Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One year, four months and five days

Sitting here with a BL smoothie in hand getting ready to write up a blog post, I decided to look back in the archives to figure out when I need to start preparing for the blog's one-year anniversary.  Come to find out, I'm four months and five days past the one-year.  Since it's never too late to celebrate, happy birthday blog!

Now, on to business . . .

I ended up in Cooper Landing this past week for a work get-together.  Since I've heard there's good fishing around there, The Wife and I made plans with a coworker of mine, Emily, and her husband, Derek, to rent a cabin for a couple days and fish some of the tourist holes along the Kenai.  Normally, I refrain from actually mentioning the locations that I write about--in fact, this is the first time I've done so--but if you've never heard of the Kenai, you need the tip more than I need the place to myself.

The Russian is a too popular tributary of the Kenai, flowing in from the south and providing convenient access for hoards of tourists and over-zealous Anchoragites.  (Hmmm.  Anchoragite.  Is that even a word?)

Normally, it's exactly the type of place that I avoid.  Combat fishing has never been my forte.  However, since the tourists are gone and the locals are light weights in the cooler fall weather, we were one of three vehicles in the parking lot.  A boardwalk down to the river (complete with signs about fishing techniques that reduce stream bank erosion and monofilament waste baskets) reminded us of where we were.  All in all, it wasn't too crowded this past weekend; but I'd hate to be there in peak season.

Despite the industrial nature of the place, things were looking up.  We began to spread out and, as usual, I immediately began wading farther than necessary.  There's nothing like taking that extra step out into fast water to make you think you have the edge. 

I was fishing a deep riffle just above an island--the sort of place you envision monster trout lurking.  Unfortunately, after fishing for a little while and hooking into a very strong coho, the location also proved to be the sort of place where a fish could turn away from you, work it's way around the point of the island and into the main current, and out-muscle a stiff 8-weight without much effort.  I thought about giving it the Paul Maclean treatment, but declined.

Realizing I'd been whipped, I returned to the group to see how everyone else was faring.

As a greenhorn of sorts, Emily is just starting her fly fishing conquests.  Of course, she landed the first fish. 

I'm not sure this was Emily's first rodeo, but she hadn't caught many fish on a fly rod.  It doesn't get much better than hooking a fish when you have no idea what to do next.  I couldn't figure out who had a better time of it--Emily certainly enjoyed things, but I might give Derek the edge.  He could have blown a gasket watching his wife bring in a fish.

Although the fishing was a bit difficult, we caught fish.  Beads and flesh flies are the standard around here, but I had most of my success on the same streamers I'd been fishing all fall.

After spending most of the day on the water, by late afternoon we were ready to return to the cabin and refuel.  Who says dogs aren't allowed on the furniture?

Our second day on the water was fairly brief.  I did manage to get a really nice rainbow (around 20-22 inches) which I, of course, have no photographic evidence of.  This time, after fishing the local beads with little more than a handful of rejections, I turned to one of my trusty pheasant tails.  Nothing like bucking the norm and going with what you're comfortable with.

In the end, we managed to fish a classic stream--one which normally is overrun with meat fishers and hardware chuckers--and nearly had the place to ourselves.   It doesn't get much better than fishing good water over big fish with your dog by your side--even if the fish are making you work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Winter, here we come

With some gentle prodding from my parents, The Wife and I finally agreed that we need to pull the trigger on a new wood stove.  With most new models qualifying for a significant tax credit, now's the time if you are in the market.  Although we have yet to make any headway on the installation, we did get out to collect a load of firewood on Sunday. 

Needless to say, we have a long ways to go.  And, with the snow line dropping to around 2,000 feet and termination dust blanketing the surrounding hills, we're probably running out of time. 

We turned our heat on for the first time yesterday evening.  Yikes!  Never before has the autumnal equinox been such an obvious event.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What could have been

After missing out on the caboose auction a while ago, I was interested to learn that one has a new home as a coffee shop.

Guess I need to make a trip; it could be my kind of place.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fishing with the Fam, Part 3

With Mom, Dad and Josh having departed Alaska, and the Ducks resuming their winning ways, things have returned to normal around here. Mom and Dad took off on Thursday of this past week but, with Josh hanging around a little longer, we decided to hit the local waters up one last time.

After dropping Mom and Dad off at the airport, we drove back North in search of grayling--a species I managed to hook lip with a few days earlier but which had evaded Josh. Things were looking up and the day delivered. Before long we all were hooking into fish.

Although we were catching fish, I managed to lose flies at an amazing rate. At one point, I had caught two fish and lost five flies. My brother and I both fish and tie flies with the philosophy that flies should be disposable--after all, it's better to fish near the bottom, in amongst the hazards where the fish are and lose a few flies than to fish tentatively and never hook lip. However, after spending all fall fishing the same particular pattern with great success and losing five of the seven remaining flies of that type in my box, I started to second guess my disposable-fly philosophy.

