Trip Report AK 2020

I posted this on our FB page recently but then realized that there are some folks on here who would appreciate reading this who don't frequent Facebook. I did not edit it for WFF, it is what it is.

The Canadian border closure caused me to re-think my annual fishing vacation this year. After four years of not going to Alaska, it seemed like a good time to do that trip again. Ken, his brother, and some friends who live in the outskirts of Anchorage spend a week floating and fishing the area every year and have done so for about the last 25 years. Last year fires burned the nearby area so nobody was able to make the trip but in August 2020, plans were set and plane tickets purchased for the middle of September, Covid or not.

Then the news arrived of having to pass a Covid test prior to entering Alaska. No worries, we could get the test results a couple days before the flight and if everybody turned out negative, we would be on our way. Fortunately, we all passed and all eight of us were happily on our way.

Unlike most of the trips I take; I was a tag-along this time. I did not have to worry much about the planning or organization. Dave and Dave (having both lived in the area for a long time) took care of the details. I simply had to show up, help out with some of fishing/camp duties, and catch fish. I happily obliged.

Being in the inflatable industry, we had no shortage of boats. Dave W. recently bought a drift boat so this was the maiden voyage. We also had two other 2-person boats and a couple of single boats. I opted to use the 9-foot Kamloops for my fishing; I like the solitude and freedom of fishing alone, picking and choosing the water I fish. Most of the other folks fished together. Although I like my approach, it does not lend itself as well to taking pictures as you will see (ones with only a fish or an arm and no face are mine).

Dave W’s wife pre-makes and freezes all our meals so cooking is just a matter of pulling out a meal to unthaw and heat it up for breakfast or dinner. This really was convenient and allows us to fish long hours. Did I mention that she is a great cook to beat? Lunch was on our own, usually consisting of making a sandwich and a couple snacks. This approach really is a great way to maximize fishing time and minimize costs.

This fishing was nothing short of spectacular for rainbows and char. We also caught sockeye, pink, and coho salmon; the latter are in good enough shape to take a few home. Fishing for trout is always good but the size and numbers of both rainbow and char varies from year to year. This year there seemed to be a good representation of both size and numbers of each. Most of the veterans agreed that this year was as good as any of them could remember.

If there was any negative aspect to the trip, it would be the number of people we encountered and the number of fish that we saw with hooking evidence: this is more of an observation than a complaint. In my mind, I was thinking that with the extra Covid restrictions required by the state to enter, we would see less people on the river. While you could always find places to fish in solitude, the weekdays saw maybe 30-50 boats launching each day, the one Saturday we fished, we thought there might have been a hundred boats that launched and floated our section. However, I do not think any of us saw a reduction in numbers of fish caught even on the most pressured days. Although I would like to see ADFG impose a barbless hook requirement to reduce the amount of “wear and tear” on the fish, it is a strong testament to catch and release. Even heavily injured fish were partaking in on the egg feast and still making a living, surviving in the river, even with all the predators, including bears, eagles, ospreys, mergansers, and otters. Yeah, we saw Grizz every day, a fact that greatly added to the overall experience.

From a fish biologist perspective, there really is nothing better than seeing a balanced ecosystem at work. The salmon are what drive the fish and wildlife. Seeing carcasses, spawning fish, and fresh fish moving upriver in all different stages shows how important salmon are to everything else. Flesh, fry/alevins, and eggs all greatly contribute to the size and numbers of rainbow and char. It truly is impressive to see in person, a properly function river system.

