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Thread: From a fish camp in Alaska: The AK Chronicles

  1. #21
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.................................

    Living the dream,

    Ever since I realized that there was such a thing as a fishing guide, I knew that was what I wanted to be. So, in all actuality, I am living a dream. I try to remind myself of this fact at least once daily. The fact of the matter is that I (like anyone reading this) love being outside, on a river, surrounded by wilderness, with fish lurking in their mysterious (and not so mysterious) haunts below the surface, more than any other place. That is my sanctuary, a quiet place for a loud mind. I've said before (somwhere) that fishing is my faith-based activity and if I'm using the religion comparison already, I might as well say that rivers are to me as I've heard others describe churches, places of peace and salvation. If that be the case, then this place is my Jerusalem, my vatican. A place that, at it's core, is the archetype of something sacred but flawed by the conflicting desires and beliefs of those who love it.

    I wish I could say that I am perpetually at peace being here, doing what I do four months out of the year but much of the time I am distracted with the details. I am worried about late payroll, or about finding employment when I return, or how to create and maintain a life when you choose to walk out on it four months out of the year. I find myself reading and re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

    I recognize the dream attained and I try each day to hold that candle cupped against the wind of flaky employers, angry ex-girlfriends, expectations of success (financial and otherwise), abraded fingers, and groups of meat hungry french canadian sports giving me dirty looks when they snap twenty five pound test leaders at my blood knot.

    I'm not ready to wake, but dreams can only last so long once you realize that you're dreaming and milk it until you have to wake up.


    Friday the thirteenth.

    Despite the superstitious history that suggests different, today seems to be a lucky day for me. Today I got a slight respite, just enough to recharge the batteries ever so slightly. Enough to keep me from losing my ability to be the positive, enthusiastic person that my job (and my santiy) necessitates. By nature of this place and this job, I have been working ten to fifteen hour days everyday for the past fifty someodd days straight. Since June 8th I've guided thirty one days. I'm not complaining, I knew the deal when I signed on but still, a person gets to be a little burnt. The smile muscles, not to mention the rest of the body, get a little tired.

    Today our camp full of french canadian clientele all took a day off from slaughtering salmon and flew to Brooks falls for a day of bear viewing. We guides were all expecting that there would be some project created for us, building something, fixing something, digging something, whatever. To our surprise we were told last night that we had until noon to do whatever we wanted (after which we had to paint, fill fish boxes, etc). I slept until eight thirty in the morning...eight thirty! This experience was so plesant it was almost guilty, like skipping study hall in high school but having a pass.

    Though I could have slept much later, I only had until noon and while I spend nearly every day on the river with other people who are fishing, I never get to go fishing. For me, going fishing means losing water soluable moments and hours that diffuse into casts, mends, drifts and long stares with my thoughts whittling away at nothing more meaninful than where I think a fish or two might be hiding. There's a difference between trying to find that fish for yourself or someone who's paying a great deal of money to have you find that fish. The latter is a less relaxing experience.

    For just over two hours I went fishing with a good friend. We were unhurried. We talked a little, we fished, we smiled, I looked upon that landscape that I appreciate everyday with a greater mental capability to imbibe of it's beauty.

    I can't say that we caught very many trout. The trout are a bit tough to find with all the sockeye pushing them around, but we each caught a few and that was completely beside the point. The most exciting moment of the day came when we found ourselves in the midst of a "wild kingdom moment". We were about thirty yards downstream of the boat that was parked on an island. I was accross a channel standing on the bank and my buddy was on a gravel bar that extended from the tip of the island, twenty or so yards from me. He broke my spell of casting yelling accross the rushing water: "hey look at the moose".

    I looked upstream and saw a brown shape in the water but could tell it was no moose. It was a bear swimming accross the river.
    "That's a bear"
    Just after the words left my mouth a young bull moose crashed through the trees on the island, exploded through the channel above me and went bounding into the tundra. At that moment I realized what was happening and looked back to see the bear, intent on it's quarry, swimming a course that would put it directly between my cohort and the boat. I yelled at him: "it's coming right at us".

    At this point he had not even noticed the bear because he was too focused on the moose so his reply was: "not anymore it just took off into the tundra".

    "No, the bear!" I yelled back at him.

