There’s nothing we like better than seeing good friends of ours with great fish. Kathy and Bryan Whiting deliver.
Our silver salmon fishery at Alaska West is very numbers-oriented. Doubles are very, very common.
We think it’s pretty cool, though, when a family – like the Whitings pictured above – pulls off a quad. From the looks on their faces they seem to agree!
More on Silver Salmon at Alaska West
Doing what we do, we get to meet some pretty amazing people. There’s something about high quality experiences in remote locations that just attracts good folks.
We’re really lucky to have gotten to know Bryan, Kathy, Jason and Eric Whiting through their trips to Alaska West, starting in 2004. Bryan was kind enough to put together some background on why and how their family decided to go fishing in Alaska.
We have a ton of respect for Bryan and Kathy, and the decisions they’ve made about the impact that trips like these would have on their family. As you’ll see below, there was much more to the process than “we thought it’d be fun to go fishing together”!
Much More Than Catching Fish
From the moment our children were born, it was the goal of Kathy and I to focus on providing them with activities and experiences as opposed to transient “fad” products. From an early age we had them involved in the out of doors, fishing, athletics, group activities and associating with adults. We felt this type of experience was the best way for them to acquire the manners and values we wished them to possess as adults.
From the time they could get into a backpack they were on the water experiencing weather, seeing animals, throwing their shoes in the river and soon reeling in and touching fish. I grew up outside Yellowstone. Consequently, we spent 2-3 weeks hiking, camping and fishing each summer throughout Yellowstone where our kids saw and learned about nature, and soon doing their share of the work involved. As they grew older, Kathy and I wanted to expand their experience through exposure to different parts of the Rocky Mountains and cultures.
The first was spring break fishing trips to Lees Ferry. The boys helped develop the budget associated with this trip. They contributed to the trip by earning money which we hoped would help develop personal responsibility, the value of work, and a work ethic as well. Through all these experiences, we also established parameters where if our family values and manners were not met, whether it be on a trip, in school, in athletics or just at the movies, it affected their ability to participate in the next experience.
Kathy and I also wanted them to learn about developing and accomplishing long term goals. Jason was immediately interested in fly fishing in Alaska. He found Alaska videos on the internet, Alaska shows on TV, Alaska articles in magazines. Kathy and I felt Alaska would be a great “once in a lifetime” experience for our family and especially our boys. We all were soon absorbed by the prospect of Alaska, but it seemed so far away in many ways in addition to mileage.
Each winter we went to a fly fishing show in Denver and saw videos, gathered brochures and talked to numerous Alaska camps and lodges. All this just served to further expand our desire to go to Alaska, but the cost just seemed beyond what we could make happen. The winter of 2003-04, we were again at the fly fishing show and talking even more fervently with the camps and lodges in attendance. All of them sounded great, but when we asked them if we could bring the boys, who would be 14 and 15 that summer, they all said “sure, we take kids”, but it was easy to tell by their attitude and the manner in which they said those words, that they would prefer to deal with adults. One camp even said they boys could come along and watch Kathy and I catch fish – not exactly the experience we were looking for.
Thankfully, Alaska West was in attendance that year. When we talked to them, they immediately showed great interest in the boys to the point where they began to just talk to them. In addition to the great fishing they talked about going up river in a jet boat, having fish catching contests, seeing eagles, having a salmon lunch on the river and other things of interest to teen aged boys. It was obvious Alaska West was the place, but as Kathy and I drove home, with the boys asleep in the back, it was somewhat disappointing because such a trip still seemed far away given our family budget as high school teachers and kids’ college in the future.
Regardless, the boys took over the planning. They not only determined what they needed to take and stay under the 50 lb airline limit, but planned the logistics of such a trip from plane tickets to motel rooms; from specialized fly fishing equipment to waterproof coats. We developed a budget but to their credit, the boys knew it would be hard to bring to execution.
One month later, Alaska West called me after school in my classroom and basically enabled our “trip of a lifetime” to happen in 2004. My wife was the real hero. We could make it work only if everyone didn’t go. The trip was so important to her that she decided the boys and I should make the trip and she would stay home.
The 2004 trip was even more than we had hoped. The boys spotted animals on the plane flight in; we caught more silver salmon on the first day than I thought we would catch the entire week; the boys talked with anglers from England, Russia and Italy; they saw the culture and life of the Yupik natives. They saw how hard a guide works each and every day and talked to them about fishing in South America, Kamchatka and Canada. The boys helped the guides haul the day’s equipment to the Arolik River boats and experienced the primitive isolation of the Arolik. The guides had fun with the boys. They had rock skipping contests, started a fire after a rain storm, explored hidden channels, spotted and then caught large rainbows with mouse flies, and learned how to barbecue a salmon on a gravel bar.
