I wanted to title this blog entry FISH ON but not surprisingly after the summer I had, I've already used that title. More importantly, it was a trip for me and Lisa away from the grind. I wanted to give Lisa something special...something away from the girls and out of the house. After my trip with Dad and Sam a couple weeks ago, I knew this is what she needed. Even though most people stop fishing the Kenai River in October, the second run of the silvers is going strong and there are plenty of dollies and rainbows to be had...all gorging themselves on loose eggs before the winter.
Problems leading up to today...the girls are sick. Katy has had a fever off and on for a couple days and Alyssa has been getting slowly worse. Their noses are becoming faucets and they've been pretty cranky...BUT besides that first day that Katy was sick, they haven't really been lethargic. So our awesome neighbor was fully aware of the situation but recognized how bad we wanted to get out of Dodge for half a day. She was on board.
Second problem...the river is extremely high. If I'm reading the River Forecast Center's website right, today's level was the 19th highest on record going back to 1970 and the highest it's been since 2004. All that meant there was lots of debris being picked up and moved downriver and fish wouldn't be in their normal hideouts. It was going to make for an interesting day of fishing. Yesterday, I called a couple of other guides to get their impression before I got ahold of Mike (our guide)who said he'd been out fishing and there were plenty of fish to be caught. So...we went for it.
Sorry, enough background. Time for some fish tales. We left our house at 6am, drove through the dark and arrived at 7:35. The river was impressive and a little intimidating. We both weren't sure what to think but Mike assured us we were good. He paddled hard to get us across the river to a good holding spot where he could give us a few tips. After Lisa threw in her line a couple of times, I grabbed my rod and gave it a go...not really expecting anything. Remember last time I was the last to catch a fish and it was probably an hour and a half into the float before I finally did. Not today. On the second cast, my bobber disappeared and I yanked skyward and immediately felt that incredible tug at the end. Oh, how I LOVE that feeling. So 5 minutes into our float, I landed my first fish...a BEAUTIFUL dolly!
Because it was still pretty dark, we didn't realize for a while that the auto focus wasn't on so our first several pictures weren't very good.
So we moved on. Not too much later I was able to land an average size rainbow. It was a beautiful fish but it was so early on, we did a quick release and didn't take a picture.
But today wasn't going to be about the dollies and rainbows. Today was all about Lisa and her silver salmon. Maybe 30 minutes later we stopped at our first hole to switch to casting rods and try our luck at the silvers. The water was so high and cloudy that we couldn't see them like before but Mike knew they were there. He told us how it would feel when they hit but it's just not something you can explain, you need to experience it. Luckily Lisa was paying attention and knew when she had her first hit. She yanked back hard and set the hook and the fight was on!! I couldn't believe it. Just like Dad, she pulled in this BEAUTIFUL silver salmon. But unlike our first trip, these salmon were fresh from the ocean. They were still bright and fresh. Lisa fought it into the net and the high fives started flying!! I think all 3 of us were grinning from ear to ear. Even Mike, who does this every day, was giddy with excitemet for Lisa. It is why I came back to him for this trip. He is genuinely excited for us when we catch fish. So he asks if Lisa wanted to hold it...I don't know if he was surprised when she said "YEAH!" but it made me a proud husband.
We didn't get anything else out of that hole so we moved on downstream. We found another hole that I wouldnt' have thought would have been very active but the salmon were in there THICK! It didn't take but a few minutes and Lisa hooked up with another. BUT this time she didn't set the hook and it shook off before we could get it in the net. A cast or two later and FISH ON! But AGAIN, the hook wasn't quite set and the fish got away. Now it was getting kinda funny. Mike joked that she needed to set the hook like it owed her money. It couldn't have been one or two casts later and she hooked ANOTHER!!! This time there wasn't any way this fish was getting away. Besides, it owed her money!
Alright, now it was just getting rediculous. At this point I had landed two average fish, a dolly and a rainbow. But Lisa had landed two silvers and hooked 2 more! About this time we were wondering if her green spinner was the way to go but I wasn't going to give up on my orange one yet and good thing. In the exact same spot, I finally hooked my first silver of the day. She was a beauty.
I think Mike was still stringing that third fish when Lisa hooked ANOTHER ONE!! But, unfortunately this one got away from her again. Now it was my turn! There was definitely a hot spot of where the silvers were lined up so I cast just past it and focused on the retrieve when WHAM!!!...actually it felt like a bump but whatever (I'm telling the tale)...FISH ON AGAIN!!! I could immediately tell this one was bigger and when it gave us it's first jump, all three of us shouted out. We had only seen hens (females) so far and this was a big buck. It was definitely the fight of the day. It took a while...going back and forth from one side of the boat to the other and diving deep but we were finally able to get it in the net.
What a freaking monster!! We all know the guides trick of pushing the fish out a little bit toward the camera...evenso, that is a big fish!
Since we were having so much fun and the fishing was so great, we actually decided to let the big guy go and continue fishing. A few casts later and Lisa hooks a big buck too!!
We initially were going to keep this one because it's color was a little better than mine but we noticed he had already been through a pretty tough patch. Check out the battle wound in the second picture. Mike thinks it was a seal that did that to him in the ocean before he made the run up the river. Pretty amazing stuff.
So finally, it was time to move on. All of that happened in 30 minutes or so. The adrenaline was PUMPING!! It was one of the most exciting fishing experiences I've had.
Things slowed down after that. We each had several more hits on the fly rod while we were floating down river but were having a hard time setting the hook. I was able to land one more GORGEOUS fish. After several near misses, I was able to set the hook quickly on this guy. As much as I loved landing those silvers, this was a special catch. I am such a huge fan of rainbows. They are gorgeous fish and this one took the cake. It's a shame we couldn't get his colors on film. I wish everyone could see a fish like this in person. Mike was certain it was an old fish...probably pushing 20 years old. You could tell by how heavily spotted and dark he was. The contrasting color down his side was amazing. This picture doesn't do his size or color justice at all. You'll have to take my word...it was a beautiful fish.
I took this picture at one point just to try and capture our settings. Such a cool experience.
We hit several more holes on the way down the river but just couldn't get any more fish on. That was fine...we had more than our share of fish (and fun) at this point. We landed at our final destination about 5 hours after we started (a whole hour more than what I fished with Dad and Sam) and posed for a few pics with our 3 keepers. Let me tell you how much I LOVE this picture. I'm pretty sure I'm going to enlarge it and frame it. Just so freaking cool! What a day!
I thought this was great too. Mike cleans and filets our fish for us right there.
This time we had a cooler ready to go. I called Sam when I got home and he came over and he helped me grill a half of one filet for Lisa and vacuum seal the rest for the freezer. We have SO much fish now. We gave some of the fresh salmon to our neighbor as a thank you for watching the girls. I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to be able to go catch this fresh salmon and give it away!
So what a trip!! I didn't even mention this but we saw probably 20 bald eagles (not exaggerating at all), an angry beaver that tail slapped the water near the boat, and then a few dall sheep on the drive home. It was truly an amazing day to live in Alaska.