Like always, the first day of the school was dedicated to learning about fly fishing gear & equipment, the basics of fly casting, and then actually practicing casting, mending, and line control on the water. Little "humpy creek" was pretty devoid of humpies this year as the run of pink salmon was just beginning to arrive, so we headed back to the lodge for our leader construction and knot tying lessons. It didn't take long for everyone to master the nail knot, the blood knot, the triple surgeons, and the improved clinch knot as well as the principles of leader creation so that they could be independent on the water.
We headed to Sheep Creek, one of our favorite pink-salmon haunts, the next day. It was rainy, and the steps on the floating dock down to the boat were very slippery, but we were underway quickly. The sea-otters and seals were easily spotted on the calm water, and dolphins splashed and played out in front of the boat.
The big boat can't get all the way into the creek, so we off-loaded as close in as we could get and then hiked around to the creek. Our trusty Folstaff wading sticks got us through the seaweed and slimy "salad" along the banks until we reached the creek. Fish were splashing everywhere, so we got right to the fishing.
Hook-ups were coming quickly, but everyone still had to master the techniques of keeping the fish on the line, playing it, landing it, and releasing it safely. Vicki was the first to manage that, but it certainly didn't take long to get the rest of the group tuned-in as well. Each of them had to retreat to the bank to sit on a large rock to re-tie their leaders several times after they broke-off a fish by not letting it run. It wasn't long, though, before we were having two and even three gals landing fish at the same time. Besides pink salmon, they were also catching the larger and stronger chum salmon that had entered the creek. These hefty fish are a real challenge on an 8-wt fly rod. Once everyone learned that it took lots longer to land these fish, they were successful with most of the ones they hooked. Andrew and I were busy running up and down the bank to help with the releases, and it was great to see their confidence growing with each cast.
The following day we boated to a different bay for some cutthroat trout fishing. The fog hung low, and Ian, our boat driver, had to carefully navigate up near the beach. Andrew had captained a small skiff beside us the whole way so it could be used to ferry us to land. Then, we donned our back-packs and hiked up along the creek until we found the fish. The beach grasses were spectacular as were the scores of wildflowers scattered among them. We had bear-spray ready, but made lots of noise, so never saw one.
The creek holds tannic water that camouflages the trout almost completely. Now everyone was using a 5-wt fly rod and mastering the small wet-flies that these fish prefer. Karen hooked the first fish after having at least three other hits on her very first cast. The touch was so delicate after experiencing the hard-hitting pink salmon the previous day, that it took her a second or two to realize that she had a fish. It was a gorgeous little thing about 10-inches long glowing in the morning light. Her next cast produced a second fish, and she was off and running.
Meanwhile, all the others were also catching "cuties" down-stream aways. Soon, Andrew recommended that we hike up farther to a nice pool that was filled with pink salmon, but also had accompanying cutthroat. Once we got there we were into fish right away. Jeannie and Vicki quickly took over a spot with a couple of large, downed logs that proved to hold fish after fish once they mastered a cast that put the fly right next to the log instead of in the trees. Laura & Karen had waded carefully under a huge spruce that had fallen across the water to access the pool from the other side. A few of their flies had to be rescued, too, but they were also learning quickly about how to make short casts right to a specific spot. Everyone caught a lot of fish and got to practice removing the hook from a tiny mouth. The boat ride back to the lodge was spectacular with snow-capped mountains finally emerging from the lifting clouds and fog.
Our last day saw us back to the salmon fishing in a different bay. The tide was up when we got there, but the pink salmon were stacked up in one channel of the small creek that we could reach from the bank. We caught lots of fish for a while, but when the tide began to recede the fished moved out into deeper water where we couldn't reach them. We hiked over to a different channel of the creek, but, much to our surprise, it didn't have any fish in it. We ate lunch and kept our hopes up that as the tide fell even more, we'd be able to access the fish, but it didn't happen. So, we set up the 5-wt rods and did some trout fishing while we waited for our boat pick-up. It was a lovely, sunny day, and the sea otters made it a point to say hello on the way home.
Darn, it was hard to leave, as it always is. But, we got ourselves packed, and ordered our graduation pizza, and took it with us to the airport to eat with some wine we took along while we waited for the plane.
The school is always one of my very favorite trips because everybody learns to catch fish with a fly rod and begins to understand why it is that so many people rank fly fishing as their favorite sport. We'll be back at Orca again next year. If you want to learn to fish with both heavy and light-weight fly rods for both large and small fish, ours is the school for you! See you then!