The Chena River runs right smack through the center of Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city. Called “Alaska’s Heart of Gold” by some, it is an area filled with the history and old-fashioned charm of the gold rush era. About 25 miles away, the Chena River State Park surrounds the river’s upper section and offers both a winter and summer playground for folks in the Interior. While anglers find Arctic grayling throughout the Chena, it is this upper section that provides some of the State’s best fishing during the summer.
Our single days on the Chena this year were a great success. Some women new to fly fishing joined me there to get started and had a wonderful time working on their casting skills as well as their fishing skills. We started out with a quick overview of the equipment, the basic principles of fly casting, and fishing with dry flies. Then, it was on to the water to give it all a try.
Like many novices, they had to work on suppressing their spinning rod tactics as they developed their fly fishing skills, but they practiced and practiced until their casts were laying out pretty straight and they could put their fly on the water approximately where they wanted it.
Along the way, fish nipped at their flies now and then just to let them know they weren’t casting to empty water. That certainly helped to encourage their efforts. They began to see why mending the line to get it and the leader behind the fly were essential, and once they could produce a drag-free drift, they began to actually connect with these eager grayling. The whoops and hollers that ensued when they did could probably be heard by all the anglers along the river.
The skills of playing and landing a fish on a fly rod came next. They knew how to avoid slack, so then it was just a matter of learning how to bring the fish to them for release. Practicing the techniques of catch and release were an important part of the entire day.
We fished the first day at a lovely area along one of the many, many exposed gravel banks on this pretty river so that they could begin to learn how to read water and locate fish. They quickly began to recognize similar types of water to those where they’d hooked fish earlier.
The second day the fourth of July traffic was beginning to build, and more campers, canoers, and picnickers appeared on the water. It was time for us to move to less-traveled places. So, I took them to one of my favorite runs on the water where I knew lots of large fish hung out, but it required the use of a wading stick to get there. They strapped on the wading sticks I provided and mastered the skills of both wading by oneself and “buddy” wading as we practiced. Their reward was some wonderful fishing.
Grayling of up to eighteen inches (a trophy fish by Alaska standards) took their royal Wulffs, parachute Adams, and elk-hair caddis willingly. As with most grayling anglers, they never tired of admiring the large, gorgeous, aqua-spotted dorsal fins and the apricot and green caudal fins.
We ended the trip with a visit to a small, little non-descript stretch of water high up in the watershed. A beautiful spot, they nevertheless wondered why we had stopped there. Once they saw the fish just waiting for their flies, they understood. They had become fly fishers!