    The bear had not even noticed us yet, he was just chugging across the swift flow of the river. The distance between him and us and the boat was closing very quickly. I was stranded on the far side of the channel and incapable of doing anything but yelling. My partner wisely began splashing upstream toward both the bear and the vessel. The bear was startled by the unexpected interloper and spun around immediately heading for the bank from which he came. Before he even landed on the far side of the river, his head was down in the water looking for fish. Apperantly they have a short attention span and are not at all frustrated by failure. My friend and I got our daily shot of adrenaline.

    a furry friend snorkeling for fish

    one of the other organisms that feeds (though less directly) on the nutrients of the salmon runs


    the other kind of rainbow we occaisionally see here

    Last edited by Gogga; 21-08-07 at 12:23 AM.

  2. #22
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued...........................



    The clash of personalities progresses like an open ocean windswell raging across a breaker reef. The chef gave his two weeks notice today... that should be interesting.

    We have a unique group in camp this week. The ringleader (and financier) has been fishing up here with the owner of this camp for fifteen years; since this place was four tents and a guide. This man is a very wealthy individual who runs a sucessful factory business. Every year he brings a group of twenty (give or take) people with him. This group consists mainly of his blue-collar employees and their sons. He also brings his two sons and a few of their friends along. The scene is one you rarely see in a high-dollar fishing camp; a crew of guys with chew pushing out their bottome lips in camo neoprene chucking hardware and sucking down canned budweiser as fast as we can supply it.

    To be perfectly honest, this is not the culture with which I am most familiar, and they don't practice the style of fishing that I particularly enjoy, but in some ways, these guys are refreshing.

    Often I take people fishing who are not capable of truly appreciating the experience because they have the means to go on such a trip whenever they choose. If their expectations are not met they are disappointed, and depending on the circumstances, those expectations may not be attainable. These guys are content to sit on the side of the river, drink beer, huck metal and grin from ear to ear. They may not be the greatest sportsmen in the world (they don't really care where they hook the salmon, so long as they hook them) but they are easy to guide and they are a dose of reality in a surreal existence. Since the kings are so incredibly late this year, they can't do too much damage to our king fishery (yet) and I really don't care how many sockeye they snag, since we've had two million plus blow past us already (last year our whole run was just over a million).

    The ringleader of this whole crowd (we'll call him Dan) is a salt-of-the-earth type of guy. This is a man who could buy and sell most of the clientele we get here but arrived in shoes with duct tape holding one of the soles on. He brings his emloyees up here because these are the people he spends his time with, and he gets a kick out of giving this sort of experience to the good people who help make him money. He's charters planes just for the beer they drink. I even heard a story about him sending out a plane with one case of whiskey on it...just because somebody wanted whiskey. He's a very generous man but he's not the kind of man who's patience I wish to test. So far as I can tell, he will gladly throw down and kick the shit out of anyone standing in his way, literally or figuratively. Like I said, a blue-collar kind of guy.

    Today Dan had all twenty two of his guys go to the same gravel bar with six guides and organized a sockeye tournament. Dan made the rules and it was Dan's tournament so it was a foregone conclusion that Dan's team was going to win. Considering the prize at stake was a jar of grape goober (the peanut butter and jelly pre-mix) it didn't really matter anyway. The rules were rules. People were throwing rocks into holes, slashing lines with knifes, kicking fish off of hooks, getting tackled into the water. It was the antithesis of the serious nature that so often accompanies the guiding that I do. No one cared about the big fish they did or did not get, about how their equipment performed, about their casting technique,it was about being there and having fun.

    I wound up being the one doing the shuttle service at the end of the day but Dan wasn't ready to go home. So I sat out there until nine oclock at night as he talked with one of his machinists about life: raising kids to be tough and strong, how he worked his way up from being on food stamps, shooting deer in their home town, struggling to prove themselves as men in the eyes of their fathers, the mafia ties their grandparents each had, how to build the perfect shotgun, deaths of shared aquaintances, the aspects they couldn't understand about their teenage sons and the things that made them most proud. We sat out there so long that another guide brought us paper plates of dinner. I listened. I blended as best I could into the background. I tried my hardest not to intrude on a moment of sublime friendship. The bears wandered around us, feeding heavily in the evening cool, but didn't shatter our placidity with hostile posturing. I held a loaded shotgun on my lap and smelled the oncoming rain. When we were out of food and out of beer, the rain began and it was time to go home.

    Do I want to spend an extra four hours on the river everyday? No. But it felt right today. If every group were like this, I would not work here, this is not the kind of guiding I came to do, but I would be lying if I said I didn't learn anything from these guys.


    Stolen moments.

    Today I was given a reprieve from dodging flying jewlery. The odd man out for the past few days was a lone Cabela's rep. One of the guys who checks out lodges and expeditions to see if Cabela's wants to send people to them. He's a perfectly nice flyfishing industry guy who was stuck in the midst of a group with whom hne did not belong. He left a few days early (not as a result of the other guests, that was always the plan) and today I was assigned to take him fishing downriver and then drop him off at his plane at three pm (all of our clients arrive by floatplane and are dropped off seventeen miles downriver, the only safe place to land).

