Tag: 30daysinalaska

We made so many memories during our #30daysinalaska adventure.  We visited and fished four different regions of the state, with Anchorage being our “home base” where we usually spent a day or two before heading off to our next stop.

Our first lodge experience was at Intricate Bay Lodge (IBL) on Lake Illiamna.  This area is part of the Bristol Bay area of Alaska which includes many different rivers and lakes.  Our week at IBL was an amazing first trek during our time in Alaska and included fishing 5 different rivers…. Copper, Alagnak, Gibraltar, Battle and Moraine Creek.  We experienced fly out fishing in sea planes guided by our pilot and his plane “T-Bird and the Dirty Girl”.  While we had many highlights along our trip to this region, which also includes Katmai National Park, one of our favorites was our “Guide Talk” with the guides of IBL.  

After flying back into Anchorage, we ventured up toward Denali National Park, home of the tallest peak in the US.  We were very lucky to actually get to see Denali right before we dropped into the little village of Talkeetna, which was the setting for the TV show Northern Exposure.  In Talkeetna, we found great food, quirky shops and some awesome music.  Nearby, we also found Montana Creek, which was one of the spots we fished without any guide, which is always interesting for two reasons;  1…. we were on our own in serious bear country, and yes, we carried our own bear spray and,  2… we used our own wicked smart fishing skills (chuckles) to find good holding spots for fish… picked our own flies to use… and yes, caught fish, including our first Chum!  

Our third week in Alaska found us traveling to the small native village of Quinhagak, then jet boating up the Kanektok River to our tent camp at Alaska West.  If I had to pick one river that was simply “lights out” awesome fishing of all of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams, it would be the Kanektok.  We had a blast exploring this river from where it flowed into the Bering Sea all the way up to where Togiak Wilderness Area begins.   We fished the main channel and the braids targeting species from salmon (Silvers, Chum, Pinks, Kings and Sockeye), to Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and Grayling.  While the scenery in the area was breath-taking, it was the fishing that was the big draw.  We held our largest “Guide Talk” on the last evening in camp that turned out to be a hoot.  

Our last week in Alaska was on the Kenai Peninsula where we were joined by fishing buddy James Kelley.  Guides from both Alaska Troutfitters and Mystic Waters Fly Fishing showed us the Kenai, Russian and Quartz Creek.  Wading the Russian and Quartz, watching for bears and picking off rainbows and dollies along the way was just exhilarating.  The Kenai was just so impressive with its size and color which is caused by the glacial silt in the water.  The pictures you see in our “The Last Frontier” video aren’t doctored in any way…. the river is truly that color of blue!  

We hope you enjoy this “highlight” video of our time in Alaska.  We had to pick just a few favorite photos, otherwise the video would be a full length movie!  Enjoy…. and….

Ramble On

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.


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”.


 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.


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.  

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.

Kanektok Week

Day 17:  Lost Luggage

After taking the hotel shuttle to ANC, we dropped our bags at the Ravn Air counter and proceeded to our gate.  As we found a spot to sit, we couldn’t help but overhear everyone’s stories of the upcoming fishing trip.  It turns out, if you’re flying to Bethel (AK), you’re either a local native… or you’re going fishing.  As we listened in, we heard JEB Hall’s name mentioned.  JEB was our guide during year 1 on the Davidson River in western North Carolina.   When we turned around, there was JEB, sitting there, headed to the Kanektok for a two week stint of guiding.  Small world indeed.  

When it was time to board, we walked out onto the tarmac to our Ravn Air Dash 8 aircraft, boarded, found a couple of seats together and settled in for the first leg of our trip to the Kanektok.  As they were about to close the door, a ground agent boarded the plane and told everyone that we were overweight, and several bags were being held off the aircraft.  You can see where this is going already as indeed, we were the lucky losers whose bags got held off.  But no problem, they’d be on the next flight out.

We arrived in Bethel where they confirmed it was our bags that got bumped, but, we were assured the bags would be on the next flight to Quinhagak (AK), our last flight leg before we’d be boarding jet boats for the 30 minute trip upriver to camp.  The skies were getting somewhat ominous but we took off from Bethel for Quinhagak.  When we were descending to the Quinhagak runway, if you can call it that, we couldn’t help but worry.  The ceiling was so low, the pilot was motioning and talking with the co-pilot saying “I think it’s over there” as he pointed to about 10 o’clock off our heading.  We couldn’t see the ground at all, but we knew we were getting pretty low.  

As we watched the altimeter going down, down down…. it reached 300 feet and was still going down when finally the ground appeared.  The pilot made a slight left turn and we landed almost immediately.  When we landed, “Chick”, one of our camp cohorts asked the pilot what his “ceiling” was before he wouldn’t land and he told us…. 300 feet.  We were VERY happy to be down.  What’s even crazier, is that the only reason we didn’t fly direct from Anchorage to Quinhagak is that the runway has a “bump” and would only accept smaller planes.  When we landed, you could see the “bump” clearly in the runway and the pilot simply bounced over it, tilting the plane and all of us to the side before setting it down.

We were met at the plane by the guide staff of Alaska West, who took our luggage…. oh wait…. our luggage wasn’t here.  They took us to our boat for the ride upstream to camp.  It was pouring rain, and our raingear was in our luggage… so… we wrapped ourselves in trash bags and jumped in our boat for the ride.  What we didn’t learn until later, as we were waiting for our luggage to arrive on the next flight into Quinhagak, was that there wasn’t going to be a next flight… they’d closed the airport due to weather conditions.   We were shown to our tent, in fairly soaked clothing.  Luckily, there were great heaters in the tents and the beds had numerous blankets on them, so, knowing we’d be wearing our same clothing the next day, we disrobed, hung our clothes to dry and jumped into bed.  What was so funny to Barb and me was that every time Jason, the camp host/guide came to our tent to give us an update about our luggage, we were practically naked laying under the covers.  Priceless!

Day 18:  Kanektok Intro

We got word around 10am that our luggage was indeed on the way.  Everyone else was already out on the river fishing at 8am so Barb and I did get to sleep in and since it was raining hard, we stayed dry for the time being.  Our luggage arrived around noon, we grabbed some lunch, wader’d up, and headed down to the “beach” to meet Jason and go fishing on the Kanektok.

We landed our first “Silvers”.  Silver Salmon are the main event at this time on the Kanektok River.  They are big fish for sure, but what makes them so special is their feisty nature.  When you hook into one, they run and jump like no others.  During the week, I got taken into my backing numerous times by these acrobatic salmon.  We had a blast.

