Tag: featured

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 out on this three year “River Ramble” to fish the Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s Top 100 Trout Streams, we knew we were saving the five rivers in Alaska for last.  The other 95 were “easy” in comparison, as we were able to drive to every one of them.  Alaska posed a bit of a different problem as you can see from our cover photo for this post.  We have to fly, on float planes, to get to several of these last 5 rivers.  So on Friday (July 20), instead of firing up the SaraLinda and heading out, we are headed to Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport and heading north for “30 Days in Alaska”.  

We’ve been advised by all the places we’re staying in Alaska to bring the usual…. rods/reels, waders/boots, polarized sunglasses, fav fishing hat, comfy clothes and necessary meds/toiletries.  Additionally, we were told to bring…. a mosquito net for our heads, 95% DEET bug spray and, of course, we’ll have bear spray with us.  While our guides will likely be packing heat, we’ll definitely be packing bear spray.   

As we’ve been planning our trip, we got out the maps to see just exactly where we’re going.  Alaska is our largest state in land mass and our most sparsely populated.  As you can see from the map (pic 1 above), it’s bordered by two Canadian provinces to the east (British Columbia & The Yukon), the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and to the west, it shares a maritime border in the Bering Sea with Russia.  Remote seems an appropriate description.  But it’s also the home of our highest peak, Denali, and some of the most breathtaking scenery and wildlife on the planet.  While it’s definitely a fishing destination of anglers around the world, “It’s Not About the Fish” applies here as well.  

We’re really breaking up our time in Alaska into 4 segments (pic 2 above), each with its own unique character.  After a short stop in Anchorage, we’re off to Intricate Bay on Lake Illiamna for a week of fishing in which we’ll check off two of the five rivers, the Alagnak and the Copper.  But just to get to fish these two rivers, it requires a “normal” plane ride from Anchorage to Illiamna airport followed by a float plane (pic 3) to get to our lodge at Intricate Bay.  Fishing the Copper River will be easy as the lodge is located near where the Copper flows into Lake Illiamna.  The Alagnak is more of a challenge… aka… a float plane once again to get there.  You’ll also notice on the picture, Katmai National Park and Preserve (Brooks Falls in particular, see pic 4), which we’ve been told is a “must see”, along with yet another float plane trip to get there.  You can see why the SaraLinda just wasn’t an option.   

Segment two is all about sightseeing (along with a little fishing of course) along the road between Cooper Landing and Denali National Park and Preserve.  After we get back from the Katmai/Lake Illiamna area, we’re back to Anchorage, then driving down to Cooper Landing to fish the Russian River (one of the Alaska 5) and do some sightseeing in Seward.   Then it’s back through Anchorage and up to Talkeetna, which began as an Alaska Railroad town.  It’s also a “basecamp” area for exploring Denail and fishing a creek that was recommended to us, Montana Creek.  Yes, we’re definitely fishing MORE than just the five TU Top 100 trout streams in AK.   Then we’re off to Denali National Park and Preserve for a full day of sightseeing.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed the weather will be good and we can actually SEE the mountaintop.  After Denail, it’s back to Anchorage for…..

…. Segment three, which requires a flight from Anchorage to the small town of Bethel, another flight to the even smaller native village of Quinhagak and finally, a 30 minute boat ride up the Kanektok River to our next basecamp at Alaska West (pic 5).  So far, we’ll have been staying in a room, with four solid walls, but not at Alaska West.  Here, we are staying in “tents”, with floors, but basically canvas stretched over a frame that has two single beds inside, a lantern and that’s about it.  The bathrooms are “out houses” strategically located around the tent sites.  There is a dining tent, a drying tent (for waders/boots), a lounge tent and a shower tent.  You can see why they call it a “Tent Camp”… LOL.  This is truly an Alaska bush experience, at least as “bush” as we’re willing to try.   However, the camp is located directly on the Kanektok River which means, no float planes, just getting into jet boats and moving to various sections of the Kanektok, which is the only river we’ll fish this week.

