Monday, September 28, 2015

September: Return to Kodiak and on to Saltery Lake Lodge

The view from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) - Alaska
Overview of the Alaska trip Sept 18-24, 2015: It was the driest trip to Kodiak Island Rod and I had made. Dave Magoffin said there had not been a significant rain for six weeks. There was a little rain shower on Sunday but for the rest of the week we saw mostly sunny skies. The rivers were very low; most of the silvers salmon are dispersed through the first mile or so in Saltery River up from the estuary. We spent most of our time in the lower Saltery and Rough Creek fishing the brackish waters of the estuary and the salt of Ugak bay. 

Ugak Bay

The silver salmon holding in the stream were struggling due to low oxygen saturation levels. The rivers were choked with dead pink salmon, chum salmon and a few sockeye salmon. The last significant rain for the Saltery watershed was six weeks before we arrived when the sockeye run was on. So, most of the fishing were in the lower Saltery river near the salt water of the estuary. 

Where the Rough Creek flows into Ugak Bay
The silver salmon were much smaller the year, probably in the eight to ten pound range with the fresh sea run fish more lively and bright with sea lice attached. We spent seven days at Saltery Lake lodge and we managed to bring to hand 118 silver salmon. Prior to the stay at the lodge, Rod and I flew in on Friday and stayed two days on Kodiak Island in Kodiak city. The trip was without incident and went smoothly. We flew into Alaska earlier in the day than past years and had an opportunity to see the snow capped mountains surrounding Anchorage. We touchdown In Kodiak before supper time and had an opportunity to stroll the marina and dine at Henry's Great Alaskan Restaurant.

Sept 19, 2015 Saturday: We left at 8 AM to deep-sea fish for rock fish and halibut. We booked a trip with Capt. Dave on Fish Hawk; the Fish Hawk had been upgraded with dual 300 hp Suzuki outboard motors which pushed the water craft to 45 knots on calm seas. 

Capt. Dave's modified water craft, Fish Hawk
There were five paying customers on board with the other three fellows from Switzerland.  Two of them spoke excellent English, with Claude speaking five different languages. The other Swiss was Eddie, he's an architect having traveled the world and this was his first trip to Alaska. We found out there are four official languages spoken in Switzerland; French, German, Italian and Latin. When they found out we were from Missouri; they asked about Ferguson and the races riots. St. Louis made world news and not in a good way. 

The three Swiss: left to right Eddie, Claude and Bruno
Capt. Dave found rock fish and made several passes over the fish before we caught our limit of five apiece. A time later, he moved us to deeper water to find halibut; we caught only five small halibut. We returned to Kodiak harbor by 4 pm and dropped off the fish at Island Seafood Processing with instructions to pick up the box the following Saturday. 

Halibut and Rock fish in the box going to the processing plant for a trip back to Springfield
Rod and I return to the Best Western Hotel, rested and watched a football game for a short time. We decided to check out a sport's shop down the road known as Mack's and renamed Big Rays. When we walked past Kodiak Brewing Company, we spotted a Saltery Lodge vehicle and found Dave Magoffin with a pint in his hand. He showed photos of his Cessna airplane that flipped over after a windstorm a month ago. He plans to move the plane in parts to the beach and barge it to Anchorage and trailer the plane to Fairbanks for his mechanic to rebuild it. Rod and I returned to our room for the night. 

Waiting for our ride to Saltery Lake Lodge
Sept 20, 2015 Sunday: At breakfast, Rod and I sat next to a group discussing their upcoming fishing trip, after inquiring we found out these fellows would be at Saltery Lake Lodge and waiting for Dave to make the trek. The group known as the scientist, they all study/studied endocrinology. Rich is a professor  at Yale. John works at the NIH in North Carolina. Audrey is retired and living in Florida and Kelly a professor in Chicago. We were to meet Dave with over the road transportation to the lodge at 10 AM from the Best Western. Dick Compton was in the lobby, he flew in Anchorage that morning and just arrived. Dave was late 1.5 hours before picking us up.  We made it to the lodge a few hours later. After lunch, we fished four hours in the lake near the lodge. We hooked and landed a few silver salmon, but the fish were very dark. The lake was probably eight inches lower than last year with the few salmon laying low in the deeper water. We did find numerous Dolly Varden in the lake. It was good to get back to Saltery Lake and breathe in the fresh air of Alaska. R 3 k 3 

