Tag Archives: coho salmon

Can We Look Toward Silvers Already?

Hoping to think about something better than the current sockeye situation…  Silvers will be right around the corner.  As I mentioned,  I flew down to Sitka last week and passing the rivers,  I took some pictures of how the river mouths are looking this year.

Old Italio:

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Looks pretty normal.  Not a lot of fish hold in the lower river,  so most fishing is upwards toward the creek and above.  Between where the creek enters and the water spreads out over the flats,  each curve cuts a hole that silvers stack up in.

 

Middle Italio:

Middle Italio has a huge sweeping curve at the mouth.  Id expect there to be 5 really good holding holes down there below my cabin,  providing the loop remains and doesn’t cut through to an Ox Bow.  Absolutely no hole in front of my cabin this year.  It has completely filled in and was just a braided flat when we were last out there on the ground.

New Italio/Akwe:

The confluence looks pretty normal,  with a nice deep hole where the New Italio enters the Akwe.  The Akwe continues its march down the coast toward Yakutat.  It dumps into the ocean well this side of the old Italio River Adventures camp.  The old trail through there now goes around a curve and drops off 20 feet into the water.  Be careful if you are riding the Ryman Camp ATV through there!  The Akwe is growing longer,  but it isn’t gaining any gradient.  The river below the confluence is just a big-wide flat with no place for fish to hold once they get through the gauntlet of seals at the mouth.

East:

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Looks pretty normal.  I did NOT see any kings in the mouth as I flew over.  This should be the prime window for kings there,  but they don’t always nose their way into the East and can go straight into the Alsek.  I heard Alsek is having a good king run this season.

Chris is Back

Chris flew back into little ol’ Yakutat this week.  Although I was too busy to go out,  he and Tanis immediately ran to 9 Mile.  Looks like I’ll be able to live vicariously through his fishing once again and deliver some fresh fishing reports.  We’re creeping closer and closer to the official start of the spring steelhead run,  so my updates will be more frequent from here on out.  In theory anyway…  I haven’t exactly been posting much of value lately.  One might say I rarely do…

So Tanis and Chris headed to the bridge and walked upstream.  At the time,  we had been having two weeks of very cold-clear-dry weather and the river temp had dropped to a balmy 32 degrees.  Obviously there wasn’t much action – or any.  Chris said the trees upstream along the loop have rearranged pretty seriously and there are a couple new jams you have to climb over and through to wade your way downstream.  He spotted ONE steelhead in the hole immediately below the meadow – what  lot of people call the Christmas Tree Hole,  but a lot of people call a LOT of holes that…  But just one fish in the cold clear low water.

Chris in the icy Situk,  scouting late winter steelhead

Chris in the icy Situk, scouting late winter steelhead

Not to leave the day skunked,  the stopped by the airport dish and took a swing at the silvers.  Chris hooked a LOVELY salmon where the ditch crosses under the paved road to Cannon Beach.  Although grotesquely dark red,  it was a firm buck with quite a bit of fight.  The fish hit the fly three times before Chris was able to set the hook.

Hooked on Salmon

Hooked on Salmon

I wouldn't eat the thing,  but he still held a lot of fight and vigor

I wouldn’t eat the thing, but he still held a lot of fight and vigor

Seeing of anyone else is interested...  Most of the fish up this high are dark.  No,  he didn't keep that fish on the bank,  that was from an eagle (so he says)

Seeing of anyone else is interested… Most of the fish up this high are dark. No, he didn’t keep that fish on the bank, that was from an eagle (so he says)

It is %$#@ February and we’re able to catch silvers!!!

Two days ago,  the weather finally changed and we had about 6-8 inches of fresh snow.  Previously,  there had been NO SNOW at all except above about 3,000 feet on the hills.  Nothing on the forelands.  I have grave concerns about drought this spring,  unless we get constant rain showers passing through.  There was no snow for spring run-off.  Then this morning,  the weather changed again,  it warmed up into the 40’s and all our new snow was gone before I dragged my butt out of bed.

