Jul 31 2010
After switching bags in Yuma, AZ (see part 1 of this fishing adventure) I made my way to Seattle, WA to stage for the next part of my adventure which would take me to Yakutat, Alaska. Last year while I was in Ketchikan, AK chasing silvers with my friend Barrett we started talking about some other adventures we could do in the state and Barrett, being a die hard steelhead fly angler, suggested that we hit the Situk River located outside of Yakutat. The river is known among steelhead anglers as probably the most productive natural (no hatcheries or hatchery enhanced fish) steelhead river in the world. We started planning back in October as soon as I got back from Alaska. Doing these adventures is a pretty big undertaking especially when you are doing it yourself with out any guides, packing yourself into camp, setting up camp and then figuring out how the heck to catch fish in the river. Our original plan was that four of us would go, Barrett, his Dad, me and our mutual friend Tom. Tom fell off because of some other travel stuff that came up and then a few people I had in mind to fill the spot fell off because I learned that the trip was going to involve some aggressive wading which makes me wary myself, but even more so taking anyone that is not totally comfortable with that. Once we learned that Barrett’s Dad decided he would pass so Barrett and I decided we would go it alone. We had to line up a boat because we were going to stay in a cabin in middle of the river and fishing required a boat to move from pool to pool. We thought we had that lined up, but our raft connection fell through, so we went to plan B which was pontoon boats we would pack up, ship as luggage, and assemble when we got there.
Four weeks to arrival time Barrett gets a call from one of our friends asking if he would guide on the Ponoi River in Russia for the season. Barrett was so so on the idea, but decided to roll with it. That put another twist into things because timing was going to be tight between the screening process he had to go through when he arrived into Russia (it requires three days of all sorts of tests) and the helicopter transport that was scheduled to take him and some other guides to camp. Long and short of it at the last minute Barrett could not go, luckily I found a steelhead junky, Andy, in Missoula, MT who was friends with Barrett and who I knew through some mutual friends who was all over it. Andy is going to be a senior at the University of Montana, is a creative writing major with a minor in environmental studies, and is a fishing machine. He guides on the Unalakleet River in Alaska in the summers and is what I would consider to be one of the premier up and coming steelhead anglers (you can check him out in a guide profile in last months Drake Magazine), and as importantly he’s a fun guy who is willing to take on an adventure. He had heard about the Situk and was psyched to get a chance to fish it.
I spent two days in Seattle getting some last minute supplies, picking up a pontoon boat from a friend and having a good dinner at Alki Beach with an old college buddy Tony and his wife Alex. Tony is in the tech world as well and we probably bored Alex to death with the geek talk, but she was a great sport about it. Tony founded a really cool company and if you spend a lot of time online and are not sure where all the time goes you need his product (he has a free version). Check out RescueTime.com I have been using it since it was in beta years ago and it’s pretty good in giving you some insight where you “really” spend your time online.
I got up the next morning still full from dinner, jumped on a plane and met Andy in Anchorage. Three hours and a few stops later we arrived in Yakutat, AK. We had hooked with a guy named Fred through the recommendation of some other friends who had fished there before. Fred had a big dodge that was perfect to shuttle us each day. We arrived around 8pm and given we still had four hours of daylight left, were still not confident we had enough day light to get our boats put together, gear packed on the back and time to float to our camp which our best intelligence told us was a two hour float from the drop off and from what we heard you could not see the cabin from the water. Fred said for $50 we could stay in his camper, set up everything, load it in his truck and be ready to go early in the AM, so we took him up on it. We got everything ready were loaded up to take off in the morning. Before we took off Andy and I walked down to the ocean and managed to strike up a conversation with some Alaska commercial fisherman. The captain invited us onboard and we hung our for about half an hour hearing about their latest journey which had them on the water for four weeks chasing what I think I remember as black bass, one of the fish they use in fish sticks is what I remember. The close quarters they live in and big seas they endure to make a living is amazing. They were waiting to unload their catch and then would fish their way home to Juno. We took some pics, exchanged some fishing stories and Andy and I hit the road.
When we splashed the boats we were quickly reminded with how much in in the wild we really were with the sighting of a large grizzly bear at the launch, unfortunately my camera was packed As soon as we got on the water there were chrome fish everywhere, a good sign. We pushed our way to camp struggling not to break out a rod. We set up camp and decided we would hike down river on our first day. All the pools were loaded with fish and these steelhead were amazingly strong. Hooking these guys was one thing, landing one, well that is a whole other story. These fish will break you off in every way possible; they’ll take you under branches and break you off, make crazy jumps and spit out the hook while basically sticking their tongue out at you , roll and spin making the hook come out and some moves even a pro break dancer would have trouble duplicating. My hook up to landing ratio was easily 15 -1, as Andy would say, “That’s steelhead fishing for you”.
We floated/rowed fourteen miles each day which between rowing slow water and fishing the pools kept us on the water about fourteen hours. Given there is only about three hours of darkness a day, fishing long hours is no problem. We were told of two small grizzlies that were around camp from some people who were camping about a mile away and while we saw prints around camp we never saw them in person. Also never managed to see any moose which really can be more dangerous then the bears. The one thing was was abnormal about the trip was that we had sun and 78 degrees each day, made fishing a bit tougher during mid day, but even worse made for what locals were saying was the worse pollen they have ever seen. It was crazy. When a eagle would leave a branch you could see tons of pollen dump off the branches and where were literally clouds of pollen. I do not have allergies and managed to be OK until the last day, Andy made it through with the help of some medicine. The attack I had turned into a sinus infection which I am on antibiotics for right now and slowly getting over. Man, can pollen knock you on your butt.
All and all an amazing trip. Everything in Alaska is put simply, BIG. The animals, the fish, the trees, everything. It’s also great to see and fish a truly natural river, and at some level this river is a recovery story. When they were logging in the area in the 1990’s the steelhead run was down to about 600 fish, since logging stopped some years ago the numbers have been as high as 15,000, pretty cool what nature can do when you give her a chance to come back. After floating/rowing/fishing a bit over 14 miles a day spanning about 14 hours and hit with the pollen attack from hell, I am still pretty spent, I’ll at least give it another day or two before I start planning the next adventure.
They say there is a good run of chrome in the fall which I may head back for, but the silvers are calling as well, either way, I’ll be back next spring for sure!
Some pictures from the fly fishing for steelhead fishing adventure (click on the pictures for bigger versions)