Rodtrip in Alaska

How it all started…

Some 12 years ago, when on a trip in British Columbia with my future wife and family, childless at that moment, I’d booked three days guided salmon fishing at the inlet of the Campbell River.

I wasn’t flyfishing at that moment, but caught some really nice ones with bait. After catching and eating one of these wonders of nature, I told to my future wife, that I’d come back for salmon in Alaska. Because British Columbia on its own was awesome, and Alaska was called the Last Frontier, my imagination was fed. This has put on a fire within me which never ceased to burn in my dreams.

Then came a marriage and two amazing daughters. My life changed dramatically, also at work where I was pushed at the highest spot.

Until then I only fished with lures and did mostly competition pole fishing. But due to this new situation, I finally was forced to spend my very few free time as good as possible. So, I decided to start flyfishing, since at that period of time I only had a couple hours a day spare in the weekend, and really enjoyed the river and nature surrounding it.

I started on the Viroin River, some 20 minutes from our family vacation house. I caught nothing. But learned by myself to time my casting.

The next season I caught a bunch of trout, just released before the opening, but had such fun, I decided to leave the easy spots and head on for some wild creatures.

Other seasons came by, until the year of 2011, in which a passed a serious barrier, my fourthieth birthday.

Since that day, I agreed with my incredibly supportive wife, to get planning. As I was used to plan trips to USA, New Zealand, Australia, etc, I soon got an idea of my options.

Either, I should hire a guide in a remote lodge, either I’d do some raft trip in Bristol Bay, either I’d fish the road system…

As I couldn’t fix a raft trip in Bristol Bay (travelling alone doesn’t always help you to book the best fishing when you’re opposed to groups = the law of economy has even settled here …), and a lodge vacation looked to me as a local prison which could end as a superb adventure as well as an overflooded disaster. So I chose for my first trip to a ‘do it yourself trip as you like it’.

So, here’s my personal itinerary of a trip, a dream which I was able to live.

Today, 22.07.2012 my adventure starts:

A flyfishing trip to AK. Departure in BXL at 10H00, I’m on a flight of 8hrs to Newark, with extreme security controls at customs. Now, you need to take of your shoes, and any liquid in you luggage, such as pop, sun protection etc is taken from you.

Then, I’m off for a 6hr trip to Seattle, Washington. From thereabout, another flight about 3 hrs got me to my final destination, Anchorage. I’ve been travelling some 24 hrs until now.

When socialising with a local young mom, I discover that fishing has been absolutely amazing the last few days for Sockeye salmon. When arriving at Anchorage around midnight, I meet two lure fishermen carrying their rod on their way for a return flight ?!! So, USA does allow some priveleges for fishermen : )

Those tho fellows told me, I could not possibly have chosen a better period to fish for salmon… How about Mister Goodnews, even before putting a fly in them AK rivers…

So I get my luggage, all of it, and call to my hotel, Dimond Center Hotel, which has a 24/24H shuttle from the airport. A friendly voice welcomes me and sends their shuttle for me.

23.07.2012 : I start shopping to be able to confront the Alaskan elements.

A new set of waders, wading shoes, anti mosquito stuff, outdoor survival stuff, and the ever evitable protection for bears, as I discovered afterwards.

As I’m afoot, but 1.5 miles from Dimond Center, I carry all the necessary and unnecessary items to the hotel.

Then, I move to Great Alaskan Outdoors, which with I had some words, because I forgot that a Mastercared has it limits. It took two days for my encredible wife to find out that, when you’re in trouble, you simply can transfer money .

But anyways, I’m in a mobile home with enough food and drinks to survive several days. So, even being virtually being a broke tourist, I got to my first spot : Quartz creek, which was paid fully in front.

24.07.2012

Wake up at 5H00… Prepared my gear, lunch and all things I thought necessary to make it for 7H00 at ARA. When preparing all this, I see something moving out there : a lynkx !!!

Once arriving at ARA, I meet our drift guide : Nathalie… a lovely women with some serious fly fishing experience : perfect….