We were moving down river at a pretty good clip--cherry picking the prime holes and skipping over much of the rest. On one particularly good run, I stepped in a little below Josh and started to make my casts. Had it been anyone else, I'm sure Josh would have objected to me poaching his water; however, he would get his revenge. On my second or third cast, two very large fish followed my fly out of the depths and into the shallows only turning away at the last minute. On my next cast, I hooked the sticks on the far bank and broke off my fly. Josh didn't hesitate to step in and take a cast. If it wasn't his first cast, it was within his first five when he hooked into a nice coho.
It was a beautiful fish.
But it gets better. After having retied my tippet and fly, it was my turn to get after it. On my second cast I hooked into this guy.
But it gets better yet. By this time we could see a number of coho swimming around in the run. I'd guess there were twenty or so fish, but wouldn't be surprised if there were many more. We could tell it was on and The Wife wanted nothing to do with getting left out of the action. Before my fish was even released, she had started her casts. In short order, she hooked up with a fish every bit as large as Josh's, and much larger than mine.
In the end, each of us pulled a coho out of this little run with no more than ten casts, combined. Unbelievable! Deciding we had harassed this small school of fish enough, we moved on in search of a grayling for Josh, which he found without too much trouble.
All in all, one of the more successful days I've ever had on the water. There's something to be said for figuring it out. I'm not so naive as to think that I could go back tomorrow and repeat everything all over again (since I know I'd just as likely get skunked), but every once in a while it all comes together. While some fishing trips can blend into others and fade after the passage of time, there's been a handful of trips that really stand above the rest. Whether it's the fish, location, company, effort that goes into the trip, some other factor, or some combination of the above, last Thursday was one for the books.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fishing with the Fam, Part 2

I'm normally not one to hire a guide, but with the family visiting we wanted to take a big trip and do something a bit out of the ordinary. An acquaintance of ours, Jeremy, operates a guide service on the Kenai River specializing in big ol' rainbows. He runs a great operation and hooked us into some stupid-big fish.
I might have landed the first fish, but Dad caught the biggest of the day. It was fairly early in the day but, after getting horsed around for a while and running all over the river, Dad finally wrestled it in.

As our guide said, "you'll have a hard time getting any bigger than that."
Josh and I were fishing on a separate boat from the rest of the herd, and Josh more than pulled his own weight. In addition to a ton of rainbows and a few dolly varden, Josh ripped some sockeye lip. It's usually easier to line these guys than to hook them legitimately and, if there is one type of fish that will reject your fly consistently, it's a sockeye. Josh didn't receive the memo.
He also hooked the big fish for our boat. After fishing beads all day, Josh spent a little while fishing a flesh fly. I'm not sure I've seen another salmonid take as hard as this fish did. We were drifting by a log jam at the top of a small side channel when his rod took a big hit. Within a fraction of a second, Josh's line was ripping off the reel in one direction while his fish was jumping off in another direction. You'd think they weren't connected. After a long trip downstream, Josh finally won the upper hand and brought this monster in. Sweet!Just in case anyone was wondering, I did alright . . .
Although The Wife out-fished me once again.
There seems to be fewer pictures of those who carry the camera, but, we all got into fish.
Beyond all the big fish, the real sub-plot didn't develop until after the fishing. We worked our way down to a nearby campground and, undeterred by this massive pile of bear scat, we started to set up camp.
High on the our recent fishing exploits, we set up camp, ate dinner and debated the finer points of the s'more. According to some, it's the dark chocolate that makes the difference. Others prefer the peanut butter cup. Either way, you need the patience to properly roast the marshmallow.

Being the day after labor day, we literally had the campground to ourselves. Having seen four grizzly bears earlier in the day, and as often happens after dark, the talk quickly turned to bears. On cue, we heard rocks shuffling along the banks of the nearby lake. Handing Dad the bear spray and grabbing the gun, we were treated to a medium-sized bear walking by camp, silhouetted by lake shore about 30 feet away. Black bear . . . grizzly bear . . . I'm not sure. However, when faced with a bear that close, it seemed BIG. Fortunately, it never even looked up at us and moved along on its way.

After things settled a bit, The Wife and I wandered into the next campground to hit the head and drop a few things off in the bear box. Seconds later, hearing more rustling in the bushes, I called over to the rest of crew, "you all have Karta?"

"Yeah, she's right here," I heard back.

Game on . . . again. Another, slightly smaller bear wandered by, this time stopping to smell the roses a bit. Although on a slightly slower pace, it seemed relatively unconcerned with our affairs and moved on along the lake shore.

Needless to say, it took a long time to fall asleep that night.

Since it was night and I was a bit preoccupied at the time, we never managed to take a picture of either bear. However, we did manage to come across this guy on the next day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fishing with the Fam, Part 1

My fishing seems to have outpaced my blogging by a fair margin in the past couple weeks. As much as I enjoy posting to this blog, fishing > blogging--and it's not even close. However, as they say, it's time to get back on that horse . . .

My first two trips since the last post were exploratory missions that netted a handful of salmon and a bit more knowledge of the local rivers. I forgot the camera in the truck on both trips.

Since last weekend, my mom, dad and brother have been up for a visit. With fish on the mind and an unusual run of beautiful weather, we wasted no time getting out on the water. The big push of pinks and chum salmon are all but over. They still line the banks, but haven't been worth casting at for a while.*
With the whole crew aboard, we headed North out of Anchorage this past Sunday to search out a few trout and see if we could find any coho loitering around. It took us a little while to figure things out, but eventually worked our way into some rainbow and a few grayling.
The grayling were a new species for me. I had fished for them a bit in Idaho, but my past efforts always fell short.
Eventually, I worked my way into some rainbow. I never got the impression there were a ton of fish in the water, but the deep pools and runs each seemed to hold a fish or two that would move for a fly. This guy topped out around 18 inches or so. At the time, Josh gave me that the fish was 19 inches; but, a few days later, Josh isn't so generous any more.
Here's Mom getting after it, with Karta supervising.
After lunch, we decided to relocate to a new stream. Here's dad testing out the waters.
More Karta supervision, this time with me fishing over a school of ~50 coho. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't do anything to move these fish . . .
. . . and neither could Josh.
Dad giving it his all--an effort I've replicated many times before after a hard morning of fishing.
After losing a gazillion flies, it was back to the bench for Josh and I.
Oh yeah, for those keeping score at home, I've evened things up with The Wife. Nice.

* As an aside, bring your dog fishing at your own risk these days. They love rotting salmon.