Segment four begins when we boat/fly back from Alaska West to Anchorage.  We’ll meet up at the airport with dear friend James Kelley who is coming to Alaska to fish with us for a week on the Kenai Peninsula.  Once we grab our gear from baggage claim, we’re headed back to Cooper Landing to fish the Russian and Kenai Rivers, both on the TU Top 100 list.  We’ll be floating through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fishing the Kenai and hiking along the Russian River.   We’re staying in Cooper Landing in cabins along the Kenai River and enjoying all the “fishing, food, friends and fun” we can.  

After this segment, we head back to Anchorage to catch flights back to Bozeman (Nashville in James case).  Our “30 Days in Alaska” will have been complete.  However, along the way, we plan to “Blog” on our River Ramble site and/or update our Instagram feed every day (well, at least every day where we have internet access).  We hope you’ll follow along with us on our journey to Alaska.  

Ramble On!

Signs

By Tom Burnett

As I was on a 4th of July pilgrimage to find salmon flies along the Madison, I made a customary stop in West Yellowstone at Blue Ribbon Flies where a sign greeted me indicating “fishing reports” for area streams.   As you can see by the first image in the highlight video above, the good folks at Blue Ribbon Flies have a great sense of humor in their fishing reports…. yet…. if you read what they’ve said, they are spot on.  Indeed, there was no “wait” anymore on the Madison, it was full on salmon fly, stone fly, PMD, Yellow Sallie and caddis dry fly fishing.  As I walked back to the Suby, after catching a nice “walk off” rainbow, I stripped off my waders only to find THREE salmon flies INSIDE my waders with me!  Honestly, I didn’t even venture to count all the caddis, PMDs, golden stones and Sallies who’d found their way into the car.  Thick doesn’t begin to describe how much bug activity was happening on the river…. but I digress here, this post isn’t about fishing, but about the interesting, unique, funny, sometimes “salty”, significant and entertaining signs we saw along the way.  Seeing the “Fishing Report” sign at BRF simply reminded me that this was a post you all might enjoy.

Seems logical to begin with some great “Welcome” signs we encountered.   Each community we visited had the customary welcome sign, but standouts include the water town in Cotter (AK), the iconic Roosevelt Arch (Yellowstone NP), the “Best Water on Earth” in Dunsmuir (CA), the “Longest Main Street in America” in Island Park (ID), “Trout Town USA” Roscoe (NY) and the signs going into and leaving the Village of Mammoth. Of course, the “Welcome” into our newly adopted home state of Montana is great with friends, but the welcome to Ennis is priceless, they have their priorities straight.  Speaking of priorities straight, checkout the Craig (MT) sign…. it’s really just a fishing access sign, but really, that’s pretty much all Craig (MT) is….. fishing!   And who could forget our “welcomes” to certain lodging and events like the “Old Hookers” guest house or the Clinton (MT) annual “Testicle Festival”.

In traversing the country via the SaraLinda, we also found time to traverse a few trails, which without signs would have left you lost in vast places like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or even creek and ridge trails that connect to such bigger, more well know trails.  Barb did survive our hike to the Panther Creek Trail, but just barely as you can see.

Pure “informational” signs also caught our attention whether it was announcing certain historic “pools”, the Maine tradition of using old saw blades as signs and one ironic sign from a bookstore in NH.  Written in stone was “NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE”.  Still makes me laugh!

Of course, the eateries we encountered had their fair share of interesting signs (and names).  We had “Love Muffins” in Moab (UT),  “SpikeBurgers” in Michigan, enjoyed “Fry Fishing” in Livingston (MT), “groovy” BBQ in Marble (CO), made a “Frostop” in Ashton (ID), found a “Cheese Corner” in where else but Wisconsin, giant cinnamon rolls at “Wheat Montana” and joined the “Breakfast Club” in Mammoth (CA) who was most welcoming to our fishing adventure.  We’re afraid to speak of what happens at the Thunderbird Inn, or even where it is….

Couldn’t resist adding the “directional” category of signs.  The first one that caught our attention was a simple pair of arrows, pointing in the same direction we encountered at a very tight mountain curve along Cedar Run in PA.   We were never really sure what they were thinking but we navigated the curve twice.