She seems to be from German origin, and has been a professional guide on the Kenai since 7 years.

We take of with her boat at the Russian River confluence. Then we had down about a mile, underneath the confluence, left shore when heading down river. Therefrom, we waded some 10 feet from shore, so when we threw in a 10 feet leader, a weight about an ounce beated the tremendous current, the fly some 2 feet from the weight.

Leader strength is serious business ! 0.35 mm to the hook and a strong hook with some simple yellow yarn tied on the hook.

After some valuable tips from Nathalie, we start casting.

Second cast, thug, a little surprised on the strike, and … fish on !!! As we are used to pull the rod high, here doing this, was a mistake, because since you probably hook the fish in the scissors, you actually pull out the hook.

I’d never thought about it, and have already learned a bit.

You need to point your rodtip downstream and let the fish run. Even a sockeye of about 6 pound can easily break you off !

The sockeyes move upstream, like the other species of salmon except of the kings, next to shore to get out of the very powerfull flow of the Kenai River.

After catching our three salmon limit, we go driftfishing for trout. Line setup was a foot leader, a tingamabobber and two AA shot above the fly.

De fly was an egg with a small tube fly above it. I represented some sperm above the egg. The egg itself was put two inches above a bear nymph curved like hook. This to avoid that the fish swallow too deep.

I hooked quickly a 45 cm rainbow but lost it because again, I held my rod skywards. Then we went to shore, where my fellows continued on the nymph, but I changed to the dry fly. After catching some small trout, I decide to fish further from shore and catch a 40 cm wild rainbow ! I catch another three such fish, and suddenly a massive back appears and head and tails over the fly !!! Fish on, almost at the net, the hook opens and he becomes ‘one that got away’. Nathalie estimated it a 22 inch fish.

My companions, Larry and his sons Matt and David also took some nice bows, and were able to take pictures from a bald eagle that took off from a rock.

25.07.2012

Wake up at 5h30. At 6 : not one lynckx but two ! Just in front of the rv. They seem like big cats on high feet, about 70 cm height. After that, off to George. It was Sockeye fishing this day. I caught one, lost more than ten.

At night, after a great one man BBQ, I check out Quartz Creek and spot some sockeyes already turned red, ready to spawn. There’s also trout and dolly varden in it. Oh yeah, sunshine all day, 25°C and no sunscreen : face sunburned …

26.07.2012

Fishing with Nathalie for trout and dollies on the Kenai again. Fellow anglers were Mike, Chris and Kevin. Mike went the day before sea fishing and was devastated. In fact he slept half of the day … A fellow angler caught a 170 pound halibut !

That day, I caught two 22’ bows and five dollies, plus some small trout, again on the bead.

27.07.2012

I met Chris and Kevin to fish the Russian River for dollies and trout. We only caught small fish on the nymph. We tried at Quartz creek, but it still was slow, the dollies and trout didn’t move in yet.

At the Russian, we saw a group of anglers coming by, and in front of it, a guy with a big gun, then the fishermen, and at the end again a big guy with a big gun. I can’t believe my eyes, but Chris and Kevin tell me it’s legal over here, and commonly accepted. I do find it a strange thing, certainly if you know I don’t even wear my pepperspray…

At Fred Meyer, the local mall, I find out that you can buy a big gun from 300 to 1000 USD. You just need to be 21, and it’s OK to buy one !?

I also saw Tyler who told me that Quartz Creek was about to get hot, and that when fishing the right bead correctly, you easily can catch 50 rainbows a day. Mmm, have to check that out.

Then I’m off to Hope, a small city situated on the coast, at the inlet of a river. In the evening I go for a hike and find out there’s a big party with live music fishermen catching pinks and chums on the river.

20.07.2012

Fishing in Hope in the morning. I catch a chum and a pink. Then move up to Anchorage to end in Wasilla. There I visit Three Rivers Fly shop, where I meet Tom a very friendly and open minded flyfisher, who gives me some good advice of where to fish. Off course I buy some flies and a wading stick, because those Alaskan rivers really push hard.