As strange as it may sound, my highlight as a Dad, occurred on the trip home. As we sat in the airport, the boys decided their #1 priority was to get their mother to Alaska. Before we were off the runway and airborne, they were working on a budget to get everyone back to Alaska West in 2006. They were going to use their next two summer’s earnings as well as eliminate some planned purchases on their part as their contribution to the cause.
Our second “once in a lifetime” trip occurred in 2006. The bet was how loud their mom was going to scream the first time she caught a silver salmon.
We now have had four “trips of a lifetime” with a trip for King Salmon in 2008 and another trip for silvers in 2010. Jason is now 22 and 6’4”, Eric 23 and 6’2. Eric has graduated from U of Wyoming and is a marketing director. Jason is a Senior at Humboldt State University in California, playing baseball and studying both fisheries and natural resource economics. They have grown both physically but more importantly gone from boys to men. My wife and I will always be grateful for the part Alaska West played in that process.
More on Fishing with Kids
Today we conclude our series from Bryan Whiting on his family’s trips to Alaska West. Bryan has made 3 fishing trips to Alaska with his family, and was gracious enough to write a 6-part series for us on the trips. Thanks so much, Brian!
This last chapter is focused on what Brian and his family learned about the fishing in Alaska.
- Strike like you mean it; this isn’t 6x Frying Pan fishing. Both strip and rod strike at the same time. You will be using tippet that can handle your strike. Our first trip, the guide our first day, after we had lost a couple of fish, told us “strike like you were mad and closing the door.”
- Have both your salmon rod and your trout rod rigged at the start of the day; you will switch often
- Check the regulations. In many places in Alaska you cannot fish with two flies at the same time.
- We improved our ability to play very large fish which has even helped us back at home.
- If the salmon jumps, extend your arm and point your rod at the fish. Bowing is too slow and doesn’t provide enough slack out by the fish
- If the fish is running, again point your rod at the fish. Don’t make the fish pull the line out of the reel over the circumference of the rod. It increases the chance the line will catch even momentarily on something and your fish will be gone.
- If your fish has 150 yards of line out and you need to recover line, put the tip of your rod straight down directly in line with your fish then reel. The fish will follow like a dog on a leash. After he gets up to you he may take off again, but that’s ok. That’s the fun. This is easier to do if you are in a boat in the river, but if you are on shore just wade out into the river and it will still work. I had never seen this technique before we went to Alaska. It has saved me innumerable large fish back home that went way downstream in heavy current and I typically lost.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your drag many times playing one fish.
- If a salmon is going under your boat, stick the tip of the rod in the water and literally spin the drag back. It’s faster than trying to strip line off by hand and will place less stress on your rod.
- Keep the fulcrum of the rod at the base of the rod, virtually under your hand. Not only does that utilize the full power of the rod to fatigue the fish, but rods tend to break when the fulcrum rises up the rod toward the tip. To see what I mean, take your rod outside, have a friend hold your line 10 yards or so away from you. Hold your rod at a 45 degree angle to the ground and have them pull on the line. Notice how the rod bends but the force of the pull is absorbed in the base. Now have your friend give you slack, raise and pull the tip of the rod up and back to where the rod is at 110-120 degrees from the ground. Again, have the friend pull on the line slowly. Notice how the fulcrum of the rod is up close to the tip probably close to the joint between the 3rd and 4th section, or 2nd and 3rd section in a three piece. Up there the rod has little strength and the force of the pull is absorbed in the thinnest part of the rod. If your friend jerked on the line right now your rod will break regardless of where you have the drag set. Even the best drag won’t typically react fast enough because there is too much friction around the curve of the rod. You might say, I never let my rod get there, but watch people land fish sometime and almost everyone has a tendency to get their rod in that position. At home with a 14” trout it doesn’t matter, but in Alaska if you are landing a 15 pound silver or the silver all of a sudden decides to take off it can cost you a rod.
- Keep your rod low and to the side when fighting a fish. It can’t get too low. This not only activates the full strength of the rod, but also makes it even easier to keep the fulcrum of the rod low as we just discussed.
- Don’t be concerned if you lose a fish or miss a strike. The next cast or two will probably produce another fish.
- It’s a waste of time to count fish. A lot is a lot. The last day of our second trip, the guide was curious as to how many silver salmon the two of us would catch before lunch. We beached the boat at 8:15 am, fished the same location until 12:30 pm. The number was 61 landed and released. As you can see, why bother.
