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Why I love fly-outs

Yesterday I was reminded why I drive 50 miles, fly 25 minutes across Cook Inlet to get to our fly-out destination.  The neat flight, awesome scenery and great bear viewing are certainly cool. But, it is really seeing schools of hundreds of coho and hooking 20, 30, 40 or more in a day, that I love the most.  WOW – those fish fight great on light tackle and “boy oh boy” do I love action, full fish boxes and big grins that those Kustatan River and Big River Lake fly-out trips provide!

Clients

Last week I was blessed with the perfect clients!

Now don’t get me wrong, the best part of my job is meeting different people with unique backgrounds and personalities from all over the globe, and I enjoy spending the day with nearly every one of them.  But every now and then, a special group stands out and reminds me of why my job might be the best possible:  these folks were bound and determined to have fun and their attitudes were contagious!  At the end of the day, which passed at lightening speed, I couldn’t help notice that I too had had a blast!  Despite muddy water conditions and poor king fishing overall (we landed just one BBQ fish of about 18#) the day was spent laughing, teasing, telling stories, making observations of the little stuff that we all too often take for granted (“Hey, look at that crazy seagull chasing away that huge bald eagle!”) and NOT dwelling on the uncontrollable fact that “catching” was pretty slow.  Instead, at the end of the day, this family genuinely thanked me for a fantastic day of “fishing”…..how cool is that?

Summer…finally?

WOW!  Have we had a cold, windy, cloudy, rainy, overcast, damp, dreary (should I continue?) summer!  What a test it has been to layer up, don the stocking cap and put on the rain gear each and every morning since mid-May!  But…the last two days have been glorious with the biggest sun you can imagine.  Our foliage is thick and green thanks to plenty of moisture and the vibrant blue skies compliment it SO well!  Oh yeah, did I mention the “heat wave” that is pegging our thermometer at a whopping 72 degrees?  WOW!!  Some folks may take wearing a t-shirt for granted, but not us Alaskans!!

Wolverine Creek

A late June/early July fly-out for sockeye at Wolverine Creek has never been my favorite trip, after all, most of the salmon are bunched up in one large school at the head of a creek just milling around prior to entering this small freshet with numerous boats anchored around them.  Somewhere deep inside, I have a bit of trouble with the thought of “lining” fish that won’t strike–snagging is such and ugly word!  Plus, I always believed that a fly-out trip should put you somewhere alone with nary another angler, and the Wolverine Creek fishery (due to a short, affordable flight) does not provide that solitary experience.

But last night, after receiving a phone call from the Des Moines, Iowa group I had just sent over there, I realized several things as they ranted and raved about the float plane ride, scenery, the bears they saw and of course the spunky and yummy sockeye they had caught.  I live here, I’m spoiled and the beautiful salmon, wild bears, snow capped cliffs and ancient glaciers just can not be found in the mid-west!  I guess sometimes us Alaskans have to be reminded how spoiled we really are!

Kings

The Kenai River is famous for its special strain of genetically unique Chinook salmon, Kings that stay at ocean for five years and return as seven year old fish.  Obviously, these older age class salmon are bigger then those of other rivers that return as three and four year olds.  Over the last twenty seasons, my guests have landed a fair amount of these giants, kings of 75, 76, 77, 79 and even two pushing the scale to the mid-eighties.  But this year, for whatever reason, my personal boat hasn’t broke fifty! (My other guides have caught a few jumbos, adding to my frustration!)  Now don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with the 34, 37, 42 or 46 pounders that we have landed in the last few weeks – those are certainly nice chinook in anyones book (what am I, Dr. Suess?)…but oh, how I long for a HOG!!  Maybe this Tuesday…….

They’re here!

Just got  a very excited notice, via e-mail, from our air charter service that the reds (sockeye salmon) are finally “in” at Wolverine Creek, as are a couple of regular visitors in the form of a black bear sow with cubs and two brown bears! Its about time: wow, has everything been late arriving this year! Just goes to show ya, one can’t rush Mother Nature as she operates under her own rules and clock!

Life is like a bowl of…salmon????