Trekking the trail along America River to the lodge
Sept 21, 2015 Monday:  We started at the lower Saltery River in brackish water in the estuary. Everyone caught fish with the pinks, chums populating the area with the silvers mixed in from the salt to the crossing. No bears or buffalo seen. Upstream from everyone else near the crossing, I saw several spots were the Bears caught and ate salmon with the remains on the bank. We stayed the entire day at the estuary with Chris and Dave providing lunch at the fishing site; allowing everyone to stay out the entire day. The day stayed cloudy with rain in the morning. R 17 k 12

Thanks to Chris and Dave for a shore lunch
Sept 22, 2015 Tuesday: We started at the lower Saltery near the estuary. It was near high tide with a few silvers caught. We moved to Rough Creek near Ugak bay around 10 AM. Several of us started to move up stream and found the creek populated with silvers, chum and pinks. We were targeting the silver salmon. John and I were the first fishermen up the stream and saw a bear fishing. We retreated and fished our way back. At 2 PM, Kelly met us and John decided to return to the vehicles for some water. Kelly and I went back up steam. Soon, Chris our guide and Tony caught up with us and they move above us sighting another bear. There were several spots with 50+ silvers holding up and one could take a few before alerting the other fish. Chris and Tony saw another bear in a hole with Kelly and I seeing a pair of bears up farther. Rod met us later in the day. We finished fishing at 5 PM and returned to the lodge. We saw buffalo on the gravel near Saltery River and five wild horses near the spot we started to fish that morning. R 13 K 11

Rough Creek looking upstream to Bread Loaf Mointain
September 23, 2015 Wednesday: We started at the lower Saltery with the high tide at 1030 AM. A fresh run of silvers had moved in with the eight of us getting our limit within two hours. A group of ATVs drove and we packed up and moved to the Rough Creek. In a short time, Bill and Doyle brought a church group by ATVs to fish Rough Creek. They took the ATV’s up stream and out of sight of us at the beach. Dick and I fished the mouth of Rough Creek in the salt. Dick took two silvers out of the salt. We both caught and released several sculpins. The day started in the thirties with frost on the grass and ice covering the mud puddles, but the day warmed to the lower sixties. The number of silvers caught on Rough Creek was down with the fish refusing the flies but are in large numbers in a dozen holes. We finished the day driving back and checking out the holes in Saltery River near the lodge. There were silvers holding in holes with four feet of water but the fish were very lethargic and appear to be gasping for oxygen. Even if one could hook up, the silver did not have enough energy to put up much of a fight. There was a need for some rain to fill and flush the river with fresh water. We saw four bears, a doe and fawn with the buffalo standing on the trails a short distance from the lodge. R 6 K 5
There was many opportunities to see the bison
September 24, 2015 Thursday: There was a frost covering the ground with the outdoor thermometer reading 30 degrees. We started at the lower Saltery River with everyone having success. We stayed until 10 AM and moved to Rough Creek. Rod, Dick, Rich and I stayed at the mouth of Rough Creek. Dick and Rod pulled in a few sculpins with Rick, Rod and I catching silver salmon. We fished until 12:30 PM and then grouped together to have lunch on the river. Chris made the extra effort by serving up Rubin sandwiches and soup on the river bank. He did an excellent job cooking for us this week. After lunch we went back to the same spots, I heard later in the day fishing was very good with most of the guest catching silver salmon in the salt. Our guide, Mike took Rich, Aubrey, and me to the mouth of the Saltery River traveling along the berm. We saw a few wakes but did not find fish. After an hour, Mike took Rich and Aubrey back to Rough Creek. I stayed by myself and continued to move up the estuary and came to Hearst Creek. With high tide at 11:30, the water level in the afternoon dropped off. The silvers were moving the skinny water, so it was easy to spot the fish. The seals left the area due to low water levels but the silvers were concentrating the area with holes and Hearst Creek provide them with a holding area. The silvers were taken in rapid succession, with seven taken in two hours of fishing. The buffalo were off in the distance but at 5 PM started to move my direction. I was able to get good video of them. Chris picked me up at 5:30 PM and we called it a day. R 8 k 15 
Wandering bison in the estuary waters of Saltery River near Ugak Bay