Fly fishing in the mountains, we encountered “steep grade” signs frequently…. 6% grade next 2 miles, etc….. until we started down the East Portal River Access in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison…. 16% seriously?  YES!!! YIKES!!!

On a “lighter” note, our Upper Falls view was a bit scary, the folks at Bethel Woods, where the Woodstock Festival occurred, displayed their sense of humor on their roadsigns…. and slightly associated with Woodstock was the interstate sign pointing the way to “Weed”.

The drift boats we took down the streams were often adorned with signs and stickers that made them unique.  Four drift boats that were painted stood out… Rocky Top Anglers, which while an advertisement for the guide service, was unique in its incorporation of Tennessee filled with brown trout spots… the “Casting for Recovery” drift boat with its message and mission of hope…. the “Alumaweld Boat” of Griff Marshall, well built indeed…. but taking the cake was Merritt Harris’ drift boat which had no writing on it, just spots.  Sometimes, the most subtle signs say the most… we caught a LOT of big fish with Merritt.

And then the stickers….  state bird of Michigan?  A reminder “Don’t Suck”.  And one of my favorites, a breakdown regarding “How Badass are You?”   Barb and I have enjoyed every one of these lengths. (NOTE: you may have to pause the video on this one to read it all…. LOL)

To be honest, the “sign” idea started with bathroom signs in fly shops.  We found some very unique ones along the way, including some that are a bit more “salty”….. including the “Fish Naked” series… some that spoke to why you were in the bathroom (hiccup… beer!)… and some that were instructive as to smoking and “how to”….. “Gentlemen”….”Ladies”.

Finally, “WARNING”!!!  Sometimes I wonder why on earth we fly fish given all the warning signs we encounter.  It turns out that the saying “Fish only live in beautiful places”, while so true, could also be written as “Fish, dangerous animals, rattlesnakes and raging rivers coexist in beautiful places”.  We encountered these “warning” signs everywhere… making us aware of the dangers of moose, bison, bears, hiking, swift water and weather.  My favorite is still “Grizzly Bear Area, Special Rules Apply”…. yeah… like STAY AWAY!

We really hope you enjoy our “signs” as much as we have.  Putting this together, I kept humming the Five Man Electrical Band’s “Sign” song.  However, not having the rights to use it, I created an original tune….  Ramble On!

OK…. so right up front let me say, I have a favorite fishing buddy, in case you’ve not noticed already.  We certainly didn’t know we were going to be fishing buddies when we met.  Our desires to fish together didn’t lead us to get married almost 46 years ago.  It is true that once our daughters ended up in different cities well over a decade ago, it caused Barb to decide that if she were to hang out with Chris (our now son-in-law), Krista and me in the Tetons, she’d need to learn to fish, since she’d lost her “hang out on the bank” partner in Kelly.  However, one never knows how a shared interest in fishing might translate into “fishing buddy” status…. but of course, you know how it turned out.

Many of Barb’s friends and family questioned her sanity when she agreed to go on our River Ramble together. I mean, it’s one thing to fish together a few times a year with family, but quite another to sell your home, live in a 200 sq.ft. RV (“SaraLinda“) and travel the country fishing for 10 months a year for two years…. but that’s exactly what we did.  And… we’re still married…. and are best fishing buds!

Now I’m not saying one needs to marry one’s fishing buddy – or – that one’s best fishing buddy should be one’s spouse.  For some, if not many, it’s a pursuit that doesn’t necessarily fit, but when it does…. it’s very very special!   When you watch the “Fishing Buddies” video above, you’ll see a pic of a couple we met along the Madison River in October 2016.  I wish I could remember both of their names, but what I do remember is that he told us everyone just calls him “Coach”.  They come to Yellowstone each October for the entire month to fish the Madison.  They are both in their 70’s and they’ve been married longer than Barb and me.  Needless to say, we aspire to still be fishing the Madison each October for the run of big browns from Hegben Lake, well into our 70’s and beyond like Coach and his wife.

The thing to recognize in this is…. it isn’t because we’re married that we’re fishing buddies, but it’s that we actually SHARE some important factors in what makes good fishing buddies.  Factors like:

Do you like to fish from sunup to sundown and beyond…. or….. do you enjoy the frequent respite for an afternoon siesta, a good meal and/or a few cold adult beverages?

