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Troutnut.com is a photographic shrine to trout, fly fishing, beautiful rivers, the fascinating flies we imitate, and how to match the hatch for every common species in North America. It is run by "Troutnut" Jason Neuswanger with help from many others.

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Winter still clinging on in the far North

By Troutnut on March 11th, 2014
This photo is from a month ago (as of the writing), but not much has changed. We're looking forward to the thaw!

Photos by Troutnut from the Tanana River in Alaska

This was a typical late-winter sunset over the frozen Tanana River, a popular highway for mushers and skiiers outside of Fairbanks until the ice becomes unnavigable due to overflow sometime in April. From the Tanana River in Alaska.
This was a typical late-winter sunset over the frozen Tanana River, a popular highway for mushers and skiiers outside of Fairbanks until the ice becomes unnavigable due to overflow sometime in April.
StateAlaska
LocationTanana River
Date TakenMar 11, 2014
Date AddedApr 14, 2014
AuthorTroutnut

First impressions of my new PR-49 packraft on the Chena River

By Troutnut on October 12th, 2013
This week I bought my first boat. I've done countless trips with family and friends' canoes, packrafts, and other rafts in and out of Alaska, but this is the first watercraft I've owned, because I never had space in my garage for a canoe and most places I want to fish in Alaska don't have road-to-road float opportunities and require miles-long portages.

This year I began to pay attention to packrafts, small inflatables that can easily be carried for miles yet are worthy of serious whitewater. I was inspired by the remote trips and whitewater adventures of Luc Mehl and Roman Dial. However, I'm more interested in backcountry hunting and fishing than adventure racing, and the ultralight Alpacka rafts they use aren't designed for loads as heavy as a man with a dead caribou, or two people in one boat in whitewater (i.e. float trips with my wife).

For the last few years, a Fairbanks-based wilderness company called Pristine Ventures has been working on bigger packrafts to handle big game hunting. Their latest model, the PR-49 "Packraft Alaskana", has excellent reviews on the Alaska outdoors forum and other places. At 15 pounds, the PR-49 is three times heavier than an Alpacka, but if that extra 10 pounds means the difference between floating or carrying 150+ pounds of meat back to the car, it's an easy choice. They're also made of tougher material, and are large enough for two people and a disassembled caribou. When they went on sale this week, I bought one.

In one of the last weekends before Fairbanks freezes solid for seven months, my wife and I took this boat for a 10.5-mile float down the upper Chena River, in a popular and familiar stretch from 3rd Bridge (on the North Fork) to 1st Bridge (on the main stem). We parked at the take-out, loaded the raft and gear on our mountain bikes and in my backpack, and rode 6 miles up the road to the put-in. This is a tame stretch of river, mostly Class I with a dash of Class II, and with the water extremely low (545 CFS at the 2nd Bridge gage) it would be a good test of the running raft through several inches-deep riffles.

I really like the PR-49's layout. A rope all the way around the tubes provides attachment points for locking down gear bags, hanging frequently used items in convenient spots on carabiners, etc. The seats are just nylon sheet strapped to both sides of that rope at several points strapped to the loops that hold the rope, one of which (the "cargo sling") can be extended to cover the front half of the raft to hold cargo (like meat) off the floor. It's a very nice lightweight system, but I found in a pond test earlier this week that I sank lower in the seat than I'd like (EDIT: Whoops! I had the seats attached incorrectly, which is why they sagged. See reply by PR49er.). This time, I brought the Therma-rest NeoAir ultralight inflatable pillows we use for camping, strapped them to the seats, and they made perfect cushions to elevate us to a comfortable height comparable to canoe seats (but softer and more comfortable). We both had enough legroom, and there was cargo space to spare.

With both of us and quite a bit of gear in the raft (probably about 350 pounds total), it only drafted about 2-3 inches. We got hung up in the shallows once when I steered us into 2-inch-deep water, but we cruised through several other shallow riffles without ever having to get out and push again. For a raft, the boat tracked well with two people in it, not wobbling side to side with every stroke like packrafts (both this one and Alpackas) tend to do in still water with just one paddler in the back. It was still very easy to turn and avoid obstacles. Several times I carefully planned a line to miss some hazard, and then easily missed it by 20+ feet because the boat was so mobile. I steered into the few splashy wave-trains in this reach, and the boat kept us high and dry. It felt much more stable (less "tippy") than a canoe.

This tame trip really wasn't a hardcore test of either the boat's packability or its whitewater handling, but the experience left me excited about what I'll be able to try next summer.

Photos by Troutnut from the Chena River in Alaska

Last fish of the year?

By Troutnut on October 10th, 2013
I bought a new raft this week (more on that in an upcoming post) and took a couple free hours to test it out in a local pond. Caught one little stocked grayling that revealed itself by rising to one of the very sporadic Callibaetis duns emerging just days before the pond freezes for the next 7 months. Winter is coming.

Photos by Troutnut from Miscellaneous Alaska in Alaska

New packraft. My new PR-49 packraft getting ready for its first test in a local pond. From Bathing Beauty Pond in Alaska.
New packraft. My new PR-49 packraft getting ready for its first test in a local pond.
StateAlaska
Date TakenOct 10, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
Even stocker grayling are pretty. I planned to keep this one for dinner if it was the first of many, but the others weren't biting and the stringer hadn't done any permanent damage, so I released it unharmed. From Bathing Beauty Pond in Alaska.
Even stocker grayling are pretty. I planned to keep this one for dinner if it was the first of many, but the others weren't biting and the stringer hadn't done any permanent damage, so I released it unharmed.
StateAlaska
Date TakenOct 10, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10

Afternoon bird hunt

By Troutnut on October 3rd, 2013
Winter's coming on quickly in Fairbanks, so we took advantage of one nice afternoon to drive up to a well-known bird-hunting spot, hike around, and maybe find some dinner. There weren't many birds, but I managed to get one rock ptarmigan.

Photos by Troutnut from Miscellaneous Alaska in Alaska

First time in a packraft in the lower Chatanika, trying for sheefish

By Troutnut on September 28th, 2013
Yesterday afternoon a friend and I floated ten miles of the Chatanika River near Fairbanks, from a spot near the Steese Highway to the Elliott Highway bridge.

Our mutual goal was to try to catch a sheefish. Sheefish are very large piscivorous (Piscivorous: Anything which eats primarily fish is a piscivore.) whitefish, present in very low numbers along the Alaska road system in the Yukon drainage. Most people who really want to catch sheefish have to expensively fly out to the wilderness of northwest Alaska, but the Chatanika River river near Fairbanks is well-known to have a very small spawning run (about 100 fish) during which one has a better-than-usual chance (but still a very long shot) of hooking up with a sheefish. We both thought it would be fun to catch (or even see) the elusive "tarpon of the north," but we had no luck. Didn't even see one.

Another goal for me on this trip was to try packrafting for the first time in some easy Class I water. Packrafts are tiny, tough, ultra-light (often less than 5 pounds) boats used for backpacking into remote locations and floating out on a river (or paddling around a lake). I've been thinking about getting one for remote backcountry fishing and hunting, so I was happy to try it out with a borrowed raft. This wasn't "real" packrafting because we didn't have to pack the boats more than a hundred yards on this road-to-road float, but I got a good feel for the boat and was impressed with its handling and portability.

Have any of you used packrafts for fly fishing (or hunting)? What did you think?

Photos by Troutnut from the Chatanika River in Alaska

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