Posted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 5:47 pm Post subject: Alaska / Victoria BC July trip
Mostly fly fishing but a little gear was used too. Swinging the fly on the Alagnak for chinook salmon was excellent. Bigger than steelhead and they fought just as well.
My good friend John Perry (JP) now from Colorado is running a lodge in Alaska called Anglers Alibi. He gave me a deal on a single leftover spot so I jumped on the chance.
The trip started with a long layover in Seattle and Anchorage airports until I arrived at the town of King Salmon. I met some of the other guests in the ride from airport to the float plane dock. The Beaver was well stuffed by Brian the Branch River Air “ Best in the Bush” pilot. A short 20 minute flight and we were at the camp.
After quickly throwing on the waders we were on the river and fishing less then an hour after arriving. The place already looked like Nirvana: great fishing in a wild location with all the free Bud Light a man could drink.
The standard gear is a 3 inch piece of pencil lead that weighs around an ounce to a 2 foot leader with a 2/0 red hook. Above the hook is a “cheater” ball or Corkie that is an egg shaped piece of styrofoam painted in bright colors. The Corkie is pegged approximately 4 in above the hook because the diameter of the Corkie is bigger than the hook gap. There were two main techniques: drifting involved the guide rowing the boat perpendicular to the current while the sports would cast up stream. A slow lift and drop of the rig seemed to entice more strikes than a straight drift. The second major technique is to “pitch the corners” which involved casting the rig into shallow water on a corner of the river and then tight line swinging that into deeper water. Pitching obviously required more skill in both casting and managing the drift. I picked up a couple of king salmon on the gear the first afternoon.
The first morning JP and I hit a couple of runs looking for a king salmon on fly. I was advised to “work the dangle hard” which means allow the fly to hang at the bottom of the swing to see if an interested fish has followed and might bite the fly just dangling in the current. Our first location was called “Tree Hole” because it had the only trees near the river in the lower section. It was a sweet medium speed current with a sandy bottom: perfect for swinging flies. We anchored a good cast (100 feet) from the bank. My first fly was the only one I tied just for the trip and it was a BC Intruder with a deep blue rabbit strip, a collar of chartreuse marabou and lots of gold flash. We later christened the fly the “Tundra Monkey”. It only took 5 casts and something hammered the fly on the strip back up current. An 15lb chrome hen was into the backing and flipping around the run. We pulled anchor for a chase but it didn't take too long to get her boatside.
After repositioning, a smaller 12lb male picked up the fly on the swing and was subdued without pulling anchor. Since it was a cold rainy day we returned to the lodge for a “soup day” which was an amazing cream of turkey soup. The afternoon was pitching corners and drifting runs for another nice 20lb hen for me and another for John my tent mate. Wednesday morning JP and I hit “First Barges” for a very windy session. It was tough to anchor the boat and cast. We ended up pushed against the shore and I was just working out a decent amount of line when the chartreuse “Green Lantern” size 4 was run down and slammed by a 25lb chromer. This fish screamed into the backing and went porpoising around the pool below. We pulled anchor and finally got the fish close when the hook just pulled. Further lost fish on the same pattern leads me to think that 1/0 is probably the smallest hook that should be used with heavy tippet. After lunch we went back to gear for a slow afternoon until we stopped at “Wayne's World” for some chum salmon action. I was fishing a pink #4 leech on a ghost tip 8 weight. The standard quartering downstream cast with a mend or two would get slammed every fourth drift or so by a fresh chum. The hens were bright silver and full of long runs. The bucks were a little colored up but ready to wrestle and jump.
Thursday was with TR and Jessie Crews. We had a slow start on pitching corners and slow action pulling spoons although I was hooked up to one decent fish that just threw the hook after a decent battle and we were about to net him for the box. Some of the Crews crew went way upstream with a jet boat to fish “The braids” for rainbow trout, grayling, dolly varden and occasional lake trout. They had decent fishing.
