Making a long story longer

Monello

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I picked up my first fly rod at 13 years old. But I used it mostly to toss real worms by swing casting sideways. I caught a lot of panfish that way while my buddies offering of the same bait was ignored due to either the weight or the line. I could watch my bait slowly sink in the clear water. As it traveled deeper, the panfish would move in to inspect it. Then it was fish on.

Fast forward a few decades. Military service, marriage, kids, mortgage, school, travel all got in the way somehow. I'd spin fish occasionally. Somewhere along the line I moved towards lures and got away from the bait days of my youth.

Once during my naval service, we found ourselves overnight on Kodiak Island in Alaska. We flew in around noon and were scheduled to head out the following morning. 6 of the crew were able to rent fishing gear from the recreation people. Not the best gear, it had been abused over the years. The reels were not the smoothest. The quality of the line was debatable. But it was a take it or leave it situation. We took it. Purchased licenses and drove out where they recommended we try. At the bridge there was a gaggle of people, all pretty much on top of each other on both sides of the bridge. They seemed to synchronize their casts to avoid snagging each other. Some pink salmon were regularly being caught. I tried to worm my way in, but I just got tangled when I retrieved. I went further away from everyone else. Then I discovered why nobody was fishing were I was. Nothing was happening. I managed to land 1 fish.

Our entire group wasn't having much luck. We regrouped and walked down further to where the stream dumped into the bay. The tide was coming in. 6 abreast, we tossed out our poorly balance rigs with pixie spoons. Some of the line was so heavy as to prevent decent casts. 1 of the poles was missing it's tip. But we began to catch fish. Someone even caught a sculpin. I had 6 fish by the time it was all over.

1998 I got out of the service. Got bored and rediscovered the long pole. Luckily there was a true fly shop about 20 miles from home. The cranky owner always had time to chat. I got a dozen recommended flies. I started catching panfish and stocked trout. Life was good. My casts got longer. I developed a better 'feel' for bites. I got the vest, assortment of tippets, hemostats, floatant, landing net, more flies, fly boxes, spare leaders, strike indicators, more flies, pinch on weights, clippers, more flies, sunglasses, brimmed hat, gloves plus a bunch of other gear. My vest pockets bulged. I fell once and it took 3 other fishermen to help me back up.

Anyhow, winters in Maryland were cold. It's hard to flyfish on hard water. But they had a fly fishing show at the local university. What better way to spend a weekend when you can't fish, listening to others talk about fishing. There were all sorts of booths. Some sold gear, others sold flies. There were guides and lodges, where you could fish for exotic species at strange locations. Books & DVDs were available.

I stopped by the book booth. I was attracted to the fishing books on Alaska. I bought 2 that I thought I would enjoy. I read and reread them. Then I got sick. Who knew that by reading a book you could become so infected with a desire to yearn to revisit a place you thought you might never again get to visit. Whatever this illness is, I had it bad. All I could think about was fishing in Alaska.

The following year I purchased 2 more books. Both of these were for fishing in Yellowstone National Park. Alaska still dominated my dreams. In 2005 I put my plan in motion. A 2 week trip to Alaska, living in a rental RV. Touring around the Kenai Peninsula. Talk about being uninformed. I got on the internet and learned about salmon runs and where to go. There were so many regulations, even different regulations for the same river depending on where you are located.

I wanted this trip to be special. I booked a guided float for me and my son. I also booked a fly out for grayling with the same outfitter. I maxed out my budget but at the same time I wanted a memorable experience. I was told the float trip would be fly fishing. I made sure to ask and was told that yes it would be a fly fishing float trip.

It's the last week of June 2005. Timed to hit the red salmon run on the Russian river. We head north. Get settled in, buy licenses and regulation hooks(cohoe flies) then head south on the Seward highway. What incredible scenery. We saw a pullout and went over to take some pictures and take in the scenery.

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We drive less than 3 more miles and pull over again. At this rate it will take us 10 hours to go 50 miles. The vistas aren't like what we are use to seeing on the east coast of the US.

