The Alaskan Story Threads;
This sticky thread will be the home for stories I have written about fishing for salmon and trout here in Alaska. If you have spent time here and wish to post your own story in the thread please feel welcome to do so. Until I figure out how to place these tales into the articles here this is going to be their home.
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How bout them Kings…………………
When a fly fisherman day dreams of Alaska certain images are prevalent in those thoughts. Such things as wild rivers on the edge of the world teeming with willing salmon may be among them. Add in the Alaskan Brown Bear catching fish with ease along the shore line while a bald eagle jealously eyes the bears catch and the image starts to take shape right? Well that’s the way it can be here in Alaska but sometimes it takes awhile to get all of the players together, including you. Even after years of honing your skills and compiling a collection of the best salmon fishing gear available there can still be some unexpected developments once you are actually here.
Me, I didn’t come here just to fish I came here because of a job and I figured that fishing would be a great fringe benefit. You might think that if you were living in Alaska you would be able to limit out on your king salmon stamp every year, right? It’s not always an easy thing to do; you are allowed one fish per day with a season total of five king salmon. I had a few really good years when I first moved to Anchorage. Of course I traveled all over the area, From Talkeetna to Homer and over to Seward. If a road would get me there I went. I was and still am mesmerized by the splendor that seems to be lurking just around the next turn. By the end of my first fishing season I had wet a line in most of the well known rivers and creeks accessible by the AK. road system but guess where I did my best king salmon fishing?
Now you’re probably thinking I chartered a float plane and had the pilot take me to the most rugged and remote corner of the state but what I did was far from that. Traveling to the bush requires that you have both the time and the assets to first get there and secondly, stay long enough to get your monies worth. So after weighing all of the circumstances that I had on my plate I did what many of the urban bound fishermen who reside in Alaska’s largest city, (Anchorage) do. The natural course of action was to get it done close to home meaning ‘urban salmon fishing’ and quite possibly urban salmon at its best.
Low Tide @ Ship in winter, I need a better shot but you get it; right?
Now just imagine a sunnu June day in a city of over 300,000 people and the word is out, Kings are In!
First of all, getting used to combat fishing for kings in downtown Anchorage’s Ship Creek is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. I am a veteran of Great Lakes tributaries fishing and even that can’t properly prepare you for the action at ‘Ship’ as it’s known to Anchorians. The main differences are that the area of Ship open to salmon fishing is very close to the ocean inlet and the tides experienced there are extreme. Add to this the fact that the creek runs right into one of the busiest sea ports on the west coast and you can see the Anchorage Hilton from your spot while you fish and it’s a little different than most salmon fishers are looking forward to. The crowd of hopeful king salmon fishermen & women are a factor also but mastering the tide is the key for success there. In my first few visits I found that a person’s physical height was a very big asset also. I’m six foot five inches tall and quickly learned that my height enabled me to wade down the river as the tide was going out ahead of about everyone else. After learning the strata of the river channel I was able to get to the sweet spots first and establish a beachhead of sorts as the land becomes exposed with every few inches of receding water. As the river level drops the current returns and the lies become visible. If a pod of fresh fish has come in on the tide the action is fast and furious to say the least. Knowing where to cast and how many split shot to apply to the leader are crucial to a quick hookup. I must add that having a good technique for handling & landing a King that can weigh up to 50 pounds is a must although I have hooked many bright chrome flanked fish that could not be handled by any means. King salmon in Alaska can grow to proportions exceeding 80 Lbs. but Ship Creeks escapement consists of hatchery reared fish and they seldom pass the 35 Lb. mark.