Friday was the fly out to Brooks national park (http://explore.org/#!/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls). That web cam link shows an area just above and in sight of the section we were fishing. John, JP and myself would be fishing while another family was on a bear watching trip guided by Jim. As soon as we were at the first fishing spot we were treated to a sow grizzly and three cubs on the other side of the small river which was the perfect viewing situation.
We were fishing a 6 weight with a floating line and just about every possible trout technique. At this time of the year the bears are tearing into fresh salmon so there are chunks of salmon flesh and skinned out carcasses drifting everywhere that the trout will snack on like undersize reef sharks. I started swinging a salmon flesh imitating fly called “Flesh and Bones” it was an articulated shank with orange rabbit fur and white marabou (“Flesh”). It also had white rubber hackle legs (“and Bones”). The thought of using rubber hackle to simulate sockeye rib bones definitely tickled my mind as it was one of the most realistic uses of rubber hackle I can think of. It took a few casts to get used to the light tackle but I was soon working a nice seam below an island. After 5 mins I was tight to a good rainbow around 20” that took off into my backing and over to the other size of the river. I tried to work the fish back up but eventually the hook just pulled. That didn't slow me down because I worked the dangle hard on the next cast and hooked another similar size rainbow. I played this fish harder to keep it on my side of the river and soon landed my first Alaska rainbow around 21”.
I offered the spot to John and JP and crossed the river per JP's recommendation. I lost the Flesh and Bones and my guide's fly box was on the other side of the river so I had to resort to my own flies. I yelled across the river to JP about a black stonefly nymph and he said sure like about a 16. I said I only have larger ones. He replied well maybe a 14 or 12 then. I said I think it's a #10 and he shrugged. It only took 5 more minutes of tight line Czech nymphing at my feet to hook a 15” rainbow that I landed in the grass.
John was able to hook what we thought was a really good rainbow at the seam I had offered but when we eventually landed the fish it was a sockeye with just enough color to look like a rainbow while it was jumping. It was hooked in the corner of the mouth with a flesh fly. We moved upriver to look at some bears and I fished a slower run with a #16 stimulator because there were caddis emerging. I rose 3 fish and got a good hookset on one. Surprised that the hook pulled I checked it and the hook had broken at the bend on 5x.. My guide was again well down river so I tried a single egg pattern. Easy fishing for a couple of visible 14”:rainbows. We went up to the bear viewing platform and checked out a couple of bears. We saw one lumbering within 40 feet of us in the forest which was a little more intimidating in the limited visibility. Bear scat and fish carcasses were everywhere. Checked out some bears and put our name on the list for the “good” viewing platform but that was an hour + wait. We never returned as the fishing was too good. We went back down and fished some pocket water. As a demonstration JP put a bead egg fly in with some of the natural eggs to show how good of an imitation it is: only the size is slightly off.
Despite the excellent imitation of the bead I stuck with the single egg fly ( a Cowichan egg with bright fluorescent sparkle chenille and 2 turns of webby white saddle hackle). I hooked a good fish that rolled in front of me and I could see the egg in its beak. After a good battle that turned into a sockeye as well. I went back into the hole and sightfished an 18” rainbow holding behind a rock. A couple of drifts to get the drift right and it just slurped up the single egg. Twice we had to move into the river and let some bears use the trail 30 feet behind us.
We moved back to the slower run for some more dry fly action. JP got John into his first fish on a dry fly which was a modest rainbow. I pulled a couple more modest rainbows out as well. JP hooked a good rainbow on the #16 Stimulator while John was taking a break. That fish pulled free after a good tussle and again the hook broke at the bend on 5x. While fishing this last run we saw a couple of bears snorkeling down river looking for carcasses. The big boars grab fish at the falls, rip off the skin and eat it while discarding the rest of the fish. The younger bears that can't hold a good station just scour the river for skinned carcasses and an easy skinless meal. We had to stop fishing a couple of times to give way to bears on the trail or snokeling downstream. We just grouped together as one large animal and backed away without making eye contact. I never felt any of the bears were the least bit interested in us. Further downstream a bear determined that there was a fish carcass caught in a sweeper log in the river and he would have to break the whole tree off just to get the one fish. We couldn't get past the bear on the trail back so we just had to watch. The bear jumped and pounded on that tree for quite a while before finally giving up and letting us follow him down the trail.
