High winds greeted us at the airport as we prepared to board our flight to the village of Iliamna, and the scheduler informed us that we might not be able to get across the lake to the lodge if the winds were even stronger there. They finally deemed it safe enough for us to fly and we experienced a really bumpy ride. But, when we arrived in the village we were pleasantly surprised to find much less wind than expected.
Lunch was on the table when we switched from the plane to the boat that took us to the lodge, and everyone was wadered-up and ready to fish in no time. It was windy but manageable on the river, and we quickly spread out into various spots that usually hold lots of sockeye, but found the territory pretty devoid of fish. We switched to fishing rainbows for a while, and landed several beauties. Rebecca started everyone off with a 21 incher on a “nothing fly” from my book, “Pacific Salmon Flies: New Ties & Old Standbys,” that she was using to catch sockeye.
Suddenly a couple of small pods of salmon appeared in the clear water right in front of us. Switching back to our 8-wt rods and different flies, we went to work trying to get these notoriously hard to catch fish hooked up. Kelly was the only successful angler, but each fish she got on the line quickly got itself off. Nevertheless she was very excited about getting to at least feel a big fish jump.
Mary Louise and her husband, Ron, managed to get a few rainbows and a couple of sockeye each in a different stretch of river, and they were acknowledged as the winners of the day. Of course, everyone wanted to fish that exact spot the next day. Fish it we did, with Mary Louise and Ron each landing a fish and Chris and Kelly rotating with them through the hole. Both of them also got a nice sockeye for the stringer. Rebecca and Nancy, who were fishing in a location just down river of us pounded the water all afternoon and they, too, finally were successful and the guys had fish to clean and freeze when we got back to the lodge
We knew that the fish were coming into the river now, but not nearly in the numbers expected. We headed out the next morning into gale-force winds and pounding rain, which made casting difficult, to say the least. After lunch everyone but Kelly and I opted for a warm shower, a book, and a nap and headed back to the lodge. Steve, the owner of the lodge said that he would stay out with anyone who wanted to keep fishing and both Kelly and I were determined to intercept some sockeye.
Our dogged casting finally paid off as Kelly suddenly started to have hook-up after hook-up and we could see a large mass of fish pushing their way up-stream. I positioned myself up-river of her to help prevent the fish from moving on up-stream too quickly, and, with Steve as a spotter, I had my limit in less than an hour, as did Kelly. She and I agreed that we deserved the reward of fish for staying out in the storm.
Our other disappointment was that we weren’t seeing the numbers of bears that usually appear on the river. Since bears can’t smell each other in high winds, they just “hunker-down” and wait for better weather. Sure enough, when the wind died that evening a sow and three cubs arrived behind the lodge, and we kidded Steve that they came for the party because it was his birthday.
The next evening we saw a different sow and three cubs playing in the marshes below the lodge, so everyone hopped in the boats and drove down to get a better view from the water. Then, the next day a third sow with three cubs appeared right across the river from where we were fishing. At last, both fish and bears!
Our last morning of the trip we headed down to where Kelley and I had been successful the previous day, but there was not one sockeye to be seen so we switched back to fishing for rainbows with dry flies. Nancy and Chris were both scoring on fish in the fourteen to sixteen-inch category on caddis and mayflies, and Rebecca, who was fishing below them also succeeded with a couple of different dries. Mary Louise and Ron each caught a sockeye, which they released because we couldn’t freeze them as quickly as necessary for them to take home.
Reluctantly, we headed back to the cabin to get packed for our return flight to Iliamna & Anchorage. The weather was finally beautiful, but buggy, and everyone had wonderful view of Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in the state from the air as we took off. Join us next year when we plan to go just a little later to take better advantage of the fish. You can pre-book any time, and we’ll be waiting to take you along.