Do you like to fish for a few “big” fish…. or…. catch as many fish as you possibly can?

Are you a dry fly only aficionado…. or…. a use whatever method works kind of angler?

Are you more into wading streams…. or fishing out of a drift boat/raft?

Are you into small streams… or…. big rivers?

Do you like to fish salt water…. or…. fresh water?

Are you partial to moving water…. or…. still water?

I’m sure the list could go on and on, and welcome feedback from readers on the list for sure, but I think you get the gist of things.  The best kinds of fishing buddies are those with which you share the most factors.

The tag line of our River Ramble blog really tells you a lot about us…. “Fly Fishing, Food, Friends and Fun”.  We are not the sunup to sundown types, although we’ve done it MANY times… I mean, of course “It’s Not About the Fish” ALL the time…. but there are days when all the fly fishing stars align and you just don’t want to leave the water.  We’re always prepared for such days.  We always pack enough drinks and extra sandwiches “just in case” one such day reveals itself…. so it’s PB&J for lunch, dinner and the moonlight snack driving back to the SaraLinda.  That said, if we know a great band is playing nearby, or friends are coming in that day… we’ll always choose to leave the river.

As for the fishing itself, we’re “opportunists” for sure.  We’ll fish dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, streamers whatever fly fishing tackle is working best.  Of course, whenever we can fish dries, it’s by far the most fun, watching the fish rise and take the fly from the surface…. instead of watching a strike indicator jiggle or pop beneath the surface…. or even swinging/stripping wet flies and streamers.  But in the end, we’re definitely “opportunists”.  Oh, and so far, we are moving, fresh water folks…. but we know that will be enhanced to include still water (ponds, lakes) and saltwater in our future. And we’ve found, we like to catch fish, big and small, so we’re not too hung up on the “how many” fish we catch anymore.  We’ve heard anglers go through this as they grow more experienced… first,  it’s catch a lot, then catch the big ones, then its “special” ones, etc…. but we find that fishing is an excuse to get outside, enjoy nature, share time with each other and friends, meet new people, enjoy new places… you know….

We’re in the “It’s Not About the Fish” group.   We want our guides to put us on fish if possible, but we also want them to make sure to point out geological sites, historical artifacts, eagles, osprey and of course, animals along our journeys.  We always ask them about local beers, places to eat and live music nearby so we can enjoy the community surrounding these beautiful streams.

As you watch the “Fishing Buddies” video above, you’ll see images of some of our fishing buddies including family members (and family member’s best buds), Sue Doss & Dud Lutton (Bozeman), Bill McCauslen & Ron Reed (Austin) and two who’ve been with me and with us more than anyone, James Kelley (Nashville) and Dan McCormack (Houston).   In addition to the annual trips James, Dan and I have taken for many years now, they’ve also joined Barb and me on our Ramble stops in New York, Colorado, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Utah (“The Utah Four“) and Tennessee.   While my counting may be a bit off, I list over 25 rivers now we’ve fished together…. and we’re still planning more, including Alaska.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention a few other images you’ll see in the video,  “Fishing Buddies”.  We started out our Ramble on the Guadalupe, with James and Dan of course… but also with guides, Alvin Dedeaux and JT Van Zandt, who it turns out, are fishing buddies from way back.  Watch their “Guadalupe Guide Talk” and you’ll see and hear their stories which are a hoot!  Andy Wagner befriended us along the way, and took us to “The Shanty” along Penns Creek (PA) to meet one of his “buddies”, Jeff Zim, one of a group of “buddies” affectionately called “The Shanty Posse”.   And not to be missed, our four legged furry friends (“Fly Dogs” & “Fly Dogs 2“)who accompanied us fishing, Solomon (Sue & Dud’s), Brookie (Julie Szur, our guide in Slate Run, PA), Sammy (Chris Taylor, our guide on the San Juan) and Desie (Roger & Mary Nelson, Nelson’s Spring Creek (MT)).

