“Mr. Furimsky, your mission, should you elect to accept it, is to hook a nice big tarpon—90 lb. class—in the dorsal fin and actually land it.” My friends, Chuck Furimsky (owner and manager of the Fly Fishing Shows), and Harry Schoel (a mutual friend from Holland), went after the finny denizens of the deep—actually finny denizens of the flats—and connected. Harry landed his first tarpon, and that’s when Chuck decided to do him one better. The trick is to get the tarpon to take the fly with it’s dorsal fin rather than its mouth—a tough sell to say the least. Well, being a strategist, Chuck got the fish to eat the fly and then jump and throw it. As the tarpon settle back into the water, a quick move of the fly rod crossed the line over the fish’s body such that the hook impaled the dorsal fin. And then the fun began.
Why, Chuck asked, should one be subject to a mere fight, when one can be subject to a double fight. Why fight just one end of a fish when one can fight both ends at the same time? And so it was Battle Royal to say the least. Finally, just a Chuck was ready to drop and cry “Uncle,” the fish slide in next to the boat and surrendered—more to get the annoying thing out of its fin than because it was tired in any way. And then the ignoble ignoring of the others. They were so devastated by Chuck’s pinnacle of performance, they felt so overwhelmed by his feat of master angling, that they wouldn’t even take a picture of his fish!! Can you imagine the shame they will have to bear for the remainder of their angling days. They had a chance to record an historic moment and let it slip by out of envy and spite. Tisk, tisk.
Chuck had to settle with a picture of a smaller fish caught by conventional, in-the-mouth tactics. Our sympathies go out to you, Chuck, you are one of those rarefied individuals that has not only the ability to hook tarpon in unconventional ways, but of landing them unconventionally, too. Your next mission? Hook a 30 lb. albacore in the dorsal and land it in under an hour.
Harry’s first ever tarpon, and a nice one, too. Congrats, Harry.
Chuck, fighting both ends against the middle.
Ho Hum, Chuck had to settle for a picture of a smaller tarpon–still a nice fish though.
Day 6, Sunday, was our last full day of fishing at No-See-Um Lodge (arrival day in camp—day 0–is a half day of fishing). All week we had been watching for the arrival of the chums, and finally on Saturday, they started to come in. Obviously, we were excited and ready to go early Sunday morning. The big sweeping bars on the Alagnak were not filled with chums, as I’ve seen in other years, but there were enough fish to give us a tussle all day. There were plenty of doubles and plenty of fish that tore off like red-hot demons to keep us smiling from ear to ear. Craig had never caught them before, and was amazed at their never ending strength, and their ability to tear line off the reel. Of all the Pacific salmon, chums fight the hardest, pound for pound, twisting, jumping, greyhounding, and in general just being nasty. Oh, I love ‘em. They take a big pink or magenta (my favorite color) leech or flash fly with true zeal—there is never any mistaking the strike. Some years they will take a pink ‘Wog skated on top, but this year they stayed on the deep edge of the bars and we had to get down near the bottom to get consistent hits.
The first fish of the day was not a chum but a jack king. It certainly fought well.
Now, that’s more like it. Notice the magenta fly in the corner of the chum’s mouth. Even with my 9-weight Hardy Pro-Axis rod and Hardy Ultralite Disk Drag reel, I had to work hard to land them.
Chums of this size came fast snd furious all day. A great way to end a great trip to No-See-Um Lodge.
Now there’s a really fresh chum–chrome bright and ready to fight.
Colored a bit, but no less tough and ready to duke it out. Fish this size usually run off a rather large hank of backing.
Days 4 and 5 were warmer than the other days of the week, and offered a mix of sun and puffy cumulous clouds. These were rainbows-on-the-dry-fly days on the lower American Creek—in the estuary-like reaches just above the mouth where it empties into Lake Coville. This flat water stretch has decent hatches of the Pale Morning Dun (PMDs), and the careful angler can locate big trout sipping the tiny insects in tight to the overhanging grasses and shrubs along the edges. The fish sit in the quiet eddies that form downstream of corners, in tight to fallen sod chunks, or just downstream of a fallen tree or log washed in from upstream. This makes the fishing a bit tricky, but if one uses a long, light leader and can dump it so that it forms many ”S” curves on the surface, one can achieve a drag-free drift that is long enough to stimulate the fish to rise with confidence. That was our goal, and we sere successful.
