(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….