    He was set on trout and the fishing was slow, but the sun was shining and we got into a few fish. In truth it was one of those rare gorgeous days. Hot and sunny with just enough cloud cover to keep you from over heating and just enough breeze to keep the bugs at bay.

    About two thirty we were cruising along, a seventeen year old fifty horse outboard pushing us through narrow channels and wide flats. Two miles separated our leaky boat from the landing spot when the motor began to lose power. Then it died entirely and refused to start again. I tried in vain to fix the problem but knew that I had little time to waste. If he was going to make that plane, we had to float down that river fast. This would not be a problem if we had an oar system that functioned. We had the oars, we were just missing the oar locks which were supposedly ordered two months ago and have mysteriously failed to arrive. Not to be dissuaded, I grabbed an oar, kneeled on the bow and did my best Huck Finn impression, paddling the eighteen foot skiff downstream. A mile or so later, we came upon a boat from another lodge. I poled us over to the gravel bar on which they were parked and kindly asked the guide if he would do me the favor of bringing my client and his luggage down to the pick up point. Here the subtext of the conversation was far more meaningful than the words exchanged. He was polite and courteous. Said things like: "that's how it is out here, we gotta help each other out". The uspoken meaning being that I am now in his debt, he can pull up to any hole he likes within sight of my boat and do so with a grin and a wave. Not that he will necessarily, but he can and I won't even complain. He did save my ass; I never would have gotten my guy to the plane on time. I hope I see him in town some day so I can buy him a beer.

    So then I was sitting on a gravel bar.

    The river flowed around me and I took a moment to relax before exhausting all of my mechanical skills trying to fix the engine. I failed. I noticed the chums busting on the surface in the seams downriver from me and figured that since I was stuck there, I might as well catch myself a couple of fish. Because I was going for chums I tied on this:

    and expected to hook into some ugly, toothy salmon. Ten minutes later I hooked up and knew that it was no salmon, I was tied into a nice trout. She jumped and showed a gleaming stripe, bright in the rarity of sunshine and I few moments later I saw this at my feet.

    Over the next hour and a half, I plied this frogwater hole teeming with calico salmon and hooked trout after trout. All my instincts told me they should not have been there and even if they were, they should not have hit the fly I was throwing out there and yet they persisted. Beautiful spotted creatures that looked like this:

  3. #23
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.................

    After landing four and losing several others, I decided to take a break and eat the last sandwich I had saved. When I opened my cooler, I discovered that my client had forgotten a couple of chilly malted beverages that fit perfectly into such a moment. It was against all the rules, drinking beer on the river and a client's beer at that but damn it felt good to sit in that boat all alone, eat that sandwich and drink those beers, all the while knowing I had at least another two hours all to myself to fish that spot

    I walked to the bank and decided to fish the slow run from a different angle. It appeared I had fished out the trout, so I switched to a fly that I know to be deadly on all aggressive salmon:

    certain that I would begin to hook the numerous chums I could see working the pocket. On the first cast my fly stopped dead and then I was instantly into my backing. Ah yes, there's the chum I was missing. After gaining ground I caught my first glimpse of the beast and...wait, it was yet another bow. A monster two foot plus rainbow that ate the gaudiest salmon fly I had in my box. I fought him to my feet, but he was camera shy and spit the flash laden hook back in my face in disgust.

    Three casts later, I finally caught my chum. A hideous, hook jawed beast that pulled hard and, like the trout, refused to be photographed. A few casts after that I watched a big buck slam into the fly and take off downstream. For the third time in fifteen minutes, I was into my backing. I gained ground on him but he made a run for a big brush pile. I put the screws on it, tightened the drag and pulled hard, too hard. I snapped my brand new seven weight at the handle. The fish got away. I lost.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing on the bow of the boat with a lifejacket under my head. Around six thirty I heard the roar of my rescue party charging downstream. I chuckled inwardly, in many ways I preferred to be lost than saved. Those four hours I spent alone, broke down on a gravel bar, were four of the finest hours I have drunk all season. Four hours that luck or fate or *** or determinism or chance pilfered for me. Four hours that I gladly accepted without questioning the ethereal philanthropist. It took another three hours and two more trips up and back on the river to return the damaged vessel to camp. Five of us literally had to push the boat into the hold of our landing craft and then drag it out again. My boat broke down, I snapped a brand new rod, I didn't get out of my waders until almost ten oclock, didn't eat dinner until then either. I wouldn't trade this day for any other.