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We arrive in Cooper Landing. Putting on waders we head out in pursuit of our prey. To say there were a lot of people would be an understatement. We rigged up and got in the congo line of anglers. Not sure what to do we watched the others then imitated them. In close quarters you don't actually cast. Instead you peel off a bunch of line, toss it into the swift current then once your line has straightened out, you grab the line near the reel with your left hand while you swing your pole behind your back. The momentum of the weight carries the hook from left to right, just in time for you to drop your fly into the water and begin another drift. I can see signs of fish in the water. My son hooks up first. After a short fight we have 1 on the stringer.

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Now the old man is supposed to be the fisherman of the family. But I got schooled that evening. I asked for any tips but my son said it just happened. We call it a night as we have our float trip early the next morning.

Arriving at the outfitters was an omen of things to come. The guy I spoke to on the phone, a guide and 2 anglers are there. I tell them I'm there for my trip. They don't have any idea I'm coming. I produce my screen shot of my payment for a float trip for that day. I get confused looks. So we end up that all 4 of us go out with the guide. C'est la vie. Then the guide rigs us up. Fly poles with 3 enormous split shots attached a few inches above the fly. When I say that I was told this was a fly fishing trip the reply is that this is how they fly fish up here. They refer to it as Chuck & Duck. More like casting with a flypole. Anyway it's too late to back out now. At least the river we are floating is gorgeous.

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Sonny boy does it again and gets the first fish between us. He's up 2-0. I even things with a trout then get my first ever dolly varden.

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I end the day with 1 more trout. Even with the split shots, the fish put up a great fight.

The rest of the trip gets better. We see moose, amazing sights and catch a late evening baseball game played without artificial lights. In some spots the bugs are really bad. We try to avoid those places.

Out of Seward we go on an all day halibut charter. It's a long but productful day. My son manages to crank up an 87 pound halibut. Fresh halibut is probably my favorite fish to eat. We vacuum packed our catch so we could bring it back home with us. The airport in Anchorage has a walk in freezer for all the fish and game that leaves the state.

Since I maxed out on photos, I'll continue this in a reply.....
 

Monello

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On the ride back in the captain tells us that there are whales in the vicinity. I tried to get a picture but this is the best that I could do. So close.

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Next up was the fly in fishing trip for grayling. We fished Crescent Lake on the opening day for grayling. The outfitter provided us with panther martin spinners that has been successful in the past. We ended up with around 25 fish total. All but 1 were released. They are beautiful fish. We didn't really need a guide that day. Just cast from the banks since location didn't seem to matter. The trip out and back is very enjoyable. And yes the water is really that color blue.

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We then rolled down to the town of Homer to sightsee. Driving down the Sterling Highway, Homer appears out of the clouds like a mirage.

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Some more sights from Homer. Camping right on the beach.

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We then headed back up to Cooper Landing for 1 last chance at some reds. We fished the opposite banks this time. The other anglers were helpful in getting us rigged up properly. Since we were already in the parking lot with the RV, we spent the night and then fished again the following morning. We had the best action that day. Everyone around us was hooking up. The limit was raised from 3 to 6 since there were enough to go around and the run was strong.

Cleaning tables are provided right in the river so you can toss the carcass back into the water. Take it from me, filleted fish are a lot easier to transport on the trail compared to whole fish.

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Combat fishing isn't for everyone. It's sort of like liver. People either love it or hate it. There isn't any gray area. But you can't argue with the success of it. That's why the people are there because that's where the salmon are.

And just like that the 2 weeks were over. Time to get back to the daily grind. And who would have thought that all this is due to one cold, winter day, I bought a couple of books at a fishing show.

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mcnerney

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Monello

That was a great trip report with some photos that brought back a lot of memories from living in Alaska for sixteen years.
That motorhome reminded me of one summer when our German exchange student came back to Alaska with his father to tour around Alaska. They rented a motorhome, and we had friends with an aluminum jet boat that were fishing for Coho's in the Valddez harbor area, so we arranged for them to fish there for two days. They had a blast, that was the biggest fish they had ever caught.
I remember after fishing we were offered beers, they brought them out from one of the side storage compartments of the motorhome, as they don't drink beer cold. It was kind of strange, but great tasting German beer that we enjoyed very much.
 

