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Fly Fishing Alone in Alaska (Part 6)

May 1, 2011

It was now the end of July and a few folks from the Village were starting to return back home after spending the last two months at camp. Everyday a few more people seemed to trickle back; the village was about ¼ occupied. Stella and Leroy had both retuned for good, the post office was open everyday, along with co-op store and gas. Most of the returning folks were elders, the younger crowd stayed in camp until just a few days before school started. Then, it was off to Anchorage or some just went to Dillingham to buy clothes for winter, and supplies for school.

The river was much lower in the upper part, I knew how to navigate to about the middle section without any difficulties, but there was no way I could make it back up to the Lake or even close without a jet unit on my Yamaha. By now, the big Kings were pretty red in color, the red salmon (sockeye), were just that,  red in color with green heads, and there was another salmon that recently showed, the Chum. This was an excellent fighting fish when caught fresh, silver in color, but it did not take but a week or two before the Chum salmon started changing shape and color. Another name for the Chum is dog salmon, for it changes from bright silver to a calico color, and has large protruding teeth that resemble a dog when growling. The other salmon I did not mention before was the Pink salmon; this is a small salmon that on this year, did not show in any great numbers. It is not a great fighter, and changes very fast once it enters fresh water, it becomes flat like a pancake. It is usually canned and sold in stores near the tuna; it is not common to be sold in restaurants for it is not of great quality to consume. Compared to the other salmon, it ranks on the bottom of the scale, the best eating salmon are the red salmon, (Sockeye), or the Kings. The kings have 17% or so that have white meat, restaurants advertise when they have the white colored meat as something special, I have eaten the white king meat on several occasions, and could not differentiate from pink or white meat of the kings, both tasted great to me. A close third would be the silvers, which also have a deep reddish color in their meat, but they usually don’t have the firm flesh as do the kings and sockeye.

I had some friends who were from Montana who were guiding in a fly fishing camp  just over a few Mountain ranges away on a well know river , the Kenectok. I decided to take my boat and motor and spend a few days fishing on a different river, visit with some friends, camp, and fish for the famous Leopard rainbow. The rainbows in this drainage were well know for eating mice, or red backed voles, which were found in great numbers all over the west coast of Alaska. Disney had a famous film, I saw about Alaska which they showed hundred’s  of what they called lemmings jumping off a cliff, migrating to another area due to over population. Disney took liberties in making such claims, and the creatures in the film were actually voles, a cousin to the lemmings. Nobody has ever seen hundreds of neither voles, nor, lemmings, jumping off of cliffs, but, these mice like mammals do move about when faced with over population, even swimming across rivers to get to new areas. Thus, rainbow trout eat the sometimes weary traveler’s when they do decide to cross the river, and try to find new areas to populate.

I met natives who did not like to eat the rainbow trout, because when they cleaned the trout they would have a mouse or two in their stomachs. With so many other types of fish to eat, some of them thought this was disgusting, and would feed the trout to their dogs. I met a native man later in the year during a basketball tournament in the town of New Stuyahok, which is located on the upper Nushagak river who told me that he’d caught a 12 pound rainbow that had three mice in it’s stomach, he found, when he was cleaning it. He said he would never eat a fish that eat mice, that he thought it was just for the dogs to eat such a fish. It seemed like this man was looking for a reaction from me, he knew I was a Fly Fishermen, and I did not give him the pleasure. It may have been true that he did not like to eat the trout when they had mice in them, but, the dogs eat well, salmon, moose, trout what ever they had the most of, at that time.

I had a pilot pick me up and fly me to the village of Quinhagak, that is just north of the Village of Togiak. It was a short flight, and the pilot was a fisherman, so he showed me all the great fishing creeks and rivers on our flight, even flying up the Kenectok River to point out channels that fished well with mouse patterns.

It was a very different scene than what I was use to, remember, it was 1985, but here on this river there was a number of fishing camps, and they were run by whites from the lower 48, outsiders, running up and down the river in jet boats. This was my first exposure to this scene, all the other rivers I’d fished up until now were very quiet, no outfitters running back and forth in jet boats. Here I would not be, Fly Fishing alone, by any means, but rather trying not to get into the way of the outfitters taking their clients fishing who were paying big money to be there. The reason people were willing to travel so far and pay the big bucks, was due to the quality of the fishing, ” World Class”. See in Part 7…

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