Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A couple lessons learned:

1) Nothing makes you forget losing a 30+ inch rainbow like seeing a bear charge* your wife.

2) Always keep your bear spray/gun on your person.

*The Wife maintains that the bear merely came at her in an aggressive manner, but did not "charge."  A distinction without a difference, I say.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Step aside, it's time for a professional

In case you haven't noticed on the sidebar, Russ has started posting some of his pictures from our recent trips.  If you want to see what things look like through a big newfangled camera instead of the old point-and-shoot, give schnitzerPHOTO a click: parts one and two.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kelly and Russ come to visit, Part 3

One of the great things about fishing is getting to explore new places.  There's something quite exciting about setting out for a spot on a map unsure of what might lie ahead.  Even if the trip's a bust, it's still pretty cool.  And, when your planning and execution combine with a little luck, it's possible to end up with a truly exceptional trip, which is exactly what happened here.

Still relatively new to the area and unfamiliar with many of the local floats, I had been eying a route that required putting in on a lake, traveling roughly 1.5 miles across the lake to the outlet, then floating an additional 11 miles downstream to the next easily-accessible take out.  It's a fairly popular route, but since the lake is rather large and frequently has unpredictable weather that can wreck havoc on small boats, most people run this stretch with a motor and either a skiff or drift boat.

Of course, we had a small raft.  And no motor.

We set out for the lake on Wednesday morning of last week with the wind howling in the wrong direction and visible whitecaps.  Our plan in the event of foul weather like this was to walk the raft along the lake shore to the outlet.  It seemed very doable even though I'd never heard of anyone else doing anything like this.  With such an awesome stretch of river right nearby and only a mile and a half of lake between road and river, there only seemed two possible reasons why the legions of motorless floaters don't bother doing this stretch: (1) we were severely underestimating things, or (2) the world is full of morons.  I was banking on option two.
After an uneventful 45 minute slog along the lake shore, which certainly wasn't difficult, we found ourselves at the outlet.  After a little experimentation with the beads we were fishing, it was on:

Russ landed multiple nice dollies and several big rainbow early on.  He also managed hooking the first of many pink on the trip:
After landing a long spawned-out Chinook that fought more like an anchor than a salmon, Russ followed it up with something even better and a bit fresher.

We were floating down a long nondescript run--the sort that most of the motored boats were simply powering through on their way to the next obvious hole--when Russ hooked into something huge that instantly corked his rod and ripped into his backing.  For the next half hour or so, I gave the oars a workout trying to slow our progress downriver as the fish alternately ran upstream and held in place.  Rowing back and forth between the river banks, I attempted to keep the passing powerboats away from Russ' line, which at this point still extended far into his backing.  I won't venture a guess as to how much backing was in the river, but it was well past the point where reasonable people expect to land the fish.

Eventually, Russ got the upper hand and got the fish within view, exposing a huge Chinook.  After beaching the raft at the head of an island, Russ kept up the fight and worked the fish toward shore:
Moving a fish into shallow water is always exciting and presents many opportunities for failure.  You generally only get one try with a fish like this:

After reveling in the moment for a while and listening to Russ whine about how sore his arm was, it was back to the raft and on downstream.  Sensing her title was at stake, The Wife almost immediately stepped up her game and got into what probably was our best rainbow of the trip, a certifiable toad:

Over the course of the day, we all caught fish.  Rainbows, dollies and pink out the wazoo, two Chinook and even a whitefish.  Everyone hooked lip and, as the day progressed, the weather only got better.

After taking a day off from fishing, we (sans The Wife because, for once, my job was better than hers) were back on it Friday.  This time, the weather was beautiful and I was able to get in on the action a bit more:

Russ, back where he landed the large Chinook the day before:
However, Kelly probably had the best day on the water, grabbing onto one of the largest coho I've ever seen in person:
As the final day for Russ and Kelly fishing up here wound down, Kelly had yet to hook into a truly large rainbow.  She had hooked into a few and had mentioned wanting a large rainbow a couple times, but things just hadn't worked out.  Then, within sight of the take out:
When it was all said and done, we managed to get some damn good fishing in and had a great time with Russ and Kelly.  There's something magical about a large fish pulling on your line, and its all the better when you have good friends cheering you on.  Oh, and only a moron would let 1.5 miles of lake get between them and great fishing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kelly and Russ come to visit, Part 2 (and some gear wonkery)