September 25, 2015 Friday: The last day to fish. Still no rain the rivers are very low with many spent pink salmon, chum and sockeye. We started the day in the lower Saltery River and fished for a few hours. The catching was down a little and the silvers caught were beginning to turn. I return a couple of the early fish I caught back to the river. We moved to Rough Creek, Rod, Dick, Rich and I fished the mouth of Rough Creek in the salt. We all caught silvers before lunch. We had several close encounters with Harbor seals without incident. Our guide Chris threw rocks at them to keep them at a distance. John had walked the beach looking for moving salmon, when he returned he fished the out flowing waters and hooked a large sculpin.

John showing off a sculpin caught in the salt water near Rough Creek
The day was mostly cloudy with signs of rain for the next day. We all regrouped for lunch and decided to stay put for the rest of the day. High tide was at 1230 PM and it past after we finished our meal. Later in the day, a group went back to Saltery River to finish on the lower section. I walked up stream to find a spot to fish for my last cast last fish. Upstream a few miles on Rough Creek, two years ago,  I spread a few ashes from Sean and wanted some time to reflect on the time we spent here together.
Our guides for the week left to right: Chris and Mike
That evening we did not return to the lodge for dinner. Chris and the girls set up a campfire and provide us with Alaskan surf-n-turf. He demonstrated his cooking skills and we were all impressed with the results.
Setting up for a sea side meal with Chris and the girls

The view from sea side meal; Ugak Bay
Note from Dave Magoffin: 2015 turned out to be another amazing season for Sockeye with unprecedented numbers once again. Over 40,500 Sockeye made the run through the weir and many new fishing holes were born due to some high water conditions during the 14/15 winter. It was awesome to try out new locations while always being able to fall back on the old standbys. We also witnessed another increase in the amount of Rainbow Trout waiting under logs and brush for that perfectly presented fly. The weir consistently reports big numbers in June, and the earlier the better for weather, so the Sockeye season will start on the 26th of June this year. -Dave

The entire 2015 season was very dry and warm which we don’t complain about, but it delayed the Silver Salmon run a bit. This larger species do not like low water conditions so making the commitment to enter the Saltery drainage was not in their best interest. Luckily we found that the Silvers do not give up and the entire run was waiting within casting distance of the Saltery Cove beach. We had a great time catching the freshest, brightest silvers we have ever seen directly from the ocean, on fly rods! The delay didn’t last forever luckily and we were inundated with fish at the very end of the season. After many years of wishing we had guests in October to catch the 20 pounders, I am extending the season this year for the simple fact that the BIG Silvers always wait until then to make their move.

Two new activities that we have always enjoyed but not offered commercially will be introduced. For one, If anyone is interested in a more photography oriented vacation we will have pro outdoor photographer Jon Gurry guiding in August.  That time frame also offers the best sport fishing for Chum Salmon. I am here to tell you that If you have never caught a 25lb Chum on the fly, you are missing out! Also, for the fans of the “cast and blast,” Sitka Blacktail Deer, Bison hunting, along with Silver fishing will be added through the 2nd week of October this year!

As many of you know Saltery as a business took a substantial hit on August 28th when a hurricane force windstorm had its way with our beloved Cessna 185 float plane. N2772J was purchased new from the Cessna factory in Wichita, Kansas in 1969 by my Grandfather, and remained in the family her entire life.  Although the aircraft was not a total loss, she will not fly again for many years, unfortunately.  But... The show must go on! I have decided to use the loss not as a setback, but as an opportunity. I have just taken possession of a 1978 Cessna 206 amphibious float plane. This beauty is quite a bit larger and can hold 2 additional passengers.  She will allow us to land on paved runways, and operate off the main airport in Kodiak so much less ground transportation will be necessary. 

Here’s to another great season of fishing at Saltery Lake Lodge. I do hope you will all join us to make 2016 the best year yet! 

Tightest lines,

Dave Magoffin