At almost every turn in Alaska, whenever something happened, we were greeted by the phrase “It’s a part of the ‘Alaska Experience’”.  I cannot tell you how many times we heard that phrase… from guides, to airline employees, to fly shop owners, to merchants, to restaurant servers and more.  I think it’s part of the lexicon for Alaskans to remind you that you’re definitely NOT in the lower 48 anymore.  

While I will be writing much more later, I wanted to share just a few of the “happenings” which cause this phrase to be uttered.  You’ll note that I’ve included one picture to this gallery post to depict each of these “happenings” that coincide with each of the sections below.

Rain & Wind

When we arrived in Anchorage, it was sunny and 72 with no wind.  When we left Anchorage for Intricate Bay Lodge, the clouds had formed and were a harbinger of things to come.  At dinner the first night, our host shared how the past week at the lodge, the temps were in the upper 60’s and 70’s with sun and no wind.  As it turned out for OUR week at IBL and in the Katmai NP area, we had temps in the low-mid 50’s with winds in the sustained 20-30 mph range …. gusts exceeding 40mph… and rain regularly pelting us.  We had one sunny (but windy) day in the Katmai area.  When we went to fish the Kanektok with Alaska West, we had a similar experience, albeit with less wind, but similar rain… and yes, one day of sun!  

I can still hear Chase at IBL and Cole at Alaska West telling us… “It’s a part of the ‘Alaska Experience!’”  Mind you, Chase said it when we were landing at “Pothole” near Moraine Creek in a rainstorm with a ceiling of maybe 200’ for T-Bird to land the Dirty Girl… repeated it as we carried the rafts, coolers, paddles, etc… up and down the ridge to our put in spot…. and then as he fought those sustained 30 mph winds with 40+mph gusts for 7 hours. 

Cole used the phrase when we arrived at Quinhagak along the Kanektok River in a rainstorm without our rain gear as we were about to embark on a 30 minute jet boat ride upriver to our Alaska West tent camp.  We were wearing trash bags as rain gear on our legs, covering ourselves as best we could, which leads me to the next “Alaska Experience” topic.

Picture 1 Note:  We’d just finished a day long raft trip on Moraine Creek in crazy harsh winds and rain.  The knees you see just sticking up are our guides who were exhausted from fighting the wind.  Barb is the one all covered up in the bottom of the picture trying to avoid the weather.  We waited like this for about 30 minutes before “T-Bird and the Dirty Girl” arrived to pick us up and fly us back to the lodge.

Luggage Issues

You see, we HAD actually packed our rain gear, right on top of our luggage, expecting to get it at the terminal in Quinhagak when we landed.  Our plan was to put it on in the terminal before boarding the jet boats for the trip upriver.  Great plan…. right?  

As it turned out, right after we boarded the Ravn Airlines “Nanook” in Anchorage for our flight to Bethel (an intermediate stop on the way to Quinhagak…. more on this another time), a ground crew member came aboard and informed us that several bags had been “bumped” from the flight due to weight restrictions, but that they’d be on the very next flight to Bethel.  When we arrived in Bethel, after a long delay there due to “Rain and Wind” (see above), we found out that both Barb and I had been the “lucky losers” and our bags had been pulled in Anchorage.  No worries however, they were coming on the very next flight to Bethel, then onto Quinhagak.

I’ll spare you in this version of our “Alaska Experience”, and just say that our bags DID make it on the next flight from Anchorage to Bethel, but the airport in Quinhagak was closed due to…. you know what…. “Rain and Wind”.  We didn’t see our bags, with our rain gear right on top, until noon the next day.  Our “note to self” for our next trip to Alaska was…. in addition to carrying on all your medications, passports, toiletries and such in our carry on luggage, pack full rain gear as well.  

Picture 2 Note:  The two “big” bags in the top 1/2 of the picture are the ones that got “bumped” from the flight.  The bottom 1/2 of the picture shows the bus and trailer that is holding all the bags that DID make it on time to Quinhagak… as well as the rain that was coming down at the time.