Day 19:  Silver Mania

A “typical” day at the Alaska West tent camp begins with hearing the generator turn on at 5:45am.  It’s not that it’s really that loud, but that it’s really that quiet here.  We’re miles and miles by boat from the nearest “civilization”, the small native village of Quinhagak, population 600, on the Bering Sea.  At 7am, the breakfast bell rings and everyone heads to the dining tent.  By everyone, I mean about 5 staff members, 10 guides and 16 guests.  After a hearty breakfast, everyone waders up and heads down to the boats to meet their guide for the day and heads off up or downstream.  

Our guide this day was Eric, from Crested Butte (CO) who we learned in addition to being a fishing guide here, was a ski patrol member at Crested Butte.  We had great conversations and fun with Eric all day as we were on a quest to catch our “limit” of Silvers, 10 for the day.  We fished several holes for silver salmon and had our limit by noon.  After dropping off our bounty of Silvers and grabbing lunch in the boat, we headed upstream to fish for trout and Dolly Varden’s.  We caught some beautiful rainbows but it was the “Dollys” that blew us away.  Eric called out, you’ve got one “clowned up”, which simply meant the orange and green highlights on these Dollys were in full regalia.  The moment we caught our first, we were quickly becoming Dolly addicts.  

Around 5:30pm we headed back to camp, taking a great ride downstream in the jet boat, enjoying the views of tundra everywhere.  As we arrived, we couldn’t believe the day we had and how it could possibly get any better.  Hors d’oeuvres were awaiting us around 6:30 and we’d brought a 12 pack of Alaskan Amber and a bottle of tequila for our cocktails.  7:30 brought dinner and afterwards…. SLEEP!

Day 20:  Limit by 9am

We were in “rise and repeat” mode each day, so breakfast, wader up, boats, go fishing was the order every day.  However, this day was something absolutely insane.  We met Cole at the boat, launched and arrived at our first hole to fish for silvers, aptly called, “Bay of Pigs”.  First cast, silver on, landed…. I look over at Barb and her rod is also bent… silver on… landed.   Keep in mind, the time frame from “fish on” to “fish landed” with silvers is often 5-10 minutes.  These fish don’t give up early…. EVER!  They run, jump, let you bring them close, before they run, jump over and over… when they see the landing net, you know what they do…. again… and likely again.  By 9:00 we’d caught our limit, which is truly rare given you often will hook these gymnastic masters but not land them because every jump brings the chance of losing tension on the line and the fish swimming away with nothing but loose line in your hand.  

We looked at each other…. Cole, Barb and I…. and said… “well, what do we do now?”  Turns out that’s a very silly question because we could continue to catch silvers, we just couldn’t keep anymore, we’d “limited out”.  We drove up to camp, dropped off our 10 silvers, and headed upstream to fish for trout and dollys.  Now it was about more than just catching dollys;  we were going to have a shore lunch, and NEEDED to catch a few dolls to filet and enjoy.  Turns out, it didn’t take too long, so we set off to gather wood while Cole did the filleting, seasoning and cooking.  It was so special to catch and eat lunch like this; on the river, middle of nowhere, no one around.   

Later on, Barb hooked and landed a 24” dolly which was the biggest of the day in camp.  We also found a nice 20” rainbow among many smaller ones.  Great day… back to camp…. appetizers, drinks, dinner… and sleep.

Day 21:  Getting our “Bering”s

Each evening, our guide for the next day would come by the dinner table and ask us what we wanted to do that day.  When Lucas came by, he had some ideas of what we might enjoy and asked us… “Have you been to the mouth of the river? To the Bering Sea?”  We were so excited to embark on this adventure we said yes in a heartbeat.  So, Day 21 began with a boat ride downstream, past the native village of Quinhagak, to the mouth of the river where we stared out at the Bering Sea.  It was really breathtaking and awe-inspiring realizing where we were sitting.  We sat there and talked for about 20 minutes, about life, shared anniversaries and how small we felt in that moment.

After a brief ride upstream, we started our daily quest for silvers.  At about the third hole we fished, we’d reached our limit and headed upstream, but not before Barb had landed her biggest silver of the week.  The routine continued as before, drop off fish for Doug to do his magic on them, and head upstream to fish for trout and dolly varden.  Before we started to fish, Lucas took us all the way up to the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge boundary…. so cool.  We then found a sweet run on a braid of the river where Clear Creek flowed into the Kanektok and it was game on with landing bows and dollys.  Of course, Barb landed the biggest dolly of the week at this point, 28”.  

Lucas is an accomplished photographer and took tons of photos of us during the day.  A few are above, but, when we get back home and can do it properly, you’ll see even more of his amazing photos!

Day 22:   Tom Tom

Tom was our next guide who took us out hunting for silvers, rainbows, dollys and more.  We landed silvers of course, but also chum and pink salmon.  What is amazing is that Tom took us to parts of the river we’d not yet seen.  This fishery is so vast with braids everywhere upstream.  The highlights of the day were Tom finding more “holy” rocks and I got a beautiful grayling which seems like a prehistoric fish of sorts.  Tom indicated he’d not seen a grayling this big this season and it was likely 25-30 years old.  Tom also introduced us to the term “Tundra Turd”.  

At the end of the day, we’d request to fish for some silvers, so Tom found a good hole and we proceeded to hook into a few.  Tom asked if we’d mind keeping these so the chef could make some salmon dishes for dinner and of course we agreed.  It was going to be special knowing we’d caught dinner for the camp guests and crew.   

Day 23:  Kanektok Krazy

Every day we’d say “It can’t possibly get better” or “I feel sorry for our next guide given what our guide yesterday put us on”….. yet every single day we were amazed with the fishing experience each guide at Alaska West gave us.  When we found out Cole was again going to be our guide for our final day on the Kanektok, we wondered how on earth he could top the day we limited out by 9am…. but read on.  

We started the day fishing poppers for silvers at a hole called the “Silver Hilton”… yes, most big holes on the river have names.  After hooking into several silvers on poppers and streamers we decided to head upstream even further to fish for rainbows and dolly varden.  We decided to eat lunch first before grabbing our rods and beginning to fish.    

We were standing on this huge rock/gravel bar that ran on one side of the river which made an almost horseshoe bend.  Cole put me at the head of the run and walked across the rock/gravel bar about 40 yards with Barb which put her about midway through the run.  If you’d followed the river between us, it would have been more like 80-100 yards.  On my first or second cast, boom!  My strike indicator jerked down, I set the hook and had a good sized fish on.  Most of the time, we never know what we’ve got until it jumps or until we get it closer to us.  Unfortunately, Cole was over with Barb 40 yards away with the net so I hollered, he saw my rod bent and came running across 40 yards of rocks to help net a nice 20+ inch dolly varden.  About this time, we hear Barb and her rod is bent good, so Cole high tails it across the 40 yards of rock/gravel bar to help Barb.  I’m guessing by now you see where this is going and my emphasis on 40 yards of rock separating Barb and me.  This went on so long we’d hear Cole yelling “Can you wait a sec…. keep it wet and I’ll be there soon”.  It was so crazy that one time I had a really big fish on and waited for Cole to help get a big dolly off for Barb before yelling for help with the net.  He called back, “What is it?”…. and I knew he was thinking…. if this is another dolly, I’m going to take my time…. but it wasn’t.  You should have seen his eyes light up when he saw it was this huge, 22” leopard rainbow.  He sprinted the last 15 yards with the net to help me land it.  