I was just thinking how fishing, especially king fishing, is a lot like life: try as you might, you just cant predict or control the outcome, and rolling with the punches, taking the good with the bad, savoring the highs and  ”dealing with” the lows becomes the wisest course of action. Take yesterday, a terribly slow day on the mighty Kenai. Looking around, assesing other boats and anglers, it was clearly apparent that the overall average success rate was about 1/3 of a fish per boat. (How does one catch a third of a salmon, one might ask?) This is to say that every third boat might have one fish on board, for four anglers! That’s about as slow as it gets, with odds of getting skunked (I hate that word!) far outweighing odds of catching even ONE king salmon!

Still, one gets up, adjusts their attitude, tries their hardest, RE-adjusts their attitude, and makes the best of it, attempting not to dwell on the negative but instead enjoying the fresh air, wild life, pretty sights and the hope that “on the Kenai River, ANYTHING can happen!”

And often, it does: yesterday morning, several hours into an ultra-slow day of fishing, first time salmon angler, ten year old Austin Knight blurts a sudden “Hey, hey, hey!!!” as his violently rod dips and line screams from the reel! Fifteen minutes later, he is grinning ear to ear (check out the recent photos on my facebook page!) on the bow of my powerboat, straining to heft his ultra-thick, chrome-bright Kenai king of 42 pounds!

AND JUST LIKE LIFE, you simply tuck away these extra-special memories for those darker times when things just don’t seem to roll your way!

Well, our trout season is underway! The upper and middle Kenai River “opened up” a few days ago, and our trout guru guides (Tom and Eric) report good catches of native Rainbows and Dolly Varden (char) on both sections of river! PLUS, on the upper Kenai, the early run of sockeye salmon (commonly called Russian River reds, due to the tributary they are headed to!) is building in numbers by the day, providing some great bonus fishing if and when the trout fishing is slow! In fact, even when the trout fishing is rippin’ red hot, many of our guests opt to have their guides pull-over to a gravelbar so they can ‘rip a lip’ or two and get some superb eating fish! (Any of you who have had a grilled sockeye know what I am talking about: these fish are the finest salmon on the planet!) Last year, those who were here during the second half of June enjoyed the sockeye fishing of their dreams courtesey of the largest return of first run sockeye ever, actually equalling or surpassing the action-packed fishing provided by the normally larger second-run of main stem Sockeye that enter the lower Kenai River in mid/late July! Here’s hoping that the 2010 June run turns out just as good!

That’s using your head!

ok, so one of my halibut skippers, who will remain nameless, relays this classic story of “brains and brawn” from last week. I guess two of my clients, a husband/wife team (who also will remain nameless right now) had a clever but effective relationship. The wife, being a lady angler (whom we all know are way more lucky than us male anglers) seemed to have the halibut “touch” that the fish just couldn’t resist: she would walk the bait a bit, get bit, let the big flat fish chew and tug until just the right moment, where she them lifted and reeled, digging the circle hook past the barb every time! She pumped and reeled a few, felt the head-shakes ensuring the fish was indeed “on” and then calmly handed it over to her hubby, who then went to work reeling the fish up from 220 plus feet of water. By the time he had the fish to the boat, she had another fish on and handed him BACK his rod, going back to work again! They continued this orchestrated routine most the morning, letting go the small “chickens” until they had the perfect eating sized halibut of 25-60 pounds! Evidently this happened over and over until two things happened:  the man was physically unable to reel another fish up from the dark depths and the couple had a great four fish limit of nice sized halibut! Now THAT is using your head!

Halibut fishing is hard to beat!

While king fishing may be the lowest success rate of all our fisheries, halibut fishing WITH A GIFTED, VETERAN SKIPPER is likely the highest! Barring rough weather that occationally prevents guests from getting on the water, our guests nearly always get their two fish per person limit! In fact, it is such a “gimme” that the biggest questions usually are (1) how hard will I have to work (2) how long will it take and (3) how big will my halibut be!

I dont know if you noticed or not, but in my first sentance the words WITH A GIFTED, VETERAN SKIPPER are in all-caps! Thats because, like all guiding fishing, WHO you fish with can make or break you! Well, with EZ Limit I can honestly say that our salt-water skippers are arguably the very best in the area! One has eighteen years of guiding halibut in Cook Inlet waters, and the other “only” has twenty one years of doing so! Best of all, these two buddies of mine keep their gear and boats perfectly maintained and always dig deep, try hard, and take personal pride in their success rate, hitting the beach at the end of the day with big smiles and impressive catches nearly 100% of the time!

Thanks Wally and Rod, for doing such a super job for every single one of our halibut anglers!