Two things brought us back to fish the Green River at Flaming Gorge again… it’s a world class fishery where we’d had an epic time and our fishing buddies James Kelley and Dan McCormack.   Our mode to get back to Flaming Gorge was of course the SaraLinda and our favorite campground, Pine Forest, which was adjacent to where James and Dan were staying.   But first, back to those two things…

The Green is one of those TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams for very very good reasons.  It has some of the largest and most beautiful trout of any of the lower 48 we’d ever seen.  We’d fished it earlier with Ryan Dangerfield (“Flaming Green”) of Flaming Gorge Resort and had an absolutely stellar three days of dry fly fishing.  The yellow sallies were in full bloom on the river and fish were rising to them everywhere.   There is nothing in the fly fishing world more “epic” that hitting a hatch at the perfect time…. gives me the tingles every time I think about all the times on our trip we’ve been fortunate enough to have caught “the hatch”.   We were hoping to catch lightening in a bottle once again, but first… that second thing.

I don’t quite know where to begin about Dr. James Kelley and Dr. Dan McCormack, so I won’t.  I’ll save that for another post (coming soon), but I won’t leave you totally hanging here… well maybe just a bit.  Suffice it to say that James, Dan and I have fished together for well over a decade now and worked together for even longer.  When we’d returned from our River Ramble through the first 95 rivers in the TU Top 100, they’d asked what were our “favorites”, which is always a loaded question since nearly all of the rivers had become favorites for one reason or another.  However, the Green was one of those where we’d had the “E” time, so we decided it was our next adventure together.  They’d already joined us before on several of our stops, so we’d already had the “experience” of fishing with them, which is always a blast and full of adventure.

Our first morning, we met at the Resort, were introduced to our guides… Ryan (who we fished with before) and Dalton… and proceeded to debate just exactly where to fish.   The Green is divided into three sections:  A, B and C.   Each is a day’s float, but you can also float AB (last half of A, first half of B) or BC (you get the idea).  The “A” section is generally regarded as the most scenic, flowing through a tight canyon with towering red bluffs.  This section is also generally regarded as having more fish, but slightly smaller fish.  We decided to go “bigger” and fish the “B” section and a bit of “C” as our day’s float.  We weren’t going to be fishing dries, but a twin nymph rig of a “Neon Nightmare” wire worm followed by an “Iron Sally” nymph was our ticket.

We put in at Little Hole and within 100 yards of the ramp, Barb had already hooked into an 18” brown.  The morning continued in exactly that way, with regular hook ups and many landings.  We broke for lunch at the Tree Tops Camp on the river where we met up with James, Dan and Dalton.  There are several campsites along the river that are only accessible via water and luckily we found one empty for our lunch of fried chicken.  We shared stories of our morning, fish hooked, fish landed and after a bit of friendly “trash talking” about biggest and most fish, we headed back to the river.  

The weather was picture perfect all day and the fishing continued to be productive.  Each of our boats picked up double digit fish in both the morning and afternoon, but even more impressive was the number of 18-20” fish we landed.  At one point, Ryan rowed us back up to fish the inside of a run.  After a long cast upstream and about 4’ of drift, my strike indicator plunged downward.  This wasn’t a gentle take but an all out eat and the fight was on.  After a few minutes, a 22” brown found its way into Ryan’s net.   Later that afternoon, back at the resort, I was surprised when Ryan handed me a hat with “22” embroidered prominently on the crown.  Needless to say, I wore it later that night around the campfire to remind everyone who landed the largest fish of the day.   Of course, James would remind us that he “hooked” the biggest fish, a reportedly 24” rainbow, the biggest Dalton had ever seen in the Green, that afternoon.  But as the saying goes, until there is a picture in the net, its simply a “fish story”.  

Day 2 of our Flaming Gorge, Green River fishing adventure was a walk/wade trip along the “A” section, up from the Little Hole access site.   Dan was the first, and only, to hook and land a fish, a beautiful 18” brown trout he snared out of a mid-river riffle.  We waded several different spots of the “A” section but found that no one was getting bites that morning.  About 11am, the big “W” began…. WIND!  

We decided to head back to the Little Hole area and have lunch.  We’d packed our usual, turkey/cheese and PB&J for lunch.  After fighting to keep everything from blowing away, James and I headed back to the water for a few more casts before the wind about blew us over and downstream (it did blow my hat off which James deftly recovered with his wading staff).