- At least once during your trip do a shore lunch. It’s ok to pause to eat a salmon you caught 15 minutes before. You will remember it a lot more than a PB and J. The only trouble is you may never order salmon in a restaurant again.
- Fishing magazines, books, photos, DVDs and the Saturday morning fishing shows do not do justice to the strength, power and explosiveness of the silver salmon or any fresh salmon for that matter. Over the years we have been fortunate enough to catch many significant trout whether it be a five pound cutthroat in Wyoming, the 10 pound rainbow in Colorado or Gray’s Reef , or the 15 pound brown in Yellowstone. Without exception and with no disrespect to the trout we love, a comparable salmon runs farther, jumps higher, fights longer and has more strength and power. Even a 6 pound pink salmon would literally beat up the toughest 6 pound brown. My words are equally insufficient. No matter the level of your expectation, salmon will exceed it.
- When stripping along the river bottom, most silver salmon and most other salmon will not savagely strike your fly and take off; your fly will just stop. It will feel similar to when your fly hooks a sunken log. Don’t wait, strike. Even the take of most king salmon is far more subtle than you would imagine. If you are swinging a fly, it can often be just like nymphing in that you will just see your line hesitate.
- Chum salmon will try and rip the rod out of your hand, take off like a dragster and head for the next county.
- Salmon enter the river and travel as the tide rises. They rest in the river as the tide drops. Amazingly this tends to hold true even if they are 30 miles from the ocean.
- Salmon will school up and cruise the ocean in the area close to the mouth of the river as the tide is dropping and they wait for the tide to turn. This is a great place to catch salmon with a fly rod from shore, because they typically will be cruising around close to the surface.
- Each species of salmon not only enters the fresh water at a different time of the summer, but travels in a different part of the river, rests in a different part of the river, spawns in a different part of the river from every other species of salmon.
- In regard to salmon, bears eat what we prefer last. It’s interesting to watch a bear initially hold down the tail of a salmon with one of its paws, while peeling back the skin and eating it. After that the bear will use its claws to crack open the top of the salmon’s head and eat its brains. Then the guts are ingested and lastly the meat, the filets. Many times we saw the bear eat the skin, brains, guts and throw or carry the skeleton with the meat to their cubs. Occasionally, if they were surrounded by hundreds of salmon, the bear would just disgard the salmon after they had eaten the skin, brains, guts.
- Everything eats salmon: bears, wolves, fox, eagles, hawks, ravens, bluejays, mice, voles, rainbows, dolly varden, insects and people.
Today we hear from Bryan Whiting on what he and his family learned on their trips to Alaska West in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Today’s post is all about strategies for the trip – we’ll have a follow-up post on what they learned about the fishing. As you can see…they learned a lot!
- A non-stop flight is the best choice to Anchorage: it decreases but doesn’t eliminate the chance for lost luggage. It also minimizes flight time and maximizes fun time.
- Fly at night so you have more daylight hours to fish.
- Reserve everything: plane, hotel, cabin, car, camper, guides, camps, lodges, virtually everything you need. Alaska is very busy in the summer and very expensive. You can also save by reserving early, and early means before January 1.
- Make your plane reservations as soon as you know the dates you will be flying. Not only do flights fill fast, if you want to use your “miles” the number of seats available for use by “miles” is even more limited than normal. You may also have to take the night flights because most view them as least desirable, but that is what you want to do anyway. You can sleep on the plane and fish the next day while others are flying in.
- If you need connections from Anchorage to a intermediary town (Bethel, Dillingham, King Salmon, just to name a few) in order to get to your fishing location or camp, making those reservations early is even more crucial because there are fewer flights and the schedule with your camp may be less flexible
- Airlines will accept reservations 330 days ahead. If your dates are set, figure out when 330 days is and contact the airline that day.
- Preweigh your luggage. The limit is 50 pounds and the overweight fee is significant. A lot of the fancy week long luggage carriers one can find in the catalogs weigh around 20 pounds themselves before you put one thing in them. Alaska airlines has customer weigh stations you can utilize before you get to the counter. If you don’t you may be frantically moving items from one luggage piece to another, at the counter, trying to get them all under 50 pounds. This pretty much messes up your highly planned and organized luggage.
- The best luggage ID is a golf course name tag. They are far more durable and noticeable than the typical. You will be surprised at the number of little airline tags that are lost and how many bags look just like yours. All the fly shops and catalogs carry the same brands. Even if you don’t golf, just go to your local course, tell them what you are doing and they will be glad to make you as many as you need.
- Have rollers on any piece of luggage with any size to it at all. If you are trying to carry one or two 50 pound bags, you will be amazed how much longer the security line feels and how much farther it is to the gate compared to your last business trip with a carryon.
