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.

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