Alaska: The Chosen River
I joined eleven others (some old and dear friends, others friends of those friends who became friends) for 6 spectacular days of fishing in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska. We all had a wonderful trip! We really meshed as a group and plan to get together again for a repeat, probably in 2014. Not only did we enjoy great fishing, but also perfect weather, superb food, hard-working and accomplished guides and a camp that worked like a fine Swiss clock! Thanks to all: guides, guests and to the fish who were very cooperative! Here is the report on our trip:
When you venture into western Alaska anywhere from the Bristol Bay in the far west to legendary Lake Iliamna in the east, you enter the land the Yu’pik Eskimo have called home for at least 2000 years. The Yu’piks guttural names for the mountains, rivers and villages are used today and more than dot the landscape. These names dominate the maps and the thoughts of fly fishermen around the world. This is the land of the ‘gaks and the ’giks and the ‘neks and the ‘toks. When studying a map or discussing river options, these sharp Yu’pik sounds quicken my pulse and send me back to thoughts of stupendous past fishing experiences.
From the Alagnek to the Togiak and from the Nusagak to the Kanektok, the Yu’pik’s wet and harsh landscape is drained by countless brightwater rivers. In these rivers are natives who could rightly call the Yu’pik interlopers. They are the Pacific salmon: the pinks, chum, kings, silvers & reds. These five species make the Yu’pik's land tick. They flood these rivers when they return to spawn... and die. With their first and only act of reproduction, they bring life to all the animals, plants and people that live along the river banks, as well as the young they produce. These salmon support other species of fish too. Rainbows, dollies, char and grayling are only too happy to dine on the salmon’s eggs, their young and eventually, their rotting flesh.
The fish that follow the salmon are the real draw for me. A trip to Yu’pik country is like entering a grand stage drama with me costumed in drab layers of olive, brown and tan on a set that may not see true sunshine for weeks. But it is a set not without color. With props like glo-bugs, beads, flesh flies, and huge streamers, we chase a colorful cast that includes rainbows with their spotted bodies and bright red slashes, garish dolly varden char all decked out in pumpkin and purples and grayling in their elegant pastels. Get a sunny day and the whole stage seems to have a spotlight on it. But these days can be rare and yet I return year after year, hell... decade after decade, to see the show in western Alaska.
Given my history in the region, I am pleased to report that in 35 years of fishing Alaska, I’ve never had a better fishing trip than this year’s trip to the Chosen River... or better weather! I’ve had fishing as good, but not better... and that’s a good sign both for the health of these rivers and the chance that I return yet again. How good was our trip? Let’s go through this trip day by day and I’ll describe some of the highlights. When I describe these moments remember that each day was great with salmon, rainbows and dollies caught in huge, almost obscene numbers.