Women's Flyfishing Alaska
Enjoy the latest flyfishing trip reports written by Pudge Kleinkauf, is Alaskas leading woman fly fishing instructor, fly tier and guide.

2015 Women's Flyfishing Trip Reports

May - Spring Float Tubing, June - Adventure Denali, July - Sockeye & Bows, Nome, School   

Fantastic Float Tubing, 2015

The weather was perfect and so was the fly fishing on the lakes this spring. Everyone learned how to navigate in the float tubes, hooked and landed lots of rainbows, and had a great time. It was a perfect way for all of them to announce their first fish on a fly rod.

The fish weren’t all large, but they sure were cooperative. We’d paddle around to different hot-spots where we could see large schools of fish for everyone to cast to. And they went at it with gusto.

Besides hooking the fish, they all had to master the techniques of playing them in the tubes where they had to keep paddling backwards to keep the tension on the hook. Of course some fish got away because we gave them too much slack, but there were so many targets that the tubers quickly got an opportunity to practice again and again until they had it down.

The technique of landing a fish from a float tube was something else to learn. Getting the fish to come into the net head-first wasn’t always easy, but they all finally figured out how to maneuver the tube from side to side to get a better angle on the fish as they moved the rod tip backwards to bring it closer.

Since we needed to cast directly into the bank to connect with the fish in the spring, accuracy becomes the name of the game. Fish hang out there because the water is warmer and the food more plentiful in shallow water. Bead-headed nymphs, one of the most successful flies in a lake, as well as other patterns often get caught up on the debris on the bottom or the bushes along the shore because of their extra weight. As you can imagine, we had lots of lessons on how to avoid that complication or retrieve your fly. These women learned fast and were successful in doing it almost every time by the end of the afternoon.

Casting from a float tube can be delightful, because you never have to worry about bushes or other obstructions lurking behind you. It does, however, frequently require use of the side-arm cast to get the fly to where you want it. Tree branches hanging out over the water in front of you can be a problem because they are usually waving in the breeze and hard to get under with the fly. Everyone figures quickly that in many situations, the side arm cast is the only one that will do the trick.

Days fly fishing on a lake are always enhanced by the wildlife that inhabits the environment. Small rodents scurry from place to place, ducks and loons are busy mating, and birds swoop around after bugs in the air like the imitations that we are using to catch the fish. From time to time we also spot eagles resting in the trees to watch the fish action on the water.

Just three or four different flies are all you will usually need to catch fish on a lake in the spring. Gold-ribbed hare’s and pheasant tail nymphs are most successful, whether they have a gold bead head or not. Many people use size eight or ten woolly buggers in olive or brown, and a fly called a bead-head lake-leech is another effective pattern. As the weather and the water warm, dry flies begin to tempt fish to the surface. Then, tiny mayfly or caddis imitations usually are front and center.

A nine-foot four or five weight rod with a floating line with a leader of six-pound test should be your weapon of choice for early lake fishing. Float tubing requires a set of tubing fins and a life jacket as well. Don’t plan to use the same fins that you use for snorkeling as they won’t work for paddling a tube. Remember that you are sitting up in a tube, and not lying prone as when you’re snorkeling.

Float tubing is the perfect way to get out fishing while waiting for the salmon to appear and the rivers that have been closed to protect the spawning rainbows open. I’ll bet that you’ll also find yourself tossing your tube and fins and a lightweight rod in your vehicle and heading for a still water outing some warm evening after a hard day at work.

~Pudge

Adventure Denali Float Tubing, June, 2015

Flyfishing on Chavey LakeChavey Lake and its big rainbows lay lovely and calm when we arrived in the early afternoon. A few rise rings appeared as the small grayling pursued a hatch of very tiny mayflies.  It was hard not to just jump in for a swim with all of them. Instead we quickly unloaded the food into the fridge, pumped up the tubes, donned the waders, readied the rods and launched.

Rebecca was an experienced tuber, but Karen was just learning how to navigate one. It only took a few minutes, however, and she was paddling like a pro. The fish-catching commenced shortly thereafter by both of them. It was as though the fish had been waiting for us ever since ice-out because they were so eager. It was wonderful to have them cooperate just the way they always have. Some hit the flies like a tank, and others tried faking us out to believe that they were smaller fish by a very delicate take. It really didn’t matter because the battle was always the same.

Big lake rainbows usually react to being hooked by heading straight for the bottom, stubbornly holding there against our efforts to bring them to the surface.  It’s always a “wow” when we do as we marvel over and over again about their size and strength. Hefty 26-28 inch fish really show us what they’re made of and we net and release them very carefully.

Smaller fish in the 16-20 inch category give us just as good a fight, although they often do it closer to the surface where we can see their shiny flanks clearly enough to describe the brilliant red stripe along their side.

After a while both we and the fish settle down for an afternoon of catching and releasing to our heart’s content. From time to time we are pleasantly surprised by finding a lovely Arctic grayling at the end of the line instead of a trout. Residents of the lake before the rainbows were planted there, the grayling enjoy the treat of being fed, just like their larger cousins do, and grow fat and sassy on the easy pickings.

Both Karen and Rebecca had a great time trying out different flies in different parts of the lake until dinner time when we reluctantly beached the tubes and stripped off the waders. Then we enjoyed a baked chicken dinner with a glass of wine, and headed to bed even though it never turned really dark in the typical