01/09/11
Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.    Blue-winged Olives
2  .  Sculpin, baitfish and small crayfish (Imitate with streamers)
3.    Midges



Those That Know Me Asked For It, So All Of You, Know Me Or Not, Are
Going to Get It - Extreme, X Rated, Hard Core Fishing Tales

Alaska Re-Run
This is a re-run of some articles I wrote a couple of years ago on this same website about my trip
to Alaska back in 1983 when there was only one fishing camp or lodge on the now
World famous Kvichak River. I had a tremendous amount of email regarding these articles so I
though I would put them together in one story for today's article.

In the early eighties, I was at the January Houston Texas Boat Show working a
booth of Spare Time Sports, a Houston Texas company, helping sell some of my
new saltwater fishing videos. During the week I meet a very unique gentlemen
named Joe Pike who was there promoting his "Pikes Lodge" in Alaska. The results
of that ended in a trip to Alaska in August of that same year. My cameraman and
friend, Mitch Mitchell, and another friend, Red Robinson, whom I could talk into
anything, agreed to go with me.

The morning of the departure from the airport in Birmingham, Alabama, we ate an
early breakfast at Reds home in Mt. Brook. I couldn't quite understand why he
wanted us to do that when we were to be together for the next several days. I soon
found out. His wife asked me for a telephone number that she could reach us on
while we were away. I looked at Red and he looked at me with a big grin on his face.
Of course my reply was that she wouldn't be able to reach us for over a week.
There wasn't a telephone or any other way to contact us. At that point, Red almost
needed to take one of his heart pills he was taking with him even before we left his
house.

From there to Anchorage Alaska via Seattle is a long way and we were not even
close when we got to Anchorage.  Another smaller jet took us to small airport where
we caught the small four seater prop private plane Joe had set up to take us to
"Blue Berry Island" on the Kvichak River near the Bering Sea. I had owned two twin
engine airplanes but never one that small. Neither had I flown on one that small with
so much weight. We had three other people and all our luggage including the heavy
three tube TV camera, three-quarter inch recorder and other production equipment.
There was so much weight, it took forever for the pilot to get the plane airborne.  

The Kvichak River drains Lake Illiamna. It flows for about fifty miles before emptying
into Bristol Bay. It had, and I hope still does, huge and I mean huge native rainbow
trout. It also had all five major species of salmon (silver, chum, pink, king and red)
although never at the same time.

Lake Illiamna is something else. We spent one day there and never saw another
boat. In fact, we never saw another boat or person fishing there anywhere except
the other boat Joe had. I saw one native sitting under his drying salmon with a rifle
in his hands protecting the salmon from the huge grizzly bears common along the
river. The local natives (not Eskimos by the way) would not get out on the huge lake
because they thought it had monsters in it. Lake Illiamna is the seventh largest lake
in the World, with over 1,000 square miles of water. It is over seventy miles long and
twenty miles wide yet the few native that live there are afraid get on the lake.

If I remember correctly, there was not a single camp on the entire river or lake but
Joe's lodge. His Pike's Lodge was downstream a few miles from the lake outlet,
located on an island Joe's dad named "Blueberry Island". You could sit in one spot
on the tundra and you could not possibly eat all the blueberries within reach. His
father had built the camp bringing in lumber up the Bering Sea, into Bristol Bay and
up the river by boat. There are not any trees there - just tundra. It's lights were
powered by a small gasoline generator and our hot water was heated outside in a
huge wooden tub. The crew consisted of Joe, another young man that guided, his
girl friend, who was the nurse (a real nurse by the way), and another gentlemen that
cooked for everyone just about all day long.

There were no locks on the door. There was no one around to steal anything.
It didn't matter what happened to us. It would be a week before the plane would
return to pick us up and there was no way to call or get in touch with anyone. By the
way, it would have taken weeks and most likely would have been impossible to walk
to civilization across the high mountain range that not even the small airplane could
cross over. We flew in along rivers in valleys around the mountains There was a
bear in sight along the river out my window of the plane most of the time we were
flying and sometimes, several. They were after the salmon spawning in the river.
That's why I only got out of the boat (except at the camp) one time. I will tell you
about that occasion shortly.

Joe Pike's Lodge had a makeshift runway so that a brave pilot could land on
Blueberry Island not far from the camp house. It did take a brave pilot, or on second
thought, maybe it took a stupid pilot. We did make it in an out of there a week later
but only by the grace of God. That's yet another story I will get too. It was very
rough and if you didn't know what it was you would never realize it was an airport.
Thank goodness the land on the island and most all of the tundra was flat.

