A wolf howl, an owl hoot, a loon call, and the squawk of the sand hill cranes all broke the silence of the night, and our Reel Wilderness trip this year became extraordinary wildlife experience. Even though it was hard to sleep with all that racket going on, the fact that we could just snuggle down in our comfy weatherports and listen to it all was an unparalleled delight. This definitely is a “real” wild trip. Accessible only by float plane, this wonderful camp with its yurt main lodge is a hidden gem in the vast distances of the largest state park in the US.
The fishing was pretty wild, too! We started off with some of the group going pike fishing and some heading over to the river for rainbows and char, and everyone coming back to the lodge for lunch full of stories and tales of exceptional fishing, occasional bear watching, and excitement about all the possibilities this trip has to offer.
With six different fish species to pursue, it was sometimes hard for everyone to make a decision on what to fish for next, but it was wonderful to always have an incredibly prolific river to head out to when we couldn’t make up our minds. After all, besides the pike, there were sockeye salmon, Arctic and Dolly Varden char, rainbow trout, and even Arctic grayling in its swift waters just waiting for us.
Spawning sockeye salmon bring both the char and rainbow trout to the fore as these two species feed on the eggs that the salmon deposit in the river. So, even when we would catch a bright red, spawning sockeye, no one minded as it was their presence that provided us with lots of options.
The pike fishing started out quite well in a small, hidden cove in the far reaches of the lake. We could see their dark shapes clearly against the lighter-colored, sandy bottom amidst the weeds, so it was possible to cast right to them. While we sometimes spooked them, we more often caught their interest with a moving target and they turned to attack it. They the fun began. “Come-on, come-on, come-on” we would chant as the voracious, alligator-mouthed creatures headed for the fly. At times they would turn away just at the last moment, but more often they would absolutely inhale the large yellow, orange, or white target and the fight was on. If you’ve never caught a pike on an 8-wt rod, you don’t know the meaning of ferocious.
The cooperative Arctic char in the river made for outstanding days with lots of opportunities to practice catch and release after hooking up a yellow-spotted beauty. The char’s bite was delicate and soft, and as the result we missed some of the hits, but there were more than enough fish to satisfy everyone’s dreams.
Twenty-four-inch rainbows made the day for almost everyone after long periods of work on the reel. These were gorgeous, healthy, strong fish just waiting to gobble up our egg-imitation beads once everyone mastered the drag-free drift and we found the correct color to match the real sockeye eggs.
We had other opportunities to fish pike in hidden back bays of the large lake, and a different morning, it was nearly a hit with every single cast. Our guide told us that this particular bay hadn’t been fished by the lodge’s guests for a couple of weeks, and we could surely tell that the fish were rested and ready to go. More than thirty pike to the boat in one morning was something of a record.
On the way home from that particular pike “pond” we found a small creek with hundreds of sockeye salmon staging just at its mouth waiting to head up to spawn. Mixed in with them were absolutely huge Arctic char. Casting a small egg- colored bead into the current of the creek and letting it drift out into the lake as though escaping from the salmon’s nest, enticed the char to grab it with gusto.
Our only disappointment this year was that we didn’t get to head across the lakes to the fantastic little Arctic grayling stream that we love so much. The winds made it absolutely impossible. So, we settled for some grayling fishing in the lower stretches of the river below the rainbows and char. Everyone had some great grayling stories to tell before it was all over.
As always, it was awfully difficult to leave this wondrous place, but we’ve definitely got it on our itinerary again for 2012. If you want the opportunity to fish for six different species in a true wilderness setting, just come along next year.