Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Late September: Return to Kodiak Island in Alaska

Sept 20 (Fri): The trip to Alaska started with rain in Springfield and we followed the rain on our flight path to Dallas. On the second leg of our journey, the skies cleared when we left the state of Texas. The mountainous terrain of New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California could be seen from our jet windows. We landed in Los Angeles before noon at LAX airport. I do not recommend LAX, it was very confusing, overcrowded and difficult to get from one terminal to another with the present layout; the airport has poor signage for directions and getting to other terminals requires the use of bus shuttles, with routes moving on the runway near the planes. Needless to say, we made it out with a four hour layover. The third leg of the journey was uneventful with the mountains north of Juneau covered in snow and glacier filled valleys. We made it to Anchorage under a cloudless sky and had a long enough layover to sit down for dinner. The forth leg of the journey was a hundred mile flight to Kodiak Island on ERA, which is a tube with two propellers. 

The sun was near the waters of the Pacific Ocean when we landed on Kodiak. While we waited for our luggage, Rod called Chris Fiala, the captain of U-Rascal and was told bad weather was moving in overnight and he canceled our deep sea fishing trip.

 Here is the web address to contact Chris (http://www.kodiakislandcharters.com/index.html), if you’re looking for a deep sea fishing adventure while visiting Kodiak.

This was our second year in a row that our deep sea excursion was canceled due to poor weather conditions; no halibut for the dinner table for another year. We checked in to the Best Western near the harbor, found our room and retired for the night.
Photo taken by Rod Pennington
Sept 21(Sat): Since the deep sea trip with Chris was canceled, we spent the day in the city of Kodiak. After breakfast at the motel, we took to walking the city and checked out Mack’s; a local outdoor and fishing retailer. The best buy of the trip was the purchase of Stream Trekkers™ cleats for our wading boots, secure foot traction for Rough Creek. 
Kodiak Island Brewery Co.- Photo by Rod Pennington
Then we stopped at Kodiak Island Brewery Company for a pint from the tap, a popular stop for locals. We made our way to Henry’s for lunch, ordering fish (cod) and chips and watched a college football game. After lunch, we walked around St. Paul Harbor to check out the many fish vessels and sea creatures. 

Just below the water line, the star fish populated the rocks around the harbor and several jelly fish could be seen in the water. I sorted some flies and rearranged by fly box. It was 9 PM when we called it a day.

Sept 22 (Sun): The wind became a factor overnight and Dave canceled our flight into the lodge. We found out that morning, a warning went out to the residents of Kodiak, forecasting high winds and ash blown from the Katmai volcano from the northwest. The volcano’s major blast was in 1912 and it covered Kodiak with a foot of ash. The 500 residents left the island and most of the wildlife perished during that event.
You can see the images from this web site from 9/22/2013:
100 miles of paved road on the island- photo by Rod Pennington
So, the six (Dave, Rod, Jay, Dick, James and Me) of us with luggage had to make the 36 mile three hour trip to the lodge in a Lexus SUV. We left after ten AM with a few stops on the way. 
Volcanic ash in the air - photo by Rod Pennington
We stopped at the pass, which is nine miles from the lodge. There we could see the haze and smog air from the volcanic ash. There were a few comments made of the air quality. 
Note the road, as good as it gets; Bread Loaf Mt in veiw: photo by Rod Pennington
We made it to the Saltery Lake Lodge at 1:30 PM, Rod and I dropped our gear off in cabin # 5. Within a short time, we had our waders on and made it down to the nearby waters. We walked the familiar trails and paths to the upper hole, where Rod stopped for his first cast and I turned right to fish the waters of the lake cove. 
A short walk to favorite waters: photo by Rod Pennington
The wind did pick up with gust to 20 knots later in the day. The mountains to the north were hazy from the ash. 
Looking at Bread Loaf Mt with some ash in the air: photo by Rod Pennington
I had a close encounter with a beaver, with one passing in front of me to gather saplings for winter food stores. It caught sight of me and slapped its tail on the water to warn others. One of the first salmon I caught was a fish with two lures already in its mouth. My fly did not find flesh but was entangled in the line from the other lures. The salmon did come to hand with a photo to prove the tale. 
Two lures already in the mouth, can you find my fly?
I used sink tip line and the flies came back most of the time covered in aquatic plants. We saw no bears and fished until 6:30 PM and returned to the lodge for dinner. Rod and I managed to catch and bring to hand fourteen silver salmon. We had dinner at 7 PM and met the other guest. 
A fine dinner prepared by chef Rebecca
We had time to catch up with Matt and Geoff our guides for the week while sitting in the comforts of the lodge.R5K9

Very windy conditions... Dave guessed some of the gust exceeded 80 knots.
See the video below: photo and video by Rod Pennington
Sept 23 (Mon): The day was clear with bright blue skies. A high pressure front was moving through, resulting in very high winds. The winds blew through the pass from the north 50-60 knots. The winds would pick up water from the lake and create mini spouts and large water sails which moved rapidly across the lake moving 70 knots. 

This small one-hundred acre lake had three foot waves with white caps most of the day. This made for a tough day of fishing. It is important to use the wind to your advantage, keeping the wind to your back and knowing the best place to be in order to catch salmon. Rod was at the upper hole when a pair of eagles came into view. The eagles flew within 20 yards when they crashed into each other. One of the eagles fell into the river; it appeared dazed and confused. The other eagle spiraled to the ground near Rod. They both regained their composer and flew off.

I continued to have fun with the beavers; they made many passes in front of me. They have become less weary of my presence. I did take the opportunity to ambush one of the beavers. I saw him working his way back to the den with a sapling in his mouth. I moved into the grass, waiting for him to appear with a camera in hand. It all worked out great with a short video of my encounter. 

