Copper on the Fly,
We headed out to the village of Iliamna, on the largest lake in the State of Alaska on a bright, sunshiny morning for the salmon and rainbow trip that gets our salmon seasons started. From there we switch to a Dehavilland Beaver on floats to access the Copper on the Fly Lodge, which has no runway. The trip over lots of large and small islands is both exciting and beautiful. We set down at “Tillies” to wait for the arrival of the skiff that would take us over to the lodge itself, and soon everyone was there getting settled.
A quick lunch and gear distribution get us ready for our first foray into the Little Copper, a rainbow-filled beauty of a small river that empties into the lake right in front of the lodge. As we head up-stream the river gets narrower and more and more scenic.
The first afternoon provided rainbows for everyone, even the novice fly anglers. The fish weren’t huge, but they were certainly available and we caught them with both dry flies and nymphs. The parachute Adams proved to be the fly of the afternoon as fish after fish bombarded it with gusto, even if a hook-up didn’t always result.
On all of our other days the fish goddess provided the sockeye we were waiting for in and everyone got a chance to do battle with one of these amazing fish even though we were in different parts of the river. Sockeye salmon are notorious for their lack of “grab” for a fly, and prove quite difficult to get solidly hooked up, as well as hooked up in the mouth. Everyone experienced fish decorated with various flies in their tails, and dorsal fins quite regularly. It was a real hoot to watch the antics of these delicious fish! Although it wasn’t easy to learn the technique that is used to catch sockeye, we’d finally end the day with a bunch of fish on the stringer, and everyone pretty satisfied.
Throughout the days, we frequently put down the 8-wt rods used for sockeye fishing and lined-up the more delicate 5-wt rods to pursue the rainbows that were everywhere. A mix of dry flies with a nymph dropper did the trick for several anglers and produced some pretty nice fish. A couple of people were lucky enough to have two fish on the line at the same time as the result. All of the rainbows were very carefully released throughout the trip.
The fish of the trip was a spectacular 20-inch “leopard rainbow” caught by Dorene on a tiny #12 Adams. Leopards are a special strain of rainbows that live in some rivers around the state, and they are sought-after by everyone who fishes bows. They are identified by the spots decorating their heads and even their eye- lids as well as by their caramel-colored skin.
I also rigged a nymph/nymph leader with Czech nymphs that was a real success. Although they didn’t always provide two fish, they gave us lessons in reading which of the two flies they preferred. They also enthralled the anglers that had never used a nymph.
The only disappointment of the trip was that we never saw a bear!! This is the first year that happened even though we kept the monoculars fixed on the grasses below the lodge and the hills along the river. Bears are always present when there are salmon in the river, and this was quite a surprise. I’ll bet that there was a siting of one just after we left!
The trip was a decided success, and everyone ended up going home with some sockeye for their freezer. Steve, Shaun, and “little” Shaun (plus Steve the chef) keep us well guided as well as well fed, and were always there when we needed them. Thanks! Guys! From all of us! See you next year!