Monday, August 29, 2011

Thoughts on gear for Alaska

Flies: Bring size 2 and 6 Dolly Llamas. Lots of them. Enough to lose 4 or more each day and not run dry. Black and white and olive and white. The Dollys are the key. Bring the other typical flies and some salmon flies and DEFINITELY some mice patterns. Dollys are heavy so make sure to cast them and bring the appropriate rod - maybe a 7 or 8 with an integrated sink tip. As you float and cast to good looking water you need that fly to drop like a rock.

Rods: 6,7 and maybe 8. Put the mouse on the 6 and the Dolly on the bigger rod. Make sure to cast the big Dolly before you go to be sure your rod can handle it.

Lines: I think each rod should have a Rio versitip on it.

Leaders: 9 foot 12 lb mono and heavier for salmon. Also bring 12lb Maxima to make short straight leaders for the sink tips.

Jacket: The best jacket you can afford. Simms G3 or G4 or the Patagonia SST.

Waders: Same as above.

Boots: DO NOT BRING KORKERS. I've owned two pairs, the originals and the brand new Chrome model with the BOA lace system. Everyone promised me the problem of the soles falling off had been fixed. Well, as I was wading through the muck to one of the best holes of the trip this happened:

Twice burned and I'll never go back. Go with Simms.

Clothes: Pack light! Seriously, you don't need a lot out there. Go with two pairs of long underwear pants; one thin and one fleece. Two long sleeve merino wool base layers and three pairs of wool socks. Maybe a couple changes of underwear. A fleece layer under your wading jacket. Neoprene gloves. Wool hat and baseball hat.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


This is why you go to Alaska and float a remote wilderness river. A beautiful sunset at camp well after midnight.

Ok, maybe it's not the long days and beautiful sunsets. Maybe it's for the 20+ inch rainbows that eat mice. Like this one that Adam caught mid-trip.

This whole Alaskan adventure started pretty much the day after my good buddy Adam took a knee. She said yes and he was off to the races planning his own bachelor party. What Adam planned was phenomenal: an 8 day float from source to sea down a remote river in Western Alaska with Mark Rutherford of WildRiverGuides. Mark has been guiding and fishing Alaska's most remote and wildest rivers for decades and I think I speak for our whole group when I say we couldn't recommend him more highly. If you want to do this kind of trip, call Mark and cross your fingers that he can take you.

After lots of planning and lots of tying (for some of the guys), we finally made our way to Alaska at the end of July and met up with Mark and guide Olly. This is Mark during our orientation showing us where we're going and giving us a great history and education on Alaska and the region we'd be fishing for the next 8 days (on the left is Robo, who has his own way of fishing a mouse...).

This is everyone but me organizing and weighing the gear in preparation for the float planes. From left to right: Olly, Mark, Jay, Robo, Seth, Jordan, Adam and Chris.

Didn't I mention that this was a Bachelor Party? We had a night layover in Anchorage....

Finally, ready to board the float planes. Adam contemplates the fish that lay ahead and the Velvet Box behind.

Shot from the float plane. Alaskan tundra, north of the tree line.

The lake that is our landing zone and the mouth of the river that we will float for the next eight days to the Bearing Sea.

When we landed the wind was blowing hard and it was raining sideways. I think a few of us were a little worried about what lay ahead for the next week. Eight days of camping in this weather would be taxing. Fortunately, this was the worst weather of the trip.

After landing and organizing the rafts and gear, we had a little time before the next plane load came in so Jay and I went to check out the source of the river. We saw a few sockeye reds. Not sure what Jay was doing here, but in retrospect, I think Jay was telling the river that he was about to float down it and catch all if its fish. A plan he executed over the next week.

After the third plane came in we loaded the final bits of gear and started floating. Within the first hour we came across Ursus arctos horribilis.

Like the bad weather, the brown bear left and did not return. This is a panoramic of the river and tundra a few miles down from the lake.

Me and Jordan in Olly's boat pushing through some skinny water.

