Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Season kickoff

By Eric Booton

A handful of my fellow Southcentral Alaska trout bums manage to fish year-round on one of the larger river systems that remains mostly open.

Frigid waters flow between ice shelves, their invitingly shallow depths a recipe for cold toes and frozen boots. The sun creeps above the ridgetops providing a brief amount of daylight, but without being direct enough to provide the usual comfort and warmth, its benefits are limited to breaking the darkness.

The fish are few, the casts are many (assuming your guides aren’t immediately clogged with ice), finger tips are numb, but I am sure some can still muster the adage “the worst (coldest) day fishing is better than the best day at work.”

Cheers to you winter fly anglers! May the winter solitude of the river forever be yours to embrace.

Call me a fair-weather angler if you wish. I won’t claim the title, but fishing during the darkest days of winter aren’t my jam. I’ve tried it before, and will no doubt pack my rod and give it a shot if I happen to be traveling within close proximity of the river, but I am wholly content dedicating my December, January and February to backcountry laps on my skis and twisting up new fly patterns for the upcoming season.

The annual late March screenings of The Fly Fishing Film Tour in Anchorage is an important benchmark to me. Not only is it one heck of a party for the local fly fishing community, it also marks the impending spring weather and exacerbates my itch to fish into a fierce crave.

Since the fest, in the past week I have found a couple of opportunities to hit the river and search for the first trout of the season. Historically the first spring trips are slow for fish, low on water, peaceful compared to salmon season and a great opportunity to dust off the winter’s rust.

Day one was more devoid of fish than usual. The stiff downstream wind made for some spicy spey casting and offered the opportunity to refresh the finer points of launching the boat (say, installing the drain plug before launch).

Day two of the season was an ideal spring day in my books. My wife and I secured a prime fishing spot to ourselves and proceeded to throw everything in our fly boxes that seemed reasonable, while the dogs sunbathed and sniffed salmon carcasses.

After a couple of hours without any luck it appeared the day may be chalked up to casting practice, salvaged by a pit stop for milkshakes on the way home. Reluctant to leave the river skunked without laying it all out on the table, I declared there was a “fishy” run downstream that I HAD to try for a few minutes before packing it in.

Lo and behold, a few casts in and mid-drift my pink strike indicator plunged beneath the water’s surface. I set the hook, felt the pull of the fish and celebrated the trout’s first jump. The fish more than filled my net as it rested in the water, two feet of native rainbow trout beauty. I heard a cheer from the bank as I carefully released and watched it disappear to the depths of the glacial blue water.

My 2018 fly fishing season has officially begun.

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

By Chris Hunt.