Rain & wind, rain & wind, and more rain & wind! Our trip this year started with a delayed flight from Anchorage to Iliamna which turned into a flight for half of us from Iliamna to the lodge and the other half stuck in Iliamna until early the next morning. We were finally all assembled with a good breakfast under our belts and raring to go fishing. Wind was still blowing but we decided to give it a try, and Steve and Shaun both found us fairly sheltered spots from which to cast.
The fish were there, but not as cooperative as usual due to the high, dirty water, but we persevered and landed some beauties. The rain started again about mid-morning and continued all the rest of the day dirtying the water even more. Still Chrys hooked into one of the largest rainbows of the trip on an olive and white Dolly Llama fly that Steve had been having success with. It quickly disconnected, but not before we got a look at its tail and girth. It was the fish to beat for the remainder of the trip. Sandy and Barb were also catching fish with streamers of various kinds because it was so hard to cast the beads in the wind. Besides, we just couldn’t seem to interest the fish in the typical bead-routine.
I helped Spenser, Barbra’s 16 year old grand-son on his first trip to Alaska, master lob and side-arm casting to counter the wind, as well as the skills of bead-fishing so he was able to fish with several of the techniques the rest of us were using. As he and I were progressing slowly down a great stretch of water, he hooked up several times, only to lose the fish because of not forceful enough hook-sets. Then, as I was showing him how to drift his fly so that it would fall off of gravel shelf down to the waiting fish, he connected with a beauty. He did a great job of playing it and getting over to the bank so Shaun could net it. An 18-inch prize, it was his first fish on a fly rod!
Finally a few of the group cried “uncle” and headed back to the lodge, while the rest of us slogged on. Steve moved us to a couple of different places to avoid the wind, and we had mixed success. A number of fly-changes during the day got Joan five fish in a row from one rather small run, however, and then Debbie scored with six in a row from another spot just up-river of her. At the same spot I hooked, but lost, a very large fish on a flesh fly right below a pile of rotting sockeye salmon. Surprisingly only one more fish that day took a flesh fly.
By late afternoon we were all wet and cold and ready to go back to the lodge for wine and another one of Steve #2’s phenomenal dinners. We were lucky enough to spot a sow and three cubs fishing in the grasses below the lodge and spent quite a while watching them that evening as darkness fell. The discouraging rain continued all night, and we knew what to expect the following morning. Before dawn the next morning the four bears made a visit to the lodge and stood on the porch looking in the window and trying to get hold of Steve #2’s small dog who was furiously barking at them from inside. The three people staying in one cabin saw some of the ruckus with their flashlights, but those of us in the big cabin mostly slept through it all.
Loading up the boats right after breakfast, we were determined to give it our best in spite of continued wind & rain. It was our last full day and we wanted to make the best of it. Sandy, Chrys, Joan, and I started out at one of Shaun’s favorite spots where the wind was fairly tolerable. It rained on and off all day, but not a really hard rain, for which we were thankful. A few fish came our way mostly on black and white Dolly Llamas and bead-head black leeches. It wasn’t until Shaun decided to give beads another try that we really scored. “Here’s the color,” he announced as he hooked up just seconds after making his third cast. He and I went through all of our egg boxes to find a color match and rigged the rest of them up in no time.
“Fish,” “fish,” “fish” they hollered one after the other, and the bite was definitely on. Sandy thought she was stuck in the gravel at one point, but quickly realized that it was a very large fish on the end of her line, and not a snag. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a fish head downstream quite that fast, but he must not have been solidly hooked and he popped off pretty quickly. “This might have been a fish larger than yours,” she called to Chrys, but since we never got to measure either of them, it will have to remain a mystery.
Our last stop of the day proved very productive as well, and when the other boat pulled up alongside us we showed them the successful bead color and they proceeded to up their numbers of fish quite quickly. We really didn’t want to go home because the wind had calmed a lot and the rain was tapering off, but Steve #2 had promised us rack of lamb and French onion soup for dinner, and so we finally turned the boats downstream. Just as we headed home, however, we came round a bend and saw a sow with four cubs on the bank. Shaun cut the motor and we drifted along as they scrutinized us carefully, but didn’t run. Then, Sandy spotted a large boar on the opposite bank, obviously interested in the bear family across the river. He took off into the bushes and up the hill.
Dinner was absolutely incredible, and we had a very special goodbye party with lots of toasts to everyone’s fish. The folks on the first plane the next day needed to be ready to go with bags on the porch by 7:00 a.m. (while it was still dark, and we all walked around with flashlights just in case the bears were still around.) But it was a glorious morning after all the wind and rain, and we marveled at the beauty of Lake Iliamna and the lodge area. It will all be waiting for us again next year. Join us!