Travel | Voices from the river

Voices from the River: 36 hours (part II)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Read part one here.

By Eric Booton

While we didn’t beat the sun to the punch, we still rose early the next morning, thankful for being a literal step from the river and having 12 hours left in our

adventure. I spotted our Danish friend, only yards away and fishing the same water as the day before. This time he had a friend with him, but I wasn’t concerned. They were content to wait until the fish swim to them, while we werehappy to go on the hunt. To each their own I suppose. We wouldn’t have to walk far for fresh water and there was no pressure to rush my morning coffee.

Rigged and ready we searched for a path downstream. There was little discussion over the plan for the day—heading down river was a no-brainer and searching for the last of the four species of Pacific wild salmon that were in the river was the goal. The quest for coho had commenced and I immediately regretted not breaking down my 13-foot spey rod for the journey.

Had I learned nothing from my prior battles with the willows?

The night before, while cooking our tacos we heard some rustling in the brush behind camp. It was the tell-tale noises of a lumbering bear that we had anticipated all day during our bushwhack. Instinctively, Sam and I both stood up, raised our voices, and picked up our banter to announce our presence. Our efforts worked and we enjoyed our dinner while watching the dissuaded black bear cross, or more accurately swim, the river not far downstream from camp.

The morning’s journey was merely a brief commute in comparison to yesterday’s odyssey. We stumbled upon a beautiful stretch of river, with a plethora of fishing options, at the far end of the willows near our camp and precisely where the black bear crossed the river the night before. And, based off the pile of carcasses on the bank, the bear had been doing some fishing as well. It looked like we were stealing the bear’s honey hole this day.

My spey cast is not pretty, not yet at least, but it proved effective while I sifted through the impressively large school of aggressive chum in search of a silver salmon. Sam targeted an eddy just upstream with similar staggering bycatch results and we quickly set the standard that netting assistance is reserved for if we were ever to get a coho on the line.

Casting past the school of chum, I started hooking some respectable trout—they hammered my vibrant streamers before taking to the sky. I started to notice some bigger tugs, too. Though I couldn’t confirm, my mind wandered… coho?

Hearing commotion upstream, I eagerly reel in and rush to shore. Travel friendly nets don’t equate to the ideal salmon nets but I fulfilled my duty and filled the basket and then some, with a good 10 pounds of chrome coho. Sam hooked it, I landed it, and the first coho had been caught.

Did I mention we make a great team?

Only minutes later, and I was at it again, racing through the shallows for the net, this time bringing my rod for a couple casts of my own. I neglected to share my downstream silver salmon suspicions with Sam, not out of devious nature, but out of desperation to find a coho of my own. Alas, my suspicions were confirmed when I found myself shuffling downstream, net in hand. I didn’t have to ask Sam where he had hooked the silver salmon, I already knew.

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The countdown continued and only a few hours remained before we needed to be lake side for our flight home. On any given day, rainbow trout are my species of choice, and while Sam continued to bring a fourth coho to the bank and lose a handful of others, I was content to get my fill on some of the finest trout fishing I have borne witness to — at least that’s what I told myself.

With our time up, we headed home happy and with no shortage of stories share. For 36 hours we were back in our college groove in the best way possible, tackling the world in front of us through the camaraderie of shared passion, reminiscent of the prior years tackling the ski slopes of Crested Butte and branching out into Colorado’s lesser known singletrack mountain bike trails.

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Emerging from the float plane on the shores of Lake Hood, we were victorious. Shortly before coming to Alaska, Sam sent me a brief list of what he wished to accomplish. He was able to check the following off his list:

  • Catch a grayling
  • Catch some salmon to bring home
  • Encounter bears from a safe distance
  • Fly in a plane to go fishing
  • And a bonus I included—catching a trout on a mouse.

Sam went home with an extra feather in his cap too, as far as I can tell, from the reports of the crew from Denmark and a couple of anglers our float plane picked up who were soaking roe at the mouth of the river, he was the only fellow catching coho, and on flies to boot.

Eric Booton is the sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for TU’s Alaska Program. He lives and works in Anchorage.