Ahhh, Wilderness—Reel Wilderness Adventures

2010 Agulapak River arctic Char Czech Nymph Dillingham Grayling Moose Rainbows Reel Wilderness Adventures Wood-Tikchik State Park

Except for the rain the first two days, we couldn't have asked for a better trip than this year's sojourn to Reel Wilderness Adventures in Wood-Tikchik State Park, the larges state park in the U.S. We took an early morning flight to Dillingham, Alaska, and from there a float plane took us out to the camp. By afternoon we were all geared-up and headed out to the world famous Agulapak River for some serious rainbow trout fishing.

Fishing with twelve-foot leaders, a strike indicator, and two tiny plastic beads meant to represent salmon eggs, is no walk in the park. It takes some practice to lob the rig up-river, do a quick mend to keep the fly floating dead-drift, and then to track the indicator as it moves down in the turbulent water filled with bright red sockeye salmon for the slightest movement suggesting a strike.

It wasn't long before the group got the hang of it and the catching began. It was, however, catching for large, colorful Arctic char, and not the rainbows we were after. But these fish were so beautiful and so eager, that it was hard to complain about the scarcity of bows. We headed back to camp for an exceptional dinner with lots of fish stories.

The next morning two of the women who had joined us from Australia decided to head out and fish for pike, their friend and another woman chose rainbow fishing again, and Joan and I opted for the small creek char fishing up the lake from the camp. By lunch time we all great stories to report of big pike, bear and moose sightings and lots and lots of char. Everyone returned to the river in the afternoon after most other anglers had returned home to different nearby lodges. High water made it difficult for the guides to maneuver the boats, but the fishing was exceptional nevertheless.

We had been keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would be good so that we might get to take the boats up to a different lake for some Arctic grayling fishing, and our wish came true. We had an early breakfast, loaded up the boats, and headed out onto lakes that were glassy calm with the scenery getting better all the time.

Jagged peaks and mountain spires connected by glaciers greeted us upon arrival at the little river we were going to fish. The group split up into three pairs with each pair taking one branch of the river and agreeing to meet back at a particular spot for lunch. Our branch of the river consisted of large pools where beefy Arctic grayling patrolled the depths for food and rose leisurely for tiny dry flies or emergers that we couldn't identify. Brenda took one pool and I took the other as we rigged up with tiny leaders topped by tiny flies and proceeded to cast. Both of us had some early interest in the caddis emerger that we were presenting, but after several very definite refusals by some of the larger fish, we changed flies. I went to a CDC emerger, and Brenda chose a peacock herl bodied dry fly with a tiny red tail. Both of us had hits immediately, and the fish just kept coming cast after cast. Bren spotted a very large fish and resolutely cast to it until it finally rose and ate. It turned out to be a twenty-one inch specimen, one of the two largest grayling of the day. The backdrop of mountains and glaciers provided a spectacular setting for our success. At lunch we learned of another twenty-one inch fish plus many more in the sixteen & seventeen range.

After lunch we all spread out on a stretch of river down-stream of the lunch spot. All of us put flies in front of several large fish cruising near a beaver dam, but not interested in our offerings. As we moved downriver, though, we found much more cooperative fish. All of the others opted to stay with dry fly fishing, but since the water was right for it, I switched to a Czech nymph rig of two flies, one or both of which interested the feeding fish immediately. The day wasn't nearly long enough, but the total catch of grayling was well over fifty fish.

A full moon appeared over the trees as we later headed for bed, and the night was full of wilderness sounds. Wolves howled back and forth to each other across the lake as did a pair of owls and the loons. What a treat it was to listen to it all.

The last day of the trip, two of the group chose to go pike fishing, two went to the small char rivers where they could cast without having to deal with the long leaders, and two of us went to the rainbow river. We all caught fish, and this also seemed to be our most productive day of wildlife viewing. A young bear appeared on the river shortly after we had begun fishing but retreated when the guides hollered at him as he got too close. He appeared and re-appeared several times during the day. Others sighted a cow and calf moose as well as another bear. All of us also heard the sand-hill cranes off and on throughout the day. Eagles, beavers, loons and more put in an appearance as well.

The camp's lodge, really a huge yurt, and the snug weatherports that constitute the cabins provided a wonderfully comfortable setting for our adventures. The float plane came all too quickly to pick us up, but we'll definitely be back next year.

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