29.07.2012

Up to Willow Creek campground, 10 USD fee. There are loads of chum with some pinks and silvers mixed in. I catch three chum with the fly and loose a lot of flies. In the evening I try a local favorite way of salmon fishing : a vibrax spinner. I catch four on it. I’ve tried to wade the little Susitna upstream, but it is too dangerous to wade it alone, especially because there’s some serious bear activity.

30.07.2012

I’m up early to give it a try at Willow’s with a vibrax spinner and catch quickly a chum and two pinks (all returned by the way, since I got off the Kenai. I stopped at Sheep Creek and watched one angler fishing with cured eggs on a leader, fished static at the big current seam, holding bottom with an arlessey bomb. It was kind of strange because this guy held his rod in his hands to feel the take. He just caught a very nice silver, but told me that four other anglers went back without a fish. Strange, because there were loads of Sockeyes jumping.

And then now something completely different : up to Brushkana River, situated on the Denali Highway. The highway on itself, a gravel route, is worth the trip. You cross, I’m in high tourist season, some 5 cars in one day… The surroundings, the wildlife, the air, the skies, the 1000 stars hotel for free at night, everything really made this roadtrip, my best roadtrip ever (notice that I’ve done twice Yellowstone, several times the rockies, and Australia and New Zealand). I was at night probably the only soul sleeping on this 300 mile highway, but felt never alone because of its sheer beauty and silence.

But fishing of course : Brushkana River… I started dry fly, and caught two nice graylings right away, missed some five other fish. I switched to the nymph and caught a very nice one about 30 cm. A very nice fish considering the little and very fast stream ! As rain poured down, I headed forth to Clear water creek. On my route I photographed a very big beaver, loads of reindeer and other small groundsquirrels. This creek is my evening stop, so I take of to the river some 200 m from the road. What a pristine and incredible nice peace of water. I fish of course dry fly and catch a couple of nice grayling. As I forgot my polaroids and time is ticking away, and my stomach calls for a break I head back to my improvised campground and start a fire. I’m here alone again right in the middle of nowhere, and enjoy the beautifull surroundings and mindblowing silence.

Now I’m starting to miss home and my wife and kids. Just because I’m sorry they’re now with me in this lost paradisiac place. I could easily live here…

31.07.2012

Upwards to Tangle lakes. Wake up at four. Put on the heating and got up at 4h30. A clear sky outside and a beautiful sun coming up. I arrange myself, and get on the gravel highway. There’s some fog coming up, and I get for free some incredibly beautifull and unearthy sights. When taking pics, I ‘m able to take a pic of a small rainbow (not the fish that is !! : ) above my RV.

Then, suddenly I discover a herd of caribous on a hill not running away. I drive a little further, around a hill and stop. Climbing time : I start with loads of excited energy but notice that I’m some several 1000 ft above sealevel here… But when above, crossing eternal snow, I reach a plain. Strange, I don’t see any caribou ?! As I’m progressing a little further, I sea some corns coming up, and another, and another, and I realise I’m in front of a major caribou group some 15 m from me… When standing there, I see some several hundred caribous rising up, but not running away. The males seem curious and come closer. I decide to leave them, and thank once again on this trip mother nature.

In between lies Landmark Gap Lake, a remote but well noted grayling lake. You’ve got to hike some 3.5 miles, but on very difficult tracks. It goes up, down, a lot of mud, curves. The brush is some 1.5 m high so you can’t see wildlife which is close. Not for the fainted of hearts , because everywhere you see fresh tracks of grizzlies and wolves ! The hike is about 1H45 and I assure you, I hike fast. I’ve never sung as much as here to make some noise. My singing must be freighteningly bad because I never encounter an animal, even with all those fresh tracks present.

When arriving at the lake : I discover an outlet of an amazing small river with boils everywhere at the outlet : )

I catch some nice grayling, but then menacing clouds come up very quickly, and I decide to leave because now I’m really off road very much away of everything. Especially when you notice you forgot again your cellular phone and pepperspray… Up to Tangle Lakes but because of my planning, too short sleep, and other possibilities, I continue to Whittier.