Blowing snow - hard to tell how much fell with bare spots and deep drifts for two days

Blowing snow – hard to tell how much fell with bare spots and deep drifts for two days

DOT blowing us a pile on the ramp

DOT blowing us a pile on the ramp

Clearing the airport for the Alaska Airlines arrival

Clearing the airport for the Alaska Airlines arrival

The weather is back to September…  Windy,  rainy,  foggy.  With silvers still spawning (and reports of a few fresh chromers in Tawah),  it really is September!

What it looks like now - if not for DOT making a pile,  there would be zero snow visible in Yakutat below cloud-level

What it looks like now – if not for DOT making a pile, there would be zero snow visible in Yakutat below cloud-level

Our Akwe Season Ends

Yesterday,  our commercial fishing season officially came to an end.  Still plenty of fresh silvers coming in on every tide out there,  but the fish plant is shutting down and we’ll have no one to buy.  Oh well.  Just a handful of blushed fish out on the Akwe,  with a couple thousand pounds of chromers.

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Chris caught us some dinner at the German Hole before we started commercial fishing for the week

Once again,  we were hit by a storm over the weekend to blow the river out as we started the week.  We didn’t bother fishing on Sunday (again),  with 50 knot winds and driving rain.  I baked cookies.  Chris and Tanis took advantage of the down time to go duck hunting.  Nothing like Mergansers for lunch…  Better than hotdogs.

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While Tanis and I checked the commercial gear, Chris fly fished in front of the cabin and enjoyed the first break in the rains

Getting the first load ready to fly to town,  with some wonderful sunlight warming our frozen fingers

Getting the first load ready to fly to town, with some wonderful sunlight warming our frozen fingers

We set the nets up on what would normally be dry sandbars to avoid the debris and dead leaves washing out.  Caught enough to justify being out there,  even as we attempted to avoid being in the actual river!  The biggest challenge on a day like this is trying to pick the almost dead spawned-out sockeye bucks as they drift downstream all the way from the lake.  Their gnarly teeth really tangle in the web.  We tied up fresh new nets this year,  but it was “free” web I was given about 10 years ago and virtually worthless.  After 4 weeks of fishing with it,  the web was so tattered that there was about as much web missing with holes as web still able to fish.  I was far too lazy to strip and rehang gear this late in the game.

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The huge tides pushed another batch of logs up to block the ATV trail at the New Italio

We piled them up and attempted to dispose of the pile,  so we could get the Honda and tote trailer through to the boat

We piled them up and attempted to dispose of the pile, so we could get the Honda and tote trailer through to the boat

Chris playing with his camera settings,  while Tanis and I are out checking the gear

Chris playing with his camera settings, while Tanis and I are out checking the gear

Warrior Dog with the "reflections" setting

Warrior Dog with the “reflections” setting

Huge tides this week with our full moon.  Very cold at night.  No heating oil for the cabin stove,  so when the alarm went off in the night,  I consistently ignored it and went back to sleep in my snug sleeping bag.  Another storm was supposed to roll in,  but the clouds parted Wednesday night for a gorgeous evening.  Our last night out there,  we stayed up till midnight watching movies (Shawn of the Dead and Master and Commander),  while running out to the nets between features.  After our last movie,  it was midnight and we were treated to a nice Northern Lights show.  With the full moon and beautiful weather,  we decided to actually work our last night of the season!

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After the second movie, the Northern Lights were showing – even with the bright full-moon illuminating the world

These are the moments that make up for our seemingly unending miserable rains

These are the moments that make up for our seemingly unending miserable rains

It was weird,  with the moonlight making the world look exactly like those fake-looking 1940’s movies where they film the night scenes in daylight with a lens filter.  The fish were moving in the moonlight,  but we had to get back to the cabin before the 12 foot tide trapped us out in the sub-freezing night on the wrong side of the Middle Italio.  By morning,  we had enough fish to cover the cost of the flights.  Unfortunately as the storm finally arrived,  we only caught two fish (one in each net) between 7am and the noon closure.  Sure ended our week with a whimper.

