Rain, rain, rain, and rain is what we got until the very last morning of our trip to the Niukluk River near Nome, AK this year. We started the trip with a canceled flight, which made us scramble to get on a later flight, which screwed-up in getting out bags transferred from the first flight, which resulted in our sitting in a pizza parlor all after waiting for the final Anchorage/Nome flight, which was supposed to have our bags on it. Eventually we had everything, and then our shuttle driver picked us up and we finally headed for the river.
Tom Gray, from AK Northwest Adventures picked us up at the river and took us back to the lodge by boat (which is the only way to get there), where his wife, BJ was waiting for us with some scrumptious spaghetti. Wet and very cold, we absolutely devoured it, and headed for bed immediately after. Tom and BJ are our Alaska Native hosts on this very unique river, and we stay at their hunting camp, right on the river.
A huge breakfast to keep us warm throughout the day awaited us the next morning and we wolfed it down anxious to get on the water having lost our entire first day of fishing. Thankfully, one of our favorite stretches of water along a back channel produced nice-sized grayling almost immediately. The water was high and off-color, but they seemed able to see our flies just the same. Dry flies worked for a while, but as the water rose we switched to ants, which we skittered on the surface with great success. Several 18-inch fish, with their huge, aqua-spotted dorsal fin flared, really made our day, in spite of everything.
Sue, a novice fly fisher, had come with her husband on the trip to get more experience, and to learn some of the techniques of dry fly fishing. She got both the overhead cast and the dead-drift mastered almost right away, and had three fish landed while everyone else was still busy getting geared-up. Her skills continued to improve throughout the trip. Like the rest of us, she was grateful for the ants as the day unfolded.
Although we were hopeful that the rain would stop that day, it never did, and we were all loaded up with clothes, gloves, etc. that just got wetter and wetter as the day wore on. Finally, no one could even move their fingers to tie on a fly, and we finally headed back to the lodge for a glass of wine and dinner. BJ treated us to her renowned musk-ox stew paired with the broccoli salad that tops any and all of the salads at the store or restaurants. A warm, blueberry cake drizzled with her special frosting topped it all off.
All night long it rained, and we were despairing of getting to fish at all. But, Tom directed us to a small creek that we usually fish right at the mouth, but which was now full of water. Still with a bit of clarity to the water, the fish took our Czech nymphs for quite a while. Leslie was busy catching one large fish after the other on a renegade fly, and soon both her and Sue's husbands were back with the ants. Pretty soon, all of the yellow-legged ants had disappeared from my fly box and folks switched to orange. They saved the day throughout the rest of the trip.
Leslie had told me that she had hoped to catch the queen of the grayling on the trip, and I assured her that she probably would. With both of us worrying that the dirty water might have encouraged the queen to split, she just kept fishing. Amazingly, her fish just kept getting larger and larger, until she hooked an enormous, dark fish with an astonishing dorsal fin, that measured 20 & ¾ inches! The pictures we got of it in the dark light didn't do anything to show the fish in its true glory, but that's all we could do.
Bob & Gene were also catching large fish, and decided that maybe some of the large fish that usually occupied the main river, had decided to hide-out in the small creek until the water cleared and receded.
Finally, on our last morning, the sun came out. By this time there was no chance of the water clearing before we left, so we returned to the first location we had fished from and used exclusively ants. By this time, we used any of the ants that were still hanging out in my fly boxes, and almost everything seemed to work. Of course, we didn't want to go back to the lodge to pack up, but we finally did.
BJ was ready for us with some of her very special salmon-salad for sandwiches or crackers, as well as some fresh watermelon & cherries, and some of her delicious fry bread with maple frosting.
Full but sad, we headed back to our pick-up location on the river, and RJ, our driver was right on time. The seventy-mile trip back to Nome was enlightened by sighting a bear along a small river that runs right beside the road, a group of sand-hill cranes prancing around on the beach as we drove by, and a herd of seventeen bull musk-ox just a couple of miles from town. We also made a stop at the "little trains from nowhere" left on the tundra by an old mining operation.
We finished it all off with fresh, Bering Sea red crab for dinner at a restaurant/bar in Nome before heading to the evening flight back to Anchorage. Although I hate to have rain be the focal point of a trip, in this case, we all felt proud of ourselves for having withstood it and prevailed!! Once again my beloved grayling showed everyone why I think they are so special. Come on up in 2015 to Alaska where these fish still exist and fish for them with us on this very extraordinary trip.