Monday, October 17, 2011


I spent much of the past couple weeks in Southeast.  It was hard to be away from the kiddo, but it was good to get back to the real Alaska.  As I've said many times, Anchorage is an alright town . . . and its less than 30 minutes from Alaska.  But there's something special about Southeast.  Sure it's cold and it rains too damned much, but it feels as much like home as anywhere else I've been.
Your taxi has arrived.
While I would have loved to chase fish the whole time, I was on a work trip so much of my time was stuck in meetings.  Meetings about how to protect the Tongass and the incredible salmon runs it produces.  Meetings about how local communities might take advantage of burgeoning tourism and recreation to diversify and strengthen their local economies.  And meetings where I had to bite my tongue listening to people stuck in the past proposing yet another government handout in a region drowning in federal subsidies so the fortunate few can have a job clearcutting the last of our best national forest.  Oh, and in case it isn't obvious, your tax dollars (not mine, I'm an Alaskan*) would pay for all this.

While I could ride this soap box like it's a winning derby racer, this is a fishing blog so . . .

* * *

One of the great things about fishing--even when you're on water you've hit dozens or hundreds of times--is that you never really know what to expect.  Chase salmon in small or medium-sized streams and it gets even more unpredictable.  Add in the fact that I hadn't fished this water since 2005 (on my wedding day, no less) and I really didn't know what I'd find.
An old friend at low flows.
As expected, a little late for the pinks.
I only had a few hours after my meetings before it got dark.  While I figured most of the salmon runs were done, I held out hope that I might find decent flows and hook into a few dollies; if I was luckly, maybe I'd find a coho.
Pink redds exposed by low flows.

Coho are amazing fish.  Generally, they hatch in spring, spend a year-and-a-half or so in fresh water, migrate out to the ocean for a year or two, then return to their natal stream to spawn.  However, like many salmon, a very small portion of coho salmon (usually males) may never go out to the ocean or may only spend a very brief period in salt water before spawning.  Usually, these younger spawners, sometimes called jacks, only account for a very small fraction (maybe 1% or less) of the total spawning population.  I had seen a handful of Chinook and steelhead jacks during my prior work, but never seen a coho jack.  Somehow I found the mother lode.
A chrome coho about 14 inches long caught swinging an FMF.
Pulled out from right on top of the last one.
Another, for scale
While I would have loved to hook into one of their older (and larger) brethren, I managed to grab onto four of these mini coho and a couple coastal cutthroat.  It certainly wasn't what I expected, especially considering the odds, but a pretty good time nonetheless.

I went to bed that night excited for the next evening when I had a little more time to get out after my meetings.  Of course, it rained like it only can in Southeast and when I went to the river the next day the water had raised about three feet.  Standing ankle deep in the river but ten feet back into the woods, I made a dozen or so halfhearted casts into the milky-mud flow before turning back and calling it a day.

With any luck, the people who want to privatize the Tongass and turn it into a stump farm won't get their way and, when I return next time, the flows will be perfect and every coho will have spent at least two years in the ocean.

* Yes, I too pay federal taxes.  But the state pays me and this too often is the mentality up here.