    Coming back around again.

    Everything has its price, and yesterday, I discovered the price I am paying for my splendid afternoon. Approximately twenty four hours ago I was in the process of cooking (or, to be honest, heating) what appeared to be a delicious shore lunch of stream side burritos with spanish rice, beans, chicken, beef and a healthy serving of nacho cheese sauce to add cohesion. As I reached for another tortilla to heat, by lower back seized and I was caught in a moment of agony, bent over those cold tortillas that had travelled so far. The muscles relaxed after a moment and I thought I had got away with just a warning. I tested my range of motion and appeared to be fine so long as didn't bend to deeply at the back. Whew, dodged a bullet, or so I thought.

    About an hour later I sat down to dine on one of the hot from the propane grill burritos and that singular act, putting my narrow ass on the gunnel of the boat put my back over the edge. Every muscle, tendon and ligament in my lower five vertabrae gave me a collective middle finger and decided to muntiny.

    I gave up on eating and laid myself down on the bow of the boat with my feet flat and my knees in the air, hoping to stem the tide of clenching pain. There was a client fishing off that boat who, noticing my agony, decided to give me his ten cents (personally, I wouldn't have given him a penny).
    "What's wrong with you?"
    "My back just seized up"
    "Yeah, I get that every day of my life. You better get used to it boy. Me, I got a disc in my back about this big"
    He hold up two fingers with approximately a half inch gap between them.
    "Been like that ten years, I don't let it control my life. You gotta just deal with it. If'n it gets real bad I chew a couplea asprin but usually I just grit my teeth and deal with it like a man".

    This represents the least helpful sage wisdom I have recieved at any point that I can remember. I decide to peel myself off the bow and leave him to his lip full of chew and his spinning rod rigged up with a russian river fly and four split shot hanging off the bend of the hook, a salmon snagging special.

    Luckily for me there were several groups of us having lunch together so I got another guide to take me back to camp and look after my clients for the rest of the day. Hell, by that point two thirds of them were drunk and passed out on the bank anyway. I spent the ride back kneeling because I was unable to sit, slowly picked my way up the hill to my weatherport and have been here ever since. I manged to make it down for dinner and breakfast but that was about it. The bosses wife gave me some pink happy pills (darvaset?) and those help a little but I'm very bad at being injured. I'm even worse at being stuck inside this tent when I know what's waiting just outside the walls. Furthermore I know that my being on the DL means more work for my fellow guides and friends and that is absolutely killing me because we do enough work as it is.

    Hoping for a speedy recovery for my back and a containment of my sanity

  4. #24
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued......................

    (note: this is a post dated chronicle)

    Hike for Pike

    About seven miles upstream there is a nondescript trail spiking up the north bank and then diving into the spruce. If you know where you're going, it will lead you to a pristine, glacial lake. The hike is just about a mile, slicing through low forest and open, swampy tundra. The trail is a game trail, carved deep into the dark soil from countless moose, bear and wolves that frequent the area. When you arrive, you find a lake hardly touched by fishing lines of any kind teeming with hungry pike. The pike are not large, a big one is thirty five inches or better and I've never seen one go forty but what they lack in size they make up for in number and willingness to eat. The experience is a nice change of pace for clients interested in a slightly different wilderness experience. Chances of encountering wildlife in close quarters are good, you can see clumps of brown fur on many trees left over from itchy bears.

    Today we had no close encounters with live animals but enjoyed a spectacular afternoon. All the various factors conspired to make it a pleasant trip, the weather was perfect, the lake was high, the fish were biting and the bugs weren't nearly as bad as normal. The only drawback we had was that the salmon berries, though bursting orange, were not quite ripe.

    This group of clients were not interested in having me on their ass the entire day and insisted that I fish, so while they chucked spoons and spinners into the calm surface tension, I followed behind with a light sink tip and a large clouser. We all caught plenty of healthy and eager pike.

    I had a monumentally stupid moment. One of the guys had mentioned that he never got any video of himself on any of his trips, so I took his camera from him and filmed him catching a few hammerhandles. Between fish I put his cameral in my jacket pocket. At one point I dropped a fly into the water and decided to reach down to retrieve it, dunking my pocket and soaking his dvd recorder. That was a 400 dollar brain fart, but he was cool about it and didn't give me a guilt trip, it was an honest (though stupid) mistake.

