Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rally Hats 'n Reds

I phoned Danielle much later than usual one evening in mid-June after our planned trip with the Dreamcatchers fell through. I had just found tickets from LAX to AK for 300 bones and was ready to pull the trigger. In no time it was decided we had to buy the tickets and were going to see what the AK anadromous fish highways contained. We had no idea the magnitude of traffic we would find. It was an all time year for sockeye salmon on the KP, literally unmatched in at least a generation. Thanks to Terry's hospitality and generosity we were able to stay right across from the river giving us the opportunity to fulfill our 24hr fishing fantasies. Thanks to Mr. Steve we were able to enjoy a roller coaster of a day on perfectly warm and clear Cook Inlet hunting halibut with Rod Van Saun.

Al with a nice red he caught on no sleep after driving all the way to ANC to pick us up at 2 AM and then driving back to the river.

Me n' my bro.
Danielle and I, about to head out on the inlet. It was so calm and warm you would have never imagined this was AK.

Just before heading out these folks came in with an ~280lb halibut that they somehow managed to get into that little boat without capsizing - expectations were high.

Al, D, Laurel
Mr. Steve and Matt.
Matt all baited up. (sockeye carcass)

The fishing at first was pretty good, were into some decent halibut. But we were expecting bigger fish and released a lot of ~15-20lbers. Then it went south, and by south I mean it was cod city. We caught so many cod it was not even funny. Above is a shot of Danielle reeling in a cod DOUBLE! Then, it went dead all over. The captain got on the radio and phoned some friends and we went searching for fish. Eventually we found a spot and set up shop. We said a prayer and put our rally caps on since it was almost 7pm and had to get back soon (we were 30 mi from home). We had huge fish on fairly quickly, but they both turned out to be skates; instead of reeling them in we left them on and moved them over to port. Then all sorts of rallying happened and we caught our limits in the next hour or so, all on the starboard and stern while there were 2 skates at port and Rod was filleting fish! It was madness and a great way to end the 'but hunt.

Rally hats engaged.

All 'buts on deck.

Pray that you have the ability to heed the captain's orders - rally hats in full effect!

Butt o' the 'but - post rally hat success, answered prayers.

Moose, no squirrel.

Matt's first red.
Kiss it. Gotta love fishing straight through the night, taking a break at 5:30 for coffee and mini breakfast then fishing more.

The bounty.

First hen of the last day.

My hens.

Fish highway.

SUSHI reward.

Danielle and I.

We lived by the saying "sleep when you're dead" for 4 days and now we have fish to share and memories that will last forever.

Killer Kern

Throwing caution, good reconnaissance and judgment to the wind, myself Danielle, Jen and my brother Matt went to the Kern river for the first time over the July 4th weekend. For weeks I had been looking at the flows, checking the gauge almost daily. It never once struck my heart as a reassuring sign of good fishing ahead, but I was intrigued by the river, the chance at getting the big fish that feed more actively in high flows and with sheer excitement for seeing such awesome whitewater. I have wanted to go to the Kern since I was about 10 years old, first hearing about it from friends who had rafted the lower section.

We hit the trail and made it to our destination a few miles into the GTW in pretty good time, but a fair amount of pain on my part; my new boots gave my heels some serious blisters and it sucked because I thought I had broken them in already. Coming to the Little Kern we saw that the meltoff was pretty serious, definitely more water than last year the same weekend.

The Little K

The meadows along the way were beautiful.

We made it to the flat and set up camp in a superb location. It was superb because we were told it was so by a fellow we met on the trail. Usually I take all advice from strangers with a grain of salt, but we soon found this caution was not only unnecessary, it would be foolish!
The fellow on the trail was soon no longer a stranger and we were his camp neighbors. We quickly learned his name, Keith Smith, and that he was just about to wrap up a week of camping in the Kern backcountry for the 50th consecutive year! He knew the upper Kern like it was his backyard and he waxed poetic about places we'd never been nor heard of, how big the fish were, still are, and how much the place has changed yet stayed the same. I fell asleep dreaming of 40lb browns eating kern river 'bows and giant goldens in the upper lakes.

Mr. Smith Goes to Kern River

The next morning we were guided to all the finest holes in the vicinity by our camp neighbor and Kern river sensei. The fishing was tough. The best fish were in impossible locations, or deeper than I could get my flies. I hooked up with two behemoths on dry flies, but they quickly made the folly and futility of my bow and arrow casting under the oaks apparent to all. It was great fun overall, despite the few fish we were able to land.

We hiked up to Little Kern lake and proceeded to see more snakes in one day then I can remember seeing since I was at my cousins in AZ when I was 9 or 10. 8 snakes and 7 of them rattlers. Looking back the hike up to LKL would have been better saved for a longer trip and really cut into our fishing time, but it was beautiful, except for the snakes.

The Kern, at Killer speed

About as big as they got for us.

A large rattlesnake about to consume a squirrel in the trail ahead of us.

The highlight of the trip was the insane flows on the Kern and meeting Keith, who by my estimates has spend over 1% of his life sleeping in the Kern river back country. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Lessons were learned as well, namely that one should always listen to the advice of someone who has been somewhere for 50 years in a row, that you should watch your you put each and every foot step (SNAKES!), that the Kern is downright frightening at 4000cfs on the upper, and that I will be coming back again in the FALL.
Cheers, Phil