The plane landed in the Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, we taxied to the end of the runway that was closest to the river, I un-loaded my gear and started with the assembly of the boat and motor, fishing gear, gas cans etc…It was the first time in months that my inflatable boat had been rolled up and re assembled. I had brought the hand pump so it did not take long to be back in the water and heading up–stream ready for a new adventure. The Kenektok River is a medium sized river, larger than the Igushik, but smaller than most of the well know rivers in the area such as the Nushagak, or the Togiak. It runs with a good flow of current that form nice runs, riffle’s, and seams along small back eddies, and has quite a few Islands with side Channels. The river in the lower and middle stretches is pretty good sized, and thus I preferred to fish in the side channels where the water was smaller and more personnel.
As I started up stream I noticed signs of fishermen, just up stream from the airport there were colorful camping tents mish–mashed on an Island, there was a sign that read “Gone Fishing”. I would find out later that these were new Outfitters just getting started, further upstream were the camps of their competition. The first camp I came upon was the very organized, Dave Duncan & Sons. It was an impressive vision, the camp itself was extremely clean, and had an almost military look to it. There was a row of tan colored Wall tents that were perfectly assembled and displayed, along with the jet boats parked in a perfect angle just in front .There was no question that this group was nothing but professional on all levels, it was what one would expect to find in a first Class fishing camp in Alaska. The camp my friends were working in was the Alaska West Fishing, a very solid Outfit that had a very nice camp with large white wall tents, in a little more relaxed setting, none of the military organization, but first class as well. There was another camp that also ran jet boats just further up stream, but it was small outfit that had a lodge in another area, this was a satellite camp for them.
I was impressed with just how many salmon were in this river, on my assent up stream I was moving huge schools of Kings, Red’s, and Chums. It did not take long to run into a Jet boat (Jon boat with a jet unit); it turned out to be one of my buddies from Montana, “Stew meat”. I’d written to my other buddy there “Clam” and told him I was going to be coming over to check out the fishing, so they knew I might show up. Stew pulled in to have a look at this new guy on the river running in a Boston Whaler inflatable. “Ha, Daly is that you?” “Clam said you might show up, when did you get here?” Stew said that they would be working until about 7:00 or 8:00, and to stop by and get a meal, he said the camp was just a mile or so upstream on the right and I couldn’t miss it.
I fished for salmon for a few hours and was surprised how good of quality the fishing was, hooking all three species and landing a few Char. The kings I landed were smaller, 15-18 lbs., one was bright, and the other was dark red. This was true for the Chums and sockeye as well, a mixed bag of bright and dark fish.
Later that evening I made my way to the camp, it was a nice camp, great food, good atmosphere, well located on the river. Clam, and Stew had just gotten through guiding for the day, so, they were both worn out. We ate some wonderful food, drank some beers and shared fishing stories, until the lights went out. The following day, Clam had a day off and we fished a channel that was well known for the rainbows to eat mice, and thus we fished with mouse patterns. It was a blast, just a down and across dragging a mouse fly, and the wakes would follow until, boom, hooked up. Some of the takes were just sips, but most of the rainbows would really whack the imitation. I had a great time, it was so different from the Igushik, there were so many more rainbows, and the action was pretty steady. I was surprised that fish of this size would eat a mouse, I thought the fish would be larger, most of the fish were between 17-23 inches, good trout, but, when you think of trout eating mice, at least I do, I think of larger sized trout.
Clam showed me places to try while Stew and he were working, for they had to work almost everyday, I was lucky that Clam got a day off while I was there. The following day I was on my own once again, and was ready to explore. I entered a channel that looked excellent, deeper, slower water that ran along a cut bank, with native fish cleaning tables about half way down. This looked fishy; I was just getting into position, when one of the Duncan boats entered the channel, and I pulled up my anchor and floated down to meet him. They were friendly but were curious to who I was , we made quick introductions , and I told him to stay and fish with his clients, I was just out fishing and could go anywhere. Later I ran into the Duncan guide again, he was one of the sons, very nice guy, he had come to thank me, he gave me a black label beer, and we spoke a bit about the fishing, then, we parted ways.
That evening I decided to camp on a gravel bar that had less mosquitoes than places near the alders. I had brought just a two man Eureka tent, green, without the rainfly, just a place to get out away from the bugs, and be able to sleep. It was really small, my feet and head both touched the walls, and there just wasn’t a lot of extra room. One of the things I always had with me while camping out was either a 12 gauge, or, this trip I brought the 45-70, a lever action rifle that also had 500 gr bullets. I preferred this rifle rather than the shotgun, the bullets are faster, more accurate, just more deadly.
I was worn out from fishing, and after eating crawled into my little, green sleeping habitation. I remember sleeping really well, until this horrible smell woke me from the dead. It was such a powerful stench, that even trying to ignore it, I couldn’t, it was so powerful, and I thought maybe I’d been sprayed by a skunk. I was laying in my sleeping bag when I heard this heavy breathing, then something touched my top of my head, there was a sniffing sound, I was frozen for a second, I couldn’t move, it was a bear. It was sniffing my head, its breath was rotten salmon smell, and it was respiring just inches from my head, the only thing between this bear and my head was a very thin piece of nylon. I knew I’d better act fast, I quietly as possible reach over and took the safety off the 45-70, and placed the end of the barrel right up to where the bear was sniffing, I then cocked the hammer. The bear smelling the rifle, and hearing the hammer being cocked jumped back around five to six feet, but he did not leave, I could hear him outside pacing back and forth. I said “Bear, move on, or I’ll kill you, move on, get out, get out! I could hear him running away, so I unzipped the door and peeked outside. I would have thought it would have been a small bear, a young one coming around to investigate this green, nylon, rectangle on this rocky beach. But, the size of the tracks that were all around my tent in the sand told a different story, one of a full grown adult grizzly who was well fed from eating salmon, but, looking for easy human food. It surprised me to find a grizzly so close to a native village, on a river with jet boats running up and down making so much noise. But these bears will feed in the very small creeks, easy pickings for getting salmon, and humans cannot go with their boats.
Needless to say that I did not sleep the rest of the night, I didn’t want to be inside the tent, but the mosquitoes were so bad, I had no choice. My adrenaline was on overtime mode; I just laid in the undersized tent with the 45-70 by my side and waited for the sun to rise and adventures of another day.