Travel

First of all, just getting to Alaska isn’t the easiest of things to do…. but once there, the REAL fun begins.  Alaska is known as the “Air Crossroads of the World” due to the number of flights that occur daily, including all the sea plane flights.  Since there are only a few roads in Alaska, most travel is done via plane.  Each small village, many of which are native Alaskan villages, has an airport.   If you look at the Ravn Airlines map, you’ll see just how many destinations there are in Alaska.  Ravn operates 10 “hubs” for flights to all the villages it serves.  Even more so, this doesn’t take into account all the private float planes stationed around the 3197 “officially named” lakes (and 3 million+) lakes that dot the landscape of Alaska.  

So…. the “Alaska Experience” of course includes jets, prop planes of assorted sizes and for sure, float planes including our fav, the “Dirty Girl”.  In addition to planes, there are also rafts, drift boats, jet boats and a bit larger boats for tooling around the waters of the state.  We were even introduced to a new aviation moniker…. IFR flying.  When the ceiling is incredibly low, you go IFR…. I Follow River!  We came to think of it as an amusement ride, banking left and right as you parallel the river below, only about a few hundred feet up.  

I have to say, the jet boat rides were an adventure as well, with that same amusement ride feel to them.  We traversed some landscape that you wouldn’t have imagined navigating by just looking at it.  

Picture 3 Note:  Just a few of our transportation adventures during our “Alaska Experience”.

Wildlife

 Yes…. there is wildlife in Alaska… lots and lots of it.   At times, we would have to remind ourselves of where we were to remember what we might encounter.  While in Anchorage, we really weren’t TOO worried about bears, but definitely had to watch out for moose.  When we were on the rivers in Alaska, we most definitely had to watch out for bears.  Amazingly, we did… kind of…. get used to seeing them around us.  We were always aware and looking around regularly, but really weren’t too afraid when we saw one for two reasons.  One… the bears had ample supplies of food with all the salmon in the rivers, and two, our guides had both bear spray and carried hand guns, just in case.  Our only “sketchy” times were those in which we ventured out to the rivers on our own, without guides.  Needless to say, we always had bear spray and we made LOTS of noise along the way.  We still saw bears each time we went out, but really never felt too threatened.  We also encountered moose and more eagles than you could count.  We came to appreciate all of these wildlife encounters as a part of the “Alaska Experience”.  

Picture 4 Note:  The wildlife in Alaska is so spectacular, especially the moose, eagles and of course, the bears.

Fishing

The ultimate reason we came to Alaska was to fish the final 5 rivers of the TU Top 100 book… Kenai, Russian, Copper, Alagnak and Kanektok.  That said, we also came for the “Alaska Experience” shared in this post whether we realized it at the time or not.  The fishing in Alaska is EPIC to say the least.  There are so many species to target…. so many big fish to battle… and so many rivers, creeks and lakes to explore.  We had an absolute blast fishing them all and yes, are already plotting our next trip to Alaska in 2020.  

Picture 5 Note:  On our last day on the Kanektok, our guide put us on 6 different species of fish… this pic captures 4 of them… Chum, Rainbow, Sockeye and Silver (Coho).    We also caught grayling and dollies that day.

As we were fishing our way through the TU Top 100 book, friends would ask us “What is your favorite river?”   After a lot of “ummm ummm’s”,  we would usually tell them “it depends”.  We talk about the fishing experience, the “vibe” from the fishery and community, the scenery and of course, the fishing.  Well, after fishing all of the Top 100 streams, we can confidently say, that if the measure combines the quantity, quality and diversity of fish, we have a #1….. the Kanektok River.  The other rivers in Alaska shined as well but we sure hit the jackpot during our week on the Kanektok with the guides from Alaska West.

