We had seven days. Seven days till Alaska. Seven days to drive from the southern tip of Baja back home to Oregon, grab a few things, then north to Seattle for our flight to Anchorage and finally King Salmon, or as some call it, Big Tuna. The transition was harsh, from a dry 85 degrees, shorts and a T-shirt, to a wet 50 degrees, and Deet-soaked skin. No more flip flops, no more sun screen; it was going to be different, but damn it was going to be good to be back on the tundra. I’m not the only one. Across Alaska there’s a migration of fishing guides heading into remote northern areas to spend a season on the water.
Now everyone is deep into their summer grind. Long hours, little sleep, tough weather, tough clients, and ever-changing conditions. For me, it’s no different. The season started at the beginning of June and isn’t over until just before freeze up–middle of October. It’s not a bad gig though–the beer is free, food is great, and the crew is top notch.
We started off the summer like many other lodges, chasing rainbows with flies. Real hand-tied things, not the plastic, round, and finger nail polished “flies” we use later in the season. Life was good. The fish were around in excellent numbers, fat, healthy, and in some of the tucked-away spots. A handful of streams had great dry fly fishing, two-foot rainbows eating on anything that floated was cool to see. The mouse got a nice workout, and many greedy tundra bows were landed. Big streamers produced too–black, white, olive, flesh; either swung, twitched, or stripped. They all worked.
Then came the salmon. For a while we spent more time at the cleaning table, than the tying bench. Limits of chrome sockeye (five per person) came back to the dock every afternoon. The fish were caught with “sparse flies” and split shot. I removed a 1/0 hook from another guide’s neck one day after his client didn’t wait to cast. About mid way though Sockeye season, it started to warm up: 75-to-80 degrees every day, and not a breath of wind, no clouds. The big river started to warm. What is usually 55 degrees all season hit mid 60s in the afternoons and the salmon shut down. Thankfully, the trout fisherman started to trickle back as the fishing was getting tougher. After three weeks of sun, a storm showed up, stirred up the lake, and clouded the river. We got back to normal and the silvers started to show.
Now we’re back in the freezer filling business. The silvers are thick in the big river. Just in front of the lodge is a pool loaded with fresh fish, the creeks are fishing well, and my fillet knife is getting a workout again. There’s speculation that I might have a light case of salmon poisoning, as my hands are starting to ache, and there’s definitely been some exposure to the slime. Too many ripped gills.
In the skinny water, sockeye are dropping eggs, and trout are starting to fatten up on their protein. Only a few more weeks of salmon bonking left, then it’s on to the big show, swinging spey rods for thick lake-fed bows. Soon after, the southern migration of Alaskan fishing guides will begin again, but I can’t think past tomorrow. I have two clients to put on silvers, and I haven’t slept more than six hours in months. I’ll send updates when I can.