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Spring of '09

Spring of '09

It’s spring in Alaska. Just like that, the snow is gone on the lowlands. As seasons go, spring and fall are short windows that disappear as soon as they reveal their offerings. This spring however has started off early and remarkably well. The multiple temps in the 60’s match last summer’s warmest few days.

As with any first trip there was plenty to look forward to. My fly boxes were overflowing with new creations and old stand-bys. There was new gear and lines to try and an old friend to fish alongside again just like old times. James and I left town well before dawn for a day trip that now rests amongst the best. 

One aspect that makes spring fly-fishing so enjoyable is the plethora of life emerging and migrating all around you. On our long hike in we saw Mother Nature’s wide range from the tiniest to the biggest. Signs of lynx, coyote, moose and bear were everywhere. Old decayed salmon carcasses lined the trail miles away from the river. The availability of prey was made obvious when we walked by a recently but not completely eaten snowshoe hare carcass.

Once again we were met by the river. Once again, we were floored by its scale and beauty. Wild rivers are something to behold. They are a living, breathing entity. Every year I look forward to seeing her. With each passing year the river’s changes are subtle but distinct. New pockets form and old runs vanish. It’s the same river I have been fishing since I was 12 years old but it is always different.

Giant trumpeter swans were paired alongside pools of open water. The eagles outnumbered seagulls. A bull moose crossed upriver in slow motion with the sounds of others munching on freshly budded willows directly across from us.

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Unlike last year and its numbing 17 degrees the day’s starting temp was 45. Intermittently throughout the day a massive stonefly hatch would spread river-wide. The smaller trout were sipping nymphs off of the surface 80 feet out in their prep for the spring spawn. We knew that the big boys were deep, chasing bigger prey to necessitate their high calorie needs.

We started fishing a long run together spread out by 200 yards. The first cast was a pitiful effort that dribbled line just 25 feet out. The second was a better representation of all of the fake casting practiced inside during the winter months. The cast and the line had a nice feel to it. The water looked fishy. The sink tip felt like it was moving the fly perfectly near the bottom… and just like that, a strong pull, a lifted rod… my first trout of ’09.

First trout of '09

First trout of '09

The trip overall was a great first taste of 2009. No pigs but plenty of mid-sized fun trout caught on invented flies tied over the long, forgotten winter.

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Early Spring Spey.

Here is a re-post from last spring to get us in the swing of things…

The dreaming days are nearly over. The long grip of winter is showing signs of breaking. Rivers are starting to see light. Drop by drop, the ice and snow melt to provide more room for trout and later the returning salmon. The trout are holding in lakes and deep river pools that have provided protection and food throughout the quiet winter.

The first trip is mapped out. Flies have been tied at home, late at night when it’s 10 below and at friends’ bachelor pads over fish stories and beers. The first trip of the year always makes a lasting impression. Spring fishing is quickly becoming my favorite time of year on the water. The beauty and solitude of the snow covered peaks, swinging leeches and monster grabs from voraciously hungry trout have that effect on a person.

More to follow after this weekend’s trip…

New Season Cont’d:

The first trip of the year has come and gone. This year’s annual spring migration was the earliest to date. The day began with the beeping alarm at 2:20 am. The rest of the 50 minutes were a blur as I tricked my body into thinking that 2 hours of restless sleep was enough for the day’s 2.5 hour drive, 5+ mile hike in and 8 hours on the river. I arrived at D’s house just past 3 am. The rest of the crew arrived shortly after and we made yet another drive seem short. The day’s potential for hungry spring rainbows fueled our trout-starved brains. Was a 30″ trophy in store for one or all of us?

The drive went by quickly as the talk centered around fishing. Soon we found ourselves parked, sorting and packing the essentials behind the glow of headlamps. The dark hike in showcased Mother Nature’s creativity as numerous melt and freeze cycles turned the trail into an ice rink. The crew struggled as we experienced first-hand that felt and glare ice do not mix.

Our 2 plus hour ordeal of the hike was forgotten upon seeing a glimpse of the river. Its normal beauty accentuated by the fresh thaw from a 5 month slumber. We were met by 4 trumpeter swans floating on the far bank and eagles in every one of the tall cottonwoods as far as the eye could see. A spawned-out silver was taking its last gasps in a deep pool as a pair of bald eagles sat on the bank patiently awaiting their meal of the day to expire.

We were eager to get our flies wet and made our way along the bank to our planned starting point. Months worth of fishless winter forgotten and eroding like the sheets of ice along the river bank. 

We waded out into the frigid water and quickly discovered that adrenaline lasts just 30 minutes when met with 33 degree water. The slow flow, ice in the guides and numbing pain made for a challenging day of spey casting. The rest of the day provided us with many extremes. Hands, feet and legs were overcome with cold. Every half hour one or all of us would shiver out of the water and jog on the banks to get blood flowing again through our numb extremities.

Why do we subject ourselves to this apparent torture? Any sane person wouldn’t get up at 2 am for a few hour drive, hike 5 miles on glare ice, fall numerous times on your arse, then stand in a frozen river for 8 hours all in the hopes of catching just one fish. The answer is that the ‘one tug’ makes you forget all the pain and sacrifice of a long day on the river. The entire experience; the prep, the anticipation, the pull, the strength of the trout and eventually easing it in by your side is worth its weight in gold. A connection is made between the fly fisher, the fish and the setting. For a moment, you are living in the Alaska of 100 years back.

Here are a few photos to help further support the ‘why’…  

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32″ Spring Buck, 2008 | Photo by J. Kim

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First Trout of ’08| Photo by J. Kim

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