After countless trips back and forth, Cole taught both Barb and me a trick to help us get our fish off the hooks more easily when we had a big fish on and no net to land it.  It worked great and I’m sure Cole regretted not showing us this trick before he’d run enough 40 yard sprints to equal a mile easily.  Finally, Barb decided to walk over to where I was fishing and watch for a while.  This obviously relieved Cole from his back and forth exercise but not from continuing to help land fish.  At one point, I cast six times and caught six fish…. hence Kanektok Krazy, but it got even better.

At this point, we were laughing so hard and having so much fun we decided not to push our luck and call it a day early.  However, since this was our last day, we wanted to each catch one more silver salmon before calling it a day.  The first spot we stopped on the way back toward camp was one we’d fished earlier in the day and had landed several silvers.  This time, nothing…. not a bite, not a tug…. nothing.  But we were on a mission, so we jumped back in the jet boat and headed to another spot.  On my first cast out, boom, fish on and after a moment, there came the jump and it was a silver.  I looked over at Barb with a big smile on my face and as I was just starting my fight, I see the line snap tight on Barb’s line and then a huge jump out of the water.  We both had silvers on…. if only we could land them both, this would be epic.  After about a 5 minute fight, Cole netted mine and we both looked over at Barb to see she’d coaxed her silver in close, but it had a couple more runs and jumps before it ultimately surrendered to the net.  Two huge silver salmon in the net Cole was holding.  We snapped a picture of these two big, beautiful fish in the net and was ready to say goodbye to them and call it a day before Cole said “NO WAY!”  He was determined to have a picture of us holding our fish together.  Now realize, we’d always had our guide hold the salmon for us…. they’re huge and we knew we’d drop them.  But again, Cole was determined to have this picture.  He taught us how to hold them and hoist them up for the photo and lo and behold, they cooperated.  We had a double walk off silver picture.  What a way to end our last day of fishing on the Kanektok.

That night, we had a special celebration where everyone shared their pictures courtesy of Lucas, one of our guides for the week.  He had some great music playing as the background for some incredible pictures from everyone’s cameras and phones.  I promise when we get back to Bozeman, we’ll put a bunch of the pictures from Lucas and others up to music to celebrate our time on the Kanektok with Alaska West.

The third leg of our Alaska adventure had ended, but the fourth leg was about to begin, and we were so excited because James Kelley was joining us to fish our 100th river of the TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams.  It was hard saying goodbye to the Kanektok, which is absolutely one of the most amazing fisheries in the world.  Only one member of our group got the “Super Slam”, which is catching 8 species of fish in one day; king salmon, pink salmon, chum salmon, silver salmon, sockeye salmon (that’s the “Slam”) – AND – rainbow, dolly varden and grayling.  Throughout the week, Barb and I had caught all but the King.  The Kanektok will always hold a special place for us on our River Ramble.

PROLOGUE: For Days 1-2, visit “Air Crosswords of the World”.  For Days 3-8 visit, “Alaska – Part 1”.

Day 9: Kenai Peninsula Travel Day

After sharing a cab with Ferdinando and Eleonora from Iliamna Air Taxi to the airport, we picked up our Hertz car and headed for…. ok…. we headed for Chinese food.  We had spent 7 days being fed incredible meals… and no internet…. so we each luxuriated over a two-item plate at an Anchorage Panda Express and relished their hi-speed wifi connection.  Both were sublime.

After our two hour lunch / internet fix, we headed for the Kenai Peninsula and our cabin in Cooper Landing (AK).  We were staying with Alaska Troutfitters (ATF) in their “Eagles Nest” cabin which was comfy, roomy, equipped  and had a gorgeous view of the glacial blue Kenai River.  We walked down to their dock and were in awe of just how beautiful the water looked.  Dusty, the owner at ATF, had set us up for this stay as well as when we head back on August 12th for our full “Kenai Week” (Part 4).  We headed further down the road to Gwin’s Roadhouse for dinner (fish and chips!) and a few Alaskan Ambers before calling it a day.  Travel days are always tough, especially given our day started with walking to a boat dock to get on a float plane to Iliamna Airport, transferring to another plane to get to Anchorage and then a two hour drive to Cooper Landing.  

Day 10:  Road Trip to Seward

When I was booking our travel, I was intrigued by how close we were to one of the “deep water” ports in Alaska, Seward.  Cook Inlet, on which Anchorage sits, is too shallow at low tide to allow large ships to enter and stay in port at Anchorage.  So, the closest deepwater port to Anchorage is Seward.   We’d decided a “Road Trip” to Seward was in order and that IF the weather was cooperative, we’d consider taking a 4 hour “cruise” in Resurrection Bay and beyond to perhaps get a glimpse of calving ice, killer whales, puffins and other wildlife.  When we arrived, it was cold, windy and we found a great brewery right on the main street in town, aptly named, Seward Brewing Company.

We sidled up to the bar, grabbed a couple of stools and proceeded to get a flight of their beers; Japow!, Red 6 Rye, Summer Skool Sesh IPA and Pinbone IPA.  As it turned out, all but the Red 6 Rye were quite “hoppy”…. not our favs, but we still found the bottom of all 4 glasses.  We were told this was a great place for food as well, but we were on a food quest at that moment, looking for salmon patties.  We’d had them twice during our stay at Intricate Bay Lodge and our cravings had returned.  

We proceeded to walk up and down the main street in Seward, popping our head into stores, snapping some pics of some “signs” (some humorous, some reflective) and reading every single restaurant menu on the street looking for salmon patties.  Alas, we struck out but slowly learned that salmon wasn’t really “king” in Seward as it was in Cooper Landing, but Alaskan crab and halibut were.  OK…. so the “quest” turned into Alaskan crab cakes and we headed down to the “port” area of Seward where we saw a huge Holland America Cruise ship and a couple of nice seafood restaurants right on the water.  As we perused their menu’s, another menu trend emerged…. on the water, very expensive…. and furthermore, they were loaded with folks just off the cruise ships wanting a “fine dining” experience.  If you’ve not noticed in our previous posts, Barb and I search out the “locals” places and the “dives” with great food.  We were lucky and found one on the side of the street away from the water.  We ordered a seafood basket of halibut, rockfish, salmon and calamari and went to town on it.  YUM!