The days begin the same way each day. We were up early with a few cups of coffee
and then it was off in the little aluminum boat down the river a ways to catch some
silver salmon each morning. I usually fished with Joe but did fish with the other
young guide a couple of days. Joe was a fly fisherman. He wanted everyone to fish
with a fly rod but he had other equipment. He said over and over that he had the
world's best rainbow trout fishing and the only way to really experience it was with a
fly rod.

The trout are not steelhead. They are huge native rainbow trout that grow big
because of all the food they have to eat. Most everything they eat has to do with
salmon. In the spring they gorge on the small salmon trying to make it downstream
to the sea. In the summer they gorge on the eggs and then shortly after the dead
salmon flesh. No wonder they grow large. If you could see the salmon eggs and the
numbers of fish themselves, it would be easy to understand. The area of the river
just below the lake is considered one of the finest spawning grounds of salmon in
the world.

The silver salmon were large, beautiful fish. They probably average about three
feet long and were a bright silver color because they were just returning from the
sea. We caught the salmon each morning not only for fun but also to eat. It took
only an hour or two to catch a boat load of them. It took more time reeling them in
that anything else. In a couple of hours we were back at the camp each day with the
salmon. Then came the finest breakfast I have ever eaten. The chief prepared at
least twenty things to choose from and used all of the local food possible. Fresh
blueberries for the pancakes, fresh homemade rolls, and salmon and salmon eggs
fixed dozens of ways. By the way, one morning I was watching Joe's guide fillet the
salmon and noticed he ate some eggs directly out of the fish. I said something
about it, naturally, and before I could stop him, he crammed a hand full of them up
to my mouth, holding his hand against my face. I bravely ate some and could not
believe it. They were wonderful. They were raw eggs right out of the hen (female
salmon) lying on the fillet table on the river. They were not even rinsed off but they
were very clean.

After the big breakfast, or brunch may be a better word, it was off to catch some of
the huge rainbows. The only fly we used for rainbows was an egg fly. I used both a
spinning rod, still using an egg fly, and a fly rod they had for customers the first
morning. Each time I would pick up a spinning rod, Joe would shake his head. He
would say "take my fly rod and try it - it is a several hundred dollar such and such. I
don't remember the make or amount he would say but it was an expensive rod.
Finally, I used his fly rod instead of the one they had for their customers. It did cast
much better. It was much lighter. I'm not sure what the other fly rod weight was but I
do remember his was a seven weight. I never put it down. I used Joe's expensive fly
rod the rest of the trip and he loved it. Now you may think that is quite heavy for
rainbow trout. It isn't for the Kvichak River. The fish were huge. Five to ten pound
rainbows were common.

When the trout took the egg fly you often didn't realize it. The current was strong,
the water fairly shallow but crystal clear. Often the first indication you had a fish on
was spotting the fish about four feet in the air. I am not stretching the truth. I have
never seen trout jump that high. You had to have a lot of backing to get a larger
one in. I don't mean fifty yards. I mean well over a hundred. I wish I could remember
the numbers but it has been a long time. This was 1983 or twenty-eight years ago.
The fish could run a very long way. Often Joe would use the little outboard to run
after them or otherwise they would have taken all the backing when they headed
downstream in the current.

I am just getting started with the fishing. All the salmon were there except the pinks
which come every other year. There were huge grayling and we caught them into
the hundreds. In fact, at the end of each day of fishing, my catch exceeded a
hundred fish everyday. Several of the rainbows were over five pounds. My buddy
Red did just as well each day. The days were long and it didn't ever get dark. There
was the one huge king salmon I had on for a few minutes and more stories to tell.
The fishing and the trip itself was just unbelievable. I am positive I caught more,
larger native rainbow trout that I will ever catch again, including all the wild trout that
I have or will ever catch. My cameraman caught rainbow one over ten pounds.

The part of Alaska we fished was like a different part of the world (actually it was a
different part of the world) and by that I guess I mean weather wise more than
anything. As I said, it's just off the Bering Sea which Joe called the "weather boiling
pot of the Western hemisphere". By that he meant all of the weather fronts that
cross the United States are born there. You only get a short notice that anything is
going to happen. Actually, back then we didn't get any notice at all. You just found
yourself dealing with whatever occurred.

For example, on the trip we made to fish the entrance to the lake, it was a clear day
and the wind was blowing its normal high speed. When we got there, I started
catching the red (chum) salmon which for me was a whole new thing. The lake was
another thing. I felt at home. I lived in Florida where I fished the Gulf almost every
day and it felt like I was out on the Gulf. The little aluminum boat was a rocking and
rolling and would have sank if we had not of had some protection from the wind near
the entrance.

