It has been a day or so and while I am still trying to decompress the entire trip and adjust back to the mundane life I wanted to leave at least some sort of review while it is all decently fresh in my mind.
First off is that the 12 days we spent in Alaska were absolutely amazing! I did not slaughter the fish like I had been dreaming of before we left but think that I did even better. With the help of my amazing girlfriend and the people whom we met on the trip I was somehow able to leave my normal life behind and relax. This takes on an even large importance when you realize that the company I have been with for the last 12 1/2 years told us two days before I left on vacation that they are shutting the plant down this year for good and all 500 of us are out of work as of Christmas.
We traveled around 1600 miles in the rental SUV hitting Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, the Artic circle (tour bus trip), the Little Susitina, Exit glacier, Seward, Russian River ferry, Soldotna, Homer and lots of places that we just passed through due to time constraints.
The day that really let things flow together for me and allowed me to have some experiences that I have never felt on the river was when we were out on the guided trip with Ard. First I need to say that I didn't catch jack squat that day on the river and it really seemed to bother Ard (didn't faze me as I was actually getting bites!). I do not have any other guide experience but I can tell you that I have not seen anyone in all my years on a river bust their butt and work/worry about getting a fish on a line more than him. I finally broke down a few hours into the day and told him about the fishing black cloud that hangs over my head. So he spent the morning helping my polish my switch casting to something that while not pretty was affective and kept me from torching my casting arm, he then continued to give pointers and encouragement the rest of the day. I missed many, many fish that I was either not paying enough attention or when I went to set the hook the rods just didn't seem to have the backbone in it (more on this later). Then there was about 4 fish that were able to get a good run in before tossing the hook and the one chum that I fought for 5 minutes all the way to the net before he spit the fly and I got to demonstrate the "Means release" for Ard.
After the river day with Ard we headed down to the Russian river confluence and I spent another 2 1/2 days between there and the walkway in Soldotna fishing. It was here after a grand total of 32 hours fishing (including the 12 with Ard) that I was able to catch and land my first Salmon. It was a near chrome Sockeye hen that weighed around 5 pounds and totally beat the living hell out of my equipment and me. This was after a local river rat helped me with the "flip" and tied on a piece of level 30 pound tippet and 3/8 ounce weight to my poor 8 weight fly rod.
We then moved down stream the next day and I opted to trash the heavy lead and use a sink tip, this resulted in us foul hooking tons of fresh pinks. I adjusted the sink tip to a shorter 2 foot piece and while the action slowed down I was able to properly catch and release my first salmon (no flipping!). We spent another night at the Ferry fishing (proper sink tip no more lead for me!) and were able to watch 5 grizzly come up on the far side and run all the fishermen off of the river. We also got to watch mamma grizz beat the ever living snot out of some young bear that wasn't her cubs, she moved faster than I ever thought possible and literally whipped the other bear up AND down the bend south of the ferry.
As for gear here is what I took and my personal assessment of it.
Echo Ion 8 weight fly rod paired with a Sage 2280 disk reel and Rio line. Also used was an Echo 10'9" 6 weight switch rod paired with the Allen Alpha 3 reel and Chucker line.
Both the rods seemed like they were too soft when I was with Ard and I was wondering if it was me or the gear that wasn't letting me get a solid hook set. I confirmed it on the Russian that both rods were just to "soft" for me. It ended up that even on the fresh pinks with a new and sharp fly I had to set the hook 3-4 times to make sure it stuck. After the line would come tight I would snap the rod up like I was trying to clear a snag and with the 30lb tippet this seemed to do the trick. If I couldn't get a few hook sets in then the fish would toss the fly every single time.
As for the reels I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the Sage 2280 is not a "salmon" class reel. LMAO
When I hooked into the hen Sockeye I went to turn the drag tighter since she was running away like a freight train only to discover that the drag was already at max. It's been a long time since I had to finger palm a reel but I somehow managed to do it with no bruises. After two days of fishing this reel for salmon it started to squeak when the drag was at maximum. Other than that it took everything that I could dish out to it and I think it will be perfect as a trout of bass reel.
The Allen reel only got a semi workout on the chum I caught but from what little I was able to use it, it seemed that the drag was smooth and up to the task. I wish I would have hooked into a big one of the Russian with it but that wasn't to be.
Total cost for the two of us to have this adventure is looking like it will be around $4,000.00 to $4,500.00 between both of us. We took over 800 photos between us but I haven't uploaded them to a server to share yet.
The equipment lost tally was as follows:
Zinger with said nippers
nice pair of forceps
numerous swivel heavy flipping weights
about a 1 pound of split shot
around 40 yards of tippet
and probably 2 to 2 1/2 dozen flies total.
I would like to give a big thanks to everyone on the forums who helped with the details on this and a special thanks to Ard for the great day and his wife for the great river lunch.