Yakutat, AK. Day 4.

I woke up feeling slightly defeated knowing that we were leaving on this day. We had not caught a fish. Most of the fish were in the lower half of the river. We were up at the upper portion of the river. We had not fished above the bridge yet so we thought that we would give it a shot before our trip to the airport. There was so much good looking water, but just no fish. That isn’t entirely true. We saw a few fish. Sight fishing to these beasts is quite exhilarating. We walked and walked. We fished and fished. Nothing happened. We gave up. We headed back to camp to have lunch, pack everything away, and head to the airport.IMG_4522.jpgWe arrived at the infamous nine mile bridge. There were a couple of guys fishing it that had been there since about 5 am. They were taking a break, so I stepped in. I had a couple of follows from some big fish which made my heart race. I switched to a fly that I have to most confidence in. We call it, “The Magic Fly”. I was working it hard. A guide stepped in and told me how few fish were caught on the flies from the bridge area. He also handed me a fly that he thought would work. It looked very similar to my magic fly. We laughed about our taste in flies. It gave me a little more confidence. In the 11th hour. I hooked up.IMG_4523.jpgIt all came together. Caught, pictures, release. Now I can return home with a smile on my face. Now we are planning our return for next year. Hopefully, just like this steelhead.IMG_4535-ANIMATION.gif

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Yakutat, AK. Day 3.

We woke up late after our adventure the previous day. We were happy to be warm, dry, and safe. We had another meal out of an aluminum bag by adding hot water. Just like all of the other meals we have been eating. Today’s plan was to drive to the lower part of the river where we had seen a lot of fish the day before.IMG_4520.jpgDriving to the takeout part of the river, we saw a grizzly bear crossing the road. There may be snow on the ground, but the bears are out and about already. It was a good reminder that life goes on that way it always has whether we are here or not. The signs of life and death were everywhere. New growth with old skulls.20180409_133345.jpgSo we fished. And fished some more. The spots looked good. We even saw a few fish. We hooked none and didn’t talk to too many other successful anglers. The fish were spooked and waiting for the rain. We had nice warm sunny days which are apparently terrible for steelheading down on the Situk River.20180411_102019.jpgLuckily, we had an early return to camp where wine and more fishing was waiting for us. We were not roughing it! There were a lot of fish right at this bridge. There are usually some people fishing there, but occasionally, the pressure drops and you can have it to yourself for a while.IMG_4521.jpgOnce again, we were fishless. There was only one more day left. We were not feeling hopeful.

Alaskan Steelhead

I just can’t seem to help myself. October rolls around and the thought of standing in cold water not catching anything gets very appealing. The previous year was very good to me. Catching 3 Steelhead on my first Alaskan outing made me feel like a pro. This year, the rivers was blown out.IMG_3755.jpgI was still able to manage to land one which required being out at the river before everyone else. It was cold and as the water level dropped, my expectations rose. The fishing was probably great the day after we left.IMG_3786.jpgThe drive home was beautiful. We stopped at Tern Lake to watch the swans. IMG_3775.jpgA couple of weeks later, I thought that the water level had dropped enough to make the fishing a little better. I knew that it would be cold, so I rented a hotel room instead of camping. I feel like I am getting older smarter.

The day started with a few feet of ice on the bank. It was tough to release fish without taking them out of the water. This Dolly Varden looks small compared to the giant bird prints in the ice. IMG_3822.jpgI realized that the old get up early trick might be in order. A few weeks ago there would be 6 people in the popular spots when the sun rose. This time I was the only one there. I did see one other person fishing, but he was walking over to the restaurant to get breakfast as I was heading to the river. It paid off.IMG_3834.jpgOne fish per day turned out to be the most I could get. It was more than I could ask for. I will be back next October to do it again.IMG_3829.jpg

Dipnetting.

As real Alaska residents we are allowed to put a net into the water and scoop out fish. We previously did this for Hooligan. Now it was time to do it for salmon.

ADF&G: This popular fishery takes place from late June through July in the marine waters of Cook Inlet just off the mouth of the Kenai River. Since 2003, Alaskans harvest between 130,000 and 540,000 sockeye salmon annually in this fishery.

The Kenai River is a large glacial system draining the central Kenai Peninsula. The river begins at Kenai Lake near the community of Cooper Landing and flows approximately 82 miles down to its mouth in Upper Cook Inlet, near the community of Kenai. The City of Kenai is approximately 160 highway miles south of Anchorage.

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We loaded onto the boat on this rainy day and stuck our nets in the water.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 9.20.23 AM.pngWe held the nets in the water until feeling a thrashing fish. Then you quickly lift the net out of the water and into the boat. Your crew pounces on the fish (or multiple fish if you are lucky) and swiftly kills and bleeds them.

Occasionally, you get a monster!Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 9.20.45 AM.png

When you get home, the real work begins.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 9.21.17 AM.png

The (borrowed) smoker was hard at work.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 9.21.26 AM.png

The (new) freezer is full now!

Return for the Kings.

Having successfully caught a King Salmon on the fly, I wanted to show me friends why it is so exciting. We headed back down to Anchor River and fished until nearly midnight. Hardly needed headlamps.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.47.56 AM.png Unsuccessful on day one, it did not matter with a “sunset” like this. Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.47.06 AM.png

The next day, the river was closed to fishing so we got to explore Homer and the Homer Spit. Homer is in the news lately because of the fight on immigration that it is battling.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.48.14 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.48.24 AM.png

The next day, the river was back open and we hit it early. We spent a few cold, almost dark, hours practicing our casts, and hooking and losing a couple of fish. Then it turned on. We found the right spot and the right time and we crushed it. The freezer is starting to fill.Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 8.48.35 AM.png

Hooligan Fishing.

Hooligan (Thaleichthys pacificus), otherwise known as “eulachon” or “candlefish”, are a type of anadromous smelt that makes its way into a number of rivers in Alaska during the spring spawning run. They arrive in some river systems in the hundreds of thousands, and are an important forage species for eagles, gulls, bears and other species. The fish is found from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, and the name “eulachon” is thought to derive from the Chinookan language. “Hooligan” is thought to be a derivative of the Chinookan name.Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 9.56.57 AM.png

Hooligan are of interest to subsistence fishermen, who net them out of rivers in the spring. The fish are eaten dried, smoked, canned or pan-fried. In years past, they earned the name “candlefish”, because when dried, the oil content of the fish was sufficient to allow it to burn like a candle. Hooligan were formerly harvested and rendered for their oil, which can comprise 15% of their body weight during the spawning run.Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 9.57.06 AM.png

Hooligan make their spawning run in May, with the males usually coming in first, followed by female fish a few days later. Males develop two fleshy ridges along their sides, and most hooligan die after spawning. They lay their eggs in sand or gravel, and the eggs hatch in roughly a month. The fry make their way to saltwater immediately, where they live for four to six years. They do not always return to the same stream where they were spawned, but they do return to the general area. They prefer slower rivers without a lot of current velocity, as they are fairly weak swimmers.Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 9.57.53 AM.png

Hooligan average between eight and ten inches in size.Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 9.58.21 AM.png

Hooligan are typically caught by dipnet, a long-handled net with a bag that has fine mesh in it. The fish school up in deeper pockets, and in these places hundreds of hooligan can be caught. At this writing, a dipnetting permit is not required, and anyone with a valid sport fishing license can catch hooligan. There is no bag limit on hooligan.

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