After dinner, we headed back to Cooper Landing to get ready for….

Day 11:  Russian River

The Russian River is one of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams and would be number 98 of the 100 we’ve fished.  It was billed in the book as “great for sockeye’s during summer”, which translates to “combat fishing”.  Imagine a thousand anglers lined up shoulder to shoulder…. also, as John Ross, the author of the TU book puts it “Imagine a coxswain calling out this rhythm: ‘One, Two, Three, CAST! Drift, Drift, Drift. Ready. Set. Retrieve!’ ….. It’s not about fishing – it’s a trip to the circus.”  Fortunately, this is NOT what we came to the Russian River to do.  

We were fishing for trout, and had the pleasure of fishing with Matt Marchound of Alaska Troutfitters, who wanted to show us his river, the Russian.  We were staying at Alaska Troutfitters so all we had to do is walk up from our cabin to the fly shop to meet Matt.  We jumped into his Subaru and headed for the Pink Salmon Parking Lot along the Russian River.  We proceeded to hike upstream, sometimes on a trail and sometimes in the water, fishing holes that seemed “fishy”.  To Barb and me, it ALL looked fishy but Matt steered us to spots he felt really good about and spots that were away from other anglers.  Most people we encountered were fishing for sockeye salmon but we’d had our fill of “flossing” for sockeye, so we continued to target trout.  I fished dries most of the time while Barb was alternating between dries and a nymph rig.  We started catching trout regularly in the 10-14” range… and on a 4 or 5 wt rod, in fast water, it was lots of fun.  

Of course, we encountered bears, but this time they were all black bears.  We saw two solo and one mom with a cub in tow.  Lucky for us, they were always on the other side of the river from us, but the river was only 20’ wide typically, so we were still pretty close.  At one hole, one of the solo bears decided to jump in the water and began swimming toward us.  Matt quickly said “reel ‘em in” and proceeded to escort Barb away from the bear, which was swimming directly at them.  As it turned out, the only thing the bear wanted was a piece of sockeye salmon that was floating downstream.  

Remember earlier, I’d mentioned that most of the anglers in the river were fishing for sockeye salmon.  They weren’t in “catch and release” mode like we were, they were in full on catch, filet on the spot and keep mode.  Therefore, there was often chunks of salmon floating downstream that was attracting the bears to an easy meal.  They weren’t actually having to catch live salmon in the river, but were scavenging angler’s scraps.  Smart bears!

After fishing and hiking our way upstream to the point where the falls came in and sockeye anglers were lined up “flossing”, we stepped out of the river and began our journey back to the parking lot.  Matt took us up a beautiful “short cut”, which required a little climbing…. which didn’t seem to be on a path, but on a long, uphill rock strewn runoff bed which they called Highway to Heaven.  We climbed and climbed, finally reaching the “Falls Trail” and had a nice, DOWNHILL walk out.  All told, Barb’s watch showed we’d hiked 4.78 miles, much of it in the river.  Honestly, this may be one of our favorite things to do….. creek stompin’ fishing.  

After we got back to Matt’s car, we headed back to Alaska Troutfitters.  We had one more thing to do, a “Guide Talk” with Matt.  He had the perfect spot for us, the floating dock down on the Kenai River.  Stay tuned for that post, Matt was awesome! 

Day 12:  Road Trip to Talkeetna

When we booked our stay at Alaska Troutfitters, the owner, Dusty, asked where else we were going.  When we told her Denali National Park and Preserve, she immediately said we HAD to stop in the little town of Talkeetna, so we booked a couple of nights there for some sightseeing and hopefully fishing.  Further, when we told Chace Booth, the head guide at Intricate Bay Lodge about fishing near Talkeetna, he immediately said we had to stop in at 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla, which was on our way.  This road trip was becoming an adventure, just as we like it!

We pulled into Wasilla, found 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle, took a pic to send to Chace to let him know we’d made it.  We met Mike, the owner, inside and told him Chace had recommended we stop here and Mike just smiled.  Turns out Chace and his brother, who grew up in Palmer (AK), a few miles away, frequented Mike’s shop a lot…. and Mike had experienced seeing Chace and his brother grow up in the area.  We told him of some of the stories Chace had shared with us…. to which Mike replied…. “and they’re  ALL true and MORE!”.  It’s funny, we knew Chace was a special guide who not only knew his stuff but had lived it.  Mind you, Chace is a young man…. but has spent his life fishing and hunting in Alaska.  Hearing Mike talk fondly about knowing him and his brother only made our memories even greater.

Mike also tried to find us a guide in the Talkeetna area, but we’d waited too long and all were booked.  This was pretty awesome customer service and it got even better. Mike said, “I’ve got a place you can go on your own”, and proceeded to tell us how to access Montana Creek near Talkeetna, and even set us up with the flies and leader/tippet we’d need.  If you’re ever around here, stop into this shop…. some of the most knowledgable and friendly people you’ll find anywhere.

So, we headed for Talkeetna, fly boxes full and excited about fishing again.  I can’t remember the exact spot where it happened, but as we came over a hill, the skies had cleared…. and right in front of us was Denali.  We were over 100 miles away from it, but there it was, looming over everything along the horizon.  We were quite in awe of it as we took the Talkeetna Spur turnoff and headed for town and our home for the next two nights, the Swiss Alaska Inn (coincidently, run by Dusty’s brother).  We arrived, stowed our gear away in our room, loaded back in the car and headed for a vantage point.

We drove to a nearby resort on a hill not only overlooking Talkeetna, but with a breathtaking view of Denali, the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge.  We parked quickly, grabbed our cameras, strolled innocently through the hotel lobby and out the back doors onto an observation area and again, WOW!  There it was, big, majestic, snow covered Denali.  While we took some great photos, we just stood and looked at it for the longest time…. soaking it all in.  

For dinner that night, we took a back way from the Swiss, through a forest, across the Alaskan Railroad tracks (secretly), and into the little village of Talkeetna.  What a trip!  Here we found the coolest restaurants and shops as well as the Nagley Store where the mayor of Talkeetna once hung out.  Thing is, the mayor was a cat…. Stubbs, who passed in July 2017 after serving as mayor for 20 years.  And we thought Austin was keeping it weird.  We settled in at the Denali Brewing Company’s original location, now the Denali Pub, and had a great dinner and even better beer.  Afterward, walking back to the Swiss, we passed Shirley’s Ice Cream and of course, had to sample her wares.  

Sometimes travel days can be boring and exhausting.  This one was filled with fun, majesty, wonder and of course, great beer.

