The sockeye came into my favorite river in good numbers and I was able to take enough to stock our freezer for the year. Not only did they have a good return but brought with them some fabulous weather also. Another reward of the summer came in the way of great trout fishing for steelhead / rainbows. Fall took me to my distant rivers for silver salmon fishing and aside from some real hard storms I had a good go with them too. As always the silvers were more than happy to smack a fly presented on the swing and they made for some of the most exciting days of the season.
Ard Stetts was born in north central Pennsylvania and now resides in Alaska with his wife Nancy. He has been tying classic Salmon, Landlocked Salmon and Featherwing Trout Streamers for over 35 years and has learned from some of the best.
"A Late Autumn Day in Alaska"
By Ard Stetts for 'The Real Skinny'
The 2009 season here was fair if you ignore the fact that we saw very few king salmon returns that were fishable. I had one very good day for hooking kings but it was not so good for landing any. I can count myself as very fortunate to have hooked up with eight fish in one afternoon but landed none of them. I am still trying to figure that one out.
With the passing of summer things change quickly some more noticeable than others. Mid October is a time when you can find solitude on almost any creek or river here in Alaska. It seems like yesterday I fished my way down to the mouth of one of the creeks that flow into the Big Susitna River. With the crisp fall air provided by a high pressure dome over my part of the state the atmosphere was so clear you could see all the way to Denali on this day. The vastness of Alaska is apparent at this time of year, and the cool nights lead to the rivers dropping substantially from their burgeoning summer flows. The sandbars jut up as shear walls at the rivers edge as the waters recede to the main channels.
Many of the rivers here in the interior of Alaska are fed primarily by subterranean aquifers that are augmented by the massive ice and snow melt that occurs on the glaciers that give most rivers here their namesakes. All of the big ones that I know and travel hail from the great glaciers. Names like Talkeetna, Susitna, Yentna, and the Skwentna Rivers all have their roots deep in the glaciers of the interior. But now the silt that turns the waters an angry muddy brown during summer is forming more sand bars as the velocity and water levels drop with the coming o f winter. The waters look almost normal by freeze up, it is truly an amazing transformation.
I had spent a good while working a Whitlock Sculpin down the channels of the creek to reach the river and hadn’t raised a fish. I was surprised because the basic strategy for the day was to find the rainbow trout that are dropping down toward the big water at this time of year. When no fish are at hand I tend to look a little closer at my surroundings as I’m sure you do also. Seeing my own boot print reminds me that mine are the only ones here, traces of others are barely perceptible with only the last vestiges discernable as wind and rain work in tandem to smooth the sandy soil. The skeletal remains of all sorts of spawned out salmon litter the beaches where they came to rest as the waters draw back; pink, sockeye, and some silvers make up the lot.
The presence of Eagles hints that the trout are dropping down the creeks in preparation of the coming winter freeze and I wished them better fishing than I had on that lonely afternoon. There is a quite, wonderful silence except for the gurgle and slosh of the currents flowing over the stones and occasional log. No boats on the river, no crowds lining the shore vying for the chance to hook a salmon as they make their way home from the sea. This is the time of year when one really goes fishing. It is the time when the catching may come at very distant intervals if at all and you learn to appreciate the beauty of a good cast. I have been taking advantage of this desolation every fall for years now and have become no better a judge of where to find those elusive trout than when I first came here. It is truly up to the fish where they will be and unless you are fishing every day and keeping their movements marked it is hit and miss fishing at its toughest. Fortunately I love to fish and I love to fish alone in a vast and quite place, fly casting is my passion in life so catching isn’t the priority of my days.
The Wood Series Flies
I always have my German Shepherd Boss along so I’m never really alone am I. He busied himself with all that was there but as always was watching me and was on guard. When I watch him snooping I often think that it must be great to be able to know things by using your nose. He seems to take a whiff of everything that he passes; some demand a second or third sniff while others hardly get a nod. As we followed one of the braided flows we came upon the tracks of a very small bear. It was troubling that there were no adult tracks, I hate to think of a yearling wandering this harsh place without mother to show it the ropes. Perhaps there is a less than mortal explanation for the cubs’ lone tracks, I like to hope. After wishing the bear cub well we went about the business of starting the couple of mile hike back to where I had left the truck. It was moving steadily towards evening and darkness as we picked up the trail that led back to our other life.
At this time of year the sun takes up position on the horizon for extended periods of time in a sort of slow motion sunset that begins around 3:00 pm and lasts until it drops below the mountains for the day at 7:30 in the evening. The snow (known at this time of year as termination dust) is visible on the mountain tops and the nights are growing cold. It is time to turn attention from fishing the rivers to tying flies. Flies for the new year that lays just the other side of about six feet of snow if I’m lucky. Winter will hold plenty of tasks that need to be addressed at the cabin on the lake. Every year a little more gets finished and the place begins to take on the look of somewhere I want to live.
My last trip for trout was to the Kenai River on the 27th of October and the day was a good one. I found the river deserted and managed to catch two colored up male silver salmon without trying, and hooked a large rainbow that treated me to almost a full 45 seconds of speed and agility demonstrations before coming off the hook in a corkscrewing leap and plunge. It was OK to set him free early, just knowing that one like that would give a good healthy pull on a size 01 Dr. Mummy and get stuck on the hook for a while made my day. I was mending and swinging deep with a weighted leader and a greased line and the fish took it on downstream mends while it was crossing the channel perpendicular to the flow and running deep.
For a streamer / wet fly aficionado like me that is a perfect happening. With that trip fishing season came to an end, however it has been a good one. Truth? I wish I had a picture of that rainbow to show you, it was a nice one..........
Footnote 1. I really shouldn’t mention “Freeze up” without taking a moment to describe that transformation from fishing spots to highways. Our rivers, once frozen solidly become the roadways to the very most deserted areas of the state. My wife and I use this opportunity to transport many of the items we will need for summer to our cabin on these ice roads. From small sleds filled with provisions to large sleds bearing loads of lumber we haul all winter long.
For heavy weight items we hire one of the many professional freighters’ who ply the river roads from Wasilla to Nome. Lastly I will mention that the world famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race passes by way of the Skwentna River and comes past our cabins location 77 miles off the road on its way to the finish line in Nome. The race makes for the biggest excitement in places like Skwentna that will occur all year. I often go to the river to see the teams pass through.