    The best fish of the day was taken soon after I dunked the camera (and by the same guy). A loon surfaced about thirty feet out from us and proceeded to fish the area, giving us a fantastic view of the beautiful bird. I told the guy that if the loon was taking baitfish there, pike were sure to be around also. He made a cast and immediately decided he needed to have a photo (with his still cameral this time). Just as he was taking out the camera to get a shot, a fish slammed into his lifeless spoon. Rather than risk losing the photo, he just holds the rod, not doing anything to it. After he got his picture he began fighting the fish which didn't do anything until he pulled on it, suddenly his drag screamed and his rod bent in two, a few minutes later we were looking at a fat thirty five inch pike.

    As we made our way back, one of the guys came accross a winterkill moose and I mean a big one. We measured the rack at seventy inches. He decided he wanted to take the skull and antlers back to camp, I said fine, if he was willing to carry it. Though cleaned of meat, the artifact carried a pungent funk, old rotten moose and summer swamp funk, not only that it weighed at least eighty pounds. With a smile on his face he shouldered it up and carried it out, moose rot dripping down the back of his Simms jacket.

    A fine change of pace and a wonderful place to spend a day.

    check out the moose drippings


    Farewell to the Kings... Finally.

    To put it bluntly, this lodge should not fish for kings. There are plenty of places pepple can go to fish chrome kings (I'd go to the Goodnews if that was what I were targeting). We offer a great many fantastic fishing opportunities, but kings isn't one of them. Why set up people's expectations when they we can't meet them? Oh, I know because you want to book trips and get money and don't care about dissappointed customers or guides set up for failure.

    We are located more than fifty miles upstream so the options for kings are: a) drive forty plus miles downriver to compete with the five other lodges that are at tidewater; or b) rip fire engine red fish off spawning beds. Marketing this lodge as a king hotspot is like selling depends at victoria's secret. It doesn't make sense and it puts people off.

    So today marks the glorious end to our harassing these poor tired fish who just want to get laid one time before they die.

    Goodbye to the five am downriver marathons. Jockeying for postition with boondogling snaggers, backtrolling pluggers and those self righteous fly fishermen anchored up in the middle of the run, making everyone else go around them and shooting defensive glares. Goodbye to the days of standing on gravel bars, sightfishing to tomato can red submarines. Plying them with orange, then pink, then chartruese, then white and, if nothing else worked, drifting beads over them until they either ate them or caught them in their mouths. Goodbye to ten weights snapped in seconds. Goodbye to the adrenaline acid mouth, spooled in the backing, GET THE BOAT! Goodbye to forty pounds cartwheeling out of the water in awkward splashy pirouettes.

    Okay, I do get some enjoyment fishing kings. I just get a strong guilty pang fishing them on their beds. Still, the excitement is hard to ignore. Spawning Chinook are a vice, something you know you should ignore but how do you ingore fifty inches of bright red in gin clear water.

    Now that the season is closed, I can target them for perfectly legitimate reasons. I can catch the masses of hungry rainbows that are staging behind those fish just waiting for them to drop eggs.

  5. #25
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued.....................


    "I'm no CEO"

    Bustling around after dinner, it's my week for dish duty. I was in the dining room refilling beverage receptacles and preparing coffee urns for the morning kickstart. This is the communal area of the camp, in a given evening depending on the crowd, you can find people tying flies, playing cards, comparing photos, swapping stories, drinking heavily, generally unwinding and sharing a buzz.

    I got into a conversation with the camp manager about boats or something equally mundane and one of the clients approached us. He's a nice guy, I've not guided him, but he's always smiling and seems greatly appreciative of where he's at and what he's doing.

    "I just want to thank you guys for all the hard work you do here. You all go out of your way to make this a first class experience and I just want you to know that I recognize and appreciate it. I'm no CEO, like the rest of these guys here, like most of the guys you get out here. I'm a working guy, like you guys and I know what it takes on your part".

    I gave him the stock, deferential answer when complimented in such a way. People tend to like to hold their fantasies about guiding and don't like them shattered, so I say:
    "When this is your office, it's hard to complain"
    "Work is work. I"m no CEO, I'm a working guy, like you guys".
    He repeated, and gave us a look of pure solidarity and understanding.

    It was an interesting moment. Here's a guy who obviously has enough money to afford a trip such as this one, he brought with him a group of eight men, his friends, the "CEO"s. Yet here he is on the other side of the room trying to distance himself from that group of highly regarded, sucessful, wealthy individuals and ally himself with the two scruffy fishing guides; the help. It illuminated for me a trend that I have noticed amoung many of the men I've taken fishing, the desire to appear "working class" despite having a healthy income. As though having money and an office job made them less manly than if they were struggling and earnng a living with their backs.