All of a sudden the wind completely died, like someone cut the fan off. I looked to
the northwest at this huge thunderstorm cloud which was pure black. In a matter of
ten minutes or so, the front hit us and hail was beating us in the head. It covered the
bottom of the little boat about 2 inches thick in a matter of minutes. I thought we
were going to drown or die from the cold water with only a life jacket to float us miles
from anyone. All of a sudden it stopped and we begin to shiver from the cold. The
air temperature must have dropped forty degrees. The wind picked back up and it
was cold. Joe said a front had formed out in the Bering Sea and started on its way
to the southeast.

Each night the weather went well below freezing and usually made it back up to
maybe fifty or sixty degree if I remember correctly. The wind always blew hard. Joe
had said over and over, "don't bitch about the wind James - we don't want it to stop".
I would always reply "Oh yes we do". Well, the next day it stopped. I first thought a
strange cloud had appeared from the sea again but it wasn't a cloud of moisture, it
was a cloud of mosquito's. You couldn't see ten feet. It was like thick fog. It scarred
me. I expected to get eaten alive but unlike those I was familiar with, these critters
didn't bite. They would get within inches from your face and eyes, but they did not
bite. When the wind dies down, they come out of the tundra by the trillions. They are
the only thing that could possibly rival the national debt. In a very short time, the
wind picked back up from an entirely different direction. By the way, forgot if I
mentioned it or not, but the trip was during the middle of August.

The Arctic Grayling fishing was incredible. We fished in a different type of water
than we fished for rainbows.. Basically they looked for deeper water. The fish were
big and beautiful. You could catch one or miss one on every cast. After a few hours
of grayling fishing, you would get enough of the action and want to get back to the
rainbows.

By the way, Joe said there were some other camps, again if I remember correctly, in
one of the rivers that fed the lake from its upper end. There are several of the rivers
with camps there now and I'm not sure exactly where he was talking about in 1983.
Anyway, they allowed their customers to keep rainbows to eat at the time. He would
talk about keeping rainbow trout as if it was legal murder. He did not allow anyone to
keep or kill a rainbow. I actually believe Joe would have given anyone a big black
eye if he witnessed them keeping or killing a trout. It wouldn't have happened at the
time, because we were the only ones there. He had a ten minute long speech that
he would get into as to why he felt that way. He was exactly right, of course, but in
the early eighties that was not easy for many anglers to accept. I agreed with him
and I would have never have kept one irregardless of his rules.

My cameraman, Mitch, who was working without pay just to get to go on a all
expense paid trip, caught the biggest rainbow caught on the trip. He didn't get to
fish from the boat. During our brunch break one morning, he went down to the dock
where the boats were tied up and proceeded to catch a rainbow well over ten
pounds. It may have been much larger. Joe and I ran down to the dock (the dock
was about 6 feet long) and Joe made him put it back immediately. He wanted to hold
it longer but Joe said no. "That's a hen and we can't take any chances on hurting it".
I was proud of both Mitch and Joe. I look back on it and feel bad because I didn't let
Mitch fish from the boat. Maybe I wasn't that nice of a guy. He continued to go on
some of my expeditions,so I don't guess I was to hard on him.

I will never forget Red's reply when I would call him to go on one of my trips. He
would always reply "I have a problem". I would ask what his problem was and he
would say "I can go" and we both would laugh.

One day when we went to the camp for brunch, the young guide came in and said
that he had spotted caribou moving across the tundra down the river. Joe grabbed
a couple of rifles and off we went caribou hunting instead of trout fishing. That was
the plan all along but you just don't exactly just go out and find a caribou. You catch
them when they are moving through an area migrating or at least that's what I
understood at the time. I'm not a caribou hunter.

We went downstream a few miles. It's easy to do that with a small outboard engine
because the current is headed that way quite fast. The boat will fly downstream but
has a tough time going upstream. We got out of the two boats where there was an
obvious trail. Now there is one thing that was quite obvious. This trail was not made
by humans. There's wasn't any humans there to make a trail. It was well beaten
down. It's easy to see in the otherwise solid tundra.

To describe the tundra to those who haven't see it, I will put it this way. If anyone
climbed on top of Joe's camp house and jumped off, it wouldn't hurt them when I hit
the ground. They would just bounce like they were on a trampoline. It's like a giant
cushion that covers the earth.

We went down the trail for a few yards as quite as possible when I begin to smell
something that wasn't blueberries. In a minute or two i spotted something about a
foot or two high that smelled with an order I will never forget. It was well past awful. It
was the worst smell I have ever come across. Obviously, there was only one
animal that could make a pile of you know what that big and it wasn't a caribou.
Obviously, since steam was coming off of it, it couldn't have been there very long. I
immediately turned around and went back to the boat. The young guide and Red
went on down the trail looking for caribou. I figured if a brown bear got me, it was
going to have to swim to do it. That ended my hunting trip.

