Saturday, April 30, 2011

Driving on the Other Side (Part 16)

Kelly awoke early (6:00am) to a stunning day; the sun was penetrating into her room, even at this early hour in New Zealand after a big rain storm the entire landscape seems to sparkle like it is saturated in diamonds. After having a restful night, she was ready to continue on her journey south, Kelly and Jane both agreed they would make it all the way south to Stewart Island, New Zealand's third Island. Then, upon their return to Denver they could say they saw New Zealand from tip to tip.
It had been two weeks since the final settlement came in from Kelly’s divorce, Kelly felt like she had come out of this dreadful process in pretty good shape. Her ex was more than willing to give Kelly all what he had left of his Stock portfolio, since it had tanked more than 65%. Kelly knew these were all Blue Chip stocks, and what ever happened with the world economy, these giants would rise from the rubble, and once again take their place in the world’s landscape. Kelly was also rewarded one million dollars in cash, for this her ex was able to keep their homes in Denver and Aspen, both worth a fraction of their value a few years prior. All their belongings, art, cars, jewelry etc… was split 50/50, both agreed, and it was done. All Kelly wanted was to get away, forget about the past eight months, and just disappear.
 Since the Real estate market was so slow at this time of the year in Denver, Kelly asked Jane to join her, everything paid for by Kelly, she just wanted a friend to join her on a getaway to paradise, some place very far away, someplace where it would be summer. The travel agent suggested New Zealand, “hiking, river trips, fishing, and she said the seafood and wines were to die for, perfect place to clear your head”, she said. Kelly thought having Jane along would also be helpful in the men department. Jane was one of those women who from an early age was noticed by the opposite sex, gawked at really, men just starred at her to be frank about it. Men just seem to appear from no where when Jane was there, she never had to open a door, or carry her luggage, or even pull her own chair to be seated, out of nowhere a guy would appear, ready to help her, push her chair in for her. Kelly had never seen anything like it, Jane Greenfield is like “honey to bees, light to a moth,” she is a man magnet. Kelly was ready for being a little wild after all the stress from the divorce, and with the constant on slaught of men coming forth to try a seduce Jane, there were always a few “left overs”, and Kelly wasn’t complaining, she was far from home and Kelly was ready for some fun.  But, what are the odds of Jane running into her “love of her life”,  all the way down here in New Zealand, on my getaway thought Kelly. What would happen now, are the three of us going to travel together, or, are they planning to go off together, I‘d better get to the bottom of this Kelly thought to herself. She dressed and headed down stairs to get some coffee,  and find out just what transpired last night between Billy and Jane, I’d  find out where we stand, thought Kelly. For Kelly had heard plenty about Billy Bender for the last five years from Jane. All of the attention that Jane received from men in general meant nothing to Jane, she cared for one man , and that man, was who she was in bed with exactly this moment.
Kelly took the map down stairs to plot the route that her and Jane would take south on their way to the bottom on New Zealand. They had discussed hiking the Able –Tasman trail, and they both wanted to hike the Milford Track, which the travel agent said was a must. They both had read and seen photos about the hike through the New Zealand Alps, and just how spectacular it was suppose to be, both agreed, it was in fact a must. Kelly’s mind was on about mile 22 on the Milford track when she was brought back to reality with the sound of “good morning”, Jane and Billy were just joining Kelly for breakfast, and they both looked famished…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Driving on the other side .. Part (15)

                                          Wellington , New zealand

In the bar the drinks came in groups of three, all martini’s, Jane was indulging in the colorful Cosmo, Kelly's poison was the Apple martini, and Billy went traditional, with a dirty martini with four olives. Billy found out that Jane and Kelly worked together at Century 21 selling Real estate in Denver Colorado, and that they both started the same week five years earlier. Jane said ,“The market is at an all time low, things are just not moving unless you count the foreclosed homes, and they are selling for pennies on the dollar, it is a horrible time to be in Real estate, tough times”. Bender put his head down with a look of distress on his face and said,” I know, I know, I’m still working at DA Davidson’s main branch in Great Falls, or , I think I am, I’ll find out in a couple of weeks.” Jane asks “why, what’s going on?” Bender replies, “We can talk later, I’ll get through it”. So, Kelly what made the two of you end up all the way down here in New Zealand, (trying to include her in conversation). Kelly half laughs and says, “Well, I just got divorced, and thank god, I got half of the son of a bitch’s money”. Bender, “oh, I see, sorry to hear that”. Kelly asks, “ You mean about the money, or the divorce, Oh I’m sorry, I need to get to bed and leave you two at it, I feel like such a third wheel”.
After Kelly says good night and heads up stairs to her room, Billy and Jane decide to go to Billy’s room, as Jane says, “To talk, nothing more, right buster?” Bender smiles and says, “Of course, nothing more, it has been ages since I’ve seen you, we need to catch up”.  Jane turns to Billy as she put her coat on, “Billy Bender you will never change, I really did love you, I really wanted to be Mrs. Bender, but here you are 38 and still single, I don’t think I ever had a chance”. Bender smiles and say, “ You’ll never know just how close you came  that summer in 1995 when all of us were up staying on Flathead lake. Remember, all the tents, sprawled everywhere, all over the lawn, beach, and the backyard of the Hollister’s property. Thank god Jacks parents didn’t come up that weekend, that would have been a mess, can you imagine?” Jane’s mood softens, she smiles and puts her arms around Billy’s neck, the cosmos are kicking in, Jane looks Billy directly in the eyes and says, “Kiss me Billy, quit talking and kiss me”. The two of them left the bar not saying a word , Billy pulled the key from his pocket, it was room 223, Bender hadn’t even un packed, and the couple stumbled their way upstairs, to talk , nothing more…

