We couldn't have asked for better weather for this year's All Rainbow trip to Copper on the Fly on the Little Copper River at Lake Iliamna in Bristol Bay AK. We did have occasional wind, but we managed just fine. The river was high the day we arrived, but it cleared quickly, much to our delight. The bows were ready to play right off the bat.
The two lodge boats took the six of us to some of our favorite spots and spread us out along the best sections of water. The two who hadn't been there before connected with the fish almost immediately. The egg-imitation technique that is used for rainbows in the fall takes a little getting used-to for some, but it wasn't long until they abandoned their "training wheel" strike indicators for the great drift fishing that is so effective on this beautiful river.
The river had cleared and dropped the second day and some of the really big fish were more visible. That made targeting them especially fun. Just as with all egg-imitation fishing, the color of the bead had to be just right or all we got were refusals, however. And, besides the correct bead color, a correct drift was required for a solid take. Everyone perfected the "up-stream-big mend" cast without too much trouble and soon could feel the slight hesitation that meant they had a fish on.
Gina and Ken from AZ, both experienced fly anglers but new to this type of fishing, started right out with a competition to see who could catch the most fish, and it wasn't long until they were both in the 20+ category. Then, it was all about fish size. Catching and landing a rainbow on a very small hook was new to them, though, and so, we started hearing about the fish that got played, but not landed.
Tanya quickly got it all right (she has fished here with us before, so it wasn't too surprising) and the serious catching began. It seemed like her rod was bent every time I looked. Many fish 20+ were the result. She was the first to be successful with a large "flesh fly," too. Casting a huge, articulated bunny leech she was bringing fish after fish to the net. They weren't all large. In fact, we got a picture of a fish where the fly was easily half as long as it was.
Larry, Sandy and I were all hauling in lots of fish as well. Different locations brought more and more fish to everyone. One afternoon, it was Larry who was calling for the net from the guide because of another large fish, and on our last morning it was Sandy who became "angler of the day" with all of her 20+ fish. Much to our surprise, we got into quite a few Dolly Varden char as well this year but none in the 20-inch range
Like previous years, we all kept our eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife. As the boat headed up-river our second morning a sow and three cubs, partly shrouded in the fog and startled by the noise of the motor, splashed out of the water and headed up the bank right in front of us. That evening while we were enjoying a glass of wine before dinner, another large bear appeared in the marsh just across the river from the lodge sloshing along checking out the dead sockeye salmon along the bank. Then, mostly because of high winds, we didn't see any bears for the next day and a half. But what we did see, again right across the river from the lodge, was a huge, beautiful silver-gray lynx. Steve, the chef attributed the visit to the smell from the bar-b-que where he was making shish-ka-bobs for dinner. What a treat it was to watch the big cat just sitting on its haunches licking his chops while we got some pictures.
Just as we were about to dock the boat at the lodge the next afternoon we came upon a startling scene. A sow and three 2-year-old cubs were having an encounter with a huge boar that was apparently attempting to have one of the cubs for dinner. The mother bear was trying to protect her cubs at the same time she was trying to determine what threat we might be to them. We slowed down as much as possible and watched as she stood up to look us over and then ushered the cubs away.
We went to warn Steve, who was making dinner, of the danger just over the hill, and then returned to the scene to see what was happening. By that time, the sow had moved her cubs to a safer spot and was sitting down in front of them. The boar was nowhere to be seen. Later in the evening, however, we spotted him and a second bear fishing in the marsh. The second bear had an unusual light-colored "saddle blanket" of fur across his back.
The last morning on our way to the river, a wolf ran along the bluff right above us as we sped by. That was the same morning we saw five bears before we ever wet a line, and another one as we returned to the lodge to head to our plane. We speculated that since we had gotten up 45 minutes earlier than usual and were heading out to fish just at dawn, that we'd gotten a good show while everything was quiet.
The sand-hill cranes on their fall migration high above us also squawked their hellos several times each day, as they do every year, and we were dazzled by the take-off of two immature eagles from the bank right in front of us, and then by their play in the sky above us while mom & dad watched from parallel branches right beside the river.
Only in Alaska!! What an incredible trip!!! What a way to end our 2013 fly fishing season! Until next year! Best Fishes to you all!