Our next stop was to drive down to the beginning of the “A” section, which sits directly below the dam.  The water here was moving very fast so we carefully waded out and began fishing the inside seams of some fast moving water.  Dan was again the only one to pick up a fish, a small brown, but a fish nonetheless….. more than James and I were able to muster.  That evening, we went back to our campsite for burgers, a campfire and more fish stories.  

Day 3 was another guide day with Ryan and Dalton, but we switched it up…. James and I loaded in with Ryan, while Barb and Dan shared the boat with Dalton.   We’d originally planned on fishing an “AB” float, but the reports from the “A” section weren’t very positive regarding the quality/quantity of fishing.  We could have told them that in advance given our walk/wade fishing experience.   So we launched down the “B” section again, and once again, this time in the first 50 yards, James hooked a brownie.  

As we proceeded downstream, two things happened….. we continued to hook and land several fish in the 18-20” range and the wind continued to build.  By 11am, the wind was blowing around 20mph, primarily downstream.   While this made the casting a bit of a problem, it REALLY made the rowing a nightmare.  Both guides were dealing with winds and waves pushing them either into the bank (in our case, going down the left side) or away from the bank.   I hooked myself about 3 times as the flies on my backcast got pushed into me.  Mind you, when we COULD get our flies into the water and get a drift, we were still picking up fish.

The other reality we were facing as we were pushed downstream by the wind was that our “day” trip was quickly becoming a “half day” trip.  We were flying downstream at a very fast rate.  We passed our Day 1 lunch spot at about 10am.   When we broke for lunch at 11:30, we were only a couple of miles from our takeout spot.  At the rate we were going, that was only about an hour away.  

After lunch, we headed downstream to fish a few more riffles, but we found another diversion we’d seen on Day 1 that we wanted to explore…. the John Jarvie Historic Ranch.  In 1880, John Jarvie, a Scotsman, built a ranch on the Green to sell goods to locals and travelers alike.  It was an ideal spot along the river, where a natural river crossing was present, used by fur trappers, travelers and local natives.  The area, called Brown’s Park, was so remote, it was also a hiding spot for outlaws including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  We had a great time visiting the site, learning its history, and playing frisbee with Turk, the BLM manager’s dog.  

Day 3 had been an experience.  One rule of fly fishing is to never speak the “W” word while in the boat.  It’s considered to be bad luck and will only bring more “W”.   Anymore, I’m not sure about this custom, as while we never mentioned “wind” as we were fishing, it didn’t stop steady winds of 20mph with gusts over 30mph from hounding us.  We were exhausted from fighting it all day, but still had enjoyed a great day of fishing.   We relaxed with dinner at the Red Canyon Lodge before turning in early.

Day 4 was moving day from Flaming Gorge to Heber City (UT).   Along the way we stopped in Duschesne (UT) and fished the Strawberry River below Starvation Dam.  We were still fighting the wind but saw some beautiful water.  Unfortunately, the bends we fished had already been fished out by anglers who’d been keeping fish.  We didn’t even see a fish on the river, but we did find some other “old goats” along the river.

We arrived in Heber City without a spot for the SaraLinda.  James and Dan had already booked a room at the Swiss Alps Motel, but we’d winged it, thinking it wouldn’t be a problem finding a spot.  Unfortunately, we’d not realized that a major outdoor concert was happening at one of the two campgrounds in town, and all the campsites (and hotels) in town were sold out.  We were thinking this was going to finally be the time we’d be staying in a Walmart parking lot, but the owner of the Swiss Alps Inn invited us to park next to their garage and spend the night there.  They even had water and electricity there for us to have the same “creature comforts” of staying in a campground.  We were lucky and blessed to have found such generous hosts for the night.  