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Driving on the Other Side...(Part 14)

Driving on the Other Side… (Part 14)

By the time Tom and Billy returned to his home near the bridge that crossed the mighty Rangitikei, Bender was ready to move on further south. Being alone for two nights, and indulging in the “red bud” did not help Billy in forgetting about Ann Hunter. Bender knew he needed to make some head way and get much further south, and maybe not even fish until he reached the Northern part of the South Island.  Bender thanked Tom for everything, for allowing him to experience such a wonderful part of New Zealand, and to be part of  fishing an area that few people would ever know. Bender told Tom he would see him upon his return in a few weeks, and maybe then the two of them might be able to float and fish the Rangitikei. Billy in his haste forgot to call Ann that evening, and instead drove for hours to reach the Capital, Wellington. When Billy arrived it was hard to see the road due to the sheets of rain pounding the black top, Billy was having a difficult time staying on the road.
The capital is a clean, organized, for a city, but lacks the old charm that you find in Auckland. Wellington is all about government, and has a military presence, ship shape, mate! Billy wanted nothing more than to get over the South Island, but, the ferry was delayed until the storm would pass. Some of the heaviest seas found on the planet are found at times between the North and South Islands in New Zealand, the ferries are huge ocean going ships, nothing small about them.
Bender decided to spend the night and travel in the morning, so he checked into a hotel close to the ferry terminal. Upon checking in, he noticed a couple of attractive women who appeared to be Americans. They were smartly dressed, and Bender thought they were around their mid-thirties, no older. When one of the beauties flashed a huge, warm, inviting smile at Billy, and then across the room yelled, “ Billy Bender, is that you?” As soon as Bender heard the voice he knew who the Buxom Blonde was in an instant, it was Jane Greenfield, from Billings Montana. Jane and Billy went to MSU together, and dated off and on for two years, Bender starting thinking of all the fun they had together during those two “off and on” years, and Billy mainly thought of the “on” periods. As Billy walked across the lobby of the hotel to become re-acquainted with Jane, he could remember her in detail, completely naked, for Jane Greenfield in Billys mind was a sexual goddess, he could not think of one physical flaw on this women’s torso, she was stunning. Jane was 5ft 7; she has dark honey colored straight and long hair that reaches the middle of her perfectly arched back. Big blue eyes, that seem to sparkle when she smiles, her teeth are naturally white, but so white they take on a hue of light blue. Jane had an unforgettable figure, once you saw her, you would never forget her, for she had a remarkable 40 DD chest, a tiny waist and again a good sized trunk, that was firm and well rounded. Barbie Dolls wish they looked this good, and Jane was very nice, she was thoughtful, kind, a good friend, people liked Jane, she was well thought of by many who Billy knew from College.
The problem with Jane and Billy was, that Jane wanted to marry Billy while they were in school, she insisted on it, not wanting to loose Billy, Jane figured marriage was the only solution. Billy Bender in college was not going to get married, period. Even for this wonderful woman, he just wasn’t ready; it was not in the cards.
Billy’s mind raced as he reached out to hug Jane; it had been ten years since the two of then ran into each other in Great Falls at dinner one night. “Oh Billy, it is amazing to run into you here in Wellington New Zealand of all places”, came from a very excited Jane Greenfield. “Jane so wonderful to see you, here or anyplace “, said the all too happy Bender. “ Billy, let me introduce to you, to my partner Kelly McGrath”, came from the mouth of Jane, Kelly is a redhead , who is tall , thin, and seemed somewhat the quiet type and  she had her arm was inter- locked with Jane's. Bender was stunned, Billy felt like someone just sucker punched him in the stomach, he felt light headed, and then he remembered he must keep smiling no matter what.  Judy and Kelly stood looking at Bender just smiling to see his reaction;  Billy was really trying, but was floundering like a fresh caught halibut flopping on the bottom of the boat. Finally, Jane said, “just kidding, ha, you should have seen your face” and both Jane and Kelly had a good laugh.  After, the three of them headed to the bar, two of the three to catch up on times they had both missed, the other, Kelly, would retire early and get a good nights rest.