Day 13:  Montana Creek & More

The next morning, we woke up, had a hearty breakfast, made our PB&J’s for lunch and headed for Montana Creek.  We followed the directions Mike had given us…Talkeetna Spur to Yoder Road and park next to the bridge.  We decided downstream was our best bet, geared up with Dali Lama’s and headed out.  The very first hole we hit… Barb gets…. tug…. tug…tug….. FISH ON!  She landed a nice rainbow and we had visions of an epic fishing day.  As it turned out, our numbers that day weren’t great, but our fishing was still epic.   What happened was…

We stopped in a hole that seemed filled with sockeye salmon, and hoped that the rainbow trout were hanging below them waiting for eggs to drop.  On the second swing through the hole, I felt a huge tug on my line and realized quickly, this wasn’t a trout.  As I watched the fish dart directly away from me, peeling line off my reel, I realized it wasn’t a sockeye either.  So, what had I just hooked into?  

The real problem was, I was using a 6wt fly rod/reel combo, which is tailor made for trout fishing, but a couple of sizes too small for landing sockeye or a fish of the size I’d hooked, whatever it was.  Also, we’d planned on catching 12 – 16” trout, so we didn’t have a net.  The battle was on, and what a battle.  I was fighting the fish for a while and realized that Barb might not be able to grab the fish and get it off the line if I could get the fish close enough to land it.  So…. I handed the rod to Barb and let her fight it while I prepared to grab the fish when she got it close.  Finally, the fish tired, Barb reeled it close in, I grabbed the tail…. and we’d caught a Chum…. a member of the salmon family.  Whew! 

We sat and enjoyed our PB&J’s sitting on a log on an island in the river, each of us looking in an opposite direction, just in case a bear wandered by.  We always talk about the “team fish” we catch at times, with one of us catching the fish but the other netting the fish.  We laughed as we thought about the one we just landed.  

After fishing, we headed back into Talkeetna, got cleaned up, and headed back to town for dinner, this time at Mountain High Pizza Pie.  It turned into our favorite trifecta after a long day on the water….. great food, great beer and live music.  We just caught the end of one band’s set before The Holler! from Ft. Collins took over.  I’d describe them as a “Jam Band” in the spirit of a Dave Matthews type, and the audience was responding to them in kind.  Of course, after this perfect day’s fishing and dinner experience, back to Shirley’s.  

Day 14:  Denali Bound

We’d decided to stop on our way out of town to get a “sweet” for breakfast and dropped in on the Flying Squirrel Bakery and Cafe.  When we made our way to the bakery case, we were greeted by an employee but our eyes were focused on what was behind the glass… Pumpkin Pecan Coffee Cake, two types of Rugelach, Morning Glory muffins, …. is your mouth watering yet?  We grabbed coffee cake, rugelach, three cookies and hot coffee to sustain us for the two hour drive to Denali National Park.

As we later learned, only 30% of visitors to Denali actually get to SEE any of the mountain.  Most often, Denali is shrouded in clouds caused by the winds and shifts in temperature as moisture approaches the mountain.  This day, it was invisible… this giant 20,310 foot mountain was no where to be seen.  As we drove closer and closer, we were hoping the clouds would lift, but not this day.

After checking into our hotel, we did a quick stop in Denali National Park just to get our bearings for the next day when we were going on a bus tour.  Once we’d found where to meet the bus and had enjoyed the Visitor Center movies and displays, we headed to our lodging for the evening.  About an hour later, as we were thinking about heading to our restaurant on site, the power went off.  We weren’t in the dark, as that doesn’t happen here until about 11:30pm, but the cafe was dark as well. So on to Plan B.

We drove back to another area outside the park that had several restaurants and settled on The Salmon Bake, better know as just “The Bake”.  We decided to sit at the bar for dinner, Barb with a margarita and me with a beer of course, a Baked Blonde Ale from 49th State Brewing.  Why that beer?  The pic above the bar spoke to me.  

After dinner, we headed back to our cabin.  The lights were on again, so the heat worked and we nodded off fast.

Day 15:  Denali

We were up early to catch the 6:50 “Tundra Wilderness Tour” bus for our trip 63 miles into Denali National Park and Preserve.  The road actually goes back 92 miles on the “Kantishna Experience Tour”, but a 7-8 hours round trip “Tundra” tour was plenty for us.  So off we went in something more than a school bus but less than a motor coach.  The day called for clouds all day, so we’d set our expectations accordingly…. likely no Denali sightings but we were ready for animal and bird spotting.  The “Big Five” in Denali are: moose, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep and of course, bears.  We got them all… amazingly, although our moose sighting was actually the day before…. one inside and one outside the park.  We also saw golden eagles and the Alaska state bird, the ptarmigan, among our bird watching.  While the rivers looked fishy from the roads, we learned that there weren’t any fish in them beyond some tiny ones.  We’d packed our rods/reels in our rental car for post-“Tour” IF we’d heard a better fishing report.  

When we got to the Stoney Hill Overlook stop, we all piled out of the bus, but no Denali.  The clouds engulfed the area where we were told it was.  Nevertheless, many people had their pictures taken by our tour guide with the clouds in the background.  We can all just imagine Denail was there.  

What makes Denali look so huge, other than the fact it IS huge, is its prominence (not to geek out too much).  While Denali is the tallest mountain in North America in terms of elevation, it doesn’t even crack the tallest 100 mountains list.  But if you look at the measure of “prominence”, Denali is the third most prominent mountain in the world.  So when you do see Denali, as we did from Talkeetna, it looks just surreal.  

After we’d written a few postcards, we headed back to our cabin to start packing for our trip back to Anchorage on Saturday, Day 16.  When dinner time came round, we decided to treat ourselves to a gourmet meal at… “The Denali Doghouse”…. Barb with a Chicago dog and me enjoying a Coney Island.  Perfect ending to our Denali excursion day.  

Day 16:  Back to Anchorage to Get Ready for Tent Camping

We kept looking out the rearview mirrors of our rental car to see if by some miracle Denali would show itself, but to no avail.  We’d had our look from Talkeetna and now it was time to drive the four hours back to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, return the rental car and check into the Long House Alaskan Hotel.  

We dropped our bags at the hotel, returned our rental car and caught a cab to the movies since we couldn’t check in to the hotel until 3:00pm.  We saw Mission Impossible: Fallout… good summer movie that was at 97% critics and 92% audience on Rotten Tomatoes.  After an Uber ride back to the hotel, it was laundry, get organized for tomorrow’s flights to Alaska West and get some needed rest.  

We know that we’ll likely not have any internet access at Alaska West as its a remote tent camp along the Kanektok River.  The closest village is 30 minutes by boat and that native village is only 669 people.  We’re back to Anchorage on Sunday, August 12th to meet up with James Kelley and head back to the Kenai peninsula.  Until then…

Ramble On.