In Portage I meet 4 very nice and intelligent ladies (all on retreat, but enjoying a young guy from Europe stopping by). We’re alone on a campground and get to know each other as I discover that faith of life passes by everyone, and makes me even feel better I do this trip.

01.08.2012

No good because it pours down rain. I choose to get up again and stop after a fuel fill up (1.5 USD/L), at the Anchorage Museum.

It’s an amazing piece state of the art ! It breathes space, modernism, young, space for kids, and most of all : enormous !

I’m lucky since the exposition at the time being is about the Inuit live cyclus and history. Really a joy to me as I’ve enjoyed especially the culture of the Indians of North America, the Maoris in NZ, and now the Inuits. They don’t have gods as we know them, but they workship respect for each other and nature itself. They have no God of Allah or Prophet, or other extremist form of religion. Their religion is a mirror of respect for nature and each other…

Examples of real civilization : when tribes have a dispute, they never go at war but, they wear their feathers down as a sign of deep respect and peace. They have magic proverbs as :

  • if one  is able to do things, let him try,  so he is able to learn.
  • What do you say when you leave each other ? We dont say goodbye, but say Ttaa, which means see you . When does your mouth says goodbye to your heart ?

For those who understand the language, and especially are able to recognize such a lot of beauty, this might be as it is for me, the most beautiful phrase ever created.

Also part of their religion, and respect to nature, is to be in peace with yourself and your beloved ones. They learn, when disposing a sealion, they have to let its blood into the sea, believing as such that its soul can come back in another animal.

When they cut a tree, fe an oak, they throw the chips into the river , so these can become an eagle. Other wood reincarnates into a whale, etc

The respect for elder people is also important ; So dancing and sharing is an important issue in their lives.

When you discover that this race survives in the harshest conditions, and live inventively and in harmony, it just seems so evident but impossible in our culture…

I know for sure, that a European, without some local knowledge could impossibly survive in such harsh climate for a day, when these people live and grow up families, taking their advantages from what mother nature offers …

After the museum : off to Whittier in heavy rain to check an eventual seakayak tour, shouldn’t it rain tomorrow.

02.08.2012

Continue to Seward to check out that seakayaking. You can take a three hour trip to discover a bit and do some sealife watching. The other tour is a whole day trip, you take a ferry to the Kenai Fjords and watch the glaciers breaking off and falling in the sea. You also meet whales, sea lions and orkas when peddling.

Anyway, this day was booked full, so I decide to continue and… fish. I first stop at Exit glacier. It’s shows a sign that it’s a three hour hike, which can be done in 1H15 as I do so. It’s quite uphill, but turns out to be a good exercice. At the top, you can see waterfall within the glacier, which itself has a blue-ish shine.

Than, I’m off to Dimondmranch to stay the night and I call Marc Conway, because I don’t find him in Soldotna. He seems to live in Sterling and tells me to stay with my rv at his place. I make a deal with Dimondmranch because they have a no refund policy. So I stay there this night and do my laundry.

03.08.2012

Leave early this morning to Marc’s, after seeing several moose with calves : quite big !! I learn to fish for sockeye with Bruce and Billy fishing his last day, how you should fish them.

Sinktip, few weight on the line and fish just above the bottom, merely ticking the bottom, with a superfly : the NO C UM. Je really get incredible takes, and I catch some ten sockeyes. What a difference with former heavy weight and hit them hard techniques.

A tip for a guide a day is 20 USD as I asked Bruce how much it should be.

04.08.2012

Drift boat fishing with George from Troutfitters. A nice guy and we laugh a lot. He taught I was another sockeye guy, but as we see each other at 5H, he’s pleased to notice that I prefer bows and dollies. Being quite cold in the morning, we can’t buy any bite : we’re too early for trout fishing. Suddenly the bite goes on, and the fish start to bite . I manage about 10 trout and some dollies. I managed four of them on the dry fly !