To be honest, just getting to Alaska West was an adventure.  For us, it started with boarding the Ravn Airlines “Nanook” prop plane for a flight from Anchorage to Bethel, a small village about 1.5 hours away.  We had to fly into Bethel because there are no roads connecting Anchorage and Bethel.  From Bethel, we got on a much smaller single prop plane for the stretch from Bethel to the little native village of Quinhagak.  When we boarded the plane to Quinhagak, the pilot grabbed a rubber chicken and choked it for luck…. before handing it to Barb who sat right behind him.  After landing on the runway and taxiing to the “terminal” (very small building) we jumped in a bus, drove down to the Alaska West boats and jetted up to camp.

Alaska West is a tent camp, based about a 30 minute boat ride up the Kanektok River from Quinhagak.  As you can see from some of the drone footage we shot while there, it’s in a remote area, again no roads anywhere, small trees and tundra surround it but most importantly, it sits directly on the Kanektok River.  The camp only has two permanent buildings…. the “drying” building and the kitchen.  All of the other structures are tents…. the lounge (with the flags on top), the dining hall, the showers and of course, the sleeping tents.  Our tent was named, Chum.  Important to note, the bathrooms were port-a-pots.  While it might sound like roughing it, the camp was really quite nice with great heaters in the sleeping tents, a kitchen team that served us awesome meals, and the “drying” tent which was for our waders to dry after fishing each day.   The “drying” tent was like a sauna and was greatly appreciated as we wadered up each day before heading to the river.  

Each day, we all walked down to the river, assembled in our assigned boats for the day with our guides (see Kanek “Talk”), and headed up, or down river.  We fished all the way from where the Kanektok met the Bering Sea (we couldn’t see Russia, but, it was out there somewhere) upstream to where the Togiak Preserve boundary sign was posted.  Each day, we experienced all sorts of scenes along the river, from amazing views, to small channels teaming with trout, dolly varden and even grayling, to the main channel where we found some very very big salmon (we were hunting for silvers).  We were introduced to the term “tundra turd” (pic in video will be obvious) as we navigated the river.  When we caught our limit of silvers, we’d head back to camp and drop them off for processing (and smoking).  We were often met by the camp mascot, Chum (see pic with Cole holding him).  We even had a “shore lunch” of freshly caught dolly varden where we had another chance to launch our drone (“River Eagle”) to catch some amazing vistas.  

I wish I could tell you how many fish we hooked and how many we landed, each and every day, but that would be an impossible task, because we were constantly being put on fish.  What we’ve tried to do is share with you some pics and videos of both hooking/fighting fish as well as the fish themselves.  As you watch, you’ll understand why we are so enamored with this river.  

We promise you’ll enjoy our Kanektok River Ramble.  And yes, we are already planning our trip back to Alaska West and the Kanektok River.  

On our last evening at the Alaska West tent camp on the Kanektok River (AK), we had a chance to sit down with all of the fly fishing guides for our “Guide Talk”.   We’d never done a “talk” with this many guides at one time, but we had so much fun!

Unfortunately, we had some audio problems (a drained microphone battery) that caused the end of the “talk” to be inaudible.  We’ve edited the video, enhanced some of the video and captioned some parts that hopefully help.

Even with this audio issue, the “talk” was one of our favorites of our entire “River Ramble”.  We had such an amazing time fishing the Kanektok River with these guys and are planning to go back.  For now, please enjoy this video highlighting the guides, the river and how to fish it.

When we first saw the Kenai River, we were amazed at the blue color we saw.  It was absolutely breathtaking.   As for fishing, we found out there are several “sections” we could fish.  While we were on the Peninsula, we fished three of them, all in the “Upper” area, fishing from Kenai Lake to Sportsman’s; Sportsman’s to Jim’s Landing; and the amazing section through the Canyon.  There were eagles everywhere lining the banks of the river.