After setting up, James, Dan and I headed to the local fly shop, Fishheads, to grab a few flies and head to the Provo River for some evening fishing.  We nymph fished a couple of spots along the river while listening to the concert just up the road from us.  After getting nothing nymphing, we headed to another spot downstream, tied on a size 16 caddis, and fished to rising trout at dusk.  We were not to be shut out as this time, it was James who kept us from being skunked, landing a nice brown trout.  We headed back to our motel (SaraLinda parking spot), had dinner at the Dairy Keen (not to be missed in Heber City) and crashed.  Our day had included a 3 hour drive, fishing two different rivers and being lucky enough to have found a spot to rest.  

The next morning, we shared coffee while also sharing the images and movies we’d shot, many of which are included in the highlight video above which we know you’ll enjoy.  We started plotting our next fishing adventures, said our goodbyes, hugged and headed our separate ways…. James/Dan to SLC….. Barb and I back to home base in Bozeman.  

There is nothing better than meeting up with dear friends and fishing buddies, sharing fishing stories and other experiences…. reminding yourself its really not about the fish.  Stay tuned for more!

While I made it up to the Firehole for an “Opening Day” road trip, our first true Ramble trip in the SaraLinda began last Wednesday when we drove down to West Yellowstone.   After parking the SaraLinda at the Grizzly RV Campground, we headed into the park to check out the Firehole.  

We decided not to wader up, and instead wet-waded into the river where I’d landed a couple of fish on “Opening Day”.  We started by swinging soft hackles.  After picking up a couple of browns, we headed upstream, further into the park, to a nice spot where two large boulders created breaks in the water that seemed “fishy”.  We started swinging flies again, picking up a couple of fish, before the first rise.  Immediately we put on a White Miller Caddis and picked up even more fish, as you can see Barb’s bent rod in the video above.  

The next morning at 7am, we met Patrick Daigle of Blue Ribbon Flies, our guide for the day on the Firehole.  You may remember Patrick from “YNP Magic”, our Guide Talk with Patrick after fishing both the Madison and Firehole in October 2016.  We met early to beat the crowds heading into YNP and the bison jams that accompany them.  We parked at the Midway Geyser Basin, rigged up, and made our walk downstream along the river.  As we walked, we encountered a lone bison on the far side of the river, who would become one of our “markers” along the river.  Turns out he was there for three days straight.  

What we encountered fishing with Patrick, was a sunny and extremely windy day, two things that typically don’t bring the best of fishing and patience.  Anything hatching was getting blown off the water before any fish could possible take it, so swinging wet flies was the course for the day.  We caught and released a good number of fish, but knew we were limited by the conditions.  It didn’t stop us from having a fun day, a great stream side lunch and the knowledge of spots we might visit again….. soon!

The next day couldn’t have been more different….. cool, calm and cloudy….. aka… perfect fishing conditions.  We took a hike of about 1.5 miles to a spot that we’d thought fishy the day prior.  Along the way, we’re always looking for interesting things, including the bone Barb’s holding in the highlight video above.   And yes, we encountered our lone bison friend once again.   

In less than 15 minutes, a hatch of White Miller Caddis started… a very big, long hatch (see vid).  It wasn’t long before fish were rising everywhere and devouring the real bugs AND ours!   We lost count quickly of how many fish we were landing as browns and rainbows alike were in a feeding frenzy.   After a couple of hours, the hatch waned, our arms were tired from casting and catching, so we hiked out… but stopped stream side for a selfie of two very happy anglers.

Day three of fishing turned out more like our guide day with Patrick, sunny and windy.  Along our hike out…. we first encountered a large herd of bison…. then our lone bison about 1/2 mile further downstream, with an eagle watching over him and the river.  We decided to hike a bit further downstream and found several thermals along the river.  We very carefully traversed them, pausing at times to snap pictures and video.  While the water felt hot tub perfect, we decided not to hop in, but do what we came to do…. fish!  

While the sun and wind made fishing difficult, every once in a while the wind would die, and the fish would rise.  We tied on different flies trying to match what they were eating.  We didn’t have the epic day we’d had the day before, but we still managed to get quite a few to net (or hand in my case).   We fished our way back to our car, trying to pick off one last fish along the way.  

