way down. We couldn’t get enough of seeing that!
We also had phenomenal pink salmon fishing!! Rigging up the 8-wt fly rods instead of the 5-wt gear we’d been using for the grayling, we wore-out our arms catching pink after pink on bright, pink flies. The salmon were more than cooperative. We could see them chasing a drifting fly right through the throngs of other fish. Yes, we had some fish caught in the dorsal fin, but we carefully released them along with all the fish caught in the mouth.
We went back to the lodge absolutely pooped each day, but the fishing was worth every bit of stress or strain anyone experienced. Tom and BJ Gray, the owners of the lodge, Alaska Northwest Adventure Lodge(www.akadventure.com), host us year after year, and we really enjoy their hospitality. Tom, a renowned hunting and fishing guide, knows every single inch of the river and never fails to put us over fish. BJ is the renowned chef, presenting us with everything from unbelievable musk-ox stew to an incredible sockeye salmon casserole that we can’t get enough of.
The lodge is right on the river so we have a good view of the boats of the residents of Nome and nearby villages such as White Mountain as they head back and forth to their fish-camps along both the Niukluk and the Fish rivers. This year the water was so warm that BJ and a couple of our group actually went swimming out in front in the evening.
Our wildlife sightings were also exceptional this year. On our trip to the camp after arriving in Nome, we were delighted to see four immature hawks standing in the nest on the side of a cliff getting ready to fledge. Two immature eagles kept us company every day with their presence and their flying practice. We were unable to determine whether they were bald or golden eagles.
We seldom see the bears in that area on the river (although they are definitely present), but this year we saw five! One emerged from the bushes just below us on the river on our second day, and another went loping across a gravel bar and making a splashing, wet, path coming out of the river on the other side a day later. Then, on the ride back to Nome we spotted a sow and two cubs on the other side of the small creek that flows just below the road. Mom took the little ones up the hill and into the brush when she spotted us.
We also saw Musk-ox on both the trip to the camp and on the way back, to Nome . A small group of about ten or so was on a small hill very close to Nome on our outbound trip, and then, standing right by the edge of the road were animals on both sides of the road on the way back. They are thriving in the Nome area these days.
Our annual Bering Sea crab dinner takes place when we are waiting for our evening flight back to Anchorage. It is always phenomenal. There are just not enough accolades for a place like Nome and it’s wonderful fishing. You’ll just have to come along with us next year and see for yourself. We’ll be waiting for you!
Off to Fly Fishing School in Cordova, AK, 2016
The highlight of our summer is the Fly Fishing School we hold every year at Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, AK. It's one of my favorite locations, and its scenic beauty as well as its good fishing make for a perfect place to hold our school.
This year our six students hailed from Oregon, California, and Iowa, in addition to both Fairbanks, and Anchorage in Alaska. They were all eager to get going and paid close attention to the introduction to the rods and reels they would be fishing with and the wading staffs that would keep them safe on the water.
The first morning we piled in the boat that would take us to the beach where we usually do our first casting lessons. The casts got better and better as the morning went along, and by lunch time everyone was ready to hit the water. The tide had changed and was coming in again, which should have produced lots of pink salmon, but, unfortunately, we were too early for their appearance. So, after some instruction, discussion, and practice on mending, it was back to the lodge for the first knot lessons.
Everyone expressed a little trepidation about knot tying, but it wasn't long before they were producing everything from a nail knot for their line/leader connection, to blood knots and triple surgeon's knots for their butt to tippet connections, and, at last, their tippet to their fly. A nice glass of wine helped us celebrate their achievement! They were ready for the next day.
Because of the tide we chose a beautiful location on an island near Cordova that sports a small, but productive creek with numbers of sea-run cutthroat trout. Out came the 5-wt rods, dry flies, and nymphs and they got busy. Amidst lots of hoots and hollers the gorgeous little fish began to appear. As with all beginners some had trouble setting the hook, and some had trouble keeping the fish on the line, but finally fish began to actually stay on the hook! A few pink salmon swam around below us as we were packing up to head out before the tide came in so we left that fishing for the following day.
