After a long, cold, snowy spring, with ice remaining on the lakes for up to two weeks longer than usual, we were worried about our possible tubing success. The first lake that we fished was a popular one in the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage that had just been stocked by the AK Dept of Fish & Game. Fishing was pretty slow the first day, probably because the stocked fish were still exploring their environment, but the second and third days both produced some nice catches. The weather was gorgeous, and we were content.
A few large fish came out to play on the first day after we had spent quite a bit of time searching for them. Then as the afternoon waned, one of the gals saw that the laces on her wading boot had come loose and, as she paddled, it suddenly came all the way off!! Luckily she caught the tip of the fin just as the entire set-up began to sink. I towed her home while she paddled with just one fin.
On the second day we had some success in the morning, but it was after lunch that the fishing got hot. We had an absolute blast with the 10-12 inch stocked fish as one after the other took our gold-ribbed-hares-ear nymphs with abandon. We parked the tubes right in front of a small, bay and cast directly into shore until our arms were sore. The fish struck forcefully, and played enthusiastically. Apparently, they were happy to be free at last!
We decided to fish another lake like that requires a 1 ½ mile hike with the tubes on our backs on the third day, and it was definitely worth it. We started out really early to pre-empt other anglers that always appear at this heavily used lake. As a result, we were able to be the first anglers that the fish encountered as they swam around in the shallows, were we could see them clearly. The women new to tubing worked hard to master the technique of placing the fly within the fish's view, and soon they were hooking up confidently.
When other anglers began to appear we moved to the back part of the lake to explore other spots I know are good fishing in the spring, but much to my surprise, we didn't catch nearly as many fish there as we usually do. I couldn't figure out if the water was still too cold for these places to be attractive to the fish, or if the pressure on the lake had been so high that the fish were already put down. The lake is a catch & release lake that is quite consistently patrolled by ADF&G, so I was hoping that the scarcity of fish didn't mean that people were killing their catch.
Even though we didn't catch the numbers we usually do, we still had some good fishing. Barbara caught a 20+ inch fish her second cast at one of the places I had pointed out to her. The others caught several fish, but none that topped that one for size. The highlight of the morning was a pair of common loons that played and surfaced so close behind us that we could have touched them with the tips of our rods. They swam right under our flippers and then dripped water from their black velvet heads as they emerged and vocalized to each other and asked us for fish. They are the same pair that inhabits this lake every year and knows that people release fish, so they fearlessly hang around us waiting for a reviving fish to be set free. When we didn't have much for them, they swam across the lake to a group of canoers to see what was happening over there.
By mid-afternoon, most of the other anglers were either gone or way at the other end of the lake, so we returned to where we had started that morning. In spite of fairly heavy pressure, however, we caught fish regularly. By now everyone was confident, mostly able to get themselves free of the underwater snags, and managing to land the fish that they hooked.
All in all, we needn't have worried about the effect of the very late spring on the fishing. Every day we fished was sunny and warm and by the end everyone was off to buy themselves tubing equipment. Success!!