Everything went off like clock this year for the Nome trip. The flight from Anchorage was on time, our shuttle driver was there to pick us up as we got our bags, and the 75 mile drive to the river was filled with sittings of moose, ptarmigan, and two of the chicks from a peregrine falcon nest that had just fledged and were hopping around near their nest, which was hidden under a bridge.
Tom was landing his sixth grayling at the boat launch just as we pulled in and we wasted no time in heading up river. Some hugs for BJ, Tom’s wife, a hearty lunch, and wadering-up were all done quickly when we arrived at the camp.
Sandy got right to business after landing a grayling from her first cast, but Robert, a long time conventional angler, needed a lesson or two to get his dry fly onto the water correctly. He was persistent and was getting the fish to rise on many of his initial casts. He was also delighted to start hooking fish on the fly. Several were in the 16-17-inch range and he was quick to show them off to the rest of us. The afternoon went by quickly and it was back to the camp for BJ’s specials spaghetti.
We fished one of my favorite stretches of the river the next day, and it was fish after fish for everyone. Ants were what were doing the trick and we all were “skittering” them across the water like pros. Trying out my various versions of ants was the challenge of the day. Black foam bodies with yellow legs, or black rubber bodies with orange or white legs all were enticing for the fish.
Skittering is a technique where the angler quickly skips the fly across the surface in different ways or at different speeds to see what the grayling like the best. The water can’t be too turbulent or the fish aren’t able to detect the action that skittering creates. Since grayling are found in schools and tend to line up in feeding lanes, large fish first, skittering works to get several fish going after it at the same time once the angler locates a feeding lane.
We spent some time watching an Alaska Native family netting fish on the river that day for subsistence because lots of both chum and pink salmon were also available. Many families have fish-camps along the river. The next day we actually got a chance to help a family with their netting. Tom stopped to help them and we got an invitation to help as well. The nets were seething with salmon, and members of the family from young to old helped to get the fish loose from the net and into the boat or large coolers for transport to the camps where they would be cleaned and hung to dry.
Our next day we decided the head out to fish for pike. With 40lb monofilament tied on to a conventional leader to create a bite-tippet, the action of the fly can really excite these toothy monsters. Tom poled the skiff up and down the little back bay as we spotted fish after fish hiding in the weeds just ready to dart out to grab our offerings. We missed some, but not many. By this time Robert’s cast was much improved so we weren’t too worried that he would hook one of the rest of us. The fishing was not nearly as exciting the next morning so we went fishing for pink salmon. Fishing in what had to be the panicle of bug hell, we could easily detect fish right out in front of us. Although it was hard to see through the netting, the white bellies of pinks make it much easier. Fishing both from the back of the boat and from the shore allowed for what seemed like a hundred-million hook-ups. When we couldn’t stand the bugs any longer, we got Tom to take us back to the grayling just up-river from the camp where we didn’t have to fish right next to the bushes.
The last day was short because we had to catch the flight to Anchorage so we fished along a productive area right near the settlement of Council. Eighteen and nineteen-inch fish were just waiting for us here when we had to say good-by.
Our shuttle had us back in Nome by late afternoon and we headed for the fresh Bering Sea crab that we always have for dinner before we going to the airport. Grayling heaven will be there again next year. Join us and see for yourself. There really is, “No place like Nome.”