Monday, October 24, 2011

Pongo Float

During the break between king and silver seasons in AK, I was able to take advantage of the time to float one of the tributaries to the Togaik again this August. The last two years I had floated with my friend and fellow guide, Greg. Due to scheduling conflicts, he couldn't join me this year, so I was floating solo. I chose a different tributary this time. I hoped to find more rainbows and fewer dollies than the Ongivinuk River, our previous destination.
The water looked very fishy right after entering the river. Within a few minutes of floating I stopped and strung up my rod with a big black streamer. I cast the fly out without wetting it first, so on the first swing, it was skating across the top. A nice sized rainbow charged after it from several feet away, throwing a big wake before the take, jump, and then throwing the hook. Another couple of casts and I landed my first bow of the trip. I spent the next several days fishing the streamer without any weight. Seeing big rainbows chase down a topwater fly on the swing is just too much fun.
Being on my own, I would wake up early in the morning; coffee and instant oatmeal, then break camp and start fishing my way downriver. There would be no point in setting up the tent again until 10 or 11 at night. I didn't sleep as peacefully in a small tent by myself, without any firearm. I did have a can of expired bearspray, I'm not sure how much that would have helped through the tent.
Grayling are frustrating models for the camera. Unlike rainbows, they save plenty of energy for twisting and twitching once you get your hands on them. This one I killed to eat, so I could take my time with the camera. It was the first Grayling I had eaten, and in my opinion, they are prettier than they are tasty.

Togiak Lake

Because of my boat ride up the west coast, I arrived at the lodge several days before the rest of the staff was arriving. I took advantage of the time to launch one of the boats and motor it 60 miles upriver to the start of the Togiak River. Its a near 20 mile long lake thats appropriatly named; Togiak. The lake sits in an impressive mountain range.

I camped out the first night at the mouth of the river. Awesome views, but it was a cold nights sleep. I didn't take into account the ground being frozen this time of year. With no insulation pad, it was hard to stay warm. After the first night I stayed in a vacant cabin built by the fisheries department. It was downriver about a quarter of a mile. Much warmer, but not as nice as looking out from the tent at the lake.
The salmon smolt migrate downstream in huge numbers early in the spring. Arctic char hang out at the choke points right before the river and feast. Arctic terns and seagulls dive from above. A streamer or a small spoon will produce lots of fish. They are bullish fighters on the rod.

Seattle to Juneau, Up the inside passage

I spent too much time last spring not guiding (or making money) due to weather, and way too much time on the internet looking at ridiculous things, like the Craigslist wanted section. Not sure what I was doing there, but around nine pages deep I found an add looking for help on a yacht headed to Juneau from Seattle. The number on the add turned out to be wrong, and the guy on the other end apparently didn't have a yacht, and even if he did (I didn't ask), he wasn't interested in my services. I did a little digging, found the business that was interested and got the right number. After a brief conversation with a little bit of exaggeration about my seafaring ways, I was on board, so to speak.
Three weeks later, I was leaving the ballard locks with $25 bucks in my pocket and the salty sea breeze in my hair. The captain (Bob) had his girlfriend (can't remember) on board, and there was a retired guy named after a dog (Rex) who volunteered as well. It takes about 100 hours to make the trip. We ran around 10-12 hours a day. Most mornings I would wake up, help pull the anchor, or untie the lines from the dock, and make coffee and Bob's tea. The tea became my most important job. Apparently nobody knew how to brew a cup of tea like myself, much to the girlfriends chagrin. Bob would go back to bed while Rex and I manned the helm, making sure we didn't hit anything. We read books, we talked about fishing and life in general, and we looked through the binoculars a lot. It was a good time for a guy with $25 to his name.

A pod of porpoises swam right in front of the boat for miles. Everyone else on board was napping and the boat was on auto pilot so I stood on the bow and took pictures of them right under me for twenty minutes.

We stopped in Petersburg for a couple of days. Across the channel from the docks is Petersburg creek. It was too late in the year to expect any steelhead and too early for salmon. The timing was perfect for cutthroat, and I have always wanted to catch them in SE AK.
I paddled as far as I could get in my raft, and then hiked up through the tidewater until it turned into a proper creek. I fished three holes, two of which I caught nothing, the third I found some fish. A lot of fish. I spent the next two hours catching cutt's from 12-18" on old school streamer patterns.

These AK cutts have lots of spots!

I stayed on the boat in Juneau for a few days before I left for my summer employment. On the morning before my departure, Bob woke me up early. He was worried that the boat would be grounded if we didn't move it soon. The wind had blown us toward shore in the night and the tide was going out fast. He was explaining this while leisurely putting together breakfast. At this point the boat was already listing. I convinced him breakfast could wait, but it was already too late. Pictured below is a 95' yacht stuck in the mud. I felt bad for Bob, but I was inwardly delighted. We made the radio news, and the papers the next day. A steady parade of people came out on the beach to take pictures, ask questions, and offer to drag us off the beach for thousands of dollars. I tried hard to look like I wasn't enjoying the moment. Several hours later the tide came up and we were floating again, no harm done.