Yakutat Report

BDD

Active Member
Warning-There is minor discussion of gear fishing in this report so if you can’t stomach that, rather than poke your eyes out later, just walk away now.

I can’t remember which magazine that I first read about the Situk; STS or the old Washington Fishing Holes magazine but it was probably close to 20 years ago and I have been wanting to go ever since. Last week that dream became a reality. Since February, when a fracture in Wanapum Dam was discovered, it has been non-stop chaos at work for me. When the managing committee decided to temporarily stop the adult fish trap and transport program at Priest Rapids Dam recently, I immediately booked a flight to Yakutat. It was the tail end of the steelhead season and the last-minute flight was expensive but I was finally going.

I was staying at the Glacier Bear Lodge, one of three fishing lodges in town, with a few other smaller B&Bs as well. Good place, guides, ownership, staff, and food. I was there for seven days-Sunday to Sunday. The first day I would go with a guide to see the river firsthand and after that, I’d float on my own, unless I felt like paying for another guided trip. As it turns out, one day with a guide was enough.

Day 1-From 9-Mile Bridge to the takeout requires a 14 mile float. You don’t have a lot of time to stop and fish any one drift for too long as there is just too much water to fish. The guides prefer to fish on the move to cover water and rack up numbers and my guide had me start with a bobber and jig on a spinning rod and for the first part, I went along with his advice. He rowed for about an hour or so before even starting to fish but we saw fish everywhere, mostly spawners but a few fresh fish too. When we finally stopped at the first hole (I begged and pleaded for him to stop) to get out and fish from the bank, I grabbed a swinging rod and caught a couple fish and he could tell I didn’t want to mess with float fishing after that. As we continued down the river, we literally saw fish everywhere. At the end of the day, he told me he had to report the catch (number of fish to the beach) to ADF&G. Not being a fish counter, I responded with a head shake but guessed maybe a dozen. He told me I landed an even baker’s dozen. Funny thing, I never told him about two fish I caught while he spent a half hour negotiating the drift boat through an impressive long jam.

Day 2 and 3-I floated on my own these two days and frankly, it took a lot of work, especially at the end when, if you were unlucky with the timing, would have to row against the wind and an incoming tide. The results were about the same though I did break one of my fly rods on a fish the second day, which left me with only one other fly rod for the rest of the trip.

Day 4-I fished the salt water for Chinook and halibut. We found a spot where the salmon were pushing schools of herring up on the beach and the Chinook were literally crashing through the bait fish and stranding themselves on the beach. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting but I couldn’t help wanting a small skiff and trying to entice them on a 9 weight and a candlefish pattern. I have no doubt you could have hooked fish as they were feeding aggressively and right on the beach. We limited with 10 fish in fairly short order and went halibut fishing, which we landed 4 fish with our remaining time.

Day 5-Back to the river again but the counting weir reported over 2000 kelts that had passed the weir and returned to salt water and you could notice the numbers of fish were reduced from even a few days earlier. I was definitely a month late on the downhill slide of peak steelhead fishing. Even though the numbers caught were about the same, there were many more mended kelts in the catch. This day I switched to fishing more fry/smolt patterns, targeting the Dolly Varden rather than steelhead. I found two types of char; really skinny fish which I assumed were last years’ spawners and thick bodied fish, which I assumed would be spawning this fall though I can’t be sure of those assumptions. The thick fish were great sport on a 6 weight rod.

Day 6-Having enough of the river and not wanting to spend another day catching steelhead kelts, I took a drive out to the Dangerous River and Harlequin Lake and its ice burgs. It was a cool side trip and I found a little pond on the way where small dollys found my clouser minnows appealing. However, the best part was to come as there was rumor of a northern pike lake about a half mile off the road. Having never caught a pike, it was definitely on my bucket list. After getting a back-of-the-napkin map to the lake, I stumbled and bumbled through thick brush to find the lake. Startling a big bull moose, I began to whistle, hum, and sing classic rock songs to avoid startling any bear that happened to be bedded down. I found the lake and caught 6-8 hammer handle pike, along with a couple respectable fish. I’m not sure if the steel leaders I bought at the Yakutak Fly Shop were needed but it helped me feel more like a real Alaskan angler nonetheless.

Day 7-Grateful for having a safe trip, not getting lost, eaten by bears, or trampled by moose, I went to church and enjoyed a leisure Sunday. I felt completely satisfied with the trip and didn’t need to catch any more fish. Besides I needed to pack and fly out that evening.