Fishing techniques: we all carried fly rods and gear rods. Both are effective at mimicking naturally drifting eggs in the water that the trout are so keyed on at this time of year. Yeah, you could swing streamers much like steelhead fishing and catch fish, probably a little larger than the average bead-caught fish. But beads will definitely get you numbers. Whether you are in the camp of bobber fishing is not really fly fishing or not does not matter, most fly anglers will agree that fishing with a bobber is not as enjoyable as without. But you cannot argue its effectiveness. I try and avoid fishing fly rods and bobbers as much as possible, preferring to swing flies or gear fish. In smaller, secluded spots (back channels, riffles, and braids) where long casts are not necessary the fly rod proved amazingly effective. However, out in the main channel, I much preferred fishing a spinning rod than the fly rod. For me personally, my preference to catching fish in rivers (lakes is a different story) is 1) seeing the fish (dry fly fishing) 2) feeling the fish take the presentation (swinging a fly) 3) feeling the fish take a presentation (gear fishing) and 4) fly rods and bobbers (seeing the bobber “indicate”). Your personal preferences may vary but that is how I approach things.

One thing is certain, fishing in Alaska can spoil you. I kept asking myself while releasing another 4-pound rainbow or char, how I could ever return and fish trout or char in Washington rivers again? In some ways, it seems so depressing, having to return to fish Washington rivers for trout, salmon or steelhead. It was really hard to return home and think about our fishing “opportunities”. It really was an exceptional trip. Hope you enjoy the photos. I may post more photos in the future as they come in. But a sincere shout out and a big thanks to Dave and Dave for putting together such an awesome trip and for letting me tag along.
 

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BDD

Active Member
G-man, it was. Thanks for the tips.

B-man, thanks. Good luck with truck.

RE, In this system C&R on bows, I think there was a one fish limit on char. Coho are the best eating fish at that time in my opinion.

Buzzy, it is a pleasure to fish with you any time, any where...even in WA and even for carp.

TP, we did get lucky with the weather. Had a day and a half of W and just a spattering of rain but all things considered, it was a great time to be outdoors.
 
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Snagly

Active Member
Looked like the beads were pegged 4"+ up from the hooks. In BC for steelhead, we peg them 1 1/4" (max) as the longer distances can result in lining (flossing) or hooks embedding well outside the mouth. What's been your experience in Alaska?

Great trip report and fish pix, too. (Interesting revolver shown . . . Magnum Force.)
 

BDD

Active Member
Good observation on the beads and the guns. One of the unique things about Alaska is nobody thinks twice about entering a small store in the middle of nowhere with four guys packing heat. I didn't keep track of who all was carrying what...I just know I was not packing so I stayed pretty close to the boat while on the river...like inside it in case I had to make a quick get away.

The gal in the photo took off her jacket on a warm afternoon one day and left it on the ground while fishing. A grizz came over and sniffed it, actually leaving a face print on the back of her jacket. That is an experience you don't forget.

Regarding the beads, Alaska regulations state the bead must be within 2 inches of the hook or free sliding like a Corky. I'm far from a bead expert, having only used them in AK twice and a few times for trout in BC (still hoping to meet up with you up there some time). I have never used them in BC for steelhead though I understand they can be quite effective. I used a product called "WEDGIES" (first time using them) to peg the bead above the hook. While they worked pretty good, you were regularly adjusting them as they would slide up and down the hook when casting or playing a fish. Another option I used to keep the bead from sliding was to pass several loops of line through the bead essentially making it fixed to the mainline so it would not slide. Photos in which the bead was farther than 2 inches was likely a result of the bead sliding during the "fight". I did get the impression that on smaller fish, say less than 14 inches, the hook was more likely to find a spot other than the outside of the corner of the mouth than on larger fish. I think this was merely a fact that the greater the distance and the smaller the head of the fish, the more likely the hook would find the top of the head, or an eye, or the underside of the jaw.

Again, I'm no expert but I think the rationale of the separation of bead from hook is to encourage lining or flossing the fish so the hook has a better chance of landing outside the mouth, in order to keep the fish from taking the hook inside the mouth, protecting the tongue and gills from hook penetration. While this approach could likely lead to less mortality, it may potentially increase hooking deformities on mouth parts. All this lead me to sharing my comment about the possibility of going to a barbless hook rule in this area. I just can't help but think it would make releasing fish easier in a C&R fishery and decrease hooking injuries.
 

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