That morning we learned that a fisherman who had been hiking up the Swanson River (not far from me) in search of Steelhead and Silvers was mauled by a Grizzly. He had a shotgun, but must have spooked the bear because he barely survived. The bear peeled back his scalp and caused extreme trauma to an arm and leg. He was certainly a lucky man to survive and I learned the lesson to be extra obnoxious when I hike in Alaska.
Yesterday was one of the most amazing days in terms of fishing. It seems like I say that a lot, but it was a day full of first timers. I met a salty old fisherman who came to fish the same mouth as the tide was coming in around 10AM. I wanted to talk to them and as soon as I asked what they were fishing for, the oldest guy said, "I would not be interested in fly fishing with them." I said, "Excuse me!? Thats actually how I fish too." I changed my plans and fished in the surf so that I could show them I knew what I was doing. I know it was immature on my part, but how could they assume that I did not fly fish from my appearance? There were no fish coming in that day and so I left and went down to Anchor Point to fish the Anchor River which is about thirty miles south of Ninilchik.I strolled into the first fly shop I came to and met a nice Ohioan couple who were stocked with information. I purchased a fourteen day out of state license, which is very expensive because I had a couple of close calls with fish and wildlife rangers before hand. Darcy told me exactly where he thought the Silvers and Steelhead were and I tried about six spots for the rest of the day. I ate two burritos and a danish for brunch. Then the fishing got GOOD.
I came to a portion of the Anchor River that had a few cars parked next to it. An old man told me that there were no Steelhead in the river, but lots of Dollies (He wasn't BS-ing me because he had a small 5wt rod in his hand). "Nymphs were the way to fish it," he said. Well, I wanted to try to fish for steelhead anyway so I tied on an egg-sucking leech pattern that I had tied myself and weighted it perfectly for about an eight foot, deep, and slow moving pool. I had read that Steelhead are ever so delicate when they strike and to be cognizant of it otherwise you'll never catch them. After a few casts into the pool, it seemed like the fly had skipped on the bottom, which is desirable, so that it looks like a real salmon egg. My indicator scutted just a tad and I set the hook just to see and WAM. I tightened up my drag because there were harsh and shallow bends of the river in both directions. I never saw the fish until the last three minutes of fighting. And when I did I almost lost it. Mind you that I am constantly looking around me for bears because apparently when they hear a splashing fish they have associated it with a meal and have been known to snatch a fisherman's catch. I had just caught my first Steelhead at a whopping 29". I could not believe it for about a half hour. The man who told me there were no Steelhead was watching around the bend and I held up my monster fish with pride.
I tried another section of the Anchor River north of where I was and was shocked by how shallow the river was in some places. You would imagine that these fifteen pound fish need adequate depth to swim upstream, but two-to-three feet of water seemed just enough. Up river and near a boulder I found a school of monster Silvers spawning and acting aggressively. See, salmon come up the rivers after spending a lifetime in the sea and return to their original spawning beds to spawn and die. Native trout feed on their eggs while steelhead (a type of sea-run rainbow) chase the salmon and eat their eggs and then their decomposing bodies. I was lucky enough to find a deep pool and a perfect gravel bed where nearly twenty fish, all over ten pounds were spawning. The males had a beautiful deep burgundy spawning color to them while the females were a dark grey. I had no luck with a pink and red patterned fly and tried my largest chartreuse colored fly. First cast, fish on. I had hooked a 30" hooked jaw (male) Silver right at the top of his buttoned-nose. I wish I had a scale to weigh it, but it must have been around twelve pounds. The fight lasted approximately minutes, but I was nervous about the bears so I hiked back to the truck, made a few beautiful fish print stamps of his massive head and filleted him to begin my portable fish pantry.
|Candy apple Silver Salmon. Notice where I hooked him: this fish was most likely nudging the fly aggressively but not necessarily eating it since I caught him on the top of his nose.|
That evening I drove down to Homer, came over a hill and saw more bay side mountains and volcanoes! I strolled into a campsite and parked near a large beach camping crew along the Homer Spit. As I was cooking my fresh salmon catch, I few of the girls came up and invited me to their fire. Their group of about eight people were road tripping from Anchorage after working for the summer for the train that connects Anchorage to Fairbanks. They made thousands of dollars as cooks, servers, and tour salesmen and were originally from across the US. Needless to say, I made some friends and kept warm with their "epic" fire.
|View from Homer Spit|
At sunrise, I got a better glimpse of the mountains, and for being the most southern point of the Peninsula that I could drive to, it was mightily hermoso and memorable.