The fall colors were beginning to decorate the bleak hillsides of the Denali Hiway as I turned off the Richardson Hiway onto one of Alaska's most picturesque drives to one of its most revered grayling fisheries. Tangle Lakes is just one special area along the one-hundred-thirty mile road, but it is probably everyone's favorite fishery. I am no exception. Every year we journey to this amazing place and enjoy its fishing, its wildlife watching, its berry picking, and its scenery.
We started out this year in the MacLaren Valley where persistent rain had made a raging torrent of water out of what is usually one of our favorite places to fish. We made a concerted effort to find fish in the turbulent water, but finally gave up and returned to the lodge. The next morning it was still raining, but we donned warm clothes and rain gear and headed out to an up-river creek. Being the hardy souls that we are, we rigged up nymphs with a small split shot and went to work. The fish cooperated immediately and we were on our way to a very successful (as well as a very wet) day.
Although we tried and tried to raise fish on dry flies, they were having almost none of it. It was nymphs they wanted, and only that! So, we accommodated them with a variety of hares ears, pheasant tails, prince, and other nymphs when they seemed to tire of one particular pattern. We certainly had no complaints about the numbers of fish we caught that day in spite of the rain. In fact, the river had risen several inches just during the time that we were there.
Suddenly, as we drove back along the road, we spotted herds of caribou streaming over the hillsides nearby. Binoculars revealed that they were being pursued by what looked like wolves. The herds were mostly comprised of females and calves along with a few immature bulls, and they were an amazing site to see. We watched until the danger seemed to abate and they settled down again to quiet grazing. Small pods of six or eight animals, single young bulls, and flocks of one-hundred or more dotted the hillside. We hoped they knew that the opening day of the fall hunting season was just a couple of days away.
The next day we fished the Tangle River in the very same spot where one of the women on the trip had caught over twenty fish on one afternoon while on a trip with us many years ago. The water was high and we couldn't have made it there without our trusty wading sticks. At first the fish were pretty incognito, but as the morning warmed a bit, they livened up. Both dries and nymphs were working then and she had actually topped her earlier record before lunch.
After lunch we headed over to a different spot where the river was really rushing along, but the fishing was just as good. Smaller fish would take dries in the quiet water, but the big boys wanted nymphs in the faster water. The water level was so high it was up in the trees, but, once again, the wading sticks got us to the great water we were headed for. The sun surprised us by coming out in the afternoon, but so did the bugs. Thankfully there was a breeze on the water so we were pretty comfortable.
Our last morning started out cold & foggy, and the first hour or so the fish were few and far between. We were fishing a completely different section of the river that sometimes gets fairly heavy pressure, but the bad weather was certainly keeping the number of anglers down. Finally the fish woke up to Griffiths Knats, various nymphs, and parachute black knats. It all ended on a great note with fish in the high numbers for everyone.