We finished the day at 6 PM and returned to the lodge for dinner. R9K8

Sept 24 (Tues): After breakfast, Rod and Geoff had talked about a trip to Rough Creek in the afternoon. I continued to find a few salmon; most of them had color, which indicated old fish. They may have made the trip from the ocean several weeks ago. Occasionally, I would find a bright silver fish, if a male came to hand; I would harvest it for the trip back to Missouri. Rod and I did go back to the lodge for lunch, to get the word from Geoff. We decided to delay the trip to Rough Creek until the next day. The trip is best when one takes a full day to hike and fish this outstanding stream. So we returned to Saltery Lake and river; Rod took a salmon out of the lower hole and brought it back to the truck, only to find a weasel eating the fleshy gill meat. Rod was impressed how much it ate. I took a floating line 8# to fish this day, the retrieve was left handed; usually not a problem for me. After several catches, I realized how weak I was fighting a salmon with that set up. So, when a salmon nailed the fly and took off for the lodge; it took all my fly line and into the primary backing. So, I decided to let the fish have all my line and reverse the reel. The salmon went up lake and I began to walk to the mouth of Saltery River taking all of the line out of the reel; at least 250 yards. I turned the reel over and started to retrieve the backing and line on the right side. In a very short time I had pressure back on the fish, and finally long line released him. All my fly line back on the reel and now it is on the right side. I took the reel off and tore it apart to change the gearings and the job was complete; it took about thirty minutes. It may sound like a crazy operation, but it proved to be effective. We finished fishing at 6 PM and returned to the lodge for dinner. R2K12

Sept 25 (Wed): It rain off and on throughout the night. The lake did not significantly come up. Geoff, Rod and I decided to go for a hike. We walked across Saltery Lake around the other side and passed the base of Bread Loaf Mountain to the Rough Creek watershed. We had the day to fish and hike upstream two miles. It was about 6.2 miles round trip for the day. I took the opportunity to place some of Sean's ash at a place where I video and record him catching a silver salmon two years ago. We found two eagle feathers on the walk and I place them in the gravel and disperse his ashes over them and then into the stream.

There were a few silver salmon found in the pools and we managed to bring five salmon to hand with a small rainbow and a dolly varden returned to the water. Rough Creek is a place were wild Alaska comes into view, I cannot say enough about the experience and opportunity to have left foot prints in the sand on the banks of this creek. We left the river at 4 PM and returned to Saltery Lake were we finished our last hour of fishing in the lake. Rod and I managed to catch a few more salmon before the end of the day; these were to go into the freezer. Rod had a beaver approach him in the lake; the beaver did not see him since he was carrying a stick back to the den. Rod stood his ground at the lake’s edge and the beaver came within a yard before stopping, slapping the water and swimming away. It was very funny to watch; unfortunately, no video of the incident with the beaver. We managed nine salmon for the day. R3K6

Sept 26 (Thurs): We started the morning in the lower hole of Saltery River. Rod did well taking three silvers right off. I found one right below him and moved mid-stream to another holding spot. Geoff came down a little later to help us out. I hooked another silver salmon but on the initial run it broke the tippet due to the slack line wrapping around the reel handle; it happens. We walked downstream to the next hole (bed springs) where we found three other fishermen. Geoff found a few Dolly Varden, but the stream was uniform and lacked any holding water. It was almost noon and we returned to the lodge. We decided to change rods and fish for Dolly Varden in Lake Creek. There had been little rain fall in the past week and the creek was very low. It was full of sockeye salmon but the Dolly Varden were far and few. Rod caught a few in the lower reaches. 

Rod and I returned to the mouth of the creek where I dispersed more ashes. Rod took the video and the ashes blew out over the lake.

It was almost 3 PM and we finished the day of fishing the lake where we found more silvers salmon and fished until 6 pm. R6K7

Sept 27 (Fri): The rain fell most of the night. The morning before sunrise had a patch of clear sky with more rain to follow. After, breakfast, I decided to stick with the lake the entire day. This was the first day I wore a raincoat (I always pack one just in case). By mid-morning the wind picked up blowing 20-30 knots with consistent rain. I favor these days for fishing; some of my best days at Saltery were windy with rain. I started in the lake and stayed there the entire day. Rod and Geoff came across later in the day. Several RV’s came in with float tubes and eight fishermen, probably from town. I found out later in the day they were from Utah, and did not enjoy the weather. The fishing was tough with winds very gusty at times. Rod and I brought to hand seventeen salmon. I finished at 5:30 PM and called it for another year. We returned to the lodge with steak and fried potatoes. The meals were excellent; the rooms were cleaned every day. The accommodations could not have been better. Dave has made several improvements with solar panels, to decrease the dependency on the diesel generator. He is making plans to build another cabin that will be self sufficient for the winter, if there is interest for people to stay late into October for the steelhead run.R6K11

Overall, it was a good week to fish. We totaled 84 salmon. Last year, Rod and I landed 93 and two years ago Bill, Sean, Rod and I landed 123 salmon with 173 dolly varden released. I cannot say enough good things about this place; with outstanding salmon runs, to experience Rough Creek a true Alaskan wilderness adventure that I have cherished in my thoughts and dreams. The lodge is operated with very professionally by Dave and his friendly staff. I want to thank Jay and Dick for sharing the water and enjoyed the stories by James Magoffin, Dave’s father. Huge thanks to Geoff Abramczyk, our guide for the week, for putting up with Rod and me and taking us to Rough Creek. R32K52