    I don't know the man, and I don't know what he does for a living, so far as I'm concerned we're all "working guys", just because some guys do it in suits and others in waders, doesn't change the fact that it's all work. Some of it pays better than others, some has better fringe benefits (like my daily commute and the view from my office), you choose what makes you happiest.

    The view from my office

    I missed the trout. They're back now.

  6. #26
    Gogga Banned User

    Default Continued (The one I enjoyed most so far)

    Never a Dull Moment.

    As the waves of chrome sockeye rush upriver toward the lakes that will eventually sustain their young, they blush and then darken. A bloom of blood red lingering at the mouths of feeder creeks, staining the crystal clear, still water, waiting for the right rainfall to push up the narrow trickles and begin the arduous process of spawning which will be their last gasp (or is it moan).

    These fish have endured. They skirted set nets and seals, lead slinging snaggers, seventy miles of freshwater current (running between seven and sixteen knots) complete with boiling rapids and surging drops. Now, with the storm that just passed overhead, they are making the last leg of their journey, one that concentrates their bright red bodies so densely that the hordes of hungry brown bear who have followed them into the area will pick them off with explosive leaps and intent pounces, occaisionally two at a time.

    We also follow them up into these narrow waterways, not to catch them, but to catch the large, voracious trout who follow them; waiting. The salmon won't start digging beds for another week, and their eggs won't show up in the water column in any significant supply for about two, but the rainbows are anxious and hungry, willing to eat most anything that resembles a sockeye egg.

    For us, there is also a harrowing journey to reach these small flowing gems and the chrome gems that inhabit them. Between them and our lodge lies twenty miles of treacherous river, two class three rapids and several miles of zigzagging rock garden that appear impassable by boat. No other outfitter sends boats through this section of river, though we are not the only ones to fish the lake tributaries, those are easily accessible to anyone with a floatplane.

    The trip upriver takes about an hour and a half and, for the person driving the boat, it requires about forty minutes of the most intense concentration and hand-eye acuity that a body can steadily produce. Behind the wheel of a twenty two foot aluminum v-hull with a 350 inboard roaring at the stern, the captain will encounter the first major obstacle about nine miles upriver from the lodge. The river narrows to a lush, verticle walled canyon. Eagles and osprey nest in the crecives of the rock, unsettled onlookers as our battered boat vibrates the silence of this remote place. The canyon walls pinch to create the first of two sucessive class three whitewater problems; a boiling, standing wave about four feet high. If properly alligned you can slip by it and only hang on the precipice for a gut burrowing second before crawling up through, rpms at full scream. Just beyond this you will find a straight, but jarring wave train. This can be mostly avoided by hugging tight behind a large boulder river right, but as you slip out from behind the safety of the eddy, the engine will, once again, take all it can handle pushing through the last of the focused current carrying a full load of sports and their gear.

    The rapids present the highest degree of consequence should there be a problem, or the captain make a mistake. If the boat were to wind up sideways, or to lose power, the chances are good that all involved parties would find themselves swimming and the boat would be bouncing along the bottom. All of the above would probably wind up in a nasty sweeper just below. Reading the line is relatively easy though and, so long as you don't do anything stupid (and the boat has sufficient power), you will make it through.

    Beyond the rapids, the river widens back out and allows the person at the helm about a mile to regroup and beathe deeply. The spruce tower here, somewhat protected from the harsh winds and searing cold of the winter. Soon thereafter, the situation changes. Wide sweeping bends, combined with a rapid descent and copious boulders produce an absolute nightmare for the jetboat driver. There is a channel, and if you can keep you head, it is readable but even within that channel you are constantly darting around boulders. Some are emergent, geological beasts worn smooth by centuries of life at the mercy of water, displaying their subtle hues. Others lurk just subsurface and show themselves by virtue of subtle current disruption. In water as nervous and airated as this, finding these "sleepers" can prove difficult. Even if you do know the route and see all the rocks, you still have to weave your way through them without spinning the boat. The owner of the lodge (who pioneered this route) tells everyone the same thing "it's not a question of if you hit a rock, it's a question of when. Cause trust me, you're going to hit rocks, you just hope that it's a glancing blow with minimal trauma".

    After three miles of white knuckle NASCAR power sliding, the river flattens out to a gentle slick. Here you know that you are getting close to the lake. The trees dissappear, and are replaced with alders and other squat foliage. We begin to see skiffs parked along the bank awaiting the arrival of flyout clients who may, or may not be there that day. Without ceremony the boat emerges from the river and is born into the lake, now contending with the bounce and roll of wind swell, rather than current. We hug the south bannk, and make our way to the slightly off color mouth of the trip that we will be fishing. Pulling into the small creek, stark clouds of salmon in full plumage part and then reform around our craft, like the water itself if living and moving.