One of the best parts of the trip was the food. Every meal was great. The chief was
a real chief from Chicago. He had a lot of pride in his meals. He enjoyed
going there each year for a break from his regular job.

The fishing season is a very short one there. I don't think the snow melts until early
June and it starts to snow again in September, if I remember correctly. The plane
could not land on the island in snow. Snow puts an end the fishing season. A plane
couldn't land safely in the river at that point either. It is relatively shallow and swift.

Some of you probably have already begin to get tired of my 1983 Alaska trip, so I
will end it with this last story. It was an unforgettable trip that I will always cherish.
What was there then, and what is there now, is a lot different in many ways, but is
probably still similar in many other ways. According to Joe, anywhere you would
have gotten out of the boat downstream from his camp to Bristol Bay, you most
likely you would have been the first person to have ever set foot at that particular
point. Except for his camp, I only got out of the boat that one time to hunt caribou. It
wasn't safe, considering all the bears that were scattered up and down the river
banks.

Joe had a neat way of knowing when the plane arrived to take you back to the
little airport from his camp. It would buzz the house just above the roof top before
landing. There wasn't any other form of communication. You relied on the pilot to
just be there at a certain time one week after his dropped you off. I kelp wondering
what would have happened if the guy died.

The day we left was probably the scariest thing that happened to us during the trip.
Joe decided that he would go with us to the little town where the first airport was
located so he could get some supplies. That would make five of us in a four seater
airplane. He explained to me that the plane was really a 6 seater, but that two seats
had been taken out for space for extra luggage and supplies needed for the camp. I
was familiar with that because for a few years I owned a Beechcraft Travelaire that
was a 6 passenger and I had the two rear seats removed in order to carry extra
gear. With six seats there isn't room left for anything else. The big difference was
my airplane was a twin engine and the one coming to pick us up was a much smaller
single engine plane. I later traded the Beechcraft for a much larger twin engine
Super Charged Aero Commander because I kept worrying about the weight
limitations on it. My Beechcraft, loaded to the gills was probably five times safer than
what I encountered next .

When the plane buzzed the house (a couple of hours late), we all walked to the strip
and loaded the plane. When the pilot started to get in, the tail of the plane fell to
the ground and the nose went up in the air. We all got out and they repacked the
huge amount of luggage, TV equipment, etc., and three scared humans. After that,
the same thing happened. The tail of the plane fell before the pilot could get it
going. It took redistributing the weight one more time. My cameraman Mitch, an X
luggage loader for Delta Airlines, asked what the gross weight allowed for the plane
was. The pilot replied "all we can get on it". Mitch looked at me with a very pale,
blank facial expression.

They finally figured it out. The young guide and the nurse who were staying at the
camp held the plane's tail up. When we took off they ran as far and as fast as they
could holding the tail up off the ground until the plane had a little speed. Once in
motion the tail didn't tend to fall as easily due to a small amount of uplift. It seemed
the grossly overloaded plane would never get off the ground. It was bouncing along
over the rough terrain trying to get off the island before we reached the end of it.
When we left Blueberry Island, the plane may have been five feet above the water
at the most. Thank goodness the land was relatively flat, or we probably would have
crashed and drowned. It took the plane miles to gain any substantial amount of
altitude.

Finally we were headed up the river with maybe 500 feet of altitude above the river.
We were low enough I could see the spawning salmon in the river. They fly the
rivers and stay in the valleys. The mountain ranges are higher than you are
permitted to fly without oxygen and I'm certain, far higher than that plane was
capable of flying with the weight we had on it. Joe was a big guy. He reminded me of
a bear. He had a thick, long black beard and was about 250 pounds. He looked like
a bear.

I was watching the river looking down at the bears that were common along the
banks feeding on the salmon when I turned my head and looked at Mitch who was
sitting crammed up tight against me. He was holding the heavy three-quarter inch,
video recorder tightly against the back of his head by the strap wrapped around his
neck. There wasn't room for it to go anywhere else. He said "James, if we crash, this
recorder is going to cut my head off". Looking back down at three bears that were in
sight along the river, I replied "You better pray it does cut your head off - That's a
lot better than surviving just long enough to be eaten by a bear". No one in the
plane as much as cracked a grin, much less laughed. It wasn't funny at all. We were
in a dangerous situation and most likely, that's what would have happened if we had
of crashed. On second thought, the salmon would have probably taste better.

Copyright 2010 James Marsh