Fly Fishing Alone In Alaska ( part 5)

Fly Fishing Alone In Alaska (Part 5)
I had fished for these same King Salmon for up to a week or so, and found that very large rainbow trout had moved in and held in position five yards or so, down stream from the giants of the river. The rainbows did not stay still, but rather, moved about the entire pool in search of spawning salmon, and sculpins that were large compared to the sculpins found the lower 48. These were also known as “bullheads”, due to the very large heads and gill plates in proportion to their bodies, which were six to seven inches in length. Some of the sculpins were smaller, a few larger, but, most were under 10 inch’s in length. The rainbows would chase after the sculpins and stir quite a ruckus around the very large spawning beds of the King Salmon. When this would take place, all hell would break out, with Salmon chasing out the rainbows, rainbows chasing after the sculpins, and the sculpins looking for shelter under the bellies of the Kings, it was very similar to a dog, cat, mouse scenario, you would find in a cartoon.
The rainbows were nice sized trout , some reaching sizes of eight pounds or so, with the average around four pounds, all in good shape, fat and healthy, with very prominent red stripes adorning both sides of the silvery trout. The backs of the rainbows were usually the same shade as the bottom of the river, to help then blend in from a birds view from above. The two birds that were attracted to the river for it’s temporary visitors, the salmon and char, were the Eagles and Osprey, which were found all through the river system.
The flies I was now using were not to hook the salmon, but rather the trout, and Charlie and Dolly  Varden, who have been following the salmon since they entered  Bristol Bay. Charlie and Dolly are also know as Char, highly prized for their orange flesh and high fat content, these fish are common to be part of  a shore lunch. Their size varies from drainage to drainage, I’ve actually caught some very large char in the state of Washington that were over ten pounds while Steelhead fishing. These on the Igushik were smaller, three to seven pounds for the most part; average I’d guess around three to four pounds.
Up to this point , I had not made it all the way up to Lake Amanka, which the river is born, but thought    I ‘d better do it soon because the river was dropping everyday, and I’d heard from a pilot friend it would be difficult at best conditions using a prop instead of a jet unit on my engine. After catching some nice rainbows using large sculpin patterns in the main pool that morning, I decided to try and make a run at getting to the Lake.
It was now Mid –July, and I had been fishing all alone since I’d started fishing six weeks earlier, I had not seen anybody the entire time. My only sightings of life were of course all the fish, birds, the Osprey, Eagles , ducks, an occasional falcon, ruff legged hawks, huge Owls, Herron’s , flickers, camp robbers, and many small finches. I would see the occasional bear walking along the river, and I did not have problems with any, with the exception of this day. I would see Moose on a daily basis, feeding in the willows and swampy areas, feeding like cattle, staring, while chewing their cuds. I had motored up stream further than I had previous, new area, new water, a day of exploration, and found that it was difficult traveling . The reason was that the river was braided up near the top, which made the river very shallow, and the only time I could stay on plane was when the river was in its entirety, or else, I would have to get out and walk the boat through the shallows. Jump back in, go as far as I could, then get out and drag it over the shallows again and again. It was a travel day for the most part, but I really enjoy exploring a new river or, a new section of a river, even though, the pace was slow, and dragging the boat was not something I wanted to do everyday, it was a lot of work. The river looked the same with the Fur, Spruce and Aspens lining the river bank, but the difference was in the current. It was a faster current up near the top, just below the Lake.  Until I came upon a large flat run that was similar to the run I was spending so much time fishing for the Kings and trout. I did not notice at first, but there was a tower man made, directly above the river. In the tower was a women, this struck me as being very odd, what was this, I thought? Now, to be fair, here I was, in black neopreams, with a strapped on my side, carrying a 12 gauge pump shotgun, dragging a boat up stream. Then I heard the women say, “That’s far enough”. I introduced myself, and then she knew who I was, “OK, she said, I’ll come down” her name was Beth. This gal was a fish counter, flown in to sit and count fish all day to make sure enough were getting through the nets at the mouth of the river to ensure enough salmon spawning to continue the runs. She told me she had seen me in Dillingham, and she was told that I was OK, and that in fact she would most likely run into me on the river. As Beth and I were speaking a plane flew over and landed in the Lake, it was her “pick up”, to head back to town. It was pretty late when we said good bye, and I thought I’d better start heading back, I had a long way to go to reach the village. It must have been around 9:00 pm or around there when I started my journey back down stream; it was slow going due to my inability to see due to the glare on the surface of the water that looked like oil.
Beth and the pilot flew over, dipped a wing to say good night, and they headed back to Dillingham, while I had a good two more hours of travel before I would be back to my digs in the village. I was dragging my boat through one section of the river that was very shallow, when I heard a deep, loud, powerful grunt. I knew the sound immediately, it was a large grizzly, male, a loner, looking for a meal, or maybe I was in his fishing spot. I dropped the rope of my boat; I took the safety off the 12 gauge pump, filled with five shells with 500 grain slugs. I took a step forward toward the bushes where the grunt had come, making sure I had good footing in the river, the last thing I wanted to do is slip at a time like this. I was ready, at these moments, one needs the whole world to be focused on just these few seconds, and I was ready. The bushes were no further than 40 yards away, maybe closer, I could see him walking parallel with the river bank just a few yards into the alders and aspens, looking over to check me out, size me up, he was trying to decide what to do. I yelled over to him, “Hey Bear move on! Get out of here! I don’t want to kill you, get out! Go On!” He was pacing, back and forth, I had not moved the entire time, and I was holding my ground. His pacing had increased in speed, he was nervous, I was thinking he would most likely try a false charge, I was ready, if he kept coming I’d have to unload on him, I didn’t want to, but there was no question , I would kill him.  The big male stood up to get a better look over the alders, he was a good sized grizzly, 7-8 footer, tall but lean, pretty bear, very light colored , almost yellow in places. As he stood up, I moved toward him yelling, “Get out of here, get bear, and go on!” He was breaking branches on tress as he quickly retreated into the forest. I heard him grunt a few times more, and then he was gone. I got in my boat, and decided to float down until I was in Familiar River, where I could then fly out on plane, I knew the middle section so well by now I could do it in the dark.
On my trip home that evening I saw two other bears, both that ran when they heard me running the boat on plane. I thought how the appearance of the bears had now thrown yet another element into Fly Fishing alone in Alaska. I fished on many rivers all over Alaska, I never did have to kill any bears, and I had some who made false charges at me, but always stopped, and moved away. Most of the bears I saw, usually were curious to what I was doing , they would sit in the grass and watch me Fly Fish, but , I never did have to, not one time had to shoot a bear.
On the way home, I noticed I was getting very low on gas, this took place down in the marshy area of the river, and I stopped to see if I had remembered to bring the second tank. Luckily it was there buried under all the gear. I couldn’t hook up the second tank fast enough; the mosquitoes were terrible in the marsh at this time of night. Then of course being alone the question arose, what would be worse, being out of gas and stuck out in the Mosquitoes all night, or if that bear had decided to attack?  My answer was, neither, I wanted to go home, get a cold beer, eat some red salmon and rice, and sleep in my own bed!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska (Part 4)

