The highlight of our summer is the Fly Fishing School we hold every year at Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, AK. It's one of my favorite locations, and its scenic beauty as well as its good fishing make for a perfect place to hold our school.
This year our six students hailed from Oregon, California, and Iowa, in addition to both Fairbanks, and Anchorage in Alaska. They were all eager to get going and paid close attention to the introduction to the rods and reels they would be fishing with and the wading staffs that would keep them safe on the water.
The first morning we piled in the boat that would take us to the beach where we usually do our first casting lessons. The casts got better and better as the morning went along, and by lunch time everyone was ready to hit the water. The tide had changed and was coming in again, which should have produced lots of pink salmon, but, unfortunately, we were too early for their appearance. So, after some instruction, discussion, and practice on mending, it was back to the lodge for the first knot lessons.
Everyone expressed a little trepidation about knot tying, but it wasn't long before they were producing everything from a nail knot for their line/leader connection, to blood knots and triple surgeon's knots for their butt to tippet connections, and, at last, their tippet to their fly. A nice glass of wine helped us celebrate their achievement! They were ready for the next day.
Because of the tide we chose a beautiful location on an island near Cordova that sports a small, but productive creek with numbers of sea-run cutthroat trout. Out came the 5-wt rods, dry flies, and nymphs and they got busy. Amidst lots of hoots and hollers the gorgeous little fish began to appear. As with all beginners some had trouble setting the hook, and some had trouble keeping the fish on the line, but finally fish began to actually stay on the hook! A few pink salmon swam around below us as we were packing up to head out before the tide came in so we left that fishing for the following day.
Once back on the mainland we realized that we still had time to do some fishing in a small lake before dinner. Here too, cutthroat trout chased their small dry flies and they practiced what they'd learned earlier in the day but weren't very successful. So, it was back to the lodge for the next part of the class, which was more about types of flies, which kind of fish, take which kind of flies and more.
The next morning, we headed out to our favorite spot, Sheep Creek. It lays at the head of a beautiful back-bay full of pink salmon. This day we only took the 8-wt rods because no one wanted to risk that they might hook into a fish that would break their 5-wt rod. It was a wise decision.
The pink salmon were bank to bank across the creek, and now the hook-ups began in earnest. Almost all the time, the fly was in the fish's mouth! Pink salmon like pink flies, so I tie lots and lots of shiny, pink flies that are easy to see in the water, which helps avoid the inevitable connections to the fish's dorsal fin or tail. When there are so many fish in the river it is hard to avoid that. As the afternoon flew by, success after success kept happening and all of their earlier mistakes began to disappear. They caught, played and released their fish like pros!
Our last day was also spent at Sheep Creek, as no one wanted to try a different location. Now they were as relaxed and confident as any group I've ever had as students. As things were drawing to a close, we spent time discussing what a special place Cordova is and how that area is faring under the various threats to the environment. Everyone agreed that they were going home to get involved in one or the other organization or cause to do their part on problems in their area.
We ended the school as we always do with graduation pizza accompanied by a champagne toast!! I love sending them off as new fly fishers with unbridled enthusiasm and a promise to themselves that they will be fishing again soon.
During all of this a photographer was taking photos and making videos of the "goings-on". We're hoping to create a "trailer" video on which to base a larger film showing the creation of a group of fly fishing women of all ages, all experiences, and all capabilities. From thirty to 50+ the cross-section of ages made for lots of shared stories, and lots of new relationships.
See you there next year!