Fishing with Stacy Corbin, the founder, owner and head guide for Mystic Rivers Fly Fishing, was a real treat.  Stacy was really excited to show us the section through the canyon, so off we went, putting in at Sportsman’s and floating downstream, through the canyon, ending up in Skilak Lake.

We stopped on a small gravel bar in the canyon section for lunch and our “Guide Talk” with Stacy.  We had a very special guest along with us who fished behind us as we chatted about fishing the Kenai…. how to fish it…. when to fish it… and what species can be targeted.  Stacy knows this river better than anyone and we were really lucky to have fished it with him.  We can’t wait to go back to the Kenai Peninsula to fish with Stacy and to chase “Walter” and “Wanda” again.  For now, we know you’ll enjoy our conversation with Stacy, as well as some great pictures/videos, including our special guest.

Our time on the Kenai Peninsula was spent fishing three different streams and on a “road trip” to Seward.  We blogged about this in our “Alaska – Part 4” post with a little in the “Alaska – Part 2” post, when we also went to Denali National Park and Talkeetna.    However, we could only include 5 pictures on the blog posts then due to internet restrictions…. so… we hope you enjoy the Kenai Peninsula Highlights music video we put together with many more pictures… and…. a bear cameo to boot!

Ramble On!

The Russian River, near Cooper Landing (AK) is another of the Trout Unlimited Top 100 Trout Streams.  We had the great pleasure of fishing the Russian with Matt Marchand of Alaska Troutfitters.  Matt gave us a great introduction to the river, essentially walking upstream from the Pink Salmon parking lot, all the way to where we hit a ton of salmon anglers just below the falls.  We fished every hole that was void of other anglers, catching beautiful rainbow trout along the way.  Of course, we also encountered bears who were feasting on some of the sockeye salmon carcasses that anglers upstream had tossed into the river.  Turns out when an angler catches a sockeye, the recommended practice is to filet it immediately and toss the remnants, cut into small pieces, into the river.  This attracts the bears of course.  We came to understand that one side of the river was for people, the other for the bears.  As long as all kept to their sides, things were fine.  We did meet a couple who’d been sockeye fishing on the “wrong” side for humans, and had a bear encounter.  They were shaken by the experience, as we’d have been too!

We sat down with Matt on a Kenai River dock to discuss fishing the Russian River, including best flies, best ways to fish it and why the Russian is so special.   We hope you enjoy our Russian River Ramble with Matt Marchand.

Our first week in Alaska brought us to the Intricate Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Iliamna.  Our transport there was via seaplane with “T-Bird and the Dirty Girl“.  As you’ll hear and see in our highlights video above, this place truly was “Fantasy Island”.

We fished for 6 straight days, including the day we landed at the lodge and were met by our guides for the week.  To get to the rivers in the area, the Copper, Gibraltar, Battle, Alagnak and Moraine Creek, we took the seaplane, jet boats, a big boat and even rafts.  It was always an adventure.

Wildlife along these rivers was abundant, especially the bears.  They put on a show for us repeatedly.  As you watch the video, see if you can spot the fish that jumps when the bear pounces in the river…. and how my eyes move from fishing to the bank in one of the videos because I had an audience.

All this, and epic fishing, what a week.  Our rods were bent with great regularity and usually with an 18+ inch rainbow on the other end.  These fish fight incredibly hard and don’t give up without making a few runs and jumps first.  However, we landed our fair share during the week… the video highlights just a few.

Finally, one of the questions we always ask our guides is “What is it you hope people do or have when coming to fish?”  When we did our “Guide Talk” with the Intricate Bay Lodge guides, Chace explained what we think is the most important….. check out the video above to find out!

We are already hoping to get back to this incredible spot, with these incredible guides and the lodge which is awesome.   For now, we hope you enjoy the video of highlights above.

Ramble On!