Getting ready to head out before the tide surges in...  Chris chose to stay behind and go to bed instead of freeze his butt off - for some reason...

Getting ready to head out before the tide surges in… Chris chose to stay behind and go to bed instead of freeze his butt off – for some reason…

Once your eyes adjusted to the moonlight,  you really didn't need to headlamps to see - made navigating the sandbars with the jet-boat relatively easy

Once your eyes adjusted to the moonlight, you really didn’t need to headlamps to see – made navigating the sandbars with the jet-boat relatively easy

Chris and I flew back to town in the storm.  Tanis stayed out there to clean up the cabin and hopefully bail the boat.  We’re heading back out tonight to finish closing out the cabin and fishing gear.  It has been a very busy late season,  so my apologies for my lack of posts.  Just coming back to town for two days before starting the next week doesn’t leave me much time for getting anything done around here.  I have a backlog of 2,330 e-mails from this season still to get through,  the hangar to clean and organize for winter storage,  construction to restart and don’t forget moose season!

I haven’t seen any bulls out around the Italio yet,  but rumor has it there were two spotted on the Dangerous Flats a couple days ago from the air.  The bull count on the town-side of the Dangerous was the highest in over a decade,  so they have the increased the target number on that half of the foreland to 30 for this season.  As slow as the commercial fishing season was for all of Yakutat,  it’ll be good to have a slightly higher number of freezers filled going into winter for our community.  Not that hunting saves much money if you factor the real costs in,  but what hunter thinks in terms of cash cost?  No one I know.  OK,  maybe some wives to,  but…

OK,  off to trying to get something done before I fly out tonight…

Silvers stacked in the tubs,  ready to load into the plane - notice the seal-bitten hen on the right

Silvers stacked in the tubs, ready to load into the plane – notice the seal-bitten hen on the right

During a break,  Chris and Tanis motored up to the Spruce Hole to clean the branches off

During a break, Chris and Tanis motored up to the Spruce Hole to clean off the branches

The results - your flies and lures for the kids to use this weekend...

The results – your flies and lures for the kids to use this weekend…

Family Escape

The season is winding down now – more like the bottom falling out…  and we usually close the shop for a week and head out as a family to the cabin.  This year,  we were able to keep the doors of the shop open with Chris holding down the fort.

Tanis is about to take Eden for a ride in the salvaged skiff,  now that he has the outboard running again...  It ran great for a while then died...  The mysteries of saltwater immersion.

Tanis is about to take Eden for a ride in the salvaged skiff, now that he has the outboard running again… It ran great for a while then died… The mysteries of saltwater immersion.

Stormy!  Thunder and lightning,  hail and winds topping 40 knots through last weekend,  so Teen didn’t venture far from the cabin,  while Tanis and I were out fishing the Akwe.  Then the weather broke and we had three straight days of spectacular sunny skies to end the week.  The river dropped right as we needed to pull the nets (again) and the last 4 hours we caught almost as many fish as we did the previous 2 1/2 days.  Then we had to pull the gear for the week.  That’s fishing.

Miserable weather takes the excuses away from avoiding school

Miserable weather takes the excuses away from avoiding school

My son still likes to cuddle...  Or,  he just needs a pillow and I was handy...

My son still likes to cuddle… Or, he just needs a pillow and I was handy…

We did get one full day of goofing off with nothing important to do.  Two nights with a small bon fire by the water,  as we watched wave after wave of silvers passing the cabin as the sun set.

A friendly ermine appeared a week ago and came out every day to visit

A friendly ermine appeared a week ago and came out every day to visit

Quiet,  tranquil and warm!

Quiet, tranquil and warm!

