Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Southeast Alaska on the Fly - Day One

Ketchikan is an island town in Southeast Alaska.  Located in the Tongass National Forest, the area receives a significant amount of rain, and has a prolific Salmon run.   Once a logging and fishing town, the loggers have long since disappeared, being replaced by the thousands of tourists that flood the small city every day in the summer.  I was born and raised in this area, and a lot has changed.  I guess I'm getting old, because I long for the days when the town was a little more rough and authentic.  The town is one thing, and the area is another.  A person would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful area.  My folks live on Pennock Island; a place some would call "no-where Alaska."  There are no roads, fishermen are their neighbors, and they still live in a small rustic house more akin to a cabin.  I could talk at length about the area, but I guess I better talk about fishing....
Ketchikan is a salmon town.  My first job as a kid was commercial fishing.  I also worked as a deckhand on what we call "charter boats," which take tourists from the tour boats out on 4-8 hour fishing trips.  Folks around here don't fish for trout very often.  I guess when you can catch a 50 pound king salmon, a 15 inch rainbow is not all that appealing.  I fished for trout only when camping as a kid, and never on a fly-rod.  After a few days in town, we loaded up my dad's boat for a 20 mile trip north to a watershed accessible only by boat or plane.  An hour later, I was dropped off on a dock right below a salt-chuck, while my dad took my sister, her fiance, and my wife out Halibut fishing.
I had about 4 hours to hike and fish.  I followed an old forest service trail my dad had helped build some 35 year prior around the salt-water lagoon.
Bear sign was everywhere, and it was wet.  A few deer were near the trail licking the salt covered weeds and rocks on the bank of the lagoon.  After two miles, I arrived at the river where it entered the lagoon.  I hiked another half mile up the river and stopped to ponder the landscape.  At the risk of overstating the situation, I found it to be perfect.  An easy flow, with plenty of room for my 9 foot 5 weight rod.  The trail was a little precarious at this point, but I bush-wacked until I arrived at an old bridge that crosses the river.  I climbed down the
steep bank and started casting.  The rain started coming down pretty hard, and it was probably 48 degrees.  I had no idea what to use, so I tied on a huge bushy stimulator/caddis looking fly just to get a feel for things.  After a few casts, I was getting little tugs here and there.  It took me a while, and to be honest I was quite surprised that I was getting any action.  After missing numerous strikes, I realized these fish required some effort in setting the hook.  I finally got one on and quickly realized I had a decent fish on my line.  I got him within leader length and saw that I had a 14 inch trout on my line.  I reached for my net and he took off.  I didn't see him again.  I was now excited - quality sized wild native trout.  My next few casts resulted in multiple strikes on every drift, but I couldn't hook up.  After 15 minutes and dozens of missed strikes I pulled in my line and looked at my fly.  The first trout I had lost had bent my hook completely straight.  I used my pliers to re-bend the hook.  Suddenly, a hatch of what looked like a Cahills and some other bug which I can only describe as looking like an Adams fly pattern, filled the air.  I tied on an Adams dropper and proceeded to land about 5 nice bows all around 10-12 inches.  The rain started to come down hard, so I migrated down river a few hundred yards until I found what may be the best run I've ever fished.  The hatch had died out a little due to the rain, but the fish were hungry.  The run I was on consisted of about 25 yards of shallow fast water that narrowed into a 12 yard drop-off pool.  The fish were sitting in that pool.  I would drift my fly just above the pool and the fish would dart up and grab it on almost every swing.  I managed to land another 1/2 dozen bows, including three that were 14-15 inches. These were by far the best wild bows I had ever caught.  I was constantly re-bending my hooks due to the fight these trout put on.  Unfortunately, I had to leave.  I hiked out and met my dad and our crew at the dock.  I had fished about 1.5 hours.  I was soaked to the bone and freezing, but I don't know that I could have asked for a better fly fishing experience.  The day was topped off when we saw a humpback whale and her calf roaming in Clarence Strait on the way home.  I knew I would have to return to this amazing river.


  1. NICE!!! Ive been checking the blog everyday hoping to see a report from AK. I'm surprised your hook was bent. Were those Sportsman's fly's?

  2. I think they were Sportman's fly patterns. The fish up here are really strong. Check out my latest post - still got a couple of more to add. The cutts aren't much for fighting, but the rainbows are amazing. I got a couple of 14 inch bows that were more difficult to catch and land than anything I caught at Cherokee. I also realized that what we were calling a 14 inch bow is not the same as the 14 inch bows up here. I'm going to one final spot tomorrow a.m. - an un-named stream flowing from about 4 un-named lakes that my dad said used to hold big trout when he worked trails for the forest service 30 plus years ago. Hope it goes well.

  3. Man Im jealous....those are really nice fish on Day 2. That bow looks bigger than 14. I guessing everything is bigger in AK. I went to the HI Tues and fished the area you took me on our first trip. I only caught 3 fish, but one bow was nice....12-13 inches. I have a pic but cant find the cord to my camera to download.