- If you don’t want to spend money on specific fishing luggage/bags and actually want to save over 10 pounds, a hard golf club travel case works extraordinarily well. Our first trip we couldn’t afford to buy any new fishing trip type luggage so we used our golf hard travel cases out of necessity. They worked great. They only weight 5 pounds and we packed our stuff in gym bags (small duffles) which when full, were about the same diameter as the case. Each golf case held 3-4 gym bags. We separated items according to when we would need them. Consequently, when we were in Anchorage and fishing on the Kenai before we went to the Alaska West camp we didn’t have to unpack and repack everything each night. When we got to Bethel (which was our intermediary point) and had to transfer our stuff to the small prop plane to fly to the camp (when the hard case would not work well), the air charter company took the gym bags out, threw them in the plane and kept the hard cases in their office awaiting our return. The air charter people liked that approach better than the big fishing luggage because they could stuff the smaller bags in corners, etc. (Just make sure you have an ID tag on each small bag).
- Don’t lock your luggage. TSA will cut off your locks or break them open as they go through checked baggage and your baggage will not be locked. Instead use the plastic zip ties you can buy in any hardware store. TSA will just cut them, do their searching and put on new zip ties. Your luggage will be locked and you will know which bags TSA looked through.
- Don’t put your rods in a separate rod carrier if you are going to check it as baggage and not carry it on. A friend who works for Frontier says the small 4-5 inch diameter of a rod carrier is easily caught in the baggage moving equipment and you might as well put a sign on your carrier which says “thousands of dollars here.” Carry them on or check them in your luggage. Most of the fishing trip luggage is big enough to handle such. The golf travel case worked well for us because it is long and the rod cases slipped right beside the athletic bags. My Frontier friend also said the golf case idea is good because they obviously think it’s a set of clubs and it’s hard for the dishonest types to quickly snatch a whole set of clubs. Also most clubs now have serial numbers which makes them harder for a thief to market compared to a fly rod on ebay.
- You can save some money on your car rental if you do so away from the airport. Several of the name rental companies also have offices proximate to the airport hotels and also downtown. Most of the hotels have 24 hour shuttles that can pick you up. Then if there is a rental car office nearby you can either walk, or in some case they will come get you. Not only is the rental fee somewhat less expensive away from the airport, you also avoid all the airport facility and use taxes which can add up fast.
- The independent car rental offices are even one notch cheaper, but can be harder to reserve ahead of time and their offices tend to be open less hours.
- One the days we were in Anchorage we found it handy to stay in one of the many hotels within 5 minutes of the airport. There is quite a variety in both style and cost. If you are a little late because of traffic or whatever, from going to the baseball game, going to the Alaska Heritage Museum, the Saturday market or some other activity downtown, it’s not a big deal. If you are late to your flight out to your fishing camp or home, that is not so good. You are on vacation. Eliminate the possibility of the stress associated with the airport. Most have 24 hour shuttles which will take you 5 minutes to get to the airport.
- If you intend to bring salmon home from your camp/lodge there are two ways to go: your own cooler or their waxed boxes. Your cooler should have wheels and it will keep salmon frozen for at least 48 hours, usually enough time for you to get back home. Three caveats regarding the cooler: 1- it will seem like a hassle hauling it around on the way in; 2- make sure it isn’t so big that when filled with frozen salmon it weighs over 50 pounds; 3- bring straps to secure the lid(s) or you may get home with an empty cooler. The boxes supplied by camps/lodges/guides hold exactly 50 pounds, are waxed, are reasonably durable and they will tape them closed. The only drawbacks: salmon on the edges will begin defrosting in 12 hours and TSA may open your box and not retape it. Our solution: on our second trip we brought straps for the boxes and took old neoprene waders which we didn’t use anymore, cut them up and duct taped the pieces into the exact shape and size of the inside of the box. Everything was solidly frozen when we pulled into our home 24 hours later. If you haven’t been there before, ask them the dimensions of their boxes.
- Buy your fishing licenses online before you leave. It’s more fun to fish than look for a place to buy a license.
- Bring more batteries than you think you will need for your camera.
- Predetermine some pictures you want to take. On our first trip we were so engrossed in fishing and absorbing the newness of Alaska we didn’t get a lot of the pictures we would have liked. The second trip we made a list of certain pictures we wanted and our photo album CD is a great representation of our trip.
- Bring an extra camera.
- Leave your briefcase at home. Whatever “need” you are meeting by this trip, doing quality work isn’t one of them. Creating wonderful memories and returning refreshed and raring to do great work can be.