Sunday, we celebrated Father’s Day with breakfast at Old Faithful Inn (OFI), followed by our usual writing postcards and mailing them from the Inn.  Yes, we still buy postcards and send them to family… honing our handwriting skills vs. our texting skills.  OFI is special to us for a variety of reasons; our daughter Krista worked there and our good friend Sarah Lichte Savage, who was a manager at OFI, once took Barb and Krista up to the Crows Nest to take the flags down.  Afterward, we took a road tour around the southern loop in Yellowstone, spotting the occasional bison herd and elk along the way.  We decided not to fish because a) we’d fished and hiked hard the past 3 days and b) it was POURING rain.  Although, looking out now as I write this…. hmmmmmm…. cool, calm and cloudy…. See you next time!

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. 

It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with, totally, but Barb and I learned to fish from our daughter Krista and her future (at the time) husband Chris.  Mind you, when Krista met Chris working at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park during the early summer of 2002, she wasn’t a fisherman either.  However, Chris was an avid fisherman, who ultimately put a fly rod in Krista’s had and got her started, fishing on Pacific Creek in the park.

Pacific Creek is a beautiful small stream that begins high in the Teton Wilderness of the Bridget-Teton National Forest before flowing into Grand Teton National Park.  It flows into the Snake River near Moran Junction.  It’s fish population isn’t nearly as great as the Snake and several other tributaries, but it offers tremendous solitude.  In a park as crazy with people as Grand Teton National Park can be, with everyone wanting to float and fish the Snake, a bit of “getting away from it all” isn’t a bad thing.  So it’s no surprise that Chris took Krista out to Pacific Creek on their days off working at the Main Dining Room at Jackson Lake Lodge where Krista was a hostess and Chris was a server.

That same summer, Barb, youngest daughter Kelly  and I decided to take a trip out to see Krista (and meet this Chris guy she was seeing) and experience the area.  Of course we did the “usual” things in the park… hiking, rafting, searching for moose and bears, sitting in Jackson Lake Lodge just looking up in awe of the Tetons… but while we were there, Krista wanted to teach me what Chris had taught her, fly fishing!  So, off to Pacific Creek.

Not trusting our rental car on some of the roads we’d be on, we loaded into Chris’ “vintage” Chevy Suburban and headed out toward the creek.  We found one of Chris’ regular pullouts, parked the Suburban (took a pic) and headed out to fish the creek.  At this point, Chris was the experienced fisherman, Krista was a budding angler, I was about to learn, and Barb and Kelly were pretty much along for the ride and hike and swim.  It was VERY warm that day as I remember.

We made it down to the creek, got rigged up, and the fishing (and lounging) began.  We never saw another angler or hiker the entire time we were there (remember, solitude).  The creek felt wonderful as we “wet waded” it in our shorts and swimsuits.  Yes, I’m owning up to the pics you see in the video above as I had swim trunks on rather than fishing shorts one day.  Remember, I wasn’t a fisherman yet at this point and from the looks of my white legs, I hadn’t seen much sun yet that summer.

We fished for a few hours, hiking up and down along the creek, didn’t catch many (ANY in my case), but had a tremendous day.  It was fun watching Krista in a new element, fly fishing… and watching Chris continue to help her, as she helped me get started.  I took in as much as I could, but while I really struggled that first day with the timing of it all, I loved being outdoors, in one of the most spectacularly scenic spots on the planet, and sharing the time with family, including our soon to be son-in-law Chris.

In the days we were there in the Tetons, I only caught a couple of fish.  Barb hadn’t started her own journey into this passion of ours just yet, but I think she saw how much fun Chris, Krista and even I was having, and perhaps subliminally she was starting to get hooked herself.  Kelly on the other hand, just enjoyed being outdoors, getting some sun, and frolicking in the water AFTER we’d fished a spot and didn’t get any bites.  I know we’ve said this before, but “It Isn’t About the Fish”.  Sharing this time, in the great outdoors, no cell phones (the won’t work there), just family/friends, is priceless.

So, while Pacific Creek is not on the list of the TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams, it holds a very special place in our fly fishing and family memories.  The whole Grand Teton/Yellowstone National Parks areas are incredibly dear to us and we keep coming back again and again to create and share even more special moments together.   We hope you enjoy the short music video above of some of the memories from those first trips to Pacific Creek 16 years ago.