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When I got home, I had some good eats in the freezer for a while. I had the bug. I schemed on how to return. With the knowledge I had gained from the previous trip, it was easier get a handle of what to do and where to go.

So that winter I planned a trip to return the following summer. I set my sights on the last week of August and the first week of September. The red salmon run would be over but the pinks and silvers would be plentiful. I also wanted to try my hand at fly fishing for trout using fly eggs. And another halibut charter would round out our adventure.

Somehow I convinced my Mom to join us for the first week. My dad had passed a few years prior. She really didn't have anyone to travel with. It would be nice to share that scenery and adventures with her. She isn't an outdoor person but it wasn't like we'd be hiking into the backcountry. Pretty much everything you can drive up to and then it's a short walk to the attractions.

Time comes and we meet up in Dallas and then get a connecting flight to Anchorage. Since we already know the drill things progress fairly quickly. We are on the water in no time. First spot is along the road where we can drive right up to it. The weather isn't the best. Mom stays behind and reads a book. I get into a silver right off the bat.

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I don't catch anymore silvers although I can see a bunch of them in the current. I get a few pinks and overall it's a decent first day on the water.

Next day we visit the town of Hope. It's a quaint seaside town. Pink salmon run in the local river. But if you don't fish, there's something to see and do. Plus they have shopping. I learned that to some people, that is very important.

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The fishing that day was mediocre. But the stunning scenery makes up for it.

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Then it was down to Seward. Mom did a whale watching cruise while the anglers targeted halibut. We caught halibut but nothing of any size compared to the previous year. That's how it goes sometimes. Prior to boarding our boat, 1 of the boats at the gasoline pump caught fire. I wasn't sure if we were going to get a repeat of the 4th of July firework show. A raging fire that close to a fuel pump can't be a good thing. The firemen showed up and got things under control.

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Compared to the previous summer, we didn't have the long hours of daylight. It actually got dark at night. I prefered the dark evenings as the long light hours messed up with your sleep a bit. You can wake up at 4am but be confused as to what time it could possibly be.

We fished for silver salmon from the banks in Seward. Tossing out pixie spoons but it was slow going. Seward is a great little Alaskan town. It has something for everyone. Plenty of stores and a lot of conveniences. A few restaurants and the harbor is a focal point of the town. The huge tide swings makes for some interesting walking down the piers when the tide is out.

Snagging salmon in saltwater is legal in parts of Alaska. It seemed to be an effective way to put fish on the stringer in Seward. After watching a bunch of people do it, I got a few weighted treble hooks and gave it a shot. It's not my preferred way to fish. But you can't argue with the results.

We did some more touring around. We worked our way over to Soldotna to try our luck for pink salmon. The it was time to take Mom back to the airport. After that the hardcore fishing was to begin.
 

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The pink salmon action is Soldotna was non stop. We fished right behind the welcome center. There's a series of steps that take you down to a metal boardwalk that juts out over the river. The boardwalk keeps the anglers off of the banks. The pinks are aggressive to say the least. I caught 1 of the most distorted pink salmon that I have ever seen. It's backbone was incredible to see. The spawning transformation is amazing.

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It's hard to count how many pinks we caught. A few silvers were even hooked in the same spot. I missed out on the silvers but the willingness of the pinks to strike made up for it. We released all the pinks we caught.

Back to Cooper Landing. I tried fly fishing for trout with eggs. The smell of the river was unbelievably ripe. All the rotting carcasses of the spawned out fish was an olfactory sensation. After a while on the water you didn't even notice it. I did manage to catch a dolly varden on a drift. There were many spawning salmon in the river.

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Then it was back to Seward. This time to target pinks in the river. It wasn't as productive as Soldotna but it was closer to Anchorage so when it was time to leave the drive would be shorter. I had the river to myself.

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But all good things must come to an end. The final fish count is unknown. It was easily over 100. Compared to the previous year it was everything I could have hoped for. The spectacular sights only add to the pleasure of being in a scenic landscape.


Turns out I would not travel to Alaska in 2007. Then through some sort of divine intervention I was able to spend the following 3 summers in Alaska. Life had taken a different turn. But I was able make some lemonade out of my situation.

downtown Seward
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2 limits of silver salmon
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Monello

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2008 I was back in Alaska. In the following 2 year period I purchased a 34 foot motor home. I put in for a leave of absence from work. I'd have 5 months off without pay. 1 month to get north, 3 months to run around Alaska, then another month to drive back.

