Last month I realized it had been too long since I did something ridiculous to catch some trout. So I recruited my friend and summer fieldwork crew member Josh to go chase big rainbows in a well-known spot on the Gulkana River. However, this well-known spot is really accessible only to people doing the 4- to 5-day float trip from Paxson Lake to Sourdough Landing, and we only had time for an overnight trip and no boat.
Various government brochures speak of a six-mile trail, the Haggard Creek Trail, leading from the Richardson Highway to this spot on the river, Canyon Rapids, a half-mile of raging Class III-IV whitewater that most floaters have to portage, or at least portage their gear and run with empty boats. One online source warned that the trail can be "a bit swampy," so I warned Josh with that caveat -- "It might be a bit swampy."
This video of the trip shows what they meant by that (and the fishing afterward):
Yeah, just a bit swampy.
To be fair, the lakes were actually to the side of the trail. This was the actual trail:
The mosquitoes were as bad as I've ever seen them anywhere in Alaska except the North Slope. This was typical:
Most of the trail was hard to even find, let alone follow. It's really a winter trail. In the summer it's mostly untracked bog, with the "trail" frequently opening up into larger boggy meadows in which the trail's exit is unclear and no walkable route is apparent. I relied on coarse aerial imagery on my GPS to let me know when we'd wandered too far from the supposed trail in one direction or another. It reminded me of the scene below, but with trout at the end instead of Mordor. And my guide kept quiet instead of coughing out, "Garmin! Garmin!"
After five hours in the swamp, the sound of running water was a great relief, followed by this view:
We set up camp at one of the nice campsites used by the heavy raft traffic ("heavy" means at least a few parties per day here):
Then got to fishing the whitewater:
When we began fishing mid-evening, fishing nymphs under indicators, we mostly just caught small 10-15" grayling. Dozens of them. Fish on every cast at times. But there was little sign of the big rainbows we came for. The nymphs just picked up some little ones, like this:
There were a lot of seagulls around, and I watched them as I fished, curious about why they were here. There were salmon in the river, both reds and kings, but we didn't see many, and no dead ones yet for the seagulls to peck at. What drew them to this spot?
After a while I figured out the gulls, and with them, the rainbows. Finger-length sockeye salmon smolts were outmigrating from Paxson Lake upstream. When they hit the roiling whitewater of the canyon, some of them got momentarily disoriented and boiled up to the surface. That's when the gulls would swoop down and grab them. I figured the rainbows, which had been largely ignoring our nymphs, might be doing something similar. So I put on a silvery streamer and the real fun began.
Seagulls were perched on the rocks watching for outmigrating juvenile sockeye salmon to get disoriented in the whitewater and bubble up to the surface where they can be grabbed. I caught one of them that hit my fly in mid-air and got hooked in the wing, but didn't get any pictures because I was too focused on releasing it. It was fine.
Just re-reading Charlie Fox's short story, "Dawn of a New Day"...It's about a guy who found the biggest trout in the stream and would hook it, only to have it rip downstream into a holding area lined with jagged limestone...He would shred his line every time.
There was only one way to cast to the fish in its feeding lie.
His solution to this problem was to not attach his fly line to any backing...He hooked the fish and he spooled him and he came back the next day and retrieved the dangling fly line, hanging downstream, and played the fish...At least I think he does, I haven't finished the story.
Craig Mathews has a vid out where he's fishing Tenkara on the Madison...He hooks a big fish. There is a set amount of line on those rods...He tosses the rod into the river and lets the fish swim around with it for awhile.
The fish "wants" to return to it lie, and eventually it does. He then steps into the river and picks up the rod and lands a tired trout!
Were there is a will...
I guess this speaks to the bow-&-arrow cast thread elsewhere...:)
I had a friend that couldn't handle my obsession with one fish...The harder the situation the more it seemed I use to become obsessed. After some time he would yell at me to just leave that one alone and find another in an easier spot...I think this puzzle solving is part of the attraction to our angling pleasure.
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively
"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
You must log in at the top of the page to post. If you haven't registered yet, it's this easy:
Nymphs: The juvenile, underwater stages of mayflies, stoneflies, dragonflies, and damselflies and other aquatic insects whose juvenile stages are covered by hard exoskeletons. The word can also refer to the fishing flies which imitate these creatures, in which case it is used as a blanket term for flies imitating any underwater stage of an invertebrate (except for crayfish and leeches).