A Ship Creek Favorite;
Surprisingly I found that I was sharing the beat along the creek channel with some of the same people every day that I was there, which was almost every day! It may seem not to be the place where you would make alliances with other fishermen and to share patterns and techniques but it was in fact no different than fishing anywhere else. The true fly fishermen tended to gravitate toward one another and we shared the honey holes with great regard for fishing ethics and manners. Bonds were formed like I had not had with strangers in all my years of fishing so I must say the experience was both enlightening and enriching at once. In the years since my experiences at Ship, I have fished many of our rivers and creeks for king salmon but my memories of fishing right next to the salt in downtown Anchorage remain as very fond ones. My most exciting king salmon fishing stories were all spawned along the beat on Ship Creek. It seems to me that the fish hooked there just simply go wild, I mean jumping and running with a tremendous level of strength. When I fish the rivers of the interior it always seems that I can pretty well stand my ground while fighting a king, but back on Ship I often found myself chasing one back toward the salt even on a nine weight rod equipped with a twenty five pound test leader. You see, after the fish have traversed miles and miles of fresh water rivers to reach the creeks along the Parks Highway in the Matanuska Valley where I now live they quickly lose that bright chrome appearance and begin to turn sort of blush pink or magenta on their flanks.
Pictured are some European fishermen with a SuSitna King;
They quickly learn to avoid people and the many flies & lures that are hurled at them wherever they show themselves. The meat of the fish also begins to deteriorate quickly once they are in the river systems and often they can be landed without any streamside sprinting just to keep up as they run. I constantly find myself thinking of returning to Ship to recapture some of that excitement I felt when I had first came to this wonderful place and to look for some of my first fishing acquaintances that I have left behind years ago in that urban fisherman’s paradise known simply as Ship.
A 19 lb. Ship King;
Fishing With the Bears;
This is a reprint of material written in 2009.
Almost always when talking or writing to people from outside Alaska about travel and fishing here, they ask the same question, “Aren’t you afraid of bears?” Without being pretentious and acknowledging the danger of a close encounter with a bear, I try to explain about fishing with them. In answering, I reply “afraid no, aware yes.”
When you see this you should be thinking Bear.
I wasn’t born in Alaska, but then in 1954 my part of Pennsylvania was not exactly like downtown Manhattan. My parents’ home was on a large lot that bordered the forest at the base of the Bald Eagle Mountain in North Central PA. Seeing white tail deer, fox, and an occasional black bear in our yard was just part of growing up. My father raised me to be an outdoorsman. Childhood life was filled with back country hiking, lessons in nature observation and tracking. Over the many years since those boyhood experiences I have camped and fished in bear country wherever they exist here in North America. On occasion I have had to move from an area because I had encroached on Grizzly territory.
Here is a young bear along a creek out at our cabin
The most memorable exit took place in Montana. In 1981 I was camped many miles up the old rail spur that led from the town of West Yellowstone to Big Springs. The rails had been torn out many years prior to my visit. I had accessed the old line by motorcycle. My big mistake was setting up the tent prior to doing a good wide perimeter check for bear signs. By the time I discovered that I had camped way too close to a well-traveled path leading to the South Fork, it was nearly dark. The path showed heavy use by Grizzlies and those signs were very fresh. Deciding to err on the side of safety, I broke camp and made my way back the precarious trail I had taken to this remote spot in total darkness, save for my headlight. The point I would hope to make with this quick remembrance is that 99% of the time caution and due vigilance will keep you safe from a dangerous encounter with America’s largest carnivore.
Track along a river we floated, the hand can palm basketballs easily
I got my first look at an Alaskan Brown Bear in 1989 while on a short shore leave from my job as a commercial fisherman. Just a glimpse of the bruin dashing across the Sterling Highway revealed the size and capable speed of these fabled beasts. Many years later and with every encounter logged in memory, I am still awed by that size and speed of the brown bear. It is with that in mind that we fish the streams and rivers both in the interior, where our cabin is located, and the more urban waterways where many fatal bear encounters occur. I am not prepared to quote statistics regarding bear attacks in Alaska, nor am I a bear expert. I will venture to state that the encounters between man and bear are more often deadly for the bear than for the human. My wife Nancy and I keep a constant watch for any signs of bear and of course we always have our German Shepherd Boss along when we are in the outdoors.