In addition, like the big rainbows everywhere in Alaska, those in the American respond very well to a mouse imitation waking on a down and across stream swing. The rise is never gentle nor sipping. It is always right-now and vigorous. This fishing is a counterpoint to fishing the PMDs, and adds an extra dimension to the day’s outing. The Moorish Mouse works well, but one tied with soft fur rather that stiff deer hair is a better bet. The fish hold it better, giving the angler, startled by the sudden and violent rise, just a tad longer to respond and drive the hook home.
The lower American is deep and slow, and the big bows hug the banks, feeding on PMDs in the quiet eddies.
The better fisherman watches in puzzled silence at the fishing methods of the fly fisher.
When hooked the big bows fight long and hard, often aided dramatically by the currents and many instream obstacles.
The rewards of a fight well fought by the fly fisher–a photo and then release for the fish.
There were willing fish both days on the lower American.
This rainbow will gain a couple of pounds over the summer, wolfing down salmon eggs in preparation for the lean months of winter.
The mouse strikes .
On day 3 we decided to fish the Ugashik Narrows, a short section of river between Upper and Lower Ugashik Lakes. It is noted for its big grayling (the Alaska state record came from this river) and char. We were hoping to catch the sockeye fry migration when char and grayling concentrate heavily on the small fish. Turns out we just missed it. There were a few fry still coming down, but only a few. We took char on fry imitations fished on a down-and-across swing. One of them made a great shore lunch for us. I also took graying on the fry, dry flies, and on dead drifted nymphs. At the mouth of the short river, I took a nice lake trout on a large black leech. All in all, a slower day that expected, but still very relaxing and enjoyable.
The Ugashik Narrows run between Upper and Lower Ugashik lakes.
Mr. Fox came to visit as we were unloading the float plane. He likes tourists with food, especially.
The Narrows are noted for their big grayling like this lovely 19 incher.
Lunch was a lay affair, even Chris, guide and cook, was reposing.
Mmmmm, char filets with lemon pepper dressing.
Post lunch siesta on the fine gravels of the shoreline.
The second full day of fishing found us on the Alagnak river, again drifting for kings. The others used drift rods, with plugs or “cheaters.” These are nothing but a 1 ¼ inch fluorescent Styrofoam ball (usually orange, red or pink) pegged on the line above a hook and about 18 inches behind a heavy pencil sinker to keep the cheater right off the bottom. I fished with my 9-weight Hardy Pro-Axis, a 300 grain sinking head line, a 5 shot slinky, and a King-A-Ma-Bobber, as before. It was a good day of king fishing all around. Craig Richardson landed a 38 pound king—which is a good-sized one for that river—and there were others in the 25 to 30 pound class landed by the rest of us, too. The law allows the angler to keep two kings a day—one under 28 inches, and one over 28. Both must be immediately recorded on the angler’s license. One of the fish under 28 inches became a great shore lunch for the four of us and our two guides. Fish never tasted so good.
A nice King that Dave caught back trolling with a gold and yellow flatfish style plug.
Another nice king that Dave took drift fishing with a cheater.
Craig’s big king was 38 pounds, but looked like 50.
Lunch coming up.
Jim with a nice king. Most of the fish were this size or bigger.
This year, our trip to Alaska was centered in the sockeye salmon run. Sockeye are an interesting species. As ocean-going adults, they are basically zooplankton feeders; thus, on their initial migration run, they do not take flies, plugs, or bait. They simply swim upstream with true salmon zeal, headed for higher waters. In their case, that’s always a lake. They will only spawn in streams feeding lakes because the young-of-the-year fry migrate back to the lakes in the spring to feed and grow to smolts that migrate to the ocean in their second year.
That’s not to say that the fresh-run sockeye won’t take a fly. I’ve had some success with them taking black Egg Sucking Leeches in the late evening. But by and large it means that the angler has best success “flossing” them. This is a very interesting tactic, and quite successful. The fly fisher knots on an unweighted or lightly weighted fly of about size 4 or 6, and then clamps on a shot about 2 feet above the imitation. The rig is cast such that if swings slowly through the school of swimming salmon. Every so often, the section of leader between the shot and the fly will swing into the open mouth of a salmon. Feeling the drag of the leader in the fish’s mouth, the angler sets the hook, catching the fish on the outside of the mouth. It seems very chancy, but it’s way more efficient than it might seem at first glance.