Once back on the mainland we realized that we still had time to do some fishing in a small lake before dinner. Here too, cutthroat trout chased their small dry flies and they practiced what they'd learned earlier in the day but weren't very successful. So, it was back to the lodge for the next part of the class, which was more about types of flies, which kind of fish, take which kind of flies and more.
The next morning, we headed out to our favorite spot, Sheep Creek. It lays at the head of a beautiful back-bay full of pink salmon. This day we only took the 8-wt rods because no one wanted to risk that they might hook into a fish that would break their 5-wt rod. It was a wise decision.
The pink salmon were bank to bank across the creek, and now the hook-ups began in earnest. Almost all the time, the fly was in the fish's mouth! Pink salmon like pink flies, so I tie lots and lots of shiny, pink flies that are easy to see in the water, which helps avoid the inevitable connections to the fish's dorsal fin or tail. When there are so many fish in the river it is hard to avoid that. As the afternoon flew by, success after success kept happening and all of their earlier mistakes began to disappear. They caught, played and released their fish like pros!
Our last day was also spent at Sheep Creek, as no one wanted to try a different location. Now they were as relaxed and confident as any group I've ever had as students. As things were drawing to a close, we spent time discussing what a special place Cordova is and how that area is faring under the various threats to the environment. Everyone agreed that they were going home to get involved in one or the other organization or cause to do their part on problems in their area.
We ended the school as we always do with graduation pizza accompanied by a champagne toast!! I love sending them off as new fly fishers with unbridled enthusiasm and a promise to themselves that they will be fishing again soon.
During all of this a photographer was taking photos and making videos of the "goings-on". We're hoping to create a "trailer" video on which to base a larger film showing the creation of a group of fly fishing women of all ages, all experiences, and all capabilities. From thirty to 50+ the cross-section of ages made for lots of shared stories, and lots of new relationships.
See you there next year!
Another Adventure Denali Delight, August, 2016
Just when we thought that our Adventure Denali float tube trip couldn’t get any better, the fish showed us otherwise on our August trip this year. Fish of all sizes were incredibly cooperative as they took a variety of nymphs & streamers of all different sizes and colors.
The fish in Chavey lake are getting used to us fishing amidst them in the tubes, I think, and I’m sure that they have realized that we are not going to kill them. They actually follow us as we paddle around the lake, looking like large, dark, shiny, torpedoes. Smaller Arctic grayling swim among the rainbows, and take our flies as eagerly as the larger fish.
Lyn started out quickly with a nice twenty-incher for her first fish of the day, and just kept going from there. This was her first encounter with a float tube, and she was getting the technique of paddling quickly. Just about to lose this nice fish because she had slack in her line, I reminded her that she had to keep paddling to keep a fish tight in a tube. From there on she did a great job of playing all sizes of fish that we found in the lake.
We spent the morning of our second day fishing the middle lake, which is fished from the shore, and after learning how to avoid the weeds and bushes behind her she caught some really nice fish. Reminiscing about fish she’d caught as a girl, she kept comparing the present fish to these. After a couple of hours the bugs were torturing us so much that we had to return to the cabin for more bug repellant and our head nets.
Just as we always do, we headed for the third lake the next day. Kirk Martakis, the owner of Adventure Denali, has been working on creating an easy entrance to this lake for the float tubes. It is now possible to back into the water slowly because the incline is not so steep.
It wasn’t five minutes after we started fishing that the rods were bent with the wonderful Arctic grayling, who were practically inhaling the gold-ribbed hares ear and pheasant tail nymphs we were fishing with. Schools of fish in the 12-inch range made it fun to cast, release the fish, cast again and in a couple of minutes have another one, right after the other. It was easy to find them all around the lake because they were feeding on emergers and making rings everywhere on its surface. It’s really fun to play with them as they give us a classic grayling fight with that amazing, spotted, beautifully-raised dorsal fin.