- If you can make the time, decide to see the real Alaska whether it be a commercial fishing town, a native village, or something off the typical tourist path.
- If you buy souvenirs buy something from “native” Alaska. This can be hard to determine. There are State of Alaska certified native made items which carry small silver symbol. Be careful because some items will have a symbol which is very similar to the authentic one. You can buy everything from Alaska trinkets made in Taiwan to Alaskan items made by natives who may have never been to Anchorage. I actually bought my wife a necklace made from Wooly Mammoth ivory and saw a coat made from Wolly Mammoth hide.
- Have a weight of rod which is sufficient for the size of fish you are going to pursue. Your ego in this regard will only succeed in getting our favorite eastern water 3 weight broken into four pieces by a 30+” rainbow; your favorite western water 6 weight trashed by a silver salmon. Again refer to the Alaska West web site.
- Bring a spare rod if you can afford it, borrow it and have room for it. Even experts break rods in Alaska.
- The popular fast action rod may not be the best choice for you especially in the higher weights. Casting a stiff, 9 or 10 weight with a 500 grain sink tip for 10 hours a day for a week can be extremely tiring especially if your daily rod at home is a more flexible 5 weight throwing dry flies. At the Alaska West camp a significant percentage of the group asked to borrow one of the camp’s medium to medium fast rods during the trip. The fact they could feel the flex helped them cast heavier lines and flies farther and with less effort.
- Your everyday trout reel probably isn’t going to cut it. On our first day in Alaska, my 25+ year old Orvis CFO reel, which I had used to catch trout up into the 15-20 lb. category in Colorado, literally blew up as a 6 pound pink salmon took off on a 100 yard run. It wasn’t the reel’s fault. It was mine. I didn’t realize the difference between a Rocky Mountain trout and a salmon. I was asking it to do something which it wasn’t designed to do. You need a high quality drag that not only won’t overheat and quit working during a 200 yard run from a silver or king salmon, but will handle that all day long. It has to be a reel that has the capacity for 200 yards of backing and will handle the centrifugal forces generated as this 200 yards screams off your reel. Alaska taught me to appreciate a quality reel and also taught me how to use one to my benefit in playing larger trout back home.
- Even if you have a salt water resistant reel, if you fish in the ocean, in the tidewater affected part of the river, or even close, rinse your reel at the end of the day. The guides at our camp said, rinse it off and then even leave it outside in the rain as you sleep to get an even deeper cleaning. Most reels don’t require lubrication and so the rain doesn’t hurt the drag. If it does require lubrication, doing so right at the start of the day is the best time anyway.
- Leave your trout sized pliers, hemostats or whatever you call your hook removal tool at home. They are too small, too fragile and consequently too hard on you and the fish when you are handling a size 2 hook embedded in the mouth of a silver salmon. Get a good pair of the heavy duty “Abel or Ross” type pliers with a sheath you can put on your wader belt. You won’t regret it. It’s all I use now. I found it easier to use, easier to hang on to as well as fulfill a number of other uses even back home.
- Get a hook sharpener and use it often.
- Use heavier leaders and tippet than you anticipated. At home we use 5x, 6x and maybe 4x with a streamer. I bought 2x and 3x for our first trip. The result: two lost flies on the first two 10 pound silver salmon we hooked. Thankfully, the Alaska West guide was well prepared with 0x and 15 lb. test Maxima leader. Salmon are so much stronger than a similar size trout. It felt quite strange using 0x tippet for rainbows, but they were not leader shy at all.
- Use a WF floating line for all your fishing, except kings and sometimes then depending on the river. Most brands now have Steelhead or Salmon tapers custom designed for what you need to do. Because Kings travel in the deepest, fastest part of the river, you will need a floating head with a 30 foot sink tip in a variety of weights.
- Practice casting this weighted sink tip. It’s much more difficult to get up and going out of the water, harder to keep control of in your backcast and get moving forward in the direction you desire. The good news is that when you do, the weight will shoot your line as far as you will need.
- On our first trip we each brought our vest from home. On the second trip we brought none. You don’t need 10 boxes of 100 different flies. On any given day you will only need basic salmon patterns, or a few bead eggs, flesh flies and mouse patterns for rainbows and a couple of dry flies/nymphs for grayling. Add to that a couple spools of tippet, an extra leader, a couple indicators, 10 split shot and you are good to go. On our second trip we either used a small fanny pack attached to our wader belt or just the pockets in our rain jackets. That was plenty of space. The guides at Alaska West are going to have plenty of anything you need anyway. It’s just nice to have some flies so you can rerig yourself and don’t have to wait for the guide who may be 200 yards upstream with your partner or cooking lunch.