    We pull up to a riffle with an eddy deep enough to park the boat and begin preparations for the afternoon. First thing, load the shotguns, then proceed to stringing rods, packing cameras, etc.

    For the next four hours we work our way up and back a half mile or so of narrow, silty water bordered with thick brush. The brush is heavily trampled by the river's edge. At the densest sections there are actual tunnels through the undergrowth. The number of bears here is almost incomprehensible.

    We always have two guides, each armed with a shotgun and we keep everyone close together, no sneaking off into the woods to take a piss. You gotta piss, you turn around and do it there. We set up at every riffle and fish it but spend more time acting as bear deterrents than fishing guides. The bears are quite literally fishing the same water we are.

    It defies one's sense of inherent logic and self-preservation when you see an eight hundred pound brown bear charging directly at you at full tilt stopping not thirty feet from where you stand and knowing that you willingly put yourself there. Even though you know that the bear is running down salmon and is utterly uninterested in you, the mere fact of having such a fearsome predator barrelling down upon you is somewhat surreal. You can't help but wonder what would happen if the bear just decided not to stop short and make you a meal instead, there is nothing to stop it but the short barrelled shotgun in your shaking hands.

    Today I was looking at eight different bears in a hundred yard stretch of river at the same time. They would explode downstream toward us, forcing the shool of salmon hanging in a deep pool into the shallow water. They always stopped short of our postion, mainly because we stood our ground and enforced our boundaries, but I swear I saw a few of them give us an evil glare before giving up fishless and slowly stalking away. We saw numerous sows with cubs and even had a situation where she was one one side of the river, the cubs were on the other and we were in between; that made me a little uncomfortable. We had bears constantly roaming accross the channel, not fifteen feet from us, scanning the pools of salmon and, occaisionally, leaping in right where we were fishing. We heard bears stealthily plodding through the thick brush behind us and could constantly smell them, like wet mangy dog mixed with rotten fish.

    The bear viewing was fantastic and we had a semi-professional photographer on hand to capture some incredible shots. The fishing was pretty stellar too when the sports could avoid snagging salmon incidentally. We had to break off half the fish we hooked because of encroaching bears but still managed many nice trout.

    It's hard to beat sightfishing twenty to twenty eight inch rainbows all day long. Well, maybe if it were dry fly fishing.

    At the end of it all, twitching with a mixture of hypo glycemia (we didn't have time to eat) and post adrenaline residue, we still have to make it back down river. Back through the maze of current and rocks that we braved to get up there and driving downriver is much more difficult than up. It was one of those days that charges you by draining you completely.

    This is one of those days where the fishing is only a piece of the whole experience. At one point today, we had cients doubled up on two foot plus bows while a half dozen bears fished calmly above us and the sun shone cooly through the alders. It was one of those moments that reminded me.

    the creek

    The fish

    The Bear

    Ok I'm geting tired now - This will have to last a while - should get some more up in a day or so.

    All the best
    Last edited by Gogga; 21-08-07 at 01:08 AM.

  7. #27
    Join Date
    Sep 2006


    I'm really enjoying these. Can't wait for the next installment. Awesome to say the least !

  8. #28
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Claremont, Cape Town


    please keep them coming!! .... I think these journals could be published ... I have bought and read FAR more boring books than this wonderful dream inducing material!!
    I always wanted to be somebody,but now I realize I should have been more specific.
    Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. GBS

  9. #29


    I agree, your mate writes extremely well and this material definitely forms the bones of a great fishing book. You should suggest it to him.
    "Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers" - Voltaire 1694 - 1778

  10. #30
    Gogga Banned User

    Default The AK Chronicles (part three)


    Dumping the Slop Bucket.

    The task itself sounds incredibly distasteful but, in actuality, it is one of my favorite duties.

    We have three categories of garbage (garbage being defined as anything you absoultely cannot use any longer for any purpose):
    burnable (this would be all things that can be ignited, their toxicity levels are not a factor), non-burnable (mostly cans, beer cans, soda cans, the occaisional glass bottle, this category is pretty well dominated by beverage receptacles) and organic (anything that even resembles food, or was at one time considered food but cannot be fed to the dogs). Burnables meet an obvious fate in a fifty five gallon steel drum at the top of the hill, shot full of bullet holes for better ventilation. Non-burnables get double bagged and sent to town via airplane or boat. Organics wind up in the slop bucket and are deposited in the river.