One of the biggest apprehensions Barb (and honestly, me too) had in going to Alaska was the concept of taking off and landing in a float plane…. on water!  Neither of us had ever done it. To further the concern, you seem to frequently hear about a “small plane crash in Alaska” in the news during the summer.  Just Google “Alaska plane crash”.  

Why?  There are so many planes and so many trips being taken during the summer tourist season in Alaska.  Small planes sightseeing to Denali, Barrow, North Pole and more, not to mention all of the “fly out” fishing planes headed to rivers and lakes throughout the state.  There is a reason Anchorage is called the “Air Crossroads of the World”, being within a 9 hour flight to 90% of the industrialized world.  It also houses the world’s largest and busiest seaplane base at Lake Hood.  

So it was with a bit of reluctance that we walked up to the plane you see in the “featured” picture on our blog site.  It landed and taxied into the bank of a small lake near the Iliamna (AK) airport.  It’s here where we met Troy “T-Bird” Abplanalp, our pilot, and boarded the “Dirty Girl” for our flight to Intricate Bay Lodge.

Two things to know… First…T-Bird is a character in the truest sense, but also a very, very good seaplane pilot.  We had a blast getting to know him and flying with him on our adventures.  I even got to sit in the co-pilot seat next to him on each flight….erm…. due to my “size”.  Second… The “Dirty Girl” (watch the video as to why she’s called that) is a 1954 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, a workhorse bush plane that had flown in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.  Just take a look during the video at the cockpit to see very little “electronics” except an added Garmin GPS device that wasn’t invented until 1989.  To say flying the “Dirty Girl” is old school is an understatement.  

To make a long story short, we quickly became comfortable, or at least at peace, with flying in a seaplane.  Over the course of our time at IBL, we took 12 flights with T-Bird and the Dirty Girl… a “flight” being a takeoff and a landing…. some in good weather, most in rain and wind it seemed.

The video above documents what a “typical” day was for us… although there was usually NOTHING typical each time we flew.  While there will be more posts highlighting “T-Bird” and our “Dirty Girl” experiences (our “Guide Talk” for one), please enjoy the video above.

Ramble On

Our “Guide Talk” with the Intricate Bay Lodge guides was an epic one.  In this case, we had 5 different guides during our week at IBL and rather than interview them separately, we decided to do just one big, fun “talk” with them all.  What this did was make what is normally an 8-10 minute video into a 39 min video.  I know, it’s long, but ohhhhhhh is it worth it.  So to help you view the video, we’ve segmented the video so you can jump to those sections you might enjoy immediately.  We hope you’ll watch the entire video, however, as the amazing, hilarious guides we’d had tell stories, share ideas and give great fishing info.  If you’d like to watch the entire video at once, click here.  Otherwise….
Meet all five of our guides (and pilot “T-Bird”) as they share their background information and first guiding experience.  They came from all corners of the US (and world) including Wyoming, Maine, Alaska, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Patagonia.  We even had a power outage during introductions to remind us we were “off the grid” at IBL.
The Copper River is the “home water” for IBL as it’s only a short, but erm… what’s the right word?…. intriguing?… surprising?… unnerving?… stimulating?…. “ride” on a jet boat from the lodge across Intricate Bay, Lake Iliamna.  Chace Booth, head guide at IBL explains what makes this stream so very special.
We fished 5 different streams in the area, two that fed into Lake Iliamna (Copper & Gibraltar) and three inside Katmai National Park (Moraine Creek, Battle Creek, Alagnak).  The guides pick their favorites and explain why in each case.  Our favorites were….. stay tuned 🙂
A question we always as our guides is the “One Fly” question.  If you only had one fly to fish the river, what would it be.  We knew the two we’d fished most all week with them, but it was interesting to hear their take on it.  Make sure to watch if you’re wanting to fill your fly box in advance of your trip to fish these streams.  Also, we found out that BEARS enter into this discussion in a most interesting way.
A favorite of ours to ask our guides is what kinds of crazy questions their clients ask.  Chace jumps in on this one with one of the questions we’ve heard repeatedly along our River Ramble…. “Why did I lose that fish?”  His answer is most enlightening and comforting.
We saw 8 – 10 bears on a daily basis while fishing the area streams.  We were briefed a bit on day one by our guides, but it really doesn’t prepare you for the reality when a bear jumps into the hole you’re getting ready to fish and proceeds to fish it and then walk right over to the gravel bar you’re sitting on.  It does however beg another crazy question.  Watch to see and hear all the ways our guides…um…. “deal” with such situations.. including the “Alaska Insurance Policy”.
Not sure how to explain this, but listen to this segment to hear how Evan helps his guests have a great experience while at IBL.
Another of our favorite questions seeings as we always try and sample what’s “local”.  However, when you’re at a remote lodge, local is a relative thing.  T-Bird even hooks up Evan with a classic.
If you’re going to go all the way to Alaska to fish, you want to maximize your time with your guides on the water.  Listen while the IBL guides share their best tips on how to make sure you get the most of your Alaska fishing experience.  Their tips are valid for any destination fishing trip you might take.
Barb and I can tell you why we loved the lodge, the meals, etc…. but the biggest reason is the guides and the feeling of a family fishing trip you get.  Hear the guides perspectives as our “Guide Talk” concludes.
Our time at IBL was incredible special.  Keep rechecking our blog site for more posts from our time at IBL and our other stops from our “30 Days in Alaska” ramble.

