In spite of predicted storms and the threat of smoky skies from the many wildfires burning in Interior Alaska, we headed out with high expectations for our annual trip to Alaska’s Denali Highway and Tangle Lakes area. A mom and daughter, who had purchased that trip that we had donated to the on-line auction of Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska’s in opposition to the Pebble Mine, a federal employee from Anchorage, and a retired teacher hooked up with me at Maclaren Lodge to start off the trip.
They were, for the most part all novice fly fishers excited about learning how to fish with a dry fly for Arctic grayling. Once we got some basic casting instruction out of the way, the catching began. They were surprisingly good at avoiding the trees & bushes on their back cast, but they still had to learn to avoid the spinning rod technique of winding up and pitching on the front cast. They were quick to understand that laying their whole flyline along the water spooked fish.
These and other challenges made life miserable for them as for any beginners, but they were all very determined, and soon some pretty good casts, deliveries, and dead-drifts were being demonstrated on the water. They were also catching fish. The high water on the first creek made it difficult for some to keep track of the fly and for others to spot the takes, but their persistence paid off in every one of them getting hook-ups. By the time we returned to the lodge for dinner, they were already beginning to feel like fly anglers.
The second day we boated up one of the nearby creeks and they commenced to catching fish like crazy! One of the them had five fish before the others even had their lines in the water. She especially liked that the fish would rise for the fly in the pure, cold water, and that made her able to see the fish take her offering. They spread out along the beautiful run, which came down from the hills & mountains nearby , and used parachute Adams, Royal Wulff’s with a white wing, red and yellow humpies, and, as they got better at following the fly, also some standby elk-hair-caddis. They loved it.
We moved to another part of the creek after lunch where we could see large schools of whitefish (which look a lot like grayling at first, but which do not take a dry fly) taunting us with their habit of sitting very visibly in the pool right in front of us. Streamers finally took several nice grayling, and hooked one white fish that got off before we had to release it.
The Tangle River, which we fished the next day looked cloudy and dirty for reasons we didn’t understand. It is usually an exceptionally clear river. A large algae-bloom in the lake above was apparently causing the problem. Nevertheless, people were catching fish, so we didn’t despair. Soon, we were catching fish as well, even though the condition of the water made for a not as beautiful waterway. as usual. In the afternoon, we headed to a brushy spot that requires some bush-wacking to access, and we found the absolute mother-lode of fish. While we usually fish that section with nymphs, the fish seemed to be in the mood for taking anything and everything we threw at them. A hatch was on, even though the teeny tiny mayflies were impossible to imitate, but the fish didn’t require that we had the exact imitation. What a blast they had!
The last morning we headed over to a nearby creek for our last fishing of the trip. A storm was coming and the fish weren’t very cooperative, not until I pulled out some “secret” flies that I’d never tried for grayling before. Guess that I’ll be using them again in the future!
Tangle Lakes and the Denali Highway are a very special part of Alaska. One that we really look forward to visiting each year.
See you next year. Pudge