Wednesday, October 14, 2009
It seems like I have been dreaming of going to Alaska my whole life. As far back as I can remember I was watching Alaska specials on TV; Fascinated by the grandeur of the place. It seemed to me one of a few locations with truly vast expanses of wilderness left on earth, and I wanted to be there. Last week I finally got there.
On the flight up, we were lucky enough to have relatively clear weather. As soon as we flew North of Vancouver Island, the landscaped transformed from scarred checkerboard to mind blowing mountain ranges & glaciers, majestic fjords, and a wonderfully broken coastline with hundreds of emerald islands protecting the route known as the "Inside Passage".
We touched down in Juneau briefly before flying to Yakutat, where we loaded all our gear for camp and fishing for six days onto the Beaver, which is kind of like the 4x4 of airplanes. We were off the ground within five-hundred feet of dirt patch runway.
After an exciting low altitude flight from Yakutat to the river, we dumped all our gear off, grabbed our rods and hit the first hole along the trail from the A-frame. We were all busting at the seams to get fishing. Within three casts all five of us had landed coho. I could tell already, this was going to be epic; What I have heard about salmon fishing in Alaska was true.
I started out the trip using a spinning reel with size 4 & 5 blue fox spinners. I wasn't confident in my fly fishing abilities, and I wanted to make sure I got some coho to the bank before I started experimenting with new things. Spinners worked well; I landed five or six fish in the first hour.
We fished until dark that first night and retired back to the A-frame for dinner and cocktails, each of us having landed a dozen or more fish in three hours of fishing. I scoped out the canoes that were left for us, excited about paddling & fishing, but could not find a single paddle. I read the note on the cabin wall from 1994, stating the location of the paddles, and assumed that somewhere in the last fifteen years they were used to fight off a bear, or for firewood, or who knows what. I didn't dwell on it, as there seemed to be no problem getting fish from the bank.
We woke early the next day. A storm had blown in overnight, and as we headed to the river, we found sideways rain and thirty mile per hour winds. Not ideal fishing conditions, but none of us seemed to care. I was wearing a Kokatat T-3 Supernova Angler Suit. With latex wrist gaskets, a neoprene neck gasket, and full-body breathable coverage, I was snug as a bug in a rug.
Wearing this suit gave me several distinct advantages over traditional waders and rain gear. With gaskets at the wrist and immersion coverage up to my neck, I could wade deeper and access more river than the other guys. If I snagged a fly or lure on the bottom, I could reach down, or dive down and grab it without soaking my arms and torso. With sideways rain and wind, the full closure of the suit kept water from collecting around my collar and chest. I found the breathability of the T-3 material to be excellent; We hiked for 6-10 miles a day through bog, mud, and sand in 40-55 degree temperatures, and I never once over heated, and the extra layer of heavy cordura nylon from the waste down made them more than durable for traipsing through the bush.
Despite the fowl weather of the day, the fishing was outstanding. Between the five of us, we caught & released around two hundred coho. I was starting to notice the fly guys pulling away with the lead. Tomorrow I would switch to fly fishing.
The following day we woke to clear sunny skies. I was so excited to see the clouds lifted, I hiked down to the beach at dawn to finally see the mountains surrounding us.
After enjoying coffee and a sunrise from the beach, I met up with the other guys and we hiked upstream to the reach of tide, where we each proceeded to catch double digits before lunch. After a short break we hiked down to the beach to fish the incoming tide. The sunshine and coast-mountain scenery were awe inspiring.
By the end of the day, I still had not tried fly fishing. I was starting to notice spinners becoming less effective, and fly gear still catching fish like crazy. At this point I felt satisfied with the number and quality of fish I had caught, and decided to try some new things the next day. After moose steaks and vodka tonics, we drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, we all took our sweet time getting to the river. All of us had caught so many salmon, the drive to rush at the door before dawn had been replaced by the need to relax and drink coffee. I thought about last spring's dismal salmon fishing on the Columbia in Portland, and how much time I had spent not catching fish, and decided to fish like crazy even if I got tired of it. I wasn't sure if I would ever experience fishing this good again.
After a relaxing breakfast, we hiked up river to the honey hole. I took one of the guys fly rods with me, and after fifteen minutes of coaching from Don, I was catching fish on a fly. Within an hour I had caught fifteen fish, and I was hooked. The spinning rod never left the A-frame after that. We all got into tons of fish that day; The numbers were ridiculous. It's OK if you don't believe me when I say in six days of fishing, the five of us landed somewhere around one thousand coho, I was there, and it was epic.
A little attempted underwater footage of a coho being landed:
The last day was fishy just like the rest. I was sad and a bit nostalgic about leaving the next morning, but at the same time I was looking forward to seeing my girlfriend and taking a hot shower.
I snapped a few photos of the Beaver coming to pick us up:
The flight back to Seattle was again amazing.
By far the best fishing and biggest, wildest place I have ever experienced. Moose, bear, wolf, and coho out the wazoo, I won't soon forget this trip, and hope to return again.