Eden making some clay pots from the local clay bank in the river

Eden making some clay pots from the local clay bank in the river

Another wave of silvers pushing upstream,  long after all the fishermen are gone for the day

Another wave of silvers pushing upstream, long after all the fishermen are gone for the day

Roasting tube steak by the water

Roasting tube steak by the water

Tanis asked me to play catch,  so I mad my own little Field of Dreams moment

Tanis asked me to play catch, so I had my own little Field of Dreams moment

Yet another wave,  just after the sun set

Yet another wave, just after the sun set

Time for the other fishermen to come out and work

Time for the other fishermen to come out and work

Two bucks hiding under the back end of Tanis' skiff where it hangs over the water

Two bucks hiding under the back end of Tanis’ skiff where it hangs over the water

Just before we flew back to town,  our pet ermine came out to say goodbye

Just before we flew back to town, our pet ermine came out to say goodbye

Back at the hangar,  time to harvest our carrots before they start to rot in the ground

Back at the hangar, time to harvest our carrots before they start to rot in the ground

Our last week of fishing starts tomorrow at noon.  There have been a lot of fish in the Akwe,  but it has been flooded every week.  Hard to fish that river in high water,  so we have been just treading water – and enjoying the time together as a family.  That is worth more than the fish we catch.

Our End of Season Break

First week of October,  we usually close the shop and head out to the cabin as a family.  This year,  Chris will be covering,  so the shop will remain OPEN throughout our family goofing-off week.  But…  shop hours change to 10am-7pm as of October 1st.  Still 8am-8pm through the end of September though.

Last week,  we abandoned Teen to the shop,  while the kids and Chris came out for our Oh-So-Busy week of commercial fishing.  It started with a heck of a storm last weekend that knocked the leaves off all the trees along the river.  It took just a few minutes for our nets to just turn into giant bags of dead leaves.  I was far too lazy to spend 24 hours a day shaking leaves,  so we didn’t exactly catch a whole lot of fish…  The week started off really flooded,  but then the sun came out and we had three straight gorgeous sunny days.

This is the CLEAN END of the net!

This is the CLEAN END of the net!

We decided to goof off instead of work.  Took the kids fly fishing.  Unfortunately the Middle Italio was extremely crowded again.  Tons of fish – the run is really starting to come in now,  as the Situk is starting to come to an end.  We headed back to the New Italio and took the jet-boat up to where I like to fish – far out of reach of anyone else.

Jetting up the New Italio,  with the small coho Eden caught for our dinner

Jetting up the New Italio, with the small coho Eden caught for our dinner

We pulled the nets really just as the Akwe dropped to a nice fishable level and the water cleared up.  The leaves slowed,  the fish started to hit and…  time to pull.  Oh well.  We cleaned up the boat,  readied the fish to fly to town and made up enough excuses as to why we still needed to spend another day out there.  We had plenty of ice to keep the fish cool,  so went upstream and had a little fun.  After a few hours,  I hoped the hellacious north wind would calm enough to get Eden to town with the fish load.  It didn’t!  That was a bumpy flight as we took off very heavily loaded.  I think every day fisherman who was waiting for their own flight filmed our harrowing departure off our short little sandy beach.

This was the "light" pressure the Middle Italio receiced this year.  There were days with a LOT more people out there!

This was the “light” pressure the Middle Italio receiced this year. There were days with a LOT more people out there!

Looking upstream from the cabin toward the Spruce Hole

Looking upstream from the cabin toward the Spruce Hole

We offloaded the fish in town and then I headed back out to the cabin to pick up the boys.  Fortunately,  we had our excuses already set as to why we’d need to spend an extra night out there.  That drainage wind out of the mountain pass at Harlequin Lake is just too rough to fly…  Of course I had no problem flying back out to the cabin through it,  but…

Eden releasing a fish right in front of the cabin - after all the fly-outs left,  we'd just wait for the next pod if fresh fish to come up over the flats.  Throw the fly out ahead of the lead fish and every single time it would peel off after the fly.

Eden releasing a fish right in front of the cabin – after all the fly-outs left, we’d just wait for the next pod if fresh fish to come up over the flats. Throw the fly out ahead of the lead fish and every single time it would peel off after the fly.