- The warm capilene or underarmour type socks are worth the money.
- Bring at least two pairs of wader underwear. Your fellow fishermen will appreciate it. You can even rinse them in the river or I found the best way was to hang them in the rain overnight. The rain did a great job washing and refreshing them.
- Wash/renew your Gore-tex waders; replace your felt soles if needed. It’s easier to do at home than in Alaska. Also bring a wader patch kit. Also bring a few small balloons. They take no room and can serve as a great indicator as well as an “on the river patch” for a hole in your waders.
- If you are going to be in a boat to travel or fish, bring a small dry bag for extra clothes, camera, rain jacket, lunch etc.
- Invest in quality raingear. If you don’t fish in the rain you won’t be fishing many days in Alaska. One of the best pieces of advice I received, from our local fly shop, before our first trip was raingear. He knew I was a golfer and told me “your waterproof golf rain jacket isn’t going to cut it in Alaska. You will soaked in an hour.” The golf jacket was great for a sunny day or a sprinkle, but when it started to rain you need the full bore waterproof fishing jacket. You will need a good cap to keep the rain out of your eyes or off your glasses. Most hats won’t fit under the hood of your raincoat. A good pair of fingerless fishing gloves are also a great investment. I know it’s summer, but it can be quite cold in Alaska and the water is always cold. In addition the gloves will save you blisters if you aren’t used to casting and playing fish 10 hours a day for a week. They are also great when grabbing branches, rocks as you bushwhack to a more remote spot. With good raingear, it got to the point where the rain didn’t bother us or affect our fishing at all. In fact, we didn’t even notice it. Besides, the fishing was always better in the rain. Back home, after going to Alaska, I find myself not shying away from but rather welcoming the rain because the fishing will be great and there will be fewer people on the local rivers.
- Your waders will handle the lower half of your body while fishing, but do bring a pair of golf rain pants or something similar. In the time it takes to walk 150 yards from the terminal to a small plane, from the plane to a boat, sit in the boat for a 30 minute ride to camp, or even walk 50 yards to the dining tent, you can be soaked to the skin in Alaska. If you plan to not let the weather keep you from enjoying any of those non-fishing activities previously mentioned you will need the waterproof pants.
- Put your rain gear inside the top of your luggage. Again, if it’s pouring as you move from terminal to plane, plane to boat, boat to camp or whatever transportation is being utilized, you want to be able to access it quickly and easily.
- If you are going into a lodge/camp for a week, fish for a day or two around Anchorage before you go in. It will let you relax and decompress after a long plane trip; it will get you focused; it will let you adjust your fishing technique; it will provide early success. If the airline has lost some or all your luggage you have some time for them to find it and get it to you before you go into the camp.
- If you plan to do any of the non-fishing activities mentioned in the “questions to ask yourself” section, it’s best to do those before you go in. If you wait until after your main trip, you will just be so tired from all the fish you have been catching and the hours you have been fishing you won’t be able to enjoy these other activities as much as you should.
- Be honest with your guide about your fishing skills. This will assure he doesn’t ask you to do something on Day 1 you cannot do. He would be glad teach you a skill you don’t possess, so you enjoy that experience later on. Control your ego, he is going to know the truth in one cast anyway.
- Give a camera to your guide and tell him to take all the pictures he wants. He isn’t fishing and he is working in Alaska every day so he isn’t so occupied with the nature of Alaska. In addition, he will notice things beyond in obvious which will make great pictures.
- Don’t be hesitant about telling the guide what you want to do, where you want to go. They all want to please, but they aren’t mind readers. The good ones will ask, so be honest when they do. Don’t hesitate to tell them if your desires change during the day.
- Learn and respect the native culture. They were here before us, they live here now and in many cases we fish here at their pleasure.
- Let yourself sleep. The days are so long and the fishing so good it can be tempting to fish until midnight. Remember you have another day tomorrow and you want to be able to experience and enjoy it fully. If you want to fish extra late, make it the last night before you go home. Then you can sleep on the plane.
- Don’t be overly focused on just the fishing. Activate all your senses and use them during the trip to help you recall it. Remembering some of these sensations and images can be more vivid and memorable than photographs. For us a few examples were:
– the sight of our first silver salmon as it jumped three feet into the air;
– the feel of the rain in our face as we went upriver in the jet boat;
– the sound of our sons when they hooked their first salmon in Alaska;
– the smell of decomposing salmon;
– the feel of air conditioned wind from a glacier;
– the sight of the visible wake of silver salmon as they moved up river, and the sight of that wake changing direction toward my fly;
– the feel of a silver salmon strike;
– the taste of shore cooked salmon which 15 minutes before was swimming in the river;
– the sound of a bear eating a salmon;
– the sight of a monster rainbow that broad jumped a huge snag and was gone;
– the feel of the cold water as I inadvertently stepped into a king salmon spawning bed and realized they were three feet deep;
– the satisfaction of finally catching the rainbow which had refused five previous flies.