PROLOGUE:  We are just back to a spot where there is wifi and cell service.  We’ve been in a “remote” location for the past week and honestly, we have limited wifi/cell now as I write this post.  Since we talked about this being our “30 Days in Alaska” trip, I decided to share our day by day adventures in that way.  Also, with such limited wifi/cell, it’s impossible to post the kinds of videos, guide talks and highlights we’ve done before.  We’ll update everything once we have strong wifi/cell, with some amazing video footage we’ve shot here so far, but for now, we’ll share some favorite pictures (hopefully) that dovetail with each part.  Here goes….

Day 3:  Intricate Bay trip begins

After a quick stay in Anchorage, we continued our journey with a flight in a 10 passenger single prop plane from Anchorage to a small native village, Iliamna (pop. 109), which sits on its namesake, Lake Iliamna.  It is the largest lake in Alaska and the third largest lake entirely in the US with an average depth of 144’.  However, we weren’t to our first fishing stop just yet.

We were met at the Iliamna Airport by Brian Harry, the owner/operator of the Intricate Bay Lodge (IBL) which would be our home for the next 7 days.  He brought a large passenger van up to the door where we loaded all our gear and took a two mile drive to a lake, where our next transport was waiting…..  not a boat, but……the “Dirty Girl”, officially known as a “de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Mk.I Beaver”…. yes, a float plane.  


I’m going to pause here, and do some reflecting…. Barb and I have talked about ultimately writing a book about our “River Ramble”.  Neither of us are writers, as our high school english teacher Mrs. Seiter would definitely tell you, especially me.  I mean, our senior paper which was our “final” and counted for much of our grade was to be on our favorite author…. you know…. Chaucer, Shakespere, etc….. So of course, I wrote mine on those famous authors Charles Shulz and Walt Kelly.  It was titled “Peanuts, Pogo, People and Politics” and while I thought it was EPIC…. Mrs. Seiter disagreed.  I did pass Senior english, but barely.  The point of all this is, after this last week, we’re now committed to writing a book about this adventure and as I write this post, I’m finding myself starting to write it….. SO…. since this is a blog and not a novel, I’m going to try and hold back a bit…. ok…. a lot.  Now back to our abbreviated blog stories!


We flew over Lake Iliamna, landed in Intricate Bay and taxied to this beautiful lodge where we were met by the entire staff;  we felt pretty special (and relieved we’d survived our first float plane ride).  After settling in, we threw on our waders, headed back to the dock, jumped in jet boats, and headed for the Copper River, one of our Trout Unlimited Top 100 Trout Streams rivers.  (Note to self, brevity in blogs… you can do it!).   The ride to the river was an experience that can only be told in video, so stay tuned for later (see Prologue). 

After landing a few nice rainbows, our guide for the day, Monte, took us to a great looking hole and just as we were about to jump out of the boat and start fishing…. BEAR!  Yes, a young brown bear walked up along the bank, staring down into the river exactly where we were going to cast and began searching for fish.  Ultimately, he dove into the river, ran up and down the “run” we were going to fish, tried unsuccessfully to get a fish, decided to “snorkel” for fish (yes, it’s a real thing they do, snorkeling for fish) and then run over onto the same gravel bar where we’d docked our boat, at which point Monte grabs his bear spray and begins to scream at the bear.  We learn over the course of the week, step 1, scream…. step 2, spray with bear spray…. step three, pull gun.  Honestly, step 1 did the trick all but one time when step 2 was deployed, and never step three, but it was always an option as each guide was always “carrying”.   I share all this now, so that in later days writings, I’ll just say “bear experience” to encapsulate these moments.  Bottom line of the day:  We checked off our 96th river in our quest to fish the Top 100 Trout Streams in the US.  

After more fish, we headed back to the lodge for dinner.  Thank goodness they had a keg of Alaskan Amber, we needed it.  We also got our itinerary for the next day after dinner, written on the chalk board….  7am breakfast, 8am shove off, Copper River, guide… Chace.

Day 4:  More Copper River adventures (pic 1)

We had a full day on the Copper River with Chace, who was the “head guide” at IBL.  Again, we had this amazing jet boat ride to get to and then up the Copper River, having a mama duck fly directly in front of our boat part of the way.  We learned that the boat, which was flying upriver, came near her babies and she flies away in front of the boat to lead us away from them.  If only she’d known we were going fishing she could have chilled out instead of flying like crazy ahead of us.  

The day was much like Day 3’s fishing; we’d move upstream finding great “runs” to fish, hook into some nice rainbows and move.  It was all using the jet boat to move from spot to spot, we never fished from the boat, we always got out and waded a section of the river.  Which lead us to another “bear experience” here and there.  Actually, on both day 3 and 4 we saw 8 bears along and in the river.  We were fishing a “run” when Chace said “turn around”.  When we did, we saw this huge bear “snorkeling” down the channel right behind us.  I’ll never say we got “used” to being in such close proximity to bears (within 10-20 yards), but we’d come to realize that with hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon in all the rivers in the area, they weren’t really the least bit interested in us, unless of course we were in their favorite fishing hole (see Day 3 above).

At the end of the day, we decided we’d like to try fishing for some of the sockeye salmon that everyone else was actually fishing for…. as we’d been targeting rainbows all day.  You really aren’t technically “fishing” for sockeye as the guides called it “flossing”.   Essentially, you’re throwing out a line with a small fly/hook on the line and dragging it through a mass of sockeye just holding in a spot.  Eventually, the line will go into….. wait…. brevity Tom…. write more in a book…. onward.

Day 5:  Moraine Creek (pic 2)

All of our guides asked “Why isn’t the Moraine on the list?”  Truly, I don’t know why.  I think it was in the original 1999 version of the book, but for some reason, not the 2013 version we are following.  In any event, the “Dirty Girl” landed in a spot called “Pothole” where we carried rafts, paddles, fishing gear, dry bags, lunch bags and more up a ridge where we staged everything before going back down the ridge and into Moraine Creek.  Whew!

This day was pretty much like the other days, so far, except for two things:  we were in a raft floating downstream and…. the “W” was happening.  The “W” was howling at a steady 30mph with gusts to 40+.  Our guides were fighting it all day to keep us in good drifts.  Oh, and I didn’t mention it was raining and a windchill that was ridiculous with that much “W”.  All that said, we caught lots of gorgeous rainbows, had a bear encounter that was a bit too close, but ultimately it only lead to “step 1”, although “step 2” was out and ready.  I think our guide Chace was ready for a massage after rowing us down the Moraine.  Everyone was exhausted as we awaited the “DG” to come back and pick us up for the trip home.  It was fun seeing her land directly ON Moraine Creek, then “sail” back down to pick us up.  It’s one thing watching drift boats and rafts coming downstream in the current toward you, quite another seeing a float plane doing it.