Kenai Peninsula Week

Day 24:  Back to Anchorage

While our time at Alaska West had ended, we still had to get back to Anchorage to meet up with fishing buddy James Kelley to start our Kenai Peninsula leg.  To do that required  the reverse of how we got to Alaska West….. Step 1: boat ride from the tent camp to the native village of Quinhagak.  When we got there, the tide was at a crazy high at 14.2 feet up, meaning our guides navigated the jet boats through a scattering of native’s boats, and up a road that was well underwater.  It was funny seeing the guides looking at one another, wondering what was the best way to go.  But…. we made it out of the boats and after a short walk, we boarded our “school bus” for a short ride to the Quinhagak airport terminal.  

What you have to understand about the Quinhagak terminal, is that it’s a small house, with no “security”.  We didn’t see any TSA agents, only a native selling trinkets and wolf hides in the “gift shop” area of the small terminal/house.  It was raining, of course, as we walked out to our small, 8 passenger single prop plane and took off down the runway with a large “bump” in it.  Luckily, the plane had lifted before we hit the bump (we hit it on landing a week earlier).  

After a short flight from Quinhagak to Bethel, we located our luggage and fish boxes (yes, we brought out 100 lbs of salmon).   We proceeded to “formally” check in at the Bethel terminal, have our bags weighed, lamented how our bags were left behind last time on this leg and waited.  Finally, we boarded a Dash 8 and took the 1.5 hour flight to Anchorage…. where we found James waiting for us at baggage claim.  We grabbed our rental car and headed to the Kenai Peninsula and the little community of Cooper Landing, right on the Kenai & Russian Rivers.

Barb and I celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary with James by having dinner at the Kingfisher, a local restaurant and bar located right on the water.  After a good meal and lots of story telling, we headed to our cabins for the night.

Day 25:  Quartz Creek Stomping

We met Matt Marchaund at Alaska Troutfitters and headed out to Quartz Creek for the day.  Barb and I had fished with Matt on the Russian earlier on our trip and he’d talked about how Quarts Creek was ‘coming into shape’ and might be a great option.  After parking at the Crescent Creek campground, we fished our way upstream through several holes, hooking into a fish here and there.  It was still early for the Quartz, but, we were encouraged seeing a huge King salmon.  At some point eggs would be laid, and some would drift downstream to waiting trout and dolly varden, but not just yet.  Still, we found several willing fish to hit our egg beads.  

