Chavey Lake and its big rainbows lay lovely and calm when we arrived in the early afternoon. A few rise rings appeared as the small grayling pursued a hatch of very tiny mayflies. It was hard not to just jump in for a swim with all of them. Instead we quickly unloaded the food into the fridge, pumped up the tubes, donned the waders, readied the rods and launched.
Rebecca was an experienced tuber, but Karen was just learning how to navigate one. It only took a few minutes, however, and she was paddling like a pro. The fish-catching commenced shortly thereafter by both of them. It was as though the fish had been waiting for us ever since ice-out because they were so eager. It was wonderful to have them cooperate just the way they always have. Some hit the flies like a tank, and others tried faking us out to believe that they were smaller fish by a very delicate take. It really didn’t matter because the battle was always the same.
Big lake rainbows usually react to being hooked by heading straight for the bottom, stubbornly holding there against our efforts to bring them to the surface. It’s always a “wow” when we do as we marvel over and over again about their size and strength. Hefty 26-28 inch fish really show us what they’re made of and we net and release them very carefully.
Smaller fish in the 16-20 inch category give us just as good a fight, although they often do it closer to the surface where we can see their shiny flanks clearly enough to describe the brilliant red stripe along their side.
After a while both we and the fish settle down for an afternoon of catching and releasing to our heart’s content. From time to time we are pleasantly surprised by finding a lovely Arctic grayling at the end of the line instead of a trout. Residents of the lake before the rainbows were planted there, the grayling enjoy the treat of being fed, just like their larger cousins do, and grow fat and sassy on the easy pickings.
Both Karen and Rebecca had a great time trying out different flies in different parts of the lake until dinner time when we reluctantly beached the tubes and stripped off the waders. Then we enjoyed a baked chicken dinner with a glass of wine, and headed to bed even though it never turned really dark in the typical Alaska summer.
The next two days we caught and released dozens and dozens of fish on many different fly patterns. Observing the fish in their underwater feeding we could see that they were often following bugs headed toward the surface, and I showed Karen how to strip in her line at an up-ward angle so as to mimic the emerging bug, and she had a great time watching fish after fish following the fly upwards before grabbing it.
We also re-learned the lesson that the big fish still eat tiny morsels just as their smaller buddies do and found ourselves hooking huge fish with a tiny nymph meant for the smaller fish and the grayling.
We hiked over to a small creek after dinner on night with one of the guides and had some fun throwing dry flies at the grayling that lived there, and In the middle of the trip we took our regular drive over to Bruskana Creek to fish for river grayling and enjoy the scenery on the west end of the Denali Hiway. Fishing was rather slow there, but we caught a few and had a nice hike along the river before turning back for dinner at one of the charming restaurants that line the Parks Hiway as it approaches Denali National Park.
The wind and rain greeted us on our last day, and we were little slower in getting going, but, the fish waited patiently for us and hit the flies right away. For a while, orange was the color they wanted, but it wasn’t long until they reverted to the usual colors of olive, black and tan on both nymphs and small streamers. Rebecca started experimenting with different flies and found a small, bright chartreuse streamer in one of her boxes that turned the fish on for a while too.
I think we could all have just paddled and caught fish forever on Chavey lake, but the trip was over all too soon. We’ll definitely be back!