Lots of nice bows, lots of weather, and lots and lots of fun again this year at Copper on the Fly. What a great little place! Just my favorite type of small lodge with lots of personal attention, wonderful food, a cozy cabin, and super-dooper fishing. We arrived on Iliamna Air Taxi at the pick-up location on the lake just a short ride from the lodge and the boat was right there to pick us up. It didn’t take long to gobble lunch and head to the water. The river was fairly high, as was every river in the State due to all the rain we had, but we were pleased to see that the water was still quite clear so the fish would see our egg-imitations clearly.
Everyone started with a different color of bead to see which color the fish were taking right at that moment, and it didn’t take long to solve the puzzle. We all rigged up with the correct color and the hook-ups started to come fast and furiously. Those who hadn’t been very familiar with bead fishing caught on quickly and didn’t hesitate to let the rest of us know when they had a nice fish.
Fish ranged from the occasional “dink” with parr markings to the low 20s over the course of the trip, with many other trophies hooked but not landed. The single, barbless hooks, required on the Little Copper River, probably caused some of the long-distance-releases, but others were the result of the angler setting the hook too forcefully, or, as often happens, not forcefully enough.
One of the gals was completely new to fly fishing, but caught a couple of nice fish her first afternoon along with having several other hook-ups. As with everyone, she had to learn the skills of transferring her line to her rod-hand, mending to prevent the fly from dragging on the bottom, and knowing when to let the fish run. It sure was fun to see her get right on the learning curve and drastically improve her technique before the trip was over.
The Little Copper River is famous for its amazing run of sockeye salmon, and since the only other significant species that inhabits the river besides them is rainbow trout, you can imagine what an egg feast the bows have late in the summer and into Fall. Incredible “graveyards” of sockeye carcasses, 8-10 deep, lie rotting in indentations in the gravel and at the ends of gravel bars with several hungry rainbows holding in the river right below every single one to get the eggs as the current washes them out of the “yard”. At some spots the fish are right beside as well as right below the rotting salmon, and it pays to bounce your egg fly outside the carcass piles as well as right behind them.
The bows eat the rotting flesh as well as the eggs of the dead salmon, and anglers wait anxiously for the time when the rainbows have pretty much had their of eggs and “turn-on” to flesh instead. Each day we would fish with “bunny flies” of one sort or the other to see if the change had happened. Many believe that bows won’t start taking flesh flies until the first big frost, so, although the temperature got down to 38°F one night our temperature apparently just wasn’t cold enough to turn the tide. We did catch just a couple of fish on flesh-flies with a bead ahead of them on the leader, but not enough to switch rigs.
Our weather was as rainy, windy, and miserable as it was in nearly all the State during late August & early September, and one day I couldn’t manage to stand up in the gusts out in the middle of one stretch of water even with studded boots and my trusty Folstaf wading stick. We were all so wet when we got back to the lodge that night that the amount of moisture inside the cabin kept the windows fogged-up for hours. Boy, did a hot shower feel good!
Surprisingly enough we didn’t see many bears this trip as in the past. We figured that, as bear experts say, the bears hunker down during bad wind storms because they can’t smell each other. Only one big guy walking a ledge above the river right across from us got us in his sights. We could tell that he thought about crossing the river toward us a couple of times but finally proceeded on his way. I was glad that he left so that I could go back to dredging the deep hole that I was fishing with a black, cone-head articulated leech. I’d hooked and lost a fish that would have been well into the twenties and wanted another go at him. Instead, I hooked a somewhat smaller fish that gave me a classic run and jump battle before I brought him to the net. Twenty-one inches, I wasn’t complaining!
Despite the lack of bears we did see thousands and thousands of sand-hill cranes in the air on their southward journey. Their tell-tale squawk helps us pin-point their huge flocks high up in the atmosphere. One morning we also saw a huge, bull moose with a very impressive rack walk out of the bushes just up-stream of us and wade out into the river. He kept looking back at us and as he got to the far bank, he turned and appeared to be walking/swimming right down toward us. He had a very steep bank to climb, and he avoided it for awhile, finally deciding that he would tackle that rather than interact with us. Big as he was, he simply disappeared into the trees, lucky that hunting season had closed the day before.
Our last day of the trip began with a glorious sunrise and a perfect fall morning, but by afternoon, it was windy and rainy again. We had some exceptionally good fishing that morning with everyone’s fish-count in the teens or twenties, so we were disappointed when the fishing fell off due to the change in atmospheric pressure.
We are already planning our dates for 2013. This is a couples trip, so if you, or you and your significant other want to enjoy some really outstanding fall trout fishing, let us know. Watch the newsletter for dates for this and other trips next summer. See you then! ~Pudge
See our article on Copper on the Fly in the August, 2012 issue of “Fish Alaska Magazine” www.fishalaskamagazine.com