Day 6:  Alagnak River. Battle Creek. Moraine Creek and HOME! (pic 3)

We could easily write a short novel about day 6.  Let me try and summarize it.  From IBL, we were the first to even fish the Alagnak  this year and probably ever, but T-Bird and the “DG” got us there along with our guide Hayden after we’d dropped off two other guests and new friends from Italy, Ferdinado and Eleonora, at the Moraine.  However, when we landed in Kukaklek Lake,  whose outflow is the Alagnak River, one of the TU Top 100 trout streams, T-Bird said “We may have to fly out of here soon.  If the waves on the lake get too high, we’ll be stuck here”.  

OK…. no pressure…. we’re wading downstream into the Alagnak River, our pilot has warned us that we may have to leave at a moment’s notice…. and we HAVE to at least get a fish out of this TU Top 100 trout stream.  In 15 minutes, swinging a Dali Lama stream, tug…. tug…. tug…. SET!  Got’em!  We netted a small rainbow, documented the catch and then, hightailed it back to the “DG” to get out…. mission accomplished.

So, with all this excitement, dropping off a group, then flying to the Kukaklek, snaring a rainbow from the Alagnak and racing upstream back to the float plane, it was only about 10am.   Where to next?  We debated a lot, and for the sake of time, we decided to head to Battle Creek and in this case, it was the first time this season that anyone from IBL had been to Battle Creek.  We fly in, land and begin our taxi toward the mouth of the river and find ourselves in shallow water until ultimately, the “DG” runs aground and cannot move.  It was the first trip of the season to this spot and the river channel had moved…. as it turned out it was about 40 yards away.

Long story short (I can do this), we fished Battle Creek, I caught the biggest rainbow of our time there (25” and VERY fat), we fished about two hours, came back to a “beached” boat and found out that we didn’t have enough gas to make it back to the lodge.  T-Bird calls the lodge on a sat-phone, finally gets hold of Mark to bring us gas, but Mark hasn’t been to this location, so we’ll need to fly to the Moraine pickup spot.  At this point Barb politely asks “Do we have enough gas to get there?”  After assurances from T-Bird, the adventure continued.  

We now had to move…aka… PULL the “DG” about 40 yards across shallow water, literally dragging it over the gravel in about a foot or two of water to get it to the new river channel so we could take off.  We landed at our Moraine River takeout spot, Mark landed soon after, we loaded about 15 gallons of fuel into the “DG” and with perfect timing, here comes Ferdinando and Eleonora with their guide Chandler.  We grab them and head back to the lodge.  Again…. WHEW!  But Bottom Line:  We crossed off the Alagnak River…. we are now at 97 of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams…. and most importantly, we’d had the most adventurous day being first to the Alagnak AND Battle Creek.

Day 7:  Gibraltar River…..ummm… No.  Moraine…ummmm…. No.  Battle Creek…. YES!!! (pic 4)

Our day was supposed to have been a nice, short float plane ride to the Gibraltar River for fishing.  However, when we flew over, the Iliamna Lake was getting swells that caused T-Bird to go into “Plan B”, the Moraine.  When we got to the Moraine, the weather actually worsened to the point we couldn’t land there either, and T-Bird had to go to IFL navigation…. “I Follow River”.  We got an amusement park ride at this point as T-Bird literally didn’t just follow the river but flew low over it, below the worsening cloud cover, weaving and banking left and right until we were able to get some clearing.  We then went to Plan C, back to Battle Creek.  This was good, because now that we did our “recon” the day prior, we knew where the channel was and easily made it to the river and had 2 hours of great fishing.

When the weather cleared a bit, we got back in the “DG” and flew over to the Moraine and repeated what we did on Day 5, albeit with no rain and slightly less wind.  We were fishing all day with Chandler who it turned out worked in Bozeman for a time at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing as well as at one of our favorite fly shops in Livingston, Sweetwater Fly Shop.  Great day and a great, uneventful ride back to IBL.

Day 8:  Gibraltar River… YES! (pic 5)

To get to the Gibraltar, we ferried over in IBL’s “big” boat, towing a smaller jet boat behind.  We beached the big boat, got in the jet boat and headed upstream to fish.  We’d fished a few holes, caught a few nice bows and lots of smaller ones when Chace, our guide, decided he’d walk the boat downstream and let Barb “nymph” a bead through a run from the boat.  I was to follow down, wading and swinging a leech.  The picture of Barb drifting down with Chace guiding her was too priceless not to capture, so, I got out the camera and took a picture.  I put the camera away, took my rod back to cast and proceeded to fall into the Gibraltar.  

The Gibraltar is not a big river, in fact, where I fell in, I’m guessing its only about 20-25’ across.  When I fell into the river, I immediately did what you’re supposed to do and got my feet downstream.  Barb and Chace turned and saw me, so Chace pulled Barb to shore and started up to help me.  However, this one day I had forgotten my wading belt.   Unfortunately, this allowed the river to completely fill my waders with water and begin pushing me downstream.  I dug my heels in, but I was no match for the river.  Little did we know at first, I was really in a bad spot, unable to move at all and ready to head downstream weighing about 400 pounds with water-filled waders.  Chace comes and I grab hold of his legs.  I am in the river, arms wrapped around him as he literally drags closer to the bank.  We had to unbuckle my waders to get the water out of them to get me “light” enough to continue pulling.  When he finally had me beached, I stood up, stripped down to my skivvies, and contemplated what’s next.  We were a few miles upstream, there is no one around anywhere, and I’m standing nearly naked on a gravel bar.  Of course, both Chase AND Barb wanted pictures of me now….. LOL!

Chace went downstream to the big boat to get another rod since I’d lost mine in the river.  Luckily Monte had an extra fleece, which while two sizes too small, I managed to fit over my head and was thankful to have it and Chace had an extra pair of socks which helped me to stay warmer.  I pulled on my base layer pants, which were still soaked and cold, put on my waders and boots, and we continued to fish, of course.  

Not only did we continue to fish, Barb had an over 30 fish day and I caught some massive rainbows.  We lunched on the banks of the river;  told stories and laughed hard.   At the end of the day, standing in the middle of the river in about 3.5 feet of water, Barb and I had a double of beautiful rainbows.  What a way to finish the day.

Retrospect is a wonderful thing.  At the time of the fall, I wasn’t worried, I figured that I had Chace, Barb and a boat downstream of me and I’m a good swimmer.  However, I’d never swam as a 400 pound guy, wearing a water sock set of waders in fast moving water; it was like having bricks tied to my feet.    As I reflected on it, and as Chace and Clair told me later, I was in serious danger in that moment.  There is a reason you always wear a wading belt.  I’d simply forgotten mine at the lodge and assumed I could make it that day.  After I had the “accident” I took the belt off my fishing pants I’d been wearing beneath my waders and securely pulled it tight around my waders.  