Jay at a snack break on a bluff over looking the river.

Our camp the first night. Tents were set per Mark's "Bearing Sea Gold Standard". As a guide, waking to flooded tents or blown away rain flys in the middle of the night would suck. Mark makes sure it does not happen.

Me with a fish on at Camp 1. This would be the first of many (too many?) chum salmon I would catch during the week.

The next day, rather than float and fish as we would do every day, Mark wanted to hike about two miles up a different fork to a great hole he knew of. The hike was hot going in our waders and jackets.

This is the hole. We arrived on the opposite side of the stream on top of the bluff. With the elevated vantage we could see what looked to be huge salmon actively swimming in the 100 yard bend. We worked our way down to the water and spread out. Some guys went for bows in the faster water at the head and tail out. I wanted a big salmon, so I took my 11 foot switch rod to the meat of the bend.

After quite a few takes that did not stick (we fished barbless), I finally got this nice king to the net. This would be my biggest king of the week.

Robo stuck a huge sockeye.

After working our way back to camp, we had about a week of floating and fishing ahead of us. I've been to a few fishing destinations where they advertise fishing right at the lodge or camp as much as you want. Its always been BS. Usually they have a program and you fish when they want you to. With Mark, other than the necessary work for camping and dealing with your gear, you can fish if you want to. And we did. We fished from just after waking up to near midnight every day.

On the third day the sun came out and the fish started rising. Some of us tied dries on our lightest rods and for an hour or so we had consistant action from nice size grayling. The colors on the grayling were amazing.

The quiver at camp. Most guys had two rods strung up each day. One for throwing the big heavy "Dalais" and one with a mouse or something else.

Panoramic of the group fishing a run. With seven of us, we brought a little bit of a crowd.

Me rowing and Jordan with a fish on. This is just before Jordan took a little dip.

A great run in front of one of the camps.

Despite not seeing another bear the entire trip, signs of them were everywhere. On every sand beach all the way to the mouth there were bear tracks. Walking through thick streamside willows was a bit unnerving.

About halfway through the trip we got into brighter kings. Man did they taste good.

Chum face.

This grayling ate a mouse. Pretty bold for a fish with a small mouth on the bottom of its head.

Quite a few of the guys caught jack kings. Jack kings are smaller male salmon that persist in the gene pool. They get pushed out by the big guys but then when the large males run other fish off the redds, these jacks will rush in and take a shot at the females. Sneaky fu$*#@4rs.

Ground nest on the tundra.

A nice colored up Dolly. Nearly all of the Dollys were silver, having just come in from the sea, but a few that had started to take on their spawning attire were caught.

Group shot mid-trip.

A short video of a rainbow trout parked behind a salmon in shallow water. I stood on the bank while Adam skated flies over him but he wouldn't eat.

Olly turned one of the salmon into great sushi rolls. It was pretty sweet to be in the middle of nowhere in Alaska eating sushi.

This is why they call some Western Alaskan bows leopards.

Toward the end of the float we camped on a point that had lots of salmon fins showing.

It turned out they were all chum salmon, but I figured out that they would take a surface popper. It was awesome seeing one turn from the pod, wake up on a popper and just hammer it. After I got a few, Adam came over to get in on the action.

Mark doing some organizing for the next day at the last camp. Best office in the world.

Campfire the last night.

The lower river only a few hundred yards from the Bearing Sea. Two flounder were caught upstream of this location. We also saw a seal above here. Just downstream oft here I caught a nice rainbow and a number of salmon were hooked. I thought it was odd to catch supposedly non-anadramous bows downstream of two starry flounders (which ate streamers).

The ride to the airstrip. This river came to the sea a ways away from anything. Mark had arranged a pickup at lowtide to drive us down the beach to an airstrip.

Finally at the airstrip. After eight days in the wilderness, zero signs of civiliztion, zero bootprints, zero trash, and probably 12 hours of fishing each day, the guys were wiped out.

Group shot back in civilization. What a trip.