(Happy unknown angler with a huge King)

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska (Part 4)

It was a strange sensation to return to the Village after fishing, only to find it completely empty. It was like living in a ghost town, all the 60 houses or so, empty, no noise, no children playing, no 4-wheelers racing about, just the sound of the wind. In some ways I’d have to say, it was quite nice, though, I knew I’d need to go to Dillingham at least one night a week to get a meal, and a drink and get to know some of the locals. It was easy. I’d just call Manokotak Air, and just like a taxi, a plane usually a Cessna 206, would come, buzz by my house to let me know they were there, and take me to town. Once in town, I’d either walk, or take real taxis to the bar just outside of town. This was the social scene, full of fishermen, white and native, depending on the night usually a 50-50 mix. The female population was made up of about 80% native, there was around 10-15% white cannery workers who only stayed for the summers, and the rest were females who wintered and worked in Dillingham year round, a very small percentage back in the early 1980’s.
 At the bar you could meet pilots of all types, some who worked for the small charter companies, and others who flew for the different fishing lodges, some were fish spotters for the big canneries, and even others who worked for the Government in one form or another. The pilots were a good group of guys, and it was through these encounters is where I learned about the great places to fish around the Dillingham area. The pilots know where the great fishing rivers are, and where in the rivers that are the most productive sections, they are a wealth of knowledge. One of the questions asked to pilots in Alaska by other pilots is; have you crashed yet? The word “yet” is a given, all pilots in Alaska crash, most just walk away un-hurt, some get hurt, a few even die, but they will all crash, or they quit. When you know this, it becomes apparent why this group of men and women, act as wild as they do.
I flew back to the village the next day after spending the night in town to find a few folks down at the beach re-fueling their boats. It was a few middle aged native men, they had heard I was there fishing, and knew that I was the new science teacher and coach. They wanted to know how many fish I was seeing up river, they said they were catching quite a few and wanted to make sure that enough were getting by their nets to ensure that there would be plenty for the next year. They also informed me that they had started catching “Kings”, the week before and they should be some up- river any day now.
It was now mid- June, very warm , and the days were at there longest , it seemed like the sun never did set, but it does,  just for a short time, but it does go down. The mention of the King salmon caught my attention, one reason was the fact that I had developed a series of flies the summer before to catch the closed mouth Kings. It was the time when Flash-a-bou had just been put out in all the fly shops. This is a fine, long tinsel like fly tying material that comes in just about any color, including Pearl (mother of Pearl). I had developed some very flashy “Tarpon Style“ flies tied on 3/0 hooks, just to see if I could figure a way to catch the kings on a consistent basis. I’d caught some Kings on flies, but never consistently, most of the pilots I’d met said they had not heard of anybody doing very well catching kings with flies, they all said the same thing, “Pixies”, that’s what works.
That day I headed up-river in search of the mighty King Salmon, and found some milling around in the small lake, so I knew they were around, but, it was way to weedy in the lake to try and fish for them. I moved further up stream to the middle section only to find the perfect scenario. It seemed too good to be true, but the Kings were holding in a long, flat, straight run that was a huge tail out. It was perfect; this glide was around 100 yards long and around 70 feet wide. The depth was around 3 feet to five or maybe six feet at the deepest. Both sides of the pool were lined with Fur trees, intermixed with Aspens; the Fish must have felt secure and not too exposed. The bottom, was small to medium sized gravel, the flow of the current was consistent from bank to bank, and there were no boulders, nor logs to get in the way, and the water was crystal clear. It was a perfect place to experiment with different flies, methods, and lines, leaders, etc… The Kings seemed to have their own territories within the pool, there were around 20-30 pairs of large kings, males and females. Later I’d see that some moved up –stream to spawn in another area, but around 20 pairs stayed for the duration.
The first day I was in a frenzy, I motored my boat quietly to the top of the run just at the bottom of a long straight rapid, dropped anchor, and fished from the front of the boat, trying to stay low not to spook the over sized Salmon. I was fishing with a Hi-D sinking tip that turned out to be too heavy for the shallow water, I was fine swinging the fly across the pool, but, would catch bottom on my retrieve back to the boat, and the hooks would become dull.  I switched line to an intermediate sinking line, and this turned out to be perfect, I could see the flies in the water , due to the clarity, and thus could see exactly where the position of the flies were in regards to the position of the salmon. Here is what I found; if I swung the fly to close to the Salmon, it would move away, it did not react well to a fly moving towards it. But if I swung the fly say three feet above the fish, it would move to the fly, sometimes taking it, but would always react to the fly, depending on what fly I using, colors and size was being the two most important features, and these seemed to be what would trigger the King into taking.
The first day I landed two jack Salmon, small first year kings, that are really good to eat, and I killed them both, and had one for dinner that night. They were around five pounds apiece, but this was not what I was after, the majority of the Kings in this run were fish from 25-75 pounds in weight. Most of the Males were in the 40-50 lb. class, with just a few real monsters, but, all these fish were just out of the Salt water, very bright in color, (silver), and full of fight. After seeing a number of fish follow the fly’s I was trying, I finally put on a fly that had just a bit of flash, and was a size smaller than I was using prior. This was the ticket, the big kings would take this fly, in the clear water, and I think the other flies were just too flashy. This fly that did work was more subtle, they were not afraid of it, and ate the fly pretty consistently. I landed three of the Kings that day; one was close to 50lb. the other two were females that were smaller in the 25-30 lb. . Range, but, all fought like crazy in the shallow water, jumping very high and making very long persistent runs, hard to control. I’m sure the Rod I was using was a Scott 9 ft. for a 9 line, this was a strong rod, but, it was just a tad light to control the fresh Kings. I had this rod stolen in Chile in 1987, another story about another time….

