Every year the Orca Lode fly fishing school is one of the highlights of my summer. Five eager and excited women from all around the country get off the plane with me ready to try out the sport of fly fishing. Only very occasionally has one or the other of them actually tried a fly rod before this, but they all are ready to get going.
The lodge picks us up at the plane and just as soon as we arrive at our destination they are all ready to get their gear and equipment from me and hear about our plan for the four days we will be together. After a quick introduction to the gear, they head for dinner and bed to be ready for our early morning departure.
Our first day is always spent doing basic fly casting practice and then we quickly move on to actual fishing in the creek near where we have been practicing. They can actually see the dark bodies of the pink "humpy" salmon fighting their way up-stream to the spawning grounds, and they are all excited to be fishing for them. It isn't long before someone hollers, "I've got one" and everyone gathers around to look at it and see where the fly is in the fish's mouth. After that the hook-ups come fast and furiously even though not all of the fish are actually landed.
We return to the lodge about mid-afternoon to give us time for the first knot-tying class (along with a glass of wine) before dinner. By the time they go to eat, they can all tie the nail knot and the blood knot and the knot(s) to tie on a fly. A real sense of accomplishment is in the air.
The next day the lodge boat takes us out to one of the many coastal streams filled with fish for them to try out. This one is in Sheep Bay and it's chocked full of pink salmon. They are all catching fish like crazy and the accommodating pink salmon make it seem really easy. Ian, our boat driver, and I have a hard time keeping up with them. Each of them has had over twenty landed fish to her credit Today they've all mastered the art of setting the hook, keeping the fish tight, landing it, and releasing it correctly. Several of the fish turn out to be dime-bright ones just in on the tide, and those end up going home with us on the boat on their way to the freezer. On the boat ride back to the lodge for this afternoon's class on reading water and finding fish, the talk is all about how the fish took the fly, why a knot failed, how to remove the hook from the fish, and more. Their confidence builds by the minute.
Our third day we head out to one of the streams that harbors chum salmon as well as pink salmon so that they can try their hand at managing fish in the 10 or 12 lb range. The fish aren't as thick as the day before, but they still manage to catch a bunch of them, including many chums. For a change of pace we take a beautiful walk at mid-day across a field of beach grass to what looks like another channel of the creek, but are disappointed to find that it is just another tidal inlet that will go dry in just a short time. Still, the day has been a success because all of them have had to tie the knots to repair or replace a leader and all have been successful in doing so. They are quickly becoming accomplished fly anglers.
Our final day is devoted mostly to dry fly fishing for the lovely little sea-run cutthroat trout that inhabit a small stream that empties into a gorgeous crescent bay full of foam-topped breakers. We've flown from Cordova in two small planes and landed on the beach at low tide, much to everyone's excitement and then hiked over small sand dunes to reach the creek. It's buggy and warm, but the fish are quite cooperative and everyone gets to experience the thrill of seeing a fish come up to get the fly. The fish aren't large, but each one is a perfect little jewel that shows the new fly anglers just why dry-fly fishing is so addictive.
After lunch, while we are practicing our side-arm cast because the wind has come up, we suddenly see large fish porpoise in a pool right below where we are fishing. Of course we all rush over to see if they are large cutthroat. They aren't. Instead, they are a very fresh school of mostly female pink salmon frolicking in the fresh water that they have come to spawn in. The gals manage to catch several of them before it is time to go because the tide necessitates we get the planes off the beach.
Although everyone could have fished for many hours more, they didn't begrudge our leaving because Gayle Ranney, Alaska's most famous woman bush pilot, and Steve Ranney, her son and the owner of the lodge, had promised them a glacier flight-see on the way home. Soon, the noses of both planes were pointed straight up Sheridan glacier, and the incredible ice panorama was spread out below. The mind-boggling sight of glacier ice up-close is absolutely awesome and all of their cameras are clicking away the entire time we were flying.
It always comes to an end with a packing frenzy, a shuttle to the airport and a "graduation" pizza party with wine at the airport as we wait for the flight that returns us to Anchorage. Everyone gets her graduation fly box and we reluctantly say goodbye--until another time and another fly fishing trip.