The drive up in another story entirely. I fished in Maryland(Deep Creek Lake), Illinois(Clinton lake) & Montana(Ft. Peck). Each time getting a 3 day licence. You can only imagine the sights we saw while driving across the country. We crossed over into Canada at Sweetgrass, MT. Then went to Banff NP. Lots of wildlife in that area. I even heard a few elk bugling. The first time I heard it, I wasn't sure what it was. What magnificent creatures they are.

Then onto the ALCAN. Drive for a long enough time and you finally reach your destination. 1 of our stops was at a hot springs in Laird. The warm water was a welcomed relief for my road weary bones.

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First Alaska stop to fish was in Fairbanks. Early June. Things were just warming up. Ended up catching pike & grayling.

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Then down to Anchorage to stock up on food and other essentials. The campground we chose was located in Ninilchik. It was right on the inlet and 5 volcanoes were visible from there.

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I had all sorts of gear because I planned on fishing every which way imaginable. I headed down to Homer to fish in the salt water. I read online that it was possible to catch halibut from the shore down there. I didn't get any halibut. I got non stop flounder action with some pollock & irish lords tossed in for good measure. I had planned on eating pollock but the fish were loaded with worms. After that it was catch and release. I used shrimp for bait and once I had a flounder would cut up 1 and also use that for bait. Looking back at the pictures I realize I was dressed quite warm. I don't remember it being cold but from the pictures I was surely bundled up.

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I tried my luck at the lagoon in Homer. You could see the King salmon cruising the shore. It seemed that just the snaggers were catching fish. Snagging is illegal down there. It was more of a twitch than a rip. I didn't want to face a fine so I either soaked some eggs under a bobber or tossed a spinner. When I finally connected I couldn't believe how fast the line was leaving the spool. I was worried my knots would fail or the line would snap. After an intense struggle I brought the fish to hand. I discovered that my hook was embedded in the face of the fish and not the mouth. It wasn't a legal catch. I never took the fish out of the water. I just stared at it. It had incredible coloration and spots. It was amazing to feel its raw power.

I had a small boat with me. I dragged that boat all over the Kenai Peninsula for the next 2 1/2 months. I went to obscure lakes that I felt didn't get a lot of pressure. I also went to the popular spots to try my luck at the migrating salmon.
 

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A few pictures of the road trip to Alaska.

Lake Louise
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Summit lake
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Camping at Muncho Lake, my RV is on the left behind the pine trees
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Liard Hot Springs
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Woodland bison
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Fairbanks, AK
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Domesticated caribou aka reindeer
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I could not imagine spending a winter in interior Alaska with it's brutal below zero weather.
 

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I wet a line every chance I got. Down time was spent in the campground around the fire pit. 1 thing I did do was to harvest razor clams at low tide on the beach. Once they are cleaned up, they make an amazing clam chowder. They are very sweet and tender. A group of us fished together on and off. Most of the better fishing spots were a bit of a drive away. Thank goodness the internet let you know instantly where the fish were likely to be.

Bear on the Russian river.
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This was the only bear I saw when I wasn't safely in my vehicle. I didn't want to get too close and end up in a newspaper article on what not to do when you encounter a bear while fishing.

I got to witness a bore tide. A few times a year the tide comes in so forceful that it actually creates a wave. A few hearty surfers were on the water for a chance to ride the wave.

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And it wasn't just fishing. We took some time to head out and view the numerous bald eagles that dot the cliffs. They are majestic birds.

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Speaking of tides, they sure have quite a swing between high & low tide. If you are a boater, this can be an issue. Looks like this guy needs to wind his watch. No telling why he didn't get back to port sooner. But he'll need to wait for the tide to rise to get his boat unstuck. You can see from the discoloration on the rocks how high the water can get.

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Alaska is an eclectic mix of people and personalities. I imagine these campers are free spirits.

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A few more pictures of June adventures.

