And the Sun Keeps Shinin’

Yet another hot and dusty summer day in sunny Yakutat.  The river is down to about 120 CFS.  Reports of a big batch of fresh steelhead down at the mouth that comes in on the tide…  then drops back out as the tide drops out.  Probably perfect conditions to go down and cast into the estuary with big streamers,  as the fish are hesitant to come into the extremely low river with such clear water.  Just stacking up out there waiting and waiting…

But there are a lot of fish already in the river and most people are still doing quite well.  Have had a couple people come through saying they had the best trip of their lives to the Situk.  One this morning said that before he flew out on the morning jet.  Camped about 2 miles from the bottom,  so they were into plenty of fresh fish down there.  I do think any that are trickling in are beating tail to get a ways upstream in a hurry.  Probably starting to settle down right about where they happened to camp.

Very crowded up around 9 Mile.  A LOT of pressure this weekend with fewer floating the river due to the lower water.  There is one logjam that is problematic in this low water that people are having to drag around.

We did have overcast and a light drizzle yesterday morning.  Not enough to help the river,  but it did help the bite while it lasted.  Back to sun now through the weekend with a chance of rain starting Monday and through next week.  Weather Service keeps pushing the rain off as we get closer,  but hopefully we’ll see a change and this high pressure will dissipate.  If not,  expect to explain why you have a good tan from your fishing trip to Yakutat…

Best fly is still the stupid Black and White Dolly Llama,  but people are starting to come in for other things.  Smaller beadhead buggers,  Polar Shrimp,  Money Bugs,  etc.  I think the Dolly Llamas are starting to get over-used on the fish that are in the river right now. Some fresh fish and higher water and they will be the hot ticket again,  but I think the fish just need to see something else.  Beads and yarn are doing well too,  now that a few fish are digging redds.

If I Had Bunny Slippers, I’d be Wearing Them

I know…  This was the wrong week to go silent on the steelhead run.  We all came down with a nasty case of the flu and this was a struggle just to get off the couch this week.  Teen and I playing Rock,  Paper,  Scissors to decide who answers the phone…  My lungs completely filled and I felt like I was drowning in green phlegm.  But…  we’re coming out of it now,  have been sterilizing everything in the shop and hangar and starting to feel like we are part of the living again.  Best part…  Teen and I sharing a warm mug of Thera-flu® as we open the shop together each morning.  Building memories…

So…  a week of crystal-clear sunny skies.  Flow is down to 140 CFS.  Yes,  it is still floatable,  but much of the float is devoid of fish at the moment.  Devoid,  or they are just deep under cover.  The upper river has a LOT more fish than the lower half,  but there are fresh chromers down near tidewater too.  They seem to be hesitant to come in over the bar during the day tide,  but are trickling through in the evenings.  There are a LOT of fish in the river right now and most people are still doing surprisingly well in the bright sun and low clear water.  Best in early mornings and late evenings when the shadows cast across the holes.

The forecast is calling for a chance of rain (and snow) starting Thursday night and through the weekend…  I’ll believe it when I see a cloud again and at the moment I see no trace of such a thing.  Wish we could have enjoyed this week of gorgeous weather,  with the whales passing off Cannon Beach and cutthroat in Tawah Creek,  instead of choking on phlegm.

Oh,  by the way…  halibut fishing in the bay has been really good lately too.

Spawners Already?

Yep.  Yesterday the water temp topped 42 degrees and we have had several reports of fish shaking eggs already.  HOT sunny weather is taking the edge off the bite for most people,  pushing the steelhead deep under the cover of shade,  making them harder to get.

More fish are spread throughout the river system,  but the lower landing slowed down the past couple days with fewer fish coming in over the bar in the bright sun.  Flows are down to around 180 CFS – still floatable,  but it’ll get more challenging as the water continues to drop.  No rain anywhere in the forecast right now.  Just a chance of some cloudcover on Saturday.