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska ( Part 3 )

{Fly Fishing Alone In Alaska ( Part 3 )}

Late May in Alaska has gruelingly long nights if you are not set up for somehow blocking out the insistent sunlight. The sun actually sets for only a few hours, the sunset is  prolonged for most of the evening, until it does in fact set, and with the glow in the Eastern part of the sky, welcoming the sun once again to begin it’s climb high in the northern sky, where it will be perched most of the day and evening. My bedroom was on the western part of the building, and it being my first evening, I was not prepared for the onslaught of sunlight penetrating into my new digs. With no AC, and not wanting to fill the room with mosquitoes, it was not only the light that kept me up most of the night, it was the stifling stagnant air, and staggering heat. Most of the evening and through the night I sat up and watched the sun hover on the horizon, just above the Mountains where the following morning I would venture for the first time to explore the upper river.
I got up early and prepared for the days outing, food, water, all the fishing equipment, ( rods, flies, waders, vest, camera, sunscreen, 12 gauge shotgun, double 00, and slugs, pistol, lots of ammo, this part of Alaska has coastal grizzlies that get quite large, 10 footers, 1000 pound bears, big ones!)
 OK,feeling better, getting organized. I had the boat in the water the day before, I had two canisters of gas, and I felt all set.
The river is Tidal, which means even in front of the Village its level raises and falls. This leaves a lot of mud, the water is clear somedays, but with a rising tide it can be quite off color. What I wanted to do is go up stream to get out of the tidal section , where the river would flow clean and clear and have current, and have character, pools, runs, islands, side channels, tail outs etc… I had no idea how far that would be to find the section of the river out of the tidal section, everything was new, and everything was the big unknown. It was also the first day in my new boat, 14ft. Boston Whaler inflatable with a 25 HP Yamaha , prop.  The guy at the store tried to sell me a jet unit instead of a prop, which would have made life quite a bit easier, live and learn I say. After about the first five minute of the journey, I had to add air to the boat, the water was quite cold and due to the cold water the boat would contract. The floor was wood and hinged in the middle, when the boat was firm with adequate air, the floor was firm, when the boat needed air and was soft, the floor would buckle. So, it was vital to keep the boat firm and full of air. Once the boat stabilized with the water temp, everything was fine, and the whaler would catch plane and fly.
It is quite a feeling to be on a river that you know absolutely nothing about, everything is new and exciting, the bird life along the way had Marsh hawks, and Herons, red winged blackbirds, and so many different types of ducks , it was hard to keep tract. It was a windless sunny morning, which just added to the over whelming beauty of the marsh land. Cutting turns with the whaler was big fun; this lower part of the river is smooth, wide, and gentle, perfect for breaking in a new boat and motor.
The river after some miles was beginning to change character, I noticed the water was starting to clear, and shallow up, the land was becoming more treed, I was leaving the marsh and entering the beginning of the forest, the mountains where not too far off, and then I came upon a small lake. I wasn’t sure what this was at first, the lake was part of the river, it was the end of the tidal section of the river forming this weedy, clear water lake that seemed to be of around 5-8 acres, you could see the river flowing into the 
area forming this small lake. Here I for the first time could see fish, schools of salmon milling around in the lake, fresh salmon, very bright and silver, just up from the bay. I had to try and fish, but this lake was extremely shallow, and the salmon seem to ‘spook” quite easily. On my first cast I noticed that the salmon which appeared to be Red or Sockeye would move away from the fly and did not have the least bit of interest. But, on the retrieve back to the boat, a nice sized Pike drilled the fly without hesitation. I released the pike, and made another cast, again another pike slammed the fly, it was also released, and this continued for the next 10- 15 minutes, until my fingers became sore and cut taking the fly’s from the pikes mouth.  OK , I felt like this was indeed a great pike spot , but that was enough pike fishing for one day, I wanted trout, rainbow trout to be exact, so I slowly made my way though the shallow weedy lake and headed up stream.
The upper river is crystal clear water, with a good current and I would say it would be considered a small river, or a very large creek. The upper part is heavily forested with Furs and lodge pole pines, inter mixed with Aspens, and other deciduous hardwoods. The river is falling from a large lake on a good gradient, and at spots close to the lake has a very strong current and rapids. Other sections have large flat spots in the river with small to medium sized gravel bottom, perfect for spawning salmon. This day I made it as far as the middle section that has many islands and channels, and parts where the river is in its entirety making travel with the boat quite easy.