The rest of the fish come to the bead. At our arrival at the Russian confluence, we see just below the boat inlet many rises of big bows : it’s full of it. Sadly, fishing is over …

05.08.2012

Fishing Quartz Creek with Bruce. Start at 7 h. We park the car 0.7 miles above the first bridge and hike in to the river for about 5 minutes. The part he wants to fish is already occupied by to fellow anglers, so we head upstream. In front of our feet, first fish : a dolly of 17 inches !!

We work our way upstream and every spot I try, I manage some dollies. Untill we arrive at a smaller channel in the river where I break off on a dolly who found a branch. We change fly and a little later : a massive take, the fish heads for the bottom and heads upstream. This is a monster. He hugs the bottom headshaking and suddenly leaps and shows its size : at least 90 cm ! He heads down crossing the current, where it’s too deep to wade and breaks me off… What I know now : I’d plunged and go get it. This was a fish of a life time !

But that’s fishing, we must continue ! We change to a stouter leader, but again break off on a nice trout. We head again downstream and pick up some dollies. Than we arrive at the log where we caught that 17 inch dolly.

But this time I decide to work it from the middle of the river, a little downstream. I throw just in front of it, a vicious take, a flash and fish on !

Again a big fish. I run in the strong flow downstream to stay beneath it. I manage to counter the firste runs, but it eventually gets underneath us. After avoiding the fish getting into snags, it’s tiring but let itself hang in the current, now and than slapping its big tail at the surface. My 6line rod is at the point of breaking, and I try to get it in a calm bay. I ask Bruce to go net it, but he wisely stays behind me, and avoids spooking it in a big rush. He just tells me to be patient and we finally get it in the calm water where it surrenders and Bruce nets it.

YEEHAA sounds through the valley, as we admire this beautifull big dolly varden ! Quickly some pics, with Bruce’s camera because mine shows me an empty battery ! We decide to call it a day, and sing our way back to bear country, armed with a .44 Magnum.

At night we eat salmon burrito’s at Marc’s place.

06.08.2012

Up at 4H45 because we’ll do a fly out to Bench Lake, take off point at Moose Pass. We land near to a small stream and fish around it. After some 15 minutes, I see the line move, and hit : a grayling of around 45 cm. A good start ! In the meanwhile Marc makes some fresh coffee with the water coming from the glaciers.

I manage to take another two big grayling and it’s time to eat : dry freezed gourmet meal.

Suddenly the wind starts blowing and we just manage some small grayling on small nymphs.

07.08.2012

Fish with Marc on Quartz Creek again, doing the same stretch as it’s not an easy acces, so has few pressure on it. We catch againg two nice dollies at that log, until a unethic flyfisher passes by us and enters the water 20 m above us. The channel gets fished out, and doesn’t bring us more fish.

We pass our fellow angler and catch several trout and loose a 22+ incher.

According to Marc, because I was putting too much pressure on the fish.

The technique consist of fishing a mottled bead under a thingamabobber, set 2.5 times the depth of the river, with a BB lead some 40 cm from the hook.

I continue direction Seward and stay in Stoney creek RV campground.

08.08.2012

Up to Vagt Lake for rainbow fishing as Bruce advised me the lake. It’s 40 minutes hike in heavy bear country to reach it. When hiking I encounter 5 young people working on the trail and get a little calmer about the bears. As the fishing is no good, I decide to leave at 15h.

On the way back, I discover three bear scat, which weren’t there when coming up ! To give it an extra dimension I loose my way but manage to find another trail which leads me back to my departure point. My dinner in the evening : smoked salmon with pasta and mushrooms, wich went very well with a nice chardonnay (you need to show your ID !?).

09.09.2012 : Seafishing with ‘the fish house’ charter, recommended by ARA.

We first went for silver salmon : a weight, and herring cut in a form so it propels when you pump it. The rules : let sink for 30 seconds, and start pumping. I loose three fish on the strike because my drag was too loose. When those silvers are feeding, it’s amazing, I even see some chasing bait right up to the surface. And what nice fish these creatures are !