Changing Dynamics

What do you say when someone comes into the shop and tells you they saw 1000 wild steelhead come in on the evening tide?  Usually you round down by dropping one of the zeros.  Except this is the VP of a major fishing products company and you have always trusted his reports in the past.  He said the water was boiling as though it was silver season with the push of fresh spring steelhead.  They funneled in behind a large root ball,  where he would wade out,  flip his rig out,  let it sink and drift 3-4 feet downstream and wham!  He fought the fish downstream to a good landing gravel bar about 50 yards below,  then wade back out,  flip the rig and wham!  Literally a wild steelhead on every cast for about 2 hours till dark.  Heck of a story,  even if it was 20% true.  He didn’t bother to fish his last day because you couldn’t top that evening’s experience.  Instead they just wandered around town in a daze with grins on their faces…

This morning,  I received another report from last night’s fishing from another of our friends we have known since we opened the shop a decade ago.  This guy had never steered me wrong either over the years…  As he drifted out with his Cata-raft,  pockets of 10-20 fish in every hole,  divot and behind every log and under every overhanging branch.  He was amazed there wasn’t a single walk-in fisherman at the lower end.  No one!  We have had a LOT of people getting off the planes over the past several days (yesterday was slow though) and he said other than being passed by two driftboats yesterday,  they didn’t see anyone else out there.  He asked me “where are all the people?”…  I have no idea…  I would have thought the river would have been jammed,  considering three days of back-to-back loaded planes.

Then this morning…  A guy came though who did great down at the lower landing yesterday,  but today said there weren’t any fish…  He walked up to the weir and didn’t see anything this morning.  I can easily see all those evening fish pushing their way upstream,  with sun out now holding any fresh fish off till the evening tide.  Unfortunately before he came in to tell me there were no fish at the bottom,  I sent two new groups off this morning’s jet down there to look at empty water…  OOPS!

I talked with Chris about his experience out there yesterday and he said there were a lot more fish in the upper river than there has been.  For Chris and his walk-in groups,  they had been doing pretty well already,  but it is just getting better and better.  He was a little coy with me on where exactly he had taken his guys yesterday,  but they had a VERY good day.  It is like Chris doesn’t trust me to keep his secrets anymore…  I’d never “tell” anyone where his secret spot is.  I may “type” it,  but I’d never “tell” anyone…

So fishing is getting really good.  Water is low and going to get lower with more sun like today.  We did hold the sun off an extra couple days with some overcast and light drizzle off and on yesterday and last night.  Flows are low,  but still decent,  temps are good,  fresh fish are arriving on the evening tides.  What’s not to like?

AHHH! I want to strangle our internet provider!

We’re back online again,  so here is a fresh river report…

Chris floated yesterday and said moist of the fish are in the upper half.  Just a handful in the bottom end.  One logjam that is problematic,  but they could get around it.  Flow is down to about 240 CFS today.  Not dropping too fast because we do have a little snow to melt.  Sunny yesterday and today,  so water temp came up to 41 degrees yesterday.  The bright sun is making it a little tougher with the fish going into hiding.

Most of the steelhead in the river are colored a bit,  but not dark red.  So my guess that these are the fish that came late and didn’t make it into the lake.  They have been in the deeper river holes throughout most of the winter.  A few chromers,  but most of the fish being caught have some color to them.

Supposed to stay sunny for a while,  but here’s hoping Weather Service is wrong and we get at least some overcast and rain through the coming week.  Conditions are pretty good over-all for the first half of April.  We have been getting used to the earlier runs of the past couple years,  but normally we don’t see many/any fishermen till closer to the 15th.  Pretty good fishing for this early on a normally timed run!

I have been hearing from the people coming through the shop that most people are averaging 5-6 fish a day landed.  There have been some grumbling on the river (by people who have not come through the shop) that they are frustrated and not catching anything on their usual yarn balls under indicators.  There are no eggs in the river yet!  So the fish are not reacting to the beads and yarn balls (in my opinion).  The guys swinging the bigger streamers (usually the black and white Dolly Llamas,  but also all black leeches with a little touch of flash) are the ones doing the 5-6.

Some real heat in these sunrays.  Feels like spring is really here.  Quite a few people came off the planes yesterday and today for the weekend.  Yesterday had 6 groups off the two planes,  but the group size was smaller.  Two guys instead of the usual 4-6.  So there are people on the river,  but the pressure isn’t that great and you can easily get away from the groups.