We had lunch, sitting on the bank of the river before heading downstream to fish a few holes.  We crossed over Crescent Creek, which was flowing strong, before hitting a couple of really nice spots and hooking into more fish.  We’d had a great day fishing with Matt and headed back to our cabins and dinner at Sacketts… pizza!

Day 26:  #100… CHECK!

This was the day…. our chance to fish the Kenai River, which would be the 100th river on the TU list we’d been fishing.  We met our guide for the day, Simmons Adickes of Mystic Waters Fly Fishing, in front of our cabin and headed off to the Sportsman’s Landing launch.  After putting on our life vests, getting our safety instructions, launching and getting our fishing instruction, we started.  Within 15 minutes we’d landed (Barb, of course) our first of many Kenai River fish, a feisty rainbow.  

We fished through the “Refuge” section with really good success, picking off rainbows and dolly varden with regularity.  We’d also seen eagles (bald and juvenile) around every bend in the river.  Simmons told us how one bald eagle, Frank, had bombed his boat when we was landing a fish for a client.  Frank literally flew down and plucked the fish right from the net, and proceeded to fly away with it.  We were laughing so hard as the story continued…. turns out, the fish was still hooked by the angler, so as Frank flew away, the fly line was screaming off the reel of the angler, but, it was 40’ in the air as Frank was taking the fish to his nest.  Just like bears always win when it decides it wants your fish, so do bald eagles.  Frank got the fish (with a hook still in its mouth) and the angler got his line back, hookless.

We went through the “canyon” section with less fishing success, but it was absolutely gorgeous.  The rapids were large (Class III) so we sat a lot as we rode them out, but fished some gravel bars along the way.  At the end of the “canyon” section, we emerged into Skilak Lake where Simmons turned on the motor and we started our 6 mile trek across the lake.  About 2/3 of the way across, we encountered some big waves caused by a westerly wind which made us a bit nervous, but Simmons navigated us safely across.  We even saw a small black bear perched on a ledge along the lake.

When we landed at the boat ramp, and exhaled having successfully crossed the lake, we smiled as we remembered that today, we’d crossed off river 100.  While our quest to fish (and land a fish) in each of the TU Top 100 trout stream, we still had more days to fish.  

Day 27:  DIY

This was our DIY day, with the three of us heading off to fish both Quartz Creek and the Russian River on our own.  We started on Quartz Creek by hiking up a trail from the Crescent Creek campground for about 1/2 mile.  After bushwhacking our way to the river, we found good spots to drop in and proceeded to fish our way downstream, hole by hole, back to the parking lot.  

Barb was on fire, picking up beautiful dolly varden in most every hole, but James had the “hook up” of the day.  He hollered at me to come help and when I got there and looked into the water, I saw a huge sockeye salmon fighting James line.  Now understand, James had hooked into numerous sockeyes when we fished with Matt a couple of days earlier, and Matt had showed him how to point the rod at them and get the hook out.  You really don’t want to fight a sockeye with a 6wt rod you’re using to catch rainbows and dolly varden.  However, there was more than met my eye.  

When I looked closer, I saw that in reality, James had hooked a nice dolly, and in the process of fighting it, the line had crossed through the mouth of the sockeye, and he was fighting BOTH of the fish.  We had a small trout net with us that was of no use in landing the sockeye/dolly combo, so we tried to work it out of the sockeye’s mouth.  After a few minutes, the sockeye turned, the line came out and we landed the dolly successfully…. whew!

We grabbed lunch at our cabins as we were heading over to fish the Russian River.  We parked at the Grayling lot and headed down to the river.  When we reached the banks, looking both up and downstream, there were salmon anglers everywhere.  We decided we still had to fish, so, with our trout rods and dry flies at the ready, we began fishing.  At that same moment, a black bear decided to grace our fishing spot for a few moments, pausing to notice us, but walking away quickly.