Everyone caught their three salmon limit and we’re off to search rockfish and halibut.

Technique is quite brutal : a 3pound weight fished 60 yards down at the bottom, and keep the bait as close as possible. I catch two rockfish, and a backcrawler (according to Matt our boat guide, it’s the tastiest fish which exists). As we see no halibut, we’re off to another spot, and very soon the first halibut is caught. Suddenly, I’ve a hit, and I’m reeling in my first small halibut. Soon after I catch one of about 12 kg : what a fight to get it up from so deep! I continue catching fish after fish, and Trent, the skipper asks me to move to the other side, so a woman who caught almost nothing could fish my spot. When fishing her spot, I continue having a ball and land another halibut. Five minutes later, instead of some nervous pulls on the rod, I get a hit that folds my rod double and takes some line ! Trent thinks I’ve hit the bottom, but I can feel it swim. So I’m off for some muscle fight with a fish. After 20 minutes the fish shows itself, and it shows to be a big skate, around 30 kg. We take some pics, and put back this old ray. I take a snack, and I’m back in business. A big guy who caught a smaller skate, tells me I’m crazy to be fishing this soon again. He had to take a 30 minute break after he caught his. But hey, I’m fishing my last days in paradise, so I have snatch some more. And I do, after tho minutes, I land another halibut. But then Trent calls it a day, and we have to leave. What a tremendous day ! On our way back we cross some whales, sealions, puffins and orcas !

10.08.2012

Time to leave and start packing and finish some promesses. I pass at George’s place and meet Jesse again, who is preparing for a raft session. I donate him my salmon and I make a friend for life : )

I arrange my RV to give it back at GAH, and book in the Dimond Center Hotel, who hadn’t take notice of my final reservation. But there’s room aplenty, and I’m of buying a cool box to pack my waders and boots, apart.

It costs 160 USD by post, and delivery time is about 10 days. Delivery is done by your local Belgian post office. When collecting this in Belgium I had to pay 220 € taxes ! So watch out when you book a flight. You better pay more when luggage limit is higher.

At night I finish the rest of the crawlback with pasta and vegetables, together with an Alaskan (beer).

11.08.2012

I’m suddenly awake, thinking to myself I’ve lost my flight, and indeed I was completely wrong, thinking I’d leave the night of the eleventh, but not the tenth …

Damn, I call the home office but it’s Saturday and our local travel shop is closed. So I start calling United Airlines and see what my options are :

either you leave the other day and catch every possible next plane, but this costs 2572 USD

either you wait to have the exact itinerary and mileage, and pay an administration fee of about 160 USD

So my choice is quickly done : I’ll think about my financial welfare and stay another three days. What a bad situation that is : )

As I’ve some spare time, I hit with a public bus the road to downtown Anchorage. It’s a very nice and sunny day and there’s a local market with a lot of little stands selling souvenirs and food.

I also take of for Ship Creek, famous for it’s in town fishing.

It’s low tide and only a few fish are passing by, chums and silvers. You can see here all type of fishermen : guys, girls, kids, grannies, etc … This is a way of getting food for winter !

It’s amazing to watch all that, and I’m off to the hippest place in town : The Glacier Brew House. I take a nice cocktail and enjoy their local specialties, paired with another nice chardonnay.

12.08.2012

After being able to have face time conversation with my lovely wife (I’ve been cut of for six days in a row …) I buy some cheap hip waders and go looking for trout and dollies upstream of ship creek. I can’t bite a bite, so I quit and stop at Red Robin hamburger restaurant which is quite nice.

13.08.2012

Another face time with the wife and kids, and I start packing, making sure I don’t loose this flight … After that I’m off for a visit to the Anchorage Zoo, but I’ve seen so many of these animals up close that it doesn’t ‘wow’ me. What’s weird to know, is that this zoo is the zoo in which a women went too close to the Pole Bear and got hit by it. You can find the film on you tube. This women climbed over three fence, and in the end, this incident ended tragically for the bear which had to be killed…

I do a quick shop stop, and than it’s all over … for now…

Johan.

 

 


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