My Winter Distraction

Winters in Yakutat are supposed to be slow and relaxing.  The fly shop closes at the end of December for 3 months and I usually do a little construction on the hangar at a slow pace when temperatures are warm enough.  This year?  Nope.  Never a break.  Now I’m glad to have the fly shop open again,  so I can be tied down again and not have to be out running around.

Two years ago,  I stumbled into another incredible business opportunity that I didn’t expect (or need).  A friend of ours was the caretaker/manager of the building out here at the airport that houses TSA and NOAA (National Weather Service).  He developed a rare cancer and headed out of town to get some medical care.  Teen and I took over the basic cleaning and management of the building to cover till he could come home and resume his duties.  Unfortunately his condition worsened and he died a little while later.  The owner invested in the building intending to come fishing in Yakutat often,  but ended up also investing in a business in Hoonah and just stopped coming to Yakutat.  He wanted out,  so we walked into owning a building I didn’t need…

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The building is a bit over 6,000 square feet,  built in the mid-1970’s.  Used to house the Forest Service and much of the building hadn’t been occupied since they moved out to their current location in town decades ago.  The structure is excellent,  but the two government tenants only occupied about 2,000 square feet.  The rest (including an apartment) just sat empty and only partially remodeled.

I started working with the GSA over a year ago to see if the Park Service wanted some office space.  They did and they had some special 1,000 sq foot quick lease program that should only take a couple months to get through.  Over a year later…  They took control of the space in the building starting March 1st.  Here are some photos of the area we made into the new Park Service offices:

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Some before and afters…

GSA gave us 40 days to complete the renovation from when they committed to the lease.  It was a mad rush to get it all done,  but they have a nice kitchen,  two small offices and the large public space for displays.  Turned out nice with the carpeting and natural local spruce trim.  I still have to convert the women’s bathroom to be ADA compliant and build the wheelchair ramp at the back entrance,  but that should be done before steelhead really ramps up mid-month.

This is a big building with a lot of vacant space.  We are going to be completing the apartment on the 2nd floor,  with two two-room suites that are still vacant on the 1st floor.  Two really large office rooms upstairs as well that we may convert to another apartment.  Yakutat has a big housing shortage and our airport lease does allow us to rent rooms in this building when there is a shortage and for airport activity.

It has really been a good investment,  but I honestly just don’t have time to deal with it.  With the fly shop and aircraft fueling and ground handling the mail plane contract and my goals to renovate the hangar and build the museum,  while still commercial fishing and…  If anyone is interested in a business investment in Yakutat,  let me know…

April 1st – Opening Day of the Shop

A day ending in “Y” therefore another day with our HughesNet internet not functioning…  Yesterday was our official opening day (we’re basically open all year,  but from now on,  the door is unlocked and you don’t have to honk to get our attention) of the fly shop.  Open 10am-7pm through steelhead season.  We even had two customers!  Lots of hangar storage to pull out,  so it was a busy day.  Would have been nice to have Chris’ help with some of it,  but no!  He went fishing.  Again!

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Chris and Adam hit the river again and with all the rain we had yesterday and the night before…  Chris guessed it was around 400 CFS and according to the gage…  he was spot on.  Back down to 337 CFS as of tonight.  He said the water was still running pretty clear,  but did have a little color to it.  The fish were not as skittish as they had been and were in places he didn’t expect them to be.

Chris landed one steelhead,  but Adam landed two…  In other words,  Chris got out fished by a troller!  Talk about embarrassing!  OK,  this was Adam’s first steelhead landed,  so he was pretty excited and Chris was pretty excited about it too.  They had many other “opportunities”,  but didn’t land them.  All the river ice and snow is gone.  Flow right now is pretty good.  There are fresh fish and a mix of older steelies that have been in the river for at least a couple months.

And Chris shared his camera with me,  so here are some photos…

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Photo from the last expedition…  Kayla and a bearded Adam

 

Now for yesterday’s photos:

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Adam didn’t land any from the first trip.  Two this time.  The difference?  No more “Grizzly Adam”…

 

Adam’s slightly blushed buck and chrome-bright hen

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…and Chris with his lone steelhead for the day