Larger fish were definitely around as well. A gorgeous 16-incher appeared from a shady spot below an overhanging evergreen and put up a series of jumps before coming to the net. Several even larger fish struck a Czech-nymph that we were using. It managed to escape before we could land him and take a measurement, though.
Rainbows also made an appearance on third lake, and we could always tell when we had one. The “take” was usually harder, and the quick jump that nearly always signals a rainbow hook-up occurred almost every time. They are not usually as large as the fish in Chavey Lake because they have just recently been planted in third lake by Kirk, who is now using fish from Chavey to increase the number of bows in this lake.
Since we would just be fishing the morning of our last day, we had deflated and packed up the float tube paraphernalia the previous evening before heading into the cozy Beach Cabin for dinner. It was a chilly night and the heaters were on in both the cabin and in my van.
The next morning was crisp and sunny, but we had to put on warm clothes to fish. The fish on middle lake were ready for us and our nymphs as soon as we wet a line. Soon, however, they seemed to quit, so we switched our flies to size eight bead-head lake leeches in olive and brown. That definitely turned the bite back on. A number of 20-24 inch fish were happy to play.
We will definitely be returning to Chavey Lake next year, and, whether or not you’ve ever used a float tube, you’ll fall in love with this special place and it’s very special fish! Watch for the trip dates in our monthly newsletter.
Best Fishes!! Pudge
All Rainbows All the Time, 2016
Copper on the Fly (www.copperonthefly.com) rainbow fishing was absolutely spectacular this fall. I think that is to make up for our difficult trip last year. We had a full house, and everyone caught lots and lots of fish every day. Many beautiful bows in the 20-24-inch category were caught all up and down the river. It was obvious that some of the sockeye we’d been fishing for on our July trip had arrived late as they were still spawning, making for egg-fishing of the first order!
Every day we piled in the boats and headed up the river, which was in excellent condition, and which we were happy to see. Thankfully, matching the egg color wasn’t too difficult so we had fish after fish after fish take our beads all day long. From time to time we experimented with leeches, which are usually also effective in the fall, but without any success this year.
Some of our favorite spots on the river held fish that were feisty and eager, and we had “doubles” over and over again. Some mornings we headed farther than usual to explore some seldom fished areas, and were rewarded with lots of action there, as well. It seemed like the first run of sockeye that we had fished in the spring had decided to spawn higher up in the river because of such ideal conditions.
Tanya & Larry from Washington state, who had fished the river three earlier times, were absolutely ecstatic over the fishing, and they certainly caught lots and lots of fish. Larry was a bit out of luck the first day, but then absolutely slammed them for the rest of the trip to make up for it. Tanya was able to claim some of the largest fish each day and she carefully measured them all.
Nigel and his wife Avalon (who had just graduated from our 2016 annual fly fishing school for women) also joined us on this trip to get an idea of how different rainbow trout were compared to pink salmon. Avalon continued to build her fly fishing skills as she caught fish numbering in the high-teens every day.
Susan, was another excellent angler who joined us this year, and racked up outstanding numbers of large fish each day. She was particularly adept in fishing with the strike indicator, and almost every time I looked over to where she was fishing she had a fish on.
Our weather was good this year (as opposed to last year’s flood waters) and we took advantage of it. Some mornings we faced the early morning cold that is typical of Alaska’s Falls, but the slick board-walk between the cabins was melting before we headed out to fish.
Our only disappointment this year is that, for some reason, we didn’t get to see many bears. One large one with white ears appeared in the marsh across from the lodge, but he headed to the other side of the water where we couldn’t see him. Lots of bear sign was on the banks of the rivers, as were lots of partially eaten red salmon carcasses, so we knew that the bears were around, however, and we kept a diligent watch as we fished. We did see a river otter and two immature eagles on the river, almost every day, but that was pretty much the extent of our wildlife watching. The ducks and birds were preparing to depart on their south-ward journey and there were great groups of them in the area.