We spent another morning getting all our hard work out of the way.  Yep.  Lots of chores to get done.

Eden showing off her first pair of Simms waders - that she'll outgrow in another week!

Eden showing off her first pair of Simms waders – that she’ll outgrow in another week!

So tonight we’re heading out again for one more week of commercial fishing (it may be our last of the season).  We hope to actually catch some fish to sell,  but either way,  we’ll be having fun.  Baking cookies (sorry I don’t deliver hot cookies streamside to the day fishermen anymore…),  playing games and occasionally checking the nets for leaves.

Tanis with a big buck

Tanis with a big buck

Chris - leery of what I'm up to...

Chris – leery of what I’m up to…

Yet another chromer

Yet another chromer

Chris waiting for the next pod to pass by as the sun is setting in front of the cabin - no hole there this year

Chris waiting for the next pod to pass by as the sun is setting in front of the cabin – no hole there this year

Except Tanis intercepted them below Chris

Except Tanis intercepted them below Chris

Early morning on the Old Italio for the cast-n-blast breakfast trip

Early morning on the Old Italio for the cast-n-blast breakfast trip

Someday Eden will understand why she shouldn't do this in every photo we take of her...

Someday Eden will understand why she shouldn’t do this in every photo we take of her…  She takes after her mother…

3,000

8 inches of rain yesterday!

Flows are scraping just below 3,000.

We also have our biggest tides of the month this week,  with both AM and PM tides hitting nearly 12 feet.

Situk 9 Mile Gage CFS 2,960,  but starting to drop

Situk 9 Mile Gage CFS 2,960, but starting to drop

I heard two rumors over the past couple days…

1) A 28lb silver was caught in a commercial net.  That would be nearly 2lbs over the state record for the largest silver salmon ever caught in Alaska,  so I have my doubts to the validity of this story,  but…  the fish this year are really big!

2) Two days ago,  I was told (by someone NOT with Fish and Game) that the Situk experienced the 4th largest single-day push of fish ever seen.

Again,  both of these are just rumors and I wasn’t able to verify either of them.  They both may be “fish stories”.

Oh,  one more rumor Teen just told me when reading over my shoulder…  One commercial net caught 11,000 lbs of silvers in one day just before the week closed.  Then the storm hit of course,  but still…

Learning his trade

Learning his trade – This is on the Middle Italio in a big flood up where we call it the Andrew Cut

Wasn't he cute back then?

Wasn’t he cute back then? – Probably as flooded as it is today

So serious!

So serious! – Down where we park the ATV’s with the Spruce Hole just outside the view to the left,  all of the gravel bars are submerged in the flooded water,  but still very fishable

Sockeye Ending

Unfortunately this year’s sockeye run is coming to an end.  And I only made it out a couple times to fly fish for them.  My favorite fish unfortunately runs in the middle of my frantically busy time.  Between the fly shop,  summer hangar construction,  museum tours,  Saturday Markets,  commercial fishing on the Akwe and everything else,  there just isn’t enough time in the day even with nearly 24/7 daylight.

Comet dead center on the tongue.

Comet dead center on the tongue.

Jim Pook from down in Arizona sent me the link for a nice sockeye article on the Alaska Outdoor Journal.  The writer “gets it”,  although our preferred techniques are not the same.  Same basic results though…  From the fly shop perspective,  the sockeye season is the most rewarding (and frustrating) season.  Helping to educate anglers – both fly and spin – to entice these incredible fish to bite is a lot of fun.  Having them come back in through the shop giddy about outfishing everyone else on the river is as much a thrill for me to hear as it is for them to actually do…  Frustrating though to deal with people who will never get the incorrect notion that “sockeye don’t bite” and “you have to line ’em” out of their noggins.

