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Posts Tagged ‘Fly Fishing’

Very few people understand a Steelheader’s mentality and if you think about it who could blame them. To sit and reason as to why a person would fish Alaska in October in the first place and secondly how that person would be happy after not catching anything is futile at best. Sure it would have been nice if the one grab of the day was accompanied later by the beast brought to hand but it wasn’t meant to be. The big buck simply was not in the fighting mood and with a big shake of its head spit out my articulated fly like it was a mere pebble.

Rounding out the twosome for the day was good friend and long-time Alaskan Steelheader J who fished the same waters since the 80’s. His fish stories from year’s past told of much greater returns in which 10-15-20 fish days were more common than not. It was great to see someone so connected to a river. Even though the channels and holes have changed drastically since the last three decades and even from year-to-year, it is nice to know that for veterans and relative newbies alike the excitement never wanes.

Steelhead trout are Rainbows on roids. Commonly known as Metalheads for good reason, their mouths are built more like Permit and are nearly as hard as the rocks they tend to hide behind. Rarely will polarization help in spotting one. With the typical low-light conditions and a penchant for camouflage, Steelhead are as elusive before the catch as they are during a fight. The catch to grab ratio in the 25% range is a target with anything higher being a very good day on the water.

The starting temp was a chilly 17 degrees. We were met by an expanding sheet of ice on the banks and flowing slush in all but the main channels. Couple that with low water and pending blue bird skies and we knew we were in for a tough day. Ice build-up in all the guides, momentarily frozen-stuck reels and even iced-up line, leader and flies were a constant.

But for all of the day’s difficulties we were still out there chasing Steelhead. Besides, who knew that iced lines loaded a rod so perfectly?

First Light

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Alaskan winters are an ultimate test of endurance for fly fishers. The snow consistently arrives in October and lingers until May. With each start of spring there is a sense of rebirth and a blank slate. The cleansing quality of melting snow encompasses nearly every aspect of nature. The intermittent cold gusts of wind are in constant competition with warmer more stagnant pockets and tickle exposed faces and hands.  

In the early spring, before the heavy melt-off begins, creeks and rivers run colder and clearer than they will all season. Wildlife re-emerge from their dens and arrive in from far-off migrations. In an instant new signs of life are everywhere.

Of all of the things that you would think would remain the same are the rivers which change just as readily as everything else. Places where you crossed easily the year prior are now uncrossable with the shifting of channels. There is a comfort that comes with the changes along with a deep respect of the power and forces at work.

Each year when I wade out in my favorite river for the first time I stop, take a deep breath and admire the beauty that goes beyond aesthetics. There is a balance that one can only experience for themselves firsthand. The eagles in the tallest trees, the trumpeter swans in the open pools and me wading downstream towards the head of the next run.

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Spring in Alaska is slowly trickling along away from the now half-year long winter. The April snowstorm two days prior that left mouths agape and 8 inches of white is losing ground to steamy, wet pavement. The season’s first trip has been set and nothing can keep us away from the river.

The popularity of our sport in Alaska has increased in the past decade. Couple this increased interest with little to no additional access to remote waters and the locals have become overcrowded.  In an attempt to maintain as much of the ‘old days’ as possible, experienced fly fishers have resorted to stealth not in terms of fishing per se but as a way of keeping favorite runs secret.

Hero shots of proud fly fishers holding their prize with ear-to-ear grins are great as long as proper fish handling and photo cropping are done to hide the exact location of the catch. In today’s online and real-time society, a hero shot can be spread in a matter of microseconds worldwide. More damage can be done with one photo and description of the where, when and what was used to catch the trout than any other method.

We are fortunate to live in a place like Alaska. Everyone has the right to enjoy her resources as long as we do a part in maintaining and even improving watersheds. Exploration, trial and error are what make many experiences that much more memorable rather than browsing to get any and all answers. The same method goes in becoming a truly experienced fly fisher.

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February is coming to a close and the temps outside read a balmy 31 degrees. This winter has been mild with the big rivers south of town staying relatively open. Even the local small creeks are showing their welcome ripples.

A gathering is in the works for yet another fly tying, beer sipping session. Yes, it is almost here… another season of fly fishing in Alaska. The year is feeling reminiscent of 2007 when we had spring temps in the 50’s and even low 60’s.