After floating for a couple days, we decided to give the boat a break and fish another nearby stream from shore for an afternoon.  The river was full of sockeye and fishing with egg imitations was effective for rainbows.  An impressive stonefly hatch also had the fish looking up so those of us who put away the beads were treated to some decent dry fly fishing, which is nice.
One of the downsides of the day, however, was the increasingly sad state of my fly reel collection.  As of late, I primarily fish with either my six- or eight-weight fly rod.  My eight is an older St. Croix Legend Ultra 908.3 that I've had at least ten years mated to a Ross Momentum LT 4 that I bought last year.  I occasionally consider replacing the rod with a newer model but can never find a replacement I consider markedly improved over my old standby.  The rod is every bit as good today as it was back when I bought it.  The Momentum LT on the other hand has been giving me troubles.  About two months ago I noticed water leaking into the drag system--or so it seems since every time it's dunked the drag becomes less reliable and the clicking noise becomes erratic.  As far as I'm concerned this should never happen to a reel that lists for $445.  It works, so long as you don't get it wet. . .

My six is a Sage SP 690-3 that I've had roughly 8 years with a Ross Vexsis 3 that I've had for two.  The rod is a little slow for what I consider a heavier trout weight, but was the first high-end rod I purchased and has caught tons of good fish--including a respectable number of coho after being called up to the big leagues when I broke my eight a few years ago in southeast.  It does its job.  The Vexis, however, is not a favorite reel of mine.  It's largest problems are that it has a ton of play in the spool before the drag engages, which is a pet peeve of mine, and the mechanism for changing from right- to left-hand drag is weak and can cause the drag to act irregularly.  The right-to-left mechanism isn't as big a problem as it might sound once you recognize the deficiency and check it from time to time, but still. . .  Despite these design flaws, it's most pressing issue is that it's currently held together with a nylon strap:
Not two hours into the day I slipped on the wet rocks and fell only to catch myself with the hand that was holding the rod and reel, which stripped the screws that hold the reel foot from the reel frame.  It's not the reel's fault I fell, and the reel managed to catch fish even post-MacGyver, but it's still a bummer to have two reels on the fritz and not be able to lean on the six while I send the eight in for warranty, or vice versa.  I guess it's time to dust off the old reliable Scientific Anglers System 2.
Part 3 will be big, I promise, but might not get posted for a day or two.  Here's a teaser in the meantime:

More fun with Pebble

I didn't make it out to the fair this year, but seeing stuff like this in my inbox makes me wish I had:
You can click the picture to see a larger version in all its glory.  When combined with the more subtle sticker improvements I posted about a couple weeks ago, maybe Pebble will get the hint.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kelly and Russ come to visit, Part 1

One of the great things about living in Alaska is that friends and family come visit on a regular basis.  This past week brought us our good friends Russ and Kelly who made the trek up from Wyoming.  With a shared love of rivers and fishing, we hit the local waters pretty hard.  I simply have too many pictures and days on the water since my last post so I'm going to break the past week's adventures up into a few posts over the next couple days.  Here's labor day weekend:

Kelly and Russ arrived early Friday morning, and with The Wife in Juneau through Friday afternoon, we weren't able to get on the water until Saturday.  
Because of the weather, it was the sort of day where if you aren't catching fish you might as well stay home and tie flies.  Fortunately, we all caught lots of fish so it's hard to remember the sideways rain and piercing wind.  Of course, as has been typical for this season, The Wife seemed particularly effective with her fly rod:

Of all the salmon, coho might be the best for targeting with a fly rod.  They take flies with aggression, fight like hell, and taste as a salmon should.  I found this female in a small side channel while targeting dolly varden:
Since we didn't get off the river until nearly 9:00pm and the rain was showing no signs of letting up, our original plan to camp had little appeal.  After grabbing a late burger and beer it was back to Anchorage in search of a warm bed and a roof overhead.

We fished again on Sunday but didn't break the camera out in earnest until Monday, at which point the rain and wind had given way to sun.  Here's Russ with the day's first dolly:

. . . and Kelly minutes later with her first Alaskan Sockeye.
The side channels were particularly productive.
This might have been my best dolly of the week:

After three consecutive days on the water, two of which were in a raft, Karta started to tire and seemed perfectly content to eat dinner lying down in the bed of the truck.  She leads a rough life.