An Irish lord. Incredible large head for a small body fish. The head is hard like a rock.
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Underwater photo of a Fairbanks pike
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still a lot of snow yet to melt
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more eagles. We saw about 70 that day
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Otter
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The campground we stayed at had gracious hosts. They interacted with their guests daily. They were a wealth of knowledge about the area. We had booked the site for a month but ended up extending an additional 4 weeks. In hindsight it would have been better to move closer to Soldotna since that's where the bulk of the fish were.

I had a friend come up from California. He likes to eat trout so we took the boat out to try our luck. So while the ladies shopped, the guys went fishing. We had a good day on a lake right on the road system. It was a pleasant day on the water.

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We drifted down while blindly casting lures off to the side. When we got to the far bank we'd motor back and redrift. Action was fairly steady.

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Nothing huge but decent fish. Big enough to put a smile on your face.

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We caught a mix of rainbow trout and dolly varden. I'm glad I brought the boat with me. It opened up a lot of possibilities that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

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A couple of the keepers. It was a nice change of pace to get away from the crowds and spend some quiet time on the water.

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Thanks for sharing all those great photos!
I spent 16 years in Fairbanks, I'd probably still be there if it weren't for my first wife wanting to move closer to our son. Yes, the long cold winters can be brutal, but the endless sun in the summer and the hunting opportunities all seem to make it worth while. Between hunting and fishing we hardly ever bought meat from the grocery store.
 

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July had us fishing in some new locations. Johns lake, hidden lake and a few others got added to the list. This pair showed up to check out the new neighbors.

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On a now defunct Alaska fishing forum I became aware of another visiting angler that wasn't having much luck. In 1 of this posts he mentioned how he thought that Alaska fishing was all hype in order to draw tourists up there. I told him I could probably get us on fish if he was willing to try. We fished several times together. Caught fish. Had a good time. We kept in touch on and off over the years. Last time we spoke Jim was in the hospital. Now his phone goes unanswered. Make of that what you will.

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On 1 of our drifts we noticed this mom trying to keep her future brood warm.

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On a subsequent trip to Skilak Lake, Jim got this nice rainbow.

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Next it was off to the Kasiloff for reds. Those reds ended up being smaller than the Kenai reds. I guess genetics plays a part in that.

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I decided to go back to the Kenai for my reds. The size & numbers were more favorable there even though the Kasilof was a lot closer to 'home'.

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And we were treated to some unusual sunsets.

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Mid month a bunch of us from the campground hit the road for red salmon. I knew a place that offered a few parking spots and wasn't too crowded. We called this place the boat ramp.

At the boat ramp, once you have your waders on you get in the water and work your way to the end of the line. The line might be 6 people or it could be 20. It all depends on the day and the runs. You can go either to the left or to the right. If the person you want to pass is landing a fish, then you just wait till they're done. And you step behind them, not in front of them. River etiquette dictates that you shouldn't crash the line. Most people get this. As anglers leave for the day, the line will shift accordingly.

In this picture you can see a few people behind me spaced out to give each person a bit of water to fish. Plus you can be fined for walking on the grassy area. There are multiple signs warning people to stay off the banks and to use the river instead. Most people follow the rules.

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While I'm fishing I notice a young boy moving down the line. He comes up behind me and I notice that the freezing cold water is right up to the top of his hip waders. I go back to my fishing and catching. When we are finished we head to the boat ramp to clean our catch.

The boy I saw before walks past us carrying a fish. He's got a big smile on his face. The next thing you notice is that he's wet from his belly button on down.

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We congratulate him on his catch and inquire if he's cold at all. Then we find out that his waders are still full of icy river water. We convince him to dump out the water before he continues. He gets some assistance and it amazes me how much water is in his boots,

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I'm sure where ever that kid is today, that he has fond memories of his day on the river.

I would end up fishing in this spot several times over the next few days. I had great results.

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And someone was nice enough to build a makeshift cleaning station. It was much appreciated.

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I made 1 more run down to Homer. Tried my luck on the beach. No halibut. Plenty of flounder with a few pollock and Irish lords tossed in for good measure.

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Ran into this guy. Not sure how he made out on the water.

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Then another quick trip to the boat ramp. Catch em while you can. Had a friend catch his first salmon that day.

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