The plan for this year is to simplify. Gear has been refined to provide quality, all around functionality. The sealed drag reels are shelved for the old clickers in an ode to the past where fly line burns and handle bruises will be a welcome experience.

As another year goes by so does the allure of numbers. With each passing year the quality of the entire experience trends upwards as the frantic numbers game of yesterday steadily drops.

I read a post awhile back that compared fly fishing to a religion. For me, fly fishing is a spiritual experience that only gets better with age. Here’s to another great year!

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Our annual July float trip is in the books and it was grins all around. We ate like kings, swung spey and switch rods for 2 days and enjoyed stretching out in B’s new camper. The fishing was tough with abnormally high water from glacier melt-off. Fortunately, the dollies made up for the absence of trout.

The fishing felt like fall steelheading. Hundreds of casts, steps, picking through flyboxes then repeating every fishy run 3 or 4 times. The first day saw B hooking up with 3 dollies to my 1. The second day was more of the same with both of us getting a couple to grab. July trips are typically tough fishing. The massive egg and flesh feeding free-for-all arrives in August and lasts through October. Many fly fishers spend this slow time at home preparing for the fall trout bonanza.

After 20 plus years on the river, our once frenzied approach to catching has shifted into a more ‘step back and enjoy it’ mentality. Camping and fishing with B’s kids helped us appreciate the other aspects often overlooked. The comforts of a good campsite, warm fire and great food made for much more than just the typical hold-us-over until fall trip.  

Happy camper… 

Camp

Kikkomen…

Steaks

B's famous breakfast burritos with a side of flies

B's famous breakfast burritos with a side of flies

Island

B swinging the seam sm

Father & son…

Father and son fishing

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I am headed for an adventure myself this weekend of which I will post next week. Until then, here is a snippet from RP’s latest and to-date the greatest blog post ever. Read the full post below:

…I got off my rock and gave chase as quickly as I could, which was not quick. The fish was still peeling off backing. I could see a soft eddie a quarter mile away where I maybe stood a chance of catching up, if a million bits of good luck came into play between now and then. I was breathing and sweating heavily, athletically.Trying to keep ballance as I trod over the boulders, my eyes darted between my feet, reel, rod tip and river. At one point I looked up briefly at the river downstream. At that moment, from the crest of the highest wave in the rapid, the fish skied straight out, it’s head a pivot point as it’s tail arched up and over,. Silver. I smiled to myself there in that little place.”

For the entire adventure, please visit: The Big Pull:  Yokanga, Notes From

Yokanga Atlantic Salmon | Photo: R. Peterson

Yokanga Atlantic Salmon | Photo: R. Peterson

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The re-opener was an epic display of old-time Alaska. Thousands of black-gray backs of schooled salmon in packs of 30 to 50 as far as the next bend. Fortunately, there were still trout to be had via the properly waked dry in-between the intermittent upstream rushes of first run sockeye.

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The salmon run is the earliest and by far the biggest in my 20+ years on the river. The run’s strength was revealed during our trouting below the falls. At our favorite hole normally filled with hungry rainbow was a wall of sockeye. The holes were filled with fins. Even the swift water was packed with salmon raising their heads to get a view of the strange gore-tex-clad visitors. 

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As the day neared noon, D and I looked at each other from across the river as we simultaneously said ‘let’s get our limit’. Fred already made the switch 30 minutes sooner and was quickly on salmon after salmon. With 3 being the magic number, our plan was to quickly catch, clean and pack the fish then re-focus our sights to trout (easier said than done). This year’s sockeye are also much bigger in size than normal. Couple that with trout rods and you have a recipe for split graphite disaster.

The catching was the easy part. One cast = one fish. Landing them was another story altogether. On the 3rd and final sock, an unexpected last run and tangled-rod-to-tree nearly ended my day prematurely. Fortunately, the rod was intact. With the sounds of my buddies’ stream-muffled laughter reaching my ears as I kneeled looking at the securely tailed salmon, I knew I was lucky. Just one more second and that rod was broke.

The harvest

The harvest

The trip was as close to the old days as one could imagine. Seeing that many salmon in one small stream during a time when we are facing a threat of open pit mining in an area with an exponentially larger annual run of wild salmon puts everything in perspective. There is something much more to be had in a continuously healthy river than in a gold chain.

Trees from trees

Trees growing from trees

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1:1,000,000

1:1,000,000

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