Day 9:  Heading Back to Anchorage

After saying goodbye to all the IBL staff, we all got back on the “DG”, flew to Iliamna, unloaded then reloaded for our flight back to Anchorage.  At this point, we said goodbye to our 7 new friends we’d shared the week with at IBL: Arturo, Arturo, Jr., and Raquel (Mexico);  Ferdinando and Eleonora (Italy); Hadley (NC) and his son, Sherwood (San Francisco).   It was an experience we shared and we’ll all never forget… the “Alaska Experience” as we’d heard it said… but more on that in another post.  For now, it’s time to continue our “30 Days in Alaska” and….

Ramble On!

Our trip from Bozeman to Anchorage via Seattle on Day 1 of our trip went off without a hitch.  Flights on time…. clear skies… soft landings… and spectacular views, especially as we approached Anchorage (pic 1).  We even got a glimpse of Denali in the distance.  What was amazing is at 10:30pm, when we arrived at our hotel, it was still daylight, and stayed that way until 11pm.  

We planned Day 2 of our Alaska adventure as a “get acclimated” day in Anchorage.  Travel days when you fly for 6 hours and have a 3 hour connection in Seattle are exhausting…. not to mention the two hour time difference from Bozeman.  We also needed to pick up a few things and headed to a local store to grab some essentials like waterproofing spray for our boots and head nets for mosquitos and no-see-ems (pic 2).  

After waterproofing our hiking boots (we’re expecting a bit… no no… a lot of rain) we headed to downtown Anchorage for a trolley tour and some sightseeing.  The trolley tour was actually a hoot.  Our guide/driver was a former Miss Anchorage and had her own live variety show in Anchorage.  She also won $10,000 from America’s Funniest Videos a few years back.  We learned a lot about Anchorage and laughed a lot!  We enjoyed the “forecast” board (pic 3)we encountered highlighting a sunny day for 18 hours!  This was a ‘hot” day for Anchorage, but again, we’ve looked at the forecast and have our rain gear ready.  

Anchorage bills itself as the “Air Crossroads of the World” as you can see from their sign downtown (pic 4).  It also boasts the largest concentration of single engine aircraft in the world.  We found out that Anchorage high school students actually study flying starting at 14, do their first solo flights at 16 and by 18 are carrying passengers.  Day 3 is going to find us on both a single engine plane and a float plane as well.  We’ll share more about that experience next week.

When we asked people where we should eat in Anchorage, the one recommendation that kept coming up time after time was the Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria…. so off to dinner we went!  They brew their own beer under the Broken Tooth Brewing label (pic 5)…. and of course, we sampled some of their selections.  We can now add our names to the chorus who recommend this place for beer and pizza.  

We walked over 4 miles on Day 2 getting to know Anchorage…. and walking off dinner.  Ready for a good night’s sleep and the adventures that await on Day 3…. Lake Illiamna Air Taxi here we come!


When we started our River Ramble in 2016, we were a bit overwhelmed as you can imagine.  We were plotting how to navigate the USA, fishing 100 rivers (and more)… driving a motorhome (the SaraLinda)…how to use a new camera to capture all of our “Guide Talks” and other video highlights… how to create a blog site (and keep hackers out!)….  whew!  We made a conscious decision NOT to add another piece of complexity to our “Ramble”…. a drone.

Well, we made it two years now and while we are still learning about all of the above gizmos, we are getting ready for “30 Days in Alaska” and ready to add one more piece of tech, a drone.  We did our research, and while there are better, faster drones out there, we picked the DJI Spark drone because of its blend of quality, ease of use and size.  It’s tiny…. fits in your hand.  

On the day it was scheduled to arrive, I anxiously watched out the window and jumped up when I saw the FedEx truck.  I didn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell, having already gone out the door to meet him at the front porch step.  Grabbing the box (and signing for it), I went back inside and began to carefully open the box and all the smaller boxes and compartments inside.  I was so excited…. can you tell?

While I was carefully reading all of the documentation (wink, wink), I charged the drone batteries and the remote controller.  One of the first things I read was the requirement to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Administration.  Yes…. I’m officially an owner of a registered aircraft.  The second thing you were required to do is name your drone… which led us to… River Eagle.   

There were also warnings about this and that including where it was “legal” to fly.  “No closer than 5 miles to an airport without an approved waiver from the airport”.  There even was an APP for that, which quickly showed me that there was no place in Bozeman to fly.  Who knew there were so many big and small airports in and around the city.  So where to go?  

I had an idea…. where is the nearest spot we go where there is NO internet and somewhat open spaces?  The road to one of our fav fishing holes, Beartrap Canyon along the lower Madison River.   The one problem with Beartrap Canyon is often the presence of wind, which as I read the Spark instructions, isn’t the best thing for a first time drone pilot to encounter.  But that led to another idea….

The best time to avoid wind is early morning.  The night before, when I asked Barb if she wanted to join me, she didn’t sound too enthusiastic.  I was so happy the next morning at 6am when I got up, Barb wanted to go as well…  so we headed off toward Beartrap, which took us by our favorite stop at Four Corners, Mama Macs (which we highlighted in our “Opening Day” post).  With breakfast burrito in hands (we split one) we headed west on the Norris Road toward the river.

As we drove along the river, we searched for what might be a perfect spot to fly and eventually came to a day use spot next to a campground at the turn to the road to the canyon.  We found an out of the way parking spot to get as far away from the campsites.  When we opened the car doors, we were so happy…. no wind!  We walked down to several picnic tables that were set down the hill right by the river and proceeded to lay everything out in preparation for our first drone flight.  

After pairing the drone to the controller to my iPhone to the drone network (whew), I hit a button, slid a slider and up it went, 4 feet and hovering, awaiting input.   After playing with the controller sticks a bit, we began our maiden flight.   Surprisingly, it went very well…. flying wise at least.  We found out later that only one of our videos came out, but it was enough to put together the short music video above to share with you.

I promise we’ll get better at this, but this first flight took off, safely flew here and there along the Madison River, and landed safely on the same picnic table where it took off.   River Eagle is headed for  West Yellowstone (MT), but not Yellowstone National Park as it’s not legal to fly in national parks.  Next, we’re headed to the Flaming Gorge and Green River near Dutch John (UT), where we’ll capture images of fishing and fishing buddies; James Kelley and Dan McCormack… can’t wait guys.  And on July 20th, we begin our “30 Days in Alaska” adventure, where we’ll make great use of River Eagle for sure.