Chartreuse Crazy Charlie out in the tip of the nose - I like how this fly glows in UV light

Chartreuse Crazy Charlie out in the tip of the nose – I like how this fly glows in UV light and both sockeye and kings love this small shrimp imitation at tidewater

So… here is a nice article and fly recipe for you to peruse:

http://alaskaoutdoorjournal.com/Fishing/14recipeforsuccess.html

He recommends split shot and bouncing the fly along the bottom as though you are drifting a Glo Bug to steelhead.  I prefer fishing a heavy sink tip with only about a foot or two of leader – short leader so the sink tip drags the fly down with it – but off the bottom.  But the principles are the same – dead drifting little brine shrimp-looking flies into a narrow strike zone.

The typical sockeye flies I use when fishing down in the intertidal areas for fresh ocean-behavior fish

The typical sockeye flies I use when fishing down in the intertidal areas for fresh ocean-behavior fish

I describe the behavior like this:  Sockeye primarily feed on zoo plankton and invertebrates in the ocean.  1) they are small and sparse and 2) not high enough on the food chain to escape.  Sockeye usually don’t chase down their food,  instead just lightly slurping the freefloating/twitching little speck.  Put a lot of movement into the fly and they won’t be interested.

INSIDE corner of the mouth

INSIDE corner of the mouth

Except…  the longer the sockeye are in fresh water,  the more they move away from displaying ocean feeding behavior and change to a territorial/defensive behavior.  In the upper river and/or in the lake,  sockeye will chase down larger streamer patterns and fish-like flies.  Last year up in Italio Lake,  the two best flies were a grey saltwater Clouser and dark blue Egg-sucking Bunny Leech.  The big bucks would chase after these flies threatening their territory.  Active strip in the lake was a necessity,  with no current to add movement to the fly.  In the upper river,  you have a lot of salmon fry and trout looking to feed on sockeye eggs.  The sockeye will snap at anything as they get closer to spawning.

Best Italio Lake patterns

Best Italio Lake patterns

Last week in the Upper Situk,  our best flies were kind of on opposite ends of these scales…  We fished a black and chartreuse Bunny Leech with success,  but also the smaller Red Hots,  Money Bugs and Mega-Prince flies.  All of them had good reactions with the combination of bright fresh and dark red sockeye we had in front of us.  Dead drift was most successful still,  although we had a lot of rainbow trout chasing the stripped flies down.

Another "Hot" hook-up,  green hook with FL Orange flash

Another “Hot” hook-up, green hook with FL Orange flash

We inadvertently hooked three kings over two long days of fishing…  I had this discussion on the phone with ADF&G and even had some criticism from the Forest Service for fishing the upper river last week…  The upper river is closed to the “taking” of king salmon after June 30th.  Fishing a large deep pool with about 50 kings,  500 sockeye,  100 pinks and 200 trout,  who are you “targeting”?  It was implied that because I used a large fly,  I must have been targeting the kings and not the sockeye.  Let me be perfectly clear in case the trooper is reading this – I have never hooked a king with a big king fly.  Only with little sockeye flies since I learned to fly fish 15 years ago.

One king was hooked on the bunny,  one on the red hot and one on the money bug

One king was hooked on the bunny, one on the red hot and one on the money bug

I couldn’t keep the rainbows off the Mai Tai in a shallower stretch above the deep pool,  but had three king follows with it as well.  I yanked it away from the king to avoid hooking up in among the branches and snags.  In the deep pool,  you had a lot less control over which species,  since they were all mixed up together.  Hooking three dozen “they never bite and you have to line ’em” sockeye and three “they hit big flies” kings means we targeted which species?

Sockeye on a Coho fly

Sockeye on a Coho fly

Although that grey Clouser that looks like a small herring would definitely be a “King fly” in my opinion,  the Bunny Leeches are Silver flies.  Last year in Italio Lake,  I was targeting kings obviously (even if it isn’t possible for a king to get over Italio Falls and none were counted through the Forest Service weir that was in last year).  That’s the fly I used.  Whatever.  This would be a fun ticket to fight.

OK,  I have a headache and am obviously a little crabby…  Maybe I should refrain from posting this…  Too late!  🙂  I definitely need to wait for my head to feel better before posting the results of our assembly meeting…