Alaska Journal: Part 4
If you've ever wanted to visit Alaska, but haven't wanted to sell the farm to do it, we've got the trip for you.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
After four days of continuous rain, the sky began to lighten. Finally, we could shed our rain gear! Our plan was to fish Clear Creek, a tributary of the Talkeetna River, so we broke camp and headed north. We booked a ride in a jet boat through Mahay’s Riverboat Service (www.mayaysriverboat.com.) for 7 am the following morning. Then we headed over to the immaculately groomed campsites found at Talkeetna River Adventures (P.O. Box 473, Talkeetna, AK 99676; 907-733-2604). This was the only fee campsite of the trip ($12 per night), but the campsites overlook the scenic Talkeetna River.
In the morning, after a 15-minute ride upstream, we were dropped off on a large gravel bar where Clear Creek runs into the Talkeetna. The larger river is glacier-fed and is the color of a caffe latte. Clear Creek was high and slightly off color, but we still found it easy to sight fish.
We shared the water with a group of Utah anglers who were camped on the bar. As they tied into silvers and chums, a member of the group told us, “We had planned to take a 10-day float trip, but that washed out. Then we opted for a 5-day trip down the Deshka, but it was so high and fast from all the runoff that we ran it in three days. I think we caught a total of three fish.”
All I could think at that point was how fortunate we were to have the RV. Our mobility had allowed us to move to meet changing conditions. In all, we had lost only a day of fishing.
“Then we found this place,” the angler continued. “Mahay’s charged only $45 a person to run us and all of our gear up here. There isn’t any fee to camp. It saved our trip. We’re catching fish like crazy.”
The gravel bar was thick with silvers and chums, and they hit just about anything we threw at them. After a couple of hours of nonstop action, Peter and I hoisted our backpacks and hiked upstream about 1 mile. At this point we had the river virtually to ourselves and we found two holes that were loaded with fresh chums and the occasional silver. Basically, we fished until our arms fell off, enjoying the hard-running salmon.
We fished until evening and then were picked up by Mahay’s at the gravel bar. We probably had more than 120 salmon on during the day. Some anglers pay $3,000 to $6,000 a week at a lodge for this kind of fishing, assuming the fish are in and the river isn’t a wreck from rain.
Here, we paid $45 apiece. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s the bargain of the century.
The “Becca” Fly
Generally flyfishermen will find that salmon will hit a wide variety of patterns, from small dark nymphs to outsized outrageous creations. One of the most productive flies we used was created by Peter’s 11-year-old daughter, Rebecca (who prefers to called Becca). She is already an accomplished tier, and one way that Peter made the learning fun was to let her create her own patterns after she had mastered a classic pattern. She is allowed to use any materials and colors she desires. Naturally, the first few patterns were frightening, but as she gained mastery over the process she began producing flies of startling originality. One of her favorite creations was a large chartreuse bugger that used chartreuse ostrich herl for its tail. It is a gnarly dude–a fly that would strike terror in the heart of the flyfishing purist.
But it works. Chums and silvers smashed it. In fact, it was the top producer of aggressive strikes.
** Chums Vs. Silvers**
Some Alaskan anglers disparage the chum. True, a chum doesn’t taste as good as a silver (which is why it is ooften called “dog” salmon (as in “I’ll feed this to my dogs”)), and it often doesn’t produce the sizzling run for which the silver is famous. But it is a tough, determined fighter that will test your angling skills.
I look at it this way: the silver is the sleek, speedy halfback whose slashing runs thrill a packed stadium, while the chum is the power fullback who often needs to square his shoulders before bulling through the line, taking three tacklers with him. It’s a differentkind of fight. On Clear Creek, my biggest chum inhaled a Woolly Bugger; when I set the hook, it shook its head slowly in annoyance and then steadily moved upriver gaining power as it went. I felt as if I was tied to a freight train.
Twilight on the Talkeetna
Before we left for Clear Creek, Peter had marinated flank steaks in red wine and butter. When we got back to camp, he fired up a gas grille and slapped on the steaks. I made potatoes (stuffed with cheese and butter) in the RV’s microwave, timed to be ready when the steaks came off the fire.
Though the sun set around 10 p.m., the light lingered until well after 11. We sat and talked, and enjoyed the splendor of an Alaskan sunset while rising fish splashed in the river below us. Finally, stars began to appear, the first I had seen in a week. They held the promise of another day in paradise.