While we didn't go to the “good” viewing platform for the bears we did get some pictures from the fellow travellers that did go up there.
That evening was a wine tasting sponsored by the Crews: 9 bottles of great wine in a blind taste test. Some good wines and we were treated to either the 1st or 2nd best prime rib I've ever had. It was truly exceptional. The food was outstanding the whole week. TJ the chef is an oustanding baker with the sweet potato biscuits, the amaretto bars and home made tortillas as standouts from an excellent field. The pork loin, mesquite chicken and chicken parmsan were outstanding for the dinners from a crowd of well above average dishes. The desserts of course were memorable as well. We had the only real sunset of the trip that night around 12am
Saturday was sockeye fill up day so Jessie and I harvested a limit of sockeye each for the freezer in the morning. In the afternoon we worked the kings again and Jessie pulled in his best fish of the trip an estimated 35lb male with a little color. For lunch we stopped in for a little prime rib soup that was outstanding. After a belly full of soup I decided to drift the flesh fly at the dock. The first cast was a small 12” bow quickly brought to hand. My second cast was hit by something solid that screwed into the backing. We jumped in one of the boats with Mikey the photog and were off to the races. The fish jumped and looked like a salmon. About 100 yds downstream I got the fish close and we could see a giant rainbow. We beached the boat and landed the 28” or about 10lb rainbow. My personal best!
After a couple of pics the fish was released to keep fattening up for the winter. I brought a bottle of Okanagan BC wine that was reasonably well received by the wine crowd. A bottle of Bacardi Anejo was also well received. Next time I will bring two or more. The last day there seened to be some more fresh kings in the river so I went swinging the fly with TR again. We tried all the good spots but couldn't move anything. The gear pitchers apparently did reasonably well. In the afternoon John joined us and we started with chums. I tried the dry fly / pink pollywog but couldn't raise any fish. Apparently the water conditions have to be just right for the chums. I switched back to a bright pink rabbit leech with a cerise pink body and hammered away on the chums. Mostly dark males but a couple of chrome does made it more interesting. We moved downstream again to try for kings. I swung the fly on a good corner and thought I finally hit a decent king but it turned out to be an oversize chum. The last evening after dinner I rolled out with the staff and a couple of guides for a fun fish. I put two decent kings in the boat and my guide for the evening Michael on his very first “guiding” trip put his first king to the boat as well. Best fishing I had all trip for kings! A fire was lit for the last evening and we watched the sun actually set and go dark. The last morning was an easy wake up and breakfast before the long trip back.
I did not see any chinook (king) salmon in the kelp beds this year. The bottomfish were biting reasonably well on the metal jigs and flies too.
Female kelp greenling
The crabbing was decent and a few shrimp were captured as well. Flounder fishing was pretty good in one location. I think they're Pacific sanddab but whatever species they were tasty.
I even managed a legal lingcod this year. The legal fish tend to be in 100 plus feet of water which was about the depth I hit this one.
I got in contact with an old friend who had just purchase a new boat for BC cruising a 22ft C dory. A narrow shallow V hull with twin 50 Yamahas. The fishing space in the back was probably only 5' x 6' but it was enough room to run a couple of downriggers and a fly rod. We just had 4” light spoons on the downriggers down 40-100 feet and a purple and pink bucktail fly on the fly rod 15 feet back in the propwash. We caught 18 or so coho and had to release all wild fish. The hatchery fish have a clipped adipose fin (mini spineless dorsal) just in front of the tail. In addition to 5 hatchery coho we brought back we also picked up a 9 lb chinook (spring). The boat had a new Lowrance HDS8 sounder and we could see a school of fish on the sounder move to the depth of the lure and then the clip would pop with another fish!
A great bunch of fishing trips and I would go back to Alaska in a heartbeat, just with gloves and a warmer hat!
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