Since we were there in during the run, we could fish every morning or evening that the fish were actively moving up the Kvichak in front of the lodge. Up at 5am, I would floss until breakfast at 6:30 or 7. My best morning this year was 7 sockeye in an hour. They fight exceeding well on a 7-weight. Evening fishing was equally productive on the days the fish were running. Thus, the sockeye fishing was not confined to any one day or to the need to fly out. Rather it was there to take advantage of whenever we noted the schools sliding by.
As a side note, once the sockeye enter the tributaries of the lakes and turn red with a green head, they take the fly with unburdened zeal. In fact, they can be a nuisance when casting to trout, as the feisty salmon will nab the fly intended for the trout. Odd metamorphosis in both body and aggressive zeal.
A school of sockeye rolling past. They were this evident to the angler who wore polarizing sunglasses.
A flossed sockeye–note the fly on the outside of the mouth.
This year’s week in Alaska was cool and mostly rainy; at least that’s the way it started and ended. But cool and rainy is good for king salmon and that’s the fish we pursued first, on the Nushagak River, which empties into Bristol Bay at the town of Dillingham. We flew into the upper Nushagak from the No-See-Um Lodge about ½ hour to the east on the Kvichak River. The tactic was drift fishing—literally drifting with bottom bouncing rigs for the kings. I used my 9-foot, 9-weight, Hardy Pro-Axis rod rigged with a 300 grain sinking head line (30 foot head). I used the ring on a swivel snap as a leader (or tippet) ring, and hung a 5 split shot slinky off the snap. The tippet was 15-pound test Maxima Chameleon. I’ve used Maxima Clear, but it tends to twist and wrinkle on the last few inches next to the fly. The fly, of course, was a King-A-Ma-Bobber.
The big fish were in and we caught several each. Of those I took, two were outstanding, especially on the 9-weight. One was in the 30-pound class and the other in the 35-pound class. Both were silver bright and fought like it—hanging deep and pulling like a Volkswagen on the freeway. Both ran off about 30 yards of backing, and would have run off a lot more if Caleb, our guide, hadn’t fired up the outboard and gone after them. We were over ½ mile down river when the biggest king finally came to the net.
A small king provided an excellent shore lunch for all of us, and we headed back to No-See-Um in time for evening hors d’oeuvres. A good day was had by all.
The King-A-Ma-Bobber is a great fly rod “drift” lure. The fish take it very positively.
The big 35-pound class female was release unharmed to “go lay many genetically superior eggs.”
A small king provided the filets for lunch. Can’t get much fresher than that.
A shore lunch of king filets in onions and butter is truly a meal “fit for a king.”
Michigan’s Pere Marquette is boasting the big browns of the past thanks to new catch and release rules on an important section of the river. Guide Tommy Lynch (see link to the right), who floats the river with great regularity, loves to fish for the big browns with mice imitations late into the darkness of night. And the rewards for his clients are remarkable. Look at this 29-inch hog, male brown that Tommy recently boated. I’ll take all those I can get.
PM (both Pere Marquette, and late night) guide Tommy Lynch with what can only be described as a hog brown.
I’m headed to No-See-Um Lodge in Alaska with my friend, Dave Graebel, in pursuit of rainbows on the dry fly, king salmon in the King-A-Ma-Bobber, chums on magenta leeches, and sockeye on small bead head nymphs. The weather looks very Alaska-like; most days a chance of rain, with the occasional chance of sun (very occasional). I will post as I can.
Dave Graebel, ready to smile even more broadly with a big rainbow on a dry.
Its Hex time in the Midwest, and the big mayflies are bringing up big trout. My friend, Jim Hagar, spent a night with guide Tommy Lynch (see here), on the Pere Marquette. Before dark, Jim nailed a big brown on a hopper, and then as the dark settled, he hung a 21-inch brown on a Hex dry, and missed three more. If you want the best dry fly fishing of the season in the Midwest, now is the time-nighttime that is.
During the day, big browns like this will come to a well presented hopper. Nice work Jim!
The mosquitoes are thick (hence cigar), but the Hex’s are even thicker–cloud like as a matter of fact. This bg brown was gobbling its share before Jim hooked him.