His acute hearing and sense of smell is simply the best early warning system we could ever hope for. Many bears go unseen because of the ruckus raised by the dog and we never discourage barking in the bush. Of course not everyone who fishes in bear country has a canine security system handy as we do. You must rely on some tried and true methods of alerting nearby bruins of your presence. The most popular advice is to make noise. Making noise, and I mean a noticeable level of noise, will no doubt seem foreign to a fly fisher. Trust me here, it is better to be heard and not seen by a bear than the opposite. When I happen to be in the bush or at streamside without the company of my dog, I talk loudly and frequently. Better put, I holler and call out as if hailing a downstream partner. Trying to maintain the presence of mind to do this may seem difficult, but if you find yourself fishing a brush choked creek in bear country it will come naturally for you. I find it hard to ignore the very real danger of a surprise encounter with a wandering bear, no matter if I am fishing close to home or 100 miles from the nearest road. So remember, make noise.
I have included photos of brown bears during the sockeye run on a nearby river, but please don’t be misled by the seemingly close proximity from which they were taken, I employed a 500mm lens and made them very aware of my presence. When I come upon bears who are acutely focused on catching fish, I feel a little more secure than I did last August when on a float trip. I found myself dangerously close to a fresh moose kill, so I put the oars to the water and as much distance between me and that carcass as I could. Once again I was both lucky to have spotted the kill and cautious in making a prompt exit. The image of a bear large enough to take down a full grown moose charging into the water to drive away an interloper (me) was one that I never want to see. That was the only time I really wished for a 65hp motor on a drift boat.
If you trek or camp in bear country for salmon or trout, you must avoid smelly foods. Things I keep off my menu list include smoked jerky or salmon, canned sardines, or tuna. To make it short and sweet, stick to granola bars and water and bury all your wrappers. When camped along a river instead of using bear proof canisters and hiding them away from camp, I form a nice pile of gear topped with the coffee pot and anything else that will create a racket if upset in the night. I don’t want the only thing that smells interesting to a bear to be me. At river camps and at our cabin nothing beats keeping a sanitary living area. The less your camp smells like a good place to prospect for a meal the safer you will be. For the ever present chance of an encounter that goes wrong, we each carry a large canister of bear spray, and we keep additional means of protection close at hand.
There were tracks everywhere on this trip but we never saw a bear. Although I dont push firearms for every trip to the river when you are floating in the middle of nowhere play safe.
Considering the amount of time I spend in the bush, I find that stories about people shooting bears don’t meet my threshold of presenting imminent danger. I have not yet had to use any tear gas or deadly force as a deterrent. I have exited many areas quickly and loudly when a bear was discovered or their presence perceived. Recently while fishing on Kodiak Island I found two large bears had beat me to a tidal pool I intended to fish as the tide went out. I took a few long range photos and went in search of a less crowded spot. There are no salmon to be caught that are worth the risk of a lethal face off between a bear and I.
If you are planning a trip to Alaska, unless you schedule a bear viewing tour you may not even see one of these legendary beasts. If you decide to take a trip off the beaten trail, be forewarned that a surprised bear can be one of the most dangerous animals you may ever see. Don’t rely on a weapon as your sole form of defense. An informed person with an active mind and open eyes offers better safety and defense than a panicked scramble for a magnum. Remembering that whenever there is an abundance of fish in a relatively shallow body of water, you are in a prime fishing hole for the Alaskan Brown Bear. You would do well to find an open area where visibility is not blocked by foliage and where the depth of the water is not conducive to a bear easily obtaining a meal there.
When I am salmon fishing it is always my intent to be the hunter not the prey. I have included many photographs of streams and fish in this article to illustrate the levels of seclusion and the beauty of my home fishing grounds. The fish are indeed plentiful and the areas remote. I have had few bear encounters when photographs were practical and some that were not photo ops but there may be one around the next bend of the river.