We worked our way upstream, dropping into holes that looked ‘fishy’ whenever we could, but the salmon anglers were still everywhere.  I was able to snag a nice dolly tight line nymphing, but the real highlight of the afternoon was still to come.  

As we were walking downstream, back to the Grayling parking lot, we encountered anglers talking about a bear.  When we got to one of the angler access points, we saw a couple standing there with bear spray out and even a knife at the ready.  We walked out onto the small deck they were standing on and proceeded to watch a grizzly, slowly making his way upstream, pausing periodically to take a few bites out of salmon that had been caught and filleted by anglers upstream.  The anglers had tossed the remains of their catches in the river and the grizzly was feasting on their discarded salmon.  He put on a good show for us for about 15 minutes before heading back into the woods.  

Day 28:  Mystic Waters 

When we began planning our Alaska leg of our River Ramble, we worked with the folks at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing.  They’d recommended we contact Stacy at Mystic Waters Fly Fishing for our Kenai river adventures.  We met Stacy at 7am and prepared to embark for our second Kenai river trip.  First, we had to decide what section to fish…. remember, our Skilak Lake crossing the last time with Simmons had made us think about not fishing the “canyon” section which required the 6 mile lake crossing at the end.  After checking the weather conditions for the day and talking with Stacy, the fact he’d been guiding on the Kenai for 20 years, we headed back to fish the “Refuge” and “canyon” sections again…. really great decision.

We hooked into a lot of nice fish early on the trip, but it really got “hot” when we pulled into several back eddies.  The rainbows were hiding in the slack current of the eddies still awaiting the big drop of eggs from the king salmon and later the sockeyes.  We took turns fishing these spots, and each landed fish when we dropped in.  Fun!

At the end of the day, when we got to Skilak Lake, it was so calm and clear.  The reflections off the water of the clouds and the rock cliffs surrounding the lake were incredible.  We’d had another banner day on the Kenai fishing with Stacy and decided right then, we’d have to come back.

Day 29:  Upper Kenai

Our last “fishing” day in Alaska started with packing up and getting ready for the drive back to Anchorage.  However, we wanted to fish more, so we set off with Mike of Alaska Troutfitters on a 1/2 day float along the Upper stretch of the Kenai, a stretch we’d not fished.  While the calm, slow water at the launch site at Cooper Landing was comforting, the wave fishing we’d be doing later was a challenge that we met head on.  Mike said “the Kings make their redds here, so the big trout line up behind them”… and we were fishing for big trout.  Go big or go home was our motto.  

After fishing for a bit, we pulled into a couple of backwater areas and fished first for trout and next for silvers.  James had success at both, hooking into a nice trout as well as a big sockeye.  Mike was a great guide and coach for us along the way, but of course, Barb was schooling us both…. most fish, biggest fish, you name it.  

When we reached the boat ramp at the end of our float, it was a bit of a bittersweet feeling.  This was our last fishing day in Alaska, and the last fishing day of our TU Top 100 River Ramble.  It’s been an amazing adventure and the memories will last forever.  The stories we have will continue to be told forever as well.  So while we were excited for achieving our goal of fishing (and catching a fish in) the TU Top 100 trout streams… we were also somewhat sad it was “over”.  

Day 30:  Saying “Goodbye” 

We said goodbye to James as he headed back to Nashville and then spent one more night in Anchorage.  Waking up early, packing everything up, grabbing our 100 lbs of salmon from the hotel freezer and heading to ANC, our last day in Alaska was another day of travel….  But wait, we’d already talked about coming back to Alaska in 2020 to fish during prime time on the Kenai and Russian Rivers… and…. we’ve talked about going back to Maine, and our newly minted state of WeNoCarNoGaEaTen (aka. Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Eastern Tennessee), California, Pennsylvania and our home waters around Montana, Idaho and Wyoming…. it seems line our Rambles will be continuing.  Alaska simply confirmed our passions to continue our fishing adventures.

Ramble On!