12/13/08

Destinations:

Since we are getting close to the holidays (less than two weeks) most of you will probably be
staying home or visiting friends and family during the coming days. I doubt that many of you will
be traveling to and fishing the Smokies although I hope you do.  January and the first part of
February is probably the coldest time of the year and you will have to pick out the better days to
expect much success fishing the freestone streams. By the end of February, everyone will be
doing their best to force the bugs to hatch and the trout to respond even though they will probably
have to wait a few more days to see any surface action. That considered, I thought I would write
about some fishing trips we have made to various other destinations. Don't expect these articles
to be well written and edited. I am not trying to win any awards, just tell you about some things I
hope you will find interesting and some that I look back on with a gleam in my eye.

Kvichak River, Alaska - Part 2:

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 but that is yet another story I will get too. It was rough
and if you didn't know, you may never realize it was an airport. Thank goodness the
land on the island 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 the 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 filet the
salmon and noticed he ate some eggs directly out of the fish. I said something
about it, naturally, and the next thing I knew he crammed a hand full of them up to
my mouth. Very bravely I ate some and could not believe it. They were wonderful.
Raw eggs right out of the hen (female salmon) on the filet table on the river not
even rinsed off but 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 the fly rod 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 one. 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. 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 seeing 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-five years ago. The fish could run a very
long way. Often Joe would use the little outboard to run after them.

I am just getting started. 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 every
day. My buddy Red did just as well each day. The days were long and it didn't get
dark. There was the one huge king salmon I had on for a few minutes. There are a
lot more stories about the trip. The fishing and the trip itself was just unbelievable.  

Continued Tomorrow