I will leave you with that thought and promise next issue to provide tales of high expectations and diminished hope while casting in fisherman’s paradise.
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
heres some AK love of my own....
some anchor river action
on the deck of a gill netter
a pig dolly
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
Great posts and pics guys....feeding my dream to fish there one day:)
Ard, always enjoy reading your stories or listening to them when we chat on Skype.;)
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
Back in 2009 I was a volunteer with the State Park folks. I was at Lowell Point. I would head up the highway and hike back to Meridian lake to fish. I fished there with waders then a float tube. I even towed a boat up there 1 day. It took a very long time to get there. And if I could I'd do it again.
Late June on Meridian lake
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More Meridain lake pictures.
There is a parking lot about 15 miles from the town of Seward. A sign in book is maintained at the trailhead.
The trail is well maintained. A lot of work went into making the trail easy to traverse. The less gear you haul up, the faster the walk becomes.
The lake is stocked every other year with fingerling trout. I imagine most of them are eaten by the other fish and the pair of loons that frequent the lake. There are some real nice fish back there. Very vibrant colors. But you don't always catch big ones.
I've caught fish both spin casting and fly fishing. By spinning I can locate fish faster but I prefer to fool them with a fly. Even if I didn't catch any fish the scenery and time in the woods is well worth my time. Catching fish is a bonus.
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A few more pictures from the Chugach Mountain/Meridian lake trail.
It's not the easiest hike back but it isn't scrambling around a lot of blowdowns either. Pick your foot up and put it down. Repeat a few thousand times and you are there at the lake edge. I never ran into any bears back there but I'm not the quietest hiker either. I ALWAYS carried a canister of bear spray and kept it handy on my belt.
My 10 ft Porta-bote
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
I gotta hand it to you pulling that boat all the ways up there! Great pictures and story you gave here. Next time up think on popping your boat into Summit Lake, it'll be a lot easier and I think you'll do well. It won't deliver the wilderness thing because of the proximity to Seward Highway but there are some beauties in it.
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
I have also fished Jerome lake, Cooper lake, Johnson lake, Kenai river, Kasiloff river, Skilak lake, Hidden lake, Arc lake, Sports lake, Tangle lake and Triangle lake with the boat. It's a little roomier than a pontoon boat and there is room for another person. It's quite comfortable to fish out of for a long time. I have some swivel seats that are much better than using the bench seats.
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
My apologies, I have never used a boat on Summit but see a few out there so I didn't know launch was restricted. I also confess to being very much a river fisherman as opposed to still water fishing.
Re: The Alaskan Story Threads;
You guys are killin me with this Alaska stuff. Brings back several great memories. The Dollies in a small lake on the right just before pulling into Seward. The Grayling at Windy Pass along the railbelt between Cantwell and McKinley. The Arctic Char on the Beaufort Sea with icebergs floating out in front of ya. I mean BIG Char. The Pike in the sloughs down the Tanana. The Kings on the Kenia. The Silvers on the Kenia at Ed Whitakers fur shop. And yes the halibut in Homer along with the crab. The rainbows in the tributaries of the Yukon from Tanana to Russian Mission. WOW, where do i stop? Arp, you will be hearing from me sooner or later. I use to work for the Yutana Barge lines out of Nenena and then the Alaska Railroad when they were owned by the Fed DOT. Also on the North Slope for 15 yrs. Yep, i traveled that state. If i were a single man i'd be there now.
Some more Alaska memories
I'm missing Alaska this time of year. Even though I've been out fishing 7 times in the last 2 weeks.
Volcano across Cook Inlet from Ninilchik
Eagle rock silver salmon
1 and a half limit
87 pound halibut out of Seward
Camping lakeside at Tangle lake
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Chena slough grayling
Homer bank fishing
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