Some final thoughts; expect rain. If you get cold easy from the wet, bring Grundens or Helly Hansen rain gear. Gortex will NOT hold up again SE Alaska rain. I was reluctant to even take Catchercraft’s camera out of the dry bag on the first day because of the constant rain. The guide had to bail the boat out half a dozen times throughout the day. The river was low and clear when I arrived, flowing less than 100 cfs, about 1/3 normal flow for the same time. That day the river rose to a whopping 148 cfs. The rest of the time I fished alone and everyone knows how difficult it is to take fish pictures by yourself. Even while pike fishing; there was about 20 minutes when the rain let off enough to take a couple pictures. With the low and clear water, the fish seemed to be very wood oriented. I must have lost half a dozen fish when fishing tight to the logs and a fish would dash out, grab my offering and jump in the air, wrapping around overhanging brush. This was exciting fishing but rather costly when using $4 spoons. While steelhead fishing will be a lot more sporting earlier in the year, there will be a lot more crowds to deal with. And for those that are camping out in the forest in March and April, my hat is off to you. That kind of rain, dampness, and cold is something I don’t really want to experience. I would prefer something with a little more substance to lay my head at night, get a warm shower and a hot meal. With the numbers of fish I saw, you’d almost expect to catch 50 fish a day but the fact is, these fish have been pressured for 2 months and you can forgive them if they are not the grabbiest fish around. Lots of do-it-yourselfers along with a dozen or more guides hitting the river 7 days a week and these fish seem to be off the bite a little. Or perhaps it was the extremely low and clear water and though there is lots of wood cover, at times I felt sorry for these poor fish and the constant pressure they receive. Still, when you get 15,000 adults back to this small river year in and year out, I guess you can expect some angling pressure. About half my fish came on the fly rod and the other half on gear. I would pick the type of water that I saw and fish what I thought was the most appropriate method. I am happy to say that I did not hook one fish on a jig or bead, not that there is anything wrong with that; I just don’t prefer to catch fish that way.


Overall, after seeing the numbers of fish, I couldn’t help but think our escapement numbers are substantially low in Washington. I know we don’t have the habitat that BC and Alaskan rivers have but the OP rivers are not too far behind. To think that the Hoh or Queets only has a couple thousand fish for their escapement goals, after seeing the Situk and the thousands of fish spawning there, I think we can do better. I heard that Bill Mcmillan wrote an article on the Situk’s productivity that I need to read. It is a small (200-300 cfs in the spring and only about 20 miles or so in length) but very productive river. The month of April is probably the peak timing for catching fresh fish and I was definitely too late for the peak however, I had several mended female kelts fight very well, jumping over my head numerous times. While the fishing was great, the overall experience was even better; seeing all those steelhead spawning, guarding redds, seeing the male vs. male competition for female spawners, and literally being everywhere they should be (and some places they should not have been) with the saltwater and pike fishing and wildlife, it really was worth waiting for 20 years to experience.
 

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Rick Todd

Active Member
I really enjoyed your report David! It is amazing to see places in this world with epic numbers of fish. I'm really glad you got to experience it! We had a very good report at the Methow Valley Fly Fishers from your co-worker about the fixing of the fish ladder at Wanapum and the repair of the dam-interesting stuff! Speaking of Bill McMillan-he will be in Bellingham for a showing of "Wild Reverence-The Wild Steelhead's Last Stand". I love his books and look forward to hearing him at the movie! Lets fish the Methow together this summer! Rick
 

Freestone

WFF Supporter
Awesome report and great pics! Sounds like a fantastic trip - just the kind you deserved after the many months of stress and hard work! And to top it off with pike?! You sure know how to make a great trip even more fabulous - and make your fishing buddy even more jealous, LOL.
 

Irafly

Indi Ira
WFF Supporter
I caught my first steelhead on the fly in that river after some very interesting adventures I caught it literally on my last cast of a three day trip. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.
 

SeaRun Fanatic

Active Member
Glad you had a good trip, but...

Every year when I'm heading out for SE spring steelhead, I see the mobs of guys in the airport heading for Yakutat, and just chuckle. LOTS of fish. LOTS of guys. LOTS of what I don't go steelheading for.

Hey, glad you had a good time, that scene is just not for me... Then again, with waaay low water and bluebird days this year, I think I went 13-for-20 in 7 days on the water this year. Not near Situk numbers, so there ya go!

Super cred for stepping outside the box, though, dude... I love leaving the cabin with nothing but a 4-weight and catching cutthroat and dollies all day on fry patterns and ignoring the steelhead. Ultimate fun! And taking a break from salmon and rainbows on the Brooks to head to the Pike Pond? Heaven!
 

BDD

Active Member
JF, I briefly heard something about the dump and bears but it never really came up after that and I kinda forgot about it. There was a young bear hanging out behind the cleaning station and I saw another bear crossing the road, plus the dead bear that was found in the river. Not sure if it was caused by a gun or another bear but the guide was real concerned with it attracting other bears and having a difficult time floating down the river as a result. It was gone the third day; not sure if ADF&G removed it after being contacted about it. That was enough bear encounters for me. :) Don't know anything about a surf shop.

SRF, Supposedly the week before I arrived, there were lots of other anglers but I didn't see many and had pretty much the river to myself with first water on the float each day but one. Only saw a handful of walk in anglers too. Going that late in the year caused me to miss the crowds that I would have had to contend with had I gone during the peak. I spent a few hours at a nearby SRC stream that had fished well two weeks earlier but by the time I got there, they had dispersed. I guess you can't get the timing right for everything or else you would get the crowds. That was a trade off I didn't mind.
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
BDD,

Thanks for the report. It's a fun read. I think you chose right to use steel leaders for pike. I caught a few one time when I got lucky hookups. Otherwise those razor teeth sliced the tippet and cost me a fly each time.

People like to compare the Situk to other rivers and exclaim that they should be so productive. But they aren't. No other river on earth compares with the Situk's steelhead productivity. I don't know why, and I don't know if anyone does. Even the Situk in the past doesn't compare to its productivity in recent years. It is an anomoly among steelhead rivers. Best to enjoy it for what it is.

Sg
 

Jeremy Floyd

Veðrfölnir
I have seen bears literally on fire and smoking from going into the dumpsters that they burn the garbage in.. It was pretty amazing. I recommend it for anyone visiting Yakutat.
 

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