The Little Copper River where we fish is truly a magnificent example of the beauty and the bounty of the Iliamna Lake area in Bristol Bay. We invite you to join us next summer for either (or both) of our trips to Copper on the Fly in early July or late August for sockeye and rainbows or just rainbows. We’ll have dates confirmed in a few weeks. Stay tuned to our newsletter. Best Fishes, Pudge
Silver Salmon Spectacular Trip Report, 2016
Once again the beautiful Prince William Sound and the town of Cordova made us welcome to enjoy the amazing phenomena of the returning silver salmon with our fly rods. The team from Orca Adventure Lodge was ready and able to head out with us to put some fish in the box bright and early the first morning, and so were we.
We headed out to one of our favorite locations in the Sound because the weather was gorgeous and the tide was good for engineering a comfortable entrance to the river. We headed up the beach as soon as we docked, and the 8-weights were rigged up as fast as possible. The flies were in the water in no-time.
The wakes of fish moving back and forth in front of us, were easy to see, and the flies were ones that we always use, but, for some reason we couldn't explain, the fish were just not biting. This was the most un-cooperative bunch of fish that I've ever seen. After lots of frustration, we decided that a combination of very warm water, and a blazing sun day had combined to render the fish totally closed-mouth. Later, at the lodge, we learned that nearly everyone else fishing that area that morning had exactly the problems that we did.
The next morning proved to be better and we all caught salmon in the Eyak River where a lot of fish were entering from the saltwater. Mike, our boat captain took us to a perfect spot where the fish had to navigate from salt to fresh water, and we could see pods of them coming right toward us. Now our usual flies did their job and some large, black streamers with cone heads got the fish interested, as did some Clouser Minnows, and Sparklers (flies of my invention).
One of our other fishing locations was a lovely little lake that holds cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden char, and "jack" salmon (meaning those that are too young to spawn.) Cordova is the top of the range for sea-run "cutties" and we encounter them in many of the small streams. This lake has a tiny stream that connects to the salt-water and we caught all three of these species with small, bright, Kelly-green streamers.
Another day on the trip we also flew out to a tiny, wilderness river in a small plane that landed on the beach, with our pilot Steve Ranney, (the owner of Orca Adventure Lodge). We negotiated for a pick-up time about five hours later because we would need to be back on the beach before the tide came high up the beach. Then we headed off for the short hike through the beautiful, sandy beach grasses to the creek.
You would never believe that there were were lots of silvers in this small creek because the water is completely tannic (a dark brown color created by the plants growing along the water-way). Since the creek isn't very large it is fairly easy to find the fish with simple prospecting along the grassy banks. Cutthroat trout also sneak in and take the flies from time to time, and we can't see them either.
Bright, acrobatic fish are the order of the day in this creek, but we have to be especially alert to the possibility of bears, because small creeks like this one are especially tempting to feeding bears. We hollered, whistled, and just made a lot of noise, as well as carrying two cans of bear-spray for added protection.
At the allotted time Steve met us on the beach and helped get all of the fish into the plane for transport back to the lodge. On the way home we got the special treat of a glacier-viewing ride that gave us a fly over of part of Sheridan glacier, an absolutely awesome experience.
Orca does a fantastic job of taking care of the silvers for its guests to take home with them. We always head over to the cleaning building at the lodge to watch the process. Masterful hands quickly gut the fish, slice off the fillets with the meat, and then proceed to vacuum seal it into pieces of various sizes for packaging. A huge freezer holds everyone's fish with their name on them until their departure.
Each day we'd hurry to clean up after getting back to the lodge so as to be among the first to be in the dining room for dinner. The meals at Orca are unbelievable. Tasty soups, excellent salads, and two incredible entrees followed by desserts that are not to be missed. Tasty soups, excellent salads, and two incredible entrees followed by desserts that are not to be missed make up the menus. I actually have to order a half-portion of the entrée because I can't eat it all!
Our departure came much too quickly, as usual. In spite of our first day difficulties, we had a fabulous time, with lots of fresh silver salmon for everyone to take home. The Silver Salmon Spectacular trip is one of my very favorites, and we invite you to come along to enjoy it with us next year.