Our flight was right on time and our shuttle took us for the 75 mile ride along the spectacularly scenic road to Council where Tom met us on the river for the ride to the camp. Along the way we had seen musk ox, fox, and lots of fat ground squirrels.
BJ was waiting for us at the camp with lunch already on the table. We were fed, wadered, and out the door before you could blink an eye. We knew that the big grayling were just waiting for us in the champagne-clear water right below the lodge
The first afternoon was filled with 18-inch+ grayling one after the other on Chernobyl Ants with a white or yellow tuft of yarn on the top for visibility or parachute Adams and elk hair caddis dry flies. You certainly don't need a strike indicator with these fish. Just show them the fly.
The dry flies require a true dead drift, however, so we spent a little time practicing the "stop high and let the fly flutter to the surface" cast. After a great afternoon filled with fish, and a wonderful chicken dinner we hit the sack early because the alarm had rung at 3:30 a.m. that morning. We were going to be ready for an early morning the next day.
We tackled a different area of the river the next day, and the fish were so cooperative we never moved to a different section all day long. Right off a gravel drop-off, with pink salmon spawning right above, the grayling were lined up with their dark gray shapes clearly visible where the water deepened.
Once again the ants did their job, but so did small muddler minnows and woolly bugggers. We broke for lunch, cooking hot-dogs over the fire that our boat man, Hunter, had built for us with his dog keeping close watch for any scraps. Too bad for him, there weren't any. We also cooked some marshmallows and made s'mores just for fun.
After lunch we gave Czech nymphing a try in the faster runs because everyone wanted to give the two-fly rig a try. As I suspected, they absolutely loved it!! The opportunity to catch two fish on two nymphs is usually too enticing to make people turn it down. I showed them how to rig-up, and we talked about how to make a dropper off of a blood knot and they went to work. Very soon, they became aware of just how many fish they had probably been missing with their conventional one-fly rig. One of the gals managed a double hook-up six times during the afternoon! Others had almost as many. The water was low so we didn't have as many good spots to try as we usually do, but they certainly made the most of what they had. .(See my Czech Nymphing article in the August issue of Fish Alaska Magazine!)
The next day we headed out early in the morning for some pike fishing. Everyone was looking forward to this exciting change of pace, and did their efforts ever pay off! The little bay where Tom usually goes for pike was really producing for us. We could see pike of all sizes lurking in the weeds almost everywhere we looked. It wasn't long until we had the first fish of the morning. A mid-sized, yellow & brown spotted prehistoric mouth tracked the fly as it moved and grabbed it with a spectacular lunge. We released him and many others before the fish of the day made an appearance.
We'd seen this large guy in the weeds, but he had initially ignored our flies. Then, Julie got just the right angle on him and he attacked. He was so large that Neither Tom nor I could believe it. We'd fished this bay before and never seen a fish this large & beefy.
It was seven or eight runs later before the fish began to tire, and eventually he came to the boat. Julie couldn't even pick him up so Tom finally just laid him across her arms. She knew how slimy he was, and how much he would make her rain coat stink, but she held him tightly anyway. It made for a great picture.
In the afternoon we headed for two of the area where we usually find Dolly Varden char, but, on that score were disappointed. We neither saw nor hooked a char. They just weren't there. To make up for it we caught gorgeous grayling after gorgeous grayling and never got tired of saying to each other, "come quick and look at this one."
After a great moose stew that evening, we hit the sack with a plan to head out the next day to catch pink salmon and chum salmon. The pinks were there like gangbusters, and their arms got tired playing and releasing them. The chums weren't quite so cooperative, and the one that Margaret will remember is the one that ran with her fly "clear across the river."
It's always hard to leave this great river and these great fish, but that time always comes. As we headed back to Council to meet our shuttle, we vowed to fish those spectacular grayling again.