I could see many small groups (a dozen or so) in number of red salmon moving cautiously upstream, the water was so clear you could tell the males from the females. I got out of the boat, and watched, hidden behind bushes on some of the small islands to observe the behavior of the red salmon migrating upstream, here is what I observed; these small groups of salmon would wait to move when entering a new area. It appears that each small group had a male leader, or guide, who would in fact journey up stream alone to make sure that path, was safe and clear. Once he found that in fact the coast was clear, he would then return and gather the group and he would lead the group to the next area, where the whole process would begin again.  I was having very little luck in catching the salmon when they were in the waiting stage, but found that the male guide or leader salmon was in fact quite aggressive toward a fly (a bunny, or woolly bugger, even a sculpin). The trick was to cast the fly and let it sink to the bottom before the Leader salmon entered the area and wait until he was close, then raising the fly just in front of him and moving the fly slowly in front of the large male sockeye. Almost every time this would work, the big males would aggressively take the fly. It was great for me because these were the largest and strongest of the red salmon. If you have not had the pleasure of hooking a fresh, large, male sockeye salmon in shallow water, it is really something, they really rip. The key is fresh sockeye, dime bright , these fish are a far cry from the red colored older sockeye that most tourist snag in the mouth or a fin , or even in the side.
I was pretty worn out around 6:00 pm and decided to head back to the village, for a nap, and some cold beer, and fresh salmon for dinner. Upon my returning to the Village, I became aware that I was in fact alone, Leroy and Stella had headed down stream to camp. I would have to be careful on my journey’s upstream; I was in fact, Fly Fishing alone in Alaska.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska (part 2)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Manokotak, Alaska
(The village at the base of the only mountain near by.)
From Dillingham,  it  was a short flight to the village of Manokotak, there is normally around 350 people (335) Eskimo, 1 black, and a handful of white fishermen) who reside year round here ( Back in 1983), but, when I landed the Village was empty. It was an extremely eerie feeling to land in a new village where I was going to be living, teaching and coaching, only to find that there was only a handful of people here. The pilot told me once we landed that the entire village moves down river to "camp", where the people fish for salmon all summer long, the village is empty. We taxied the plane to the end of the runway closest to the town, we were met by an elderly native man who was riding atop of a four wheeler, and he had a look of confusion on his weathered face. I introduced myself to the thin, grey stubbled, weather beaten gentlemen, his name was Leroy, he quickly told me that the" teachers don't come till Fall." I replied, “I’m here, I always spend my summers here in Alaska". Leroy looked down at the ground, shook his nearly bald head, and said, "Teachers don't come till Fall ". I just knew that would not be the last time I heard that this summer!
On the back of Leroy's 4 wheeler was a trailer to haul anything that was brought in by plane, supplies, mail, just about anything, (new teachers who come four months early). Like many villages in Alaska, there are no roads from the main towns out to the villages, this is why it is called the "Bush". The best way to get around in the bush is always by plane, it is quick, and sure, well, most of the time. In the winter in Alaska, everything freezes, this allows people to move about on snow machines, one can go anyplace on a snow machine.
 During the summer the mode of transport is by boat, four wheeler, or plane. I'd brought my own boat ( 14 ft. Boston Whaler inflatable) and  four wheeler, all I needed was gas, Leroy showed me where to get gas, and told me to write down what I used, it was a town co-op. We then went to the teacher housing, I got settled in, nice place, but it was very warm, no AC, why would they, all the teachers leave during the summer, by the time they return, it is Fall. Leroy told me he was leaving for camp the next day, he said that the post office would be open, and if I needed anything from the store to have the lady in the post office let me in, write down what I bought ( another town co-op), and I could pay later. Leroy then scratched the stubble on his chin, stuck his jaw out, it was a personality trait when he was in the middle of making a decision, and said, “we better go over to the post office and meet Stella, she's pretty tough, she better know who you are, or you might have problems." So, we went to the Post office, which is next door to the store co-op to meet the post mistress Stella. Behind the counter is a short, moon faced, round women with dark curly hair and horned rimmed glasses. "Who's this guy Leroy", came from behind the counter, Leroy replied, "the new science teacher and basketball coach, Mark Daly". Stella had a serious frown which struck me as a “bad moon rising", then, she of course asked why I was there now, it is summer, and teachers don't come till Fall. I gave Stella a huge smile, extended my hand out and said, "I'll be here all summer, fishing", the moon became full once again, the frown gone, Stella informed me that she would be in the Village every Monday for Mail and if I needed anything from the co-op, I'd have to do it on Monday, for she too was going to camp. The moon became quite sunny as Stella even gave me a smile, and said, “I’ll tell people in Camp you are here, so you don't have problems". 
I was all set, gas, food, a nice place to live, boat, fishing and all alone to enjoy a beautiful river all to myself for the next three months to explore the upper Igushik River. Miles of wild river teaming with Salmon, Trout, Pike, Char, and Grayling, it would be a summer that changed my fishing perspective forever.
Next time, we start fishing! Stay tuned..

Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska ( Part 1 )

                                           Golovin , AK

In the Spring 1983 I was teaching in a small Eskimo village around 60 miles east of Nome Alaska. This was my second teaching position in the area around the Arctic Circle, the town is named Golovin. This village is very remote and has around 140 inhabitants that reside year round. As you can see from the photo above, it is located right on the water, on Golovin Bay, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water, the fresh water coming from many small creeks and rivers that flow from the mountains near by. The main river contributing the sweet water is from the Fish River, which is a good sized body of water that flows crystal clear into the bay.
During the winter, we experienced one of the coldest winters ever recorded, temperatures as cold as -67*, and the cold seemed to just stay. For 6-8 weeks straight we saw the high on the mercury go to -40, let me repeat that, the high was -40. During the long dark winter nights the mercury dropped to -50 ~ -55 below zero. Being so far north, it was an extremely dry cold, even being so close to the Bering Sea.
In May, I  had just received news that I would be teaching much further south, which after surviving the winter was wonderful news, for two reasons; 1) because this new village was in the Bristol Bay area , that has some of the best fly fishing on the planet. 2) Because it would be much warmer that far south, and after heating my house with wood heat during one the coldest winter's in recorded history, I was ready for a break.
That winter, I only had a wood stove for heat; unfortunately, it was not a good stove. It came with the house I was renting, it just was not a wood stove for this part of the world, and it did not hold the heat. Everyone in the village, who used wood for heat, was forced to use driftwood that came on the beaches on the other side of hills on the Bering Sea side. To get a load of wood, this took most of the day, due to the lack of sun light during the winter months. There was around four hours of light enough to take the snow machine and sled over the hills, cut the wood into logs small enough to handle and load onto the sled. Then return to cut into smaller pieces and split, so they would fit into the stove. A load of wood could last for six days, so, every weekend, I would repeat the journey, cut, load, return, cut, split, carry inside, burn. This was eight weekend straight, during the cold spell, sick, or a snow storm, didn't matter, there was no choice about getting the wood, it had to be done.
Moving further south would be a complete joy, I was going to have teacher housing also, a house with a thermostat! Life would be quite a bit easier, and, I would be in the area of Alaska that had the great rainbow trout fishing. The trade off was the hunting, the better hunting for Moose , caribou, and all the fur bearing animals was better right around the Arctic Circle. After three years I had my fill of the hunting, and one of the reasons I went to Alaska was for the Trout fishing, this change was something that would fulfill a dream.
I packed all my things, the only heavy objects I had  was a snow machine, and a four wheeler, and a Boston Whaler inflatable boat and a Yamaha 25 hp motor. All my other stuff, guns, fishing equipment, clothes, stereo, TV, did not add up to that much. I had a charter Cessna 207 come to move me to my new location; they had taken all the seats out so my things would all fit. The pilot loaded what he could, everything fit with the exception of the snow machine, which I sold at the plane, to one of the schools employees.  He was all smiles and threw rocks as he tore away on the gravel road to take home his new prize.
There was so much weight that the planes tail was on the ground, and the nose was turned  toward the sky, this was not a "tail dragger", it was a 207, the work horse , the air taxi of Alaska. The pilot assured me that the weight would be fine, and there would not be a problem and with the engine running the plane would straighten out and fly fine. We both crawled into position, he started the engine, nothing, and it still was dragging the tail. The pilot re- adjusted the cargo, and we started again, this time the tail come off the ground, and we took off. Like quite a few pilots in Alaska they prefer to fly low so you can see all the wildlife, rivers, valley's etc...
We were about 100 ft. above the ground, flying above the Tundra, when we spotted a plane that had crashed the year before. It was a Cessna 206, and it was completely destroyed, burned, all smashed, it was so bad, that it was just left where it crashed. The pilot said that they hit the ground full speed, nose first and tumbled, over and over five or six times, the pilot and the two passengers were killed instantly. We were both quiet for a moment, both I'm sure thinking of what that would have been like, the panic, the impact, the whole ordeal. When, just then the 207 started coughing, cutting out, the pilot was in a small panic, turning the fuel line off and on. "shit", he said, “I think there is water in the line", we were dropping like a stone. "Try the other tank", I screamed, He did, and the 207 started coughing again, sputtering, cutting out, we were heading down. “I don't know what to do" came from the pilot, I screamed, " just leave the second tank open, they both can't have water in the lines!", he did, and just before we were about to duplicate the plane we had just seen moments earlier, just feet above the tundra, the mighty engine of the 207 kicked back in and purred like a kitten. It was a sound I will never forget, and a situation that will stay with me forever. It was a time where your life flashes before you, funny, all I could think was that it was not my time to go. When the engine kicked back, it just made sense, it had to, and it just wasn't my time to go.
We landed in Dillingham, pulled up in front of Manokotak Air, the owner came out to greet us, we shook hands, and I saw the owner’s eyes staring down behind me with a look of aspiration. He was watching the pilot on all fours, kissing the ground hysterical, and mumbling, thanking god. “What happened? " asked the owner, "well , there was water in the fuel line,  so the engine was quitting, we were over loaded, and flying about 100 ft. above the tundra, we came within feet of becoming a tundra turd". The pilot got off the ground, walked in the office and quit. I got another pilot, and continued on to the town of Manoktak, where I started a summer of fishing that I will try and convey the over whelming  thrills and experiences that I had that year,
next time, part 2.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Driving on the other side ( PART 13 )