    We all take turns on dish duty, four people to a team, work a week at a time, once every four weeks. One of the dish duties is to empty the slop bucket. The slop bucket cannot be simply dumped into the river next to the camp, this would be like putting out a chum slick from a beach resort in shark infested waters. Bears like slop, it smells, it has calories and it doesn't run away. Each night someone has to take a boat away from camp and deposit the contents of the bucket(s) into the river.

    While someone else dips a mildewed mop into off color water, I abscond from the leaning kitchen with two five gallon buckets of slimy lettuce, orange peels, egg shells, chicken bones, green-blooming bread, rotten leftover salmon, rock hard bagels. I carry my putrid booty down the winding dirt road to the boat slough in my sandels, jeans and a t-shirt. I grab anchor, hop in the nearest skiff, back out of the slough and spin the throttle to the corner.

    The vast majority of my time spent driving these boats is loaded down with a cargo of important clients and expensive gear. Normally, I am clad from head to toe in gore tex and polartec, shielded from the harshness of the climate, hiding from its extremity. These trips carry the responsibility of safely ferrying unwated detrius to its watery grave, wrapped in cotton; open toed.

    The boat hops up on step with the lack of weight and instantly skims accross the glassy surface. Cool evening air permeates my thin clothing, breathing out the heat of the stuffy kitchen. Insects ricochet off my face, forcing me to squint my eyes as I cut into a narrow braid, and powerslide around a hairpin corner. I test myself, seeing how skinny I can run the boat on these outings. Eventually I will push it too far and leave it high on a gravel bar with no waders or boots, but not tonight. Tonight I dial in each skidded turn, clipping a few trees at the outlet into the main step. I pin the nose on shore at a deep cut bank, gun the engine to climb it high enough to hold and then shut it off before dumping the unwanted contents overboard. Once, I left the engine running and sucked a bunch of half-rotten carrots into the grate, stranding me on the bank until I removed the softly lodged offenders, leaving my hands rank and sweet.

    After the slop is dumped and the buckets rinsed, I ease the aluminum bow off the bank and spin it in the current before leaping it back up on plane and racing downriver, toward the sun that is setting over the ridgeline. A shiver runs through me but it is welcome because I know that warmth awaits me soon and I will be far more capable of enjoying it after feeling this chill.

    I kill the throttle and spin the boat out of the current of the main stem, putting slowly past the fleet so as not to wake any boats. I park it, secure the anchor, and carry the empty buckets back to the damp warmth of the kitchen. Where someone else has just finished cleaning the foors.

    "Hey, thanks for doing the slop bucket"

    "No problem".


    Can You Give Me Twenty Feet?

    Anyone who has ever guided has found themselves in the midst of a day that should be absoultely epic. The hatch of the season is coming off, or the cooling water has got the big browns attacking streamers with reckless abandon, but you find yourself with clients whose ineptitude with a flyrod puts these unusually fantastic results, completely out of reach.

    Most of us have patience (you can't do this for long witout it) and can spend entire days, or even weeks with novice fly casters getting vicarious thrills through minute accomplishments. Under average fishing conditions, this is no big deal. But these conditions are not average.

    This week is that type of week. The chums have just begun to dig beds and the rainbows are stacked behind them ravenously sucking up anything and everything that looks like a salmon egg. As an added bonus, the silvers showed up a couple weeks early and are pouring into the lower river. It does not take much to catch fish in these conditions, in fact ANYONE can catch fish here this week but anyone with even a modicum of skill could absolutely crush them. You don't even need to be able to mend, the fish are so aggressive they are hitting swinging beads as well, or better, than dead drifted presentations (my theory is that they think another fish is trying to take it away fromt them).

    Enter the clients, two extremely nice and completely incapable fishermen. I consider myself a both patient and capable instructor but two forces conspire against me, their difficulty in absorbing the concepts I am trying to convey and my shortened capacity for patience because I can literally SEE the fish swarming in front of them. Set aside the fact that I can't get them to cast an indicator set up more than fifteen feet, we can usually overcome that. Let's not talk about the seven feet of slack line in every drift, okay I can let that go. But when I have to scream SET four times before any motion is made and then the accompanying motion is a slow, limp flop of the rod (on the upstream side!) followed by a comment like "I think that was another rock"; I begin to lose patience.

    The good news is, they caught fish (rainbows anyway, we didn't even try silvers, I'm not that big a glutton for punishment), they learned a lot and they had a good time. But ***damn it, do you know how many hogs we shoulda stuck this week?

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