All of us piled on the Alaska Airlines jet for the short trip to Cordova on the first afternoon of the school. The anticipation was in the air, and everyone was almost too excited to eat the peanuts! The lodge van picked us up right on time and we settled in our rooms well in time for dinner. The school started with a short lesson that evening on fly rods and reels and what we would be fishing for the next four days. Everyone got their gear for the school and headed off to bed.
The next day our usual first-day location just didn't have any fish, so we ventured a little farther into beautiful Prince William Sound to another small creek that poured right into tidewater and had a large beach for the first casting lesson. They quickly put their new found skills to work on the pink salmon that were entering the creek. In spite of that, the first fish of the trip were two lovely cutthroat trout that Jessica caught, landed, and released as though she had been doing it all her life. Soon the pinks followed, and everyone got a chance to practice setting the hook, playing, and landing a 5 or 6-pound fish. After a quick lunch we headed over to the wide beach where the boat was anchored and went after the schools of fish coming right up with the tide. Janet & Julie got to boast of having our first fish "double." It was hard to head back to the lodge, for the afternoon lesson on knot tying and a scrumptious lodge dinner, but we did it.
Our second day we headed to what the lodge jokingly calls "Pudge Bay." It is a spectacular, small bay, hidden out of site of the regular boat traffic on Prince William Sound, and with a creek full of fish. We anticipated chum salmon, but there were far more pinks. Now, the casts were confident, and the releases picture-perfect. Double hook-ups on pink salmon came time after time and we choreographed a couple of great photos to show them off, especially the ones Nicole & Charlotte caught. Julie highlighted the afternoon with the catch of an approximately 15-pound chum salmon and Jessica caught a male salmon with a huge hump on his back. The sun was shining and the bugs were biting, but even so, the hike back to the anchored boat was enjoyable and full of conversation of new skills and new fishing accomplishments.
The following day was our eagerly anticipated fly-out day with Gayle Ranney, Alaska's most famous woman bush pilot. We had to take two planes because we were landing on the beach, and Steve Ranney, Gayle's son and the owner of the lodge was in the other pilot's seat. In spite of the rain, they took us to a gorgeous, crescent beach with the surf of an incoming tide pounding the beach. They expertly landed the planes on the hard-packed sand. We quickly gathered our gear and headed out to the small creek that we could see just over the sand dunes.
On the beach by the creek we had a lesson in casting a long leader and a dry fly, and they were demonstrating the reach cast in no time. Right in the middle of the lesson, Julie even had a breathtakingly beautiful little 8-inch cutthroat take her Royal Wulff. His golden hue and red and cinnamon spots did his species proud. Soon everyone was hooking into these special fish, whose range in Alaska goes no farther north than Cordova. We loved playing them and seeing them skitter away back into the depths of the tannic water of the creek when we released them. Bear tracks and deer tracks were everywhere and we stayed on high alert the entire day.
Upstream of where we started fishing was a small pool full of fish. Only two people could fish it at a time, so we started a series of half-hour rotations in order for everyone to get a chance to practice their roll casts and side-arm casts by the brushy water. As their casts improved, they began to catch much larger "cutties" than they had in the stream below, and also produced some Dolly Varden char that we had been unable to locate in the other places that we had fished so-far. We hiked back to the beach in time to see the Gayle's plane approach the beach, set down without a bump, and taxi up to right in front of us.
On the way back to the lodge we took a slight detour to nearby Spenser glacier to do a fly-over that everyone had hoped for. Unfortunately, we only got to fly part way up the glacier until the winds became just too strong to safely continue. Still, everyone got a close-up view of something they had never seen before. It had never stopped raining the entire day, and that storm definitely robbed us of our glacier viewing trip.
The last day we were unable to fly again because of the continuing storm, so we made a plan to go to view the spawning sockeye (red) salmon nearby and to fish the incoming tide for pink and chum salmon. The drive into the forest along Eyak Lake was incredible. Old-growth timber spread branches out over the road, and the air smelled like spruce and pine. At the end of Powder Creek Road we came to the glacier-fed stream that hosts a small run of sockeye salmon. They were pairing up and digging the nests for the egg deposits as we watched.
When the tide was right, we headed back to Hartney Bay just near the town of Cordova and hit the incoming tide almost perfectly. It was amazing to see the huge schools of fish darken the water as they moved toward the mouth of the creek. Suddenly they were right in front of us by the hundreds, and the hook-ups began. Seals patrolled the water right in the middle of the fish. Again, the doubles ensued. I forget how many there were!
And, then it was time to head back to the lodge, pack, and get ready for our flight back to Anchorage. Our time was all too short. But, they all left as experienced fly fishers--confident, skilled, and ready to go fly fishing with the right leader, the right fly, and the right techniques. I have a feeling that we will fish together again. I certainly hope so.