The next morning it was wet, it had rained most of the night, Billy knew that fishing would be quite different without the ability to see the trout. He laid in his soggy, dank, extra long mummy sleeping bag and thought of a plan of action, for this being his last day fishing. The tent had a distinct odor, Billy had noticed, as he listened to the constant sound of rain pelting the protective Fly, and dripped off forming a small lake around the perimeter of his dwelling. If all went according to plan, later that day, or maybe the following morning Tom would be back in the yellow Mini to retrieve Billy back to reality. The thought of putting on waders was one of the reasons Bender was reluctant to get going that morning. The other reason was that Billy was not that keen on nymph fishing in the rain all day. Maybe, streamer fishing would be fun, Billy thought, then it hit him, maybe I should just take the day off, read a book, relax, I will be doing enough fishing for the next 3 ½ weeks.
Bender pulled a fresh Breburn apple from the inside of his purple and royal blue backpack that had a small logo that read Kelty on the front. As Billy enjoyed the sweet, firm flesh of his apple he noticed a humming sound, it was a sound far away, but seemed to be gaining strength. Bender unzipped the dank tent, to be taken aback by the freshness of the rain soaked air, much to his surprise it was inviting him out to enjoy his surroundings. Naked, Billy exited his warm abode to be drenched by the ever pounding rain. At first it felt cold, but it was a summer rain, a gentle, warmish, but an ever soaking deluge, Bender needed a bath, this was perfect. He walked to the creeks edge, only to find that the creek had turned a bit off color, brownish, no more of the gin clearness it was prior. As Bender turned back toward the tent, he could see a small yellow dot moving in a zig zag motion towards him. It was Tom in the Mini; he would be there in ten minutes or so. 
On his return to the tent Billy noticed the field was alive with new mushrooms. Puffballs and Meadow mushrooms to be exact, all in different button stages, just ready to be harvested.  It always amazed Bender just how quickly the puffballs grew to such a size, one time seeing new puffballs the size of melons, firm, and pink in the middle, that grew that size within hours.
Tom pulled up to the spot where the tent was, Billy quickly disassembled and packed so Tom would not have to wait. Tom rolled down the window to say “just throw it all in the back wet, we can dry it off inside my garage, it will be fine”. Once inside , Tom explained that with this summer storm , the creek will be off –color for a couple of days, “ I thought I might as well come and retrieve you since the fishing will be off and it will rain constant for the next two to three days, not a lot to do up here when it’s raining”. Bender said, “Nice to see you Tom, thanks for coming early, it was a good plan”.
And, so the conversation went between two Americans, bouncing down the side of rail road tracts in a foreign car, in a far away land, returning from a place on earth that not many others had visited. A special place with huge trout, in an incredible setting that one only dreams about visiting. Bender felt very fortunate to have experienced such a Valley, such a Creek, such a special place on earth. After telling Tom fishing stories for thirty minutes straight, Billy sat quiet and thought, how could this have been better? Then, he remembered Ann Hunter, and fantasized just how much better that wonderful experience might have been. Bender knew he would need to start moving south the following day, he thought maybe he should call her, it had been a week since he’d last spoken with her. Yes, he thought, I’ll call her tonight, I want to hear her voice, but, what Bender could not forget, were those piercing emerald green eyes.