We continue our series from Bryan Whiting on his family’s fishing trips to Alaska West, with his thoughts on making your decision of when and where to go.
Bryan Whiting has been checking in with some posts about the trips he’s taken with his family to Alaska West. Today we get the full report, via an article he wrote about his family’s first trip.
Did the 2004 trip to Alaska West meet our personal need?
Beyond our wildest expectations.
The following article, which appeared in the Denver Post and other Rocky Mountain area periodicals hopefully describes just how well.
On the Kanektok River, Alaska
“Your gear is already in your tent.”
“You’ve got 15 minutes to grab your fly rods and get wadered up.”
“We’re going fishing for Silvers.”
That’s all it took. With those magic words from Cameron, our guide, my sons, Eric, 16 and Jason, 14, were at full sprint.
Thirty minutes earlier, after flying over hundreds of small lakes and creeks the color of bad coffee, we glimpsed our destination: the crystal-clear Kanektok River. It appeared much as a vision in a dream. In my case, that August day was the culmination of a dream.
After landing on a smooth spot between the river and the ocean, we were no more than five steps off the plane when Cameron introduced himself with “I’m Cameron and you must be the Whitings. Jump in my boat. Camp is 20 minutes.”
Our minds and eyes were awash with Alaska. The river that seemed to be 10 feet below tundra level; the dense green vegetation on the bank opposite every gravel bar; the casual glance of the bear as we disturbed his quiet salmon lunch; the movement of the boat as it wound its way upriver; and the fish. The river was full of fish.
I had not expected our fishing to begin until the next day, but it was approaching 2:30 p.m. as Eric and Jason, fly rods in hand, bolted from their tent for Cameron’s jet boat. They were hollering “Hurry up, Dad” as Cameron started the engine.
Five minutes back downriver and we were approaching Two Dog Bar. Cam had already tied 2-inch pink streamers with silver lead eyes on the boys’ 8-weights as they had waited for their old man to get to the boat. Consequently, they were halfway out of the boat as we coasted to a stop.
“Jason, you go upstream. Eric, you go downstream. Cast to the edge of the current, let it sink, strip it in,” were Cam’s instructions. I took a deep breath. We were fishing in Alaska.
Cam was selecting a fly for me as I watched Eric make his second cast. Eric’s strike and shriek of joy occurred simultaneously, followed by the sight of our first silver salmon as it cleared the gentle current by three feet. As Cam laid down my rod, grabbed the net and headed toward Eric, I couldn’t help but smile and give thanks. A father’s dream had come true.
After releasing Eric’s silver, Cam was walking back to the boat to continue with my fly when “Got one” echoed from the other side of the boat as Jason’s rod bent at a ridiculous angle.
After dutifully netting Jason’s silver, Cam again was returning when we both noticed Eric in full pursuit as line screamed off his reel. Cam tossed me a fly on the way by. “You better tie this on yourself if you want to fish today.”
The next three hours we fought, caught, landed and lost more silver salmon than I had envisioned we would during our entire trip.
Neither pictures nor Saturday morning fishing shows, not to mention my words, do justice to the silver salmon. Their aerial gyrations and dashing runs are more frequent and more powerful than one can imagine, let alone anticipate. Our many years of catching trout were not adequate preparation for the strength of 15 pounds of silver salmon.
At 6 p.m. we were back at camp. As we changed out of our waders in preparation for our first dinner in Alaska, Jason could only comment, “Dad, can you believe we have six more days of this?”
At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Cam announced, “We’re going wake fishing.” A mile up from the ocean, the “wake” was created as the next wave of incoming silvers came around the corner and proceeded upstream in 3 feet of water. With a floating pink popper fly now attached to his line, Cameron instructed Jason: “Four feet past and four feet in front of the first wake.” “Now strip like crazy.” Much to our amazement the wake turned and followed. Jason’s difficulty was maintaining self-control until the wake engulfed the fly.
“Eric, run downstream and intercept the next wake,” was Cam’s next command as he moved to net Jason’s fish. We spent the morning rotating down and then back up the gravel bar meeting, casting, chasing and catching fresh silvers.
It was approaching 1:00 p.m. when Cam administered the coup de grace’ to an Eric silver. “No sandwiches today guys. We’re grilling fresh salmon.” As we thanked Cam for our sumptuous lunch at Café’ Streamside, he issued the orders for the afternoon. “Back in the boat boys, we’re heading upriver.”
Ten miles above camp, each run, gravel riffle and side channel held king, chum and sockeye salmon, respectively that had entered the river in June and the first half of July. Now, the second week of August, they either were spawning, dying or dead; no longer in prime condition for us to catch or eat. They were, however, perfect for attracting “leopard” rainbows. With a dominant red stripe and black spots covering every inch, these “leopards” didn’t waste their time with insects. They were on an all-protein diet of eggs and salmon flesh, punctuated by the occasional mouse.
Eric and I were “nymphing” bead egg imitations behind the few remaining spawning kings taking turns netting 18-22 inch rainbows. With the addition of a floating mouse fly, Jason and Cam were 100 yards upstream kneeling in a foot of water opposite a snag-filled grassy bank. “Cast up and on the grass, pull it off, mend down stream and swim it” were Cam’s instructions. In ever elevating octaves Jason’s “Here he comes” announced anticipated success. Cam’s next words told us all we needed to know. “We’ll have better luck if you wait to strike until he actually hits your mouse.”
Over the next two hours we shared Jason’s experience. As our mice would “swim” the subsequent rainbow attacks were so swift and visual as to make “exciting” an understatement.
Our heartbeats were gradually returning to normal when Cam began changing our mouse flies and beads to these 2-inch concoctions of white, pink and a tinge of brown. His response to our quizzical expressions was “20 inchers eat eggs, the beasts eat flesh.” The “30-inchers” lurked in the deepwater dropoffs where the current was their conveyor belt for chunk after chunk of decaying salmon.
One broad-jumped a 4-foot snag and was gone. A lost fish, but an image I never will lose. We did land a few that were so large and stuffed as to be nearly as heavy as the salmon of the morning.
Go to Alaska. Take someone special with you not only for unforgettable fishing, but to create special memories. I cannot put a price tag on the ever-present smiles of my sons as each new day brought a new adventure. Even now a new smile is generated as our trip re-emerges in everyday conversation or memory as we remember fulfilling a father’s Alaska dream.
We continue our series from Bryan Whiting on planning a family fishing trip to Alaska. For 3 of the past 5 years, Bryan has brought various members of his family to Alaska West to fish for silvers and kings. Today we learn about getting ‘over the hump’ and making the decision to just go!
We had finally decided that we had the need to go. At the time, I felt these selfishness, need, planning issues were something unique to myself. But I soon determined such was not the case. Upon our return from our first trip, a local TU chapter requested I give a slideshow and talk about our trip. At this very first TU presentation, just in an attempt to get a feel for my audience, I asked ‘how many had been to Alaska?’ Out of the 85 people present 6 had gone. I asked ‘how many would like to go?’ As one would imagine, everyone else raised their hand. I asked why haven’t you gone and the same two reasons popped up. How do I justify the money and time? How do I make good choices when I don’t even know the decisions I need to make? This led to an impromptu 15 minute discussion before I went to slide #2.
Each of my subsequent Alaska presentations has mirrored the first in this regard. People don’t need to be convinced that going to Alaska would be a great trip. They need to be able to develop significant justification in their mind, beyond catching big fish, and feel comfortable that they know what to do to plan a successful trip.
Developing Your Personal Need to go
I would recommend you do the same thing. Develop a personal need to go which is so important you can justify delaying the meeting of the other needs of your household and life.
This approach has seemed to click in people’s minds. Many, many people have shared with us the specific personal need they developed and these needs are as varied as the people themselves. The most common reason is similar to ours: provide an experience for someone special. This isn’t limited to dad/son/daughter/wife/inlaw. One gentleman did a three generation trip. Another took the childhood neighbor who had introduced him to fly fishing 30 years before. Another took two key employees. We all have significant people in our lives.
This developed need isn’t always people-related. The key is that the need was personally developed- individually valid for each person. A few others which people have utilized:
- learn about/experience a different culture
- teach the kids how to budget, save
- learn and use a new fishing technique
- do something they had never done
- see something they hadn’t seen
- experience life again without phone, no TV, no internet
- forget about work for a while
- recharge creative batteries
- experience isolation, seclusion, wilderness
- experience a float plane
- be surprised at something regarding fishing
There were also a few very unique, yet valid personal needs: experience Alaska before its uniqueness is gone because of global warming, mining, pollution, or before the air travel necessary is impractical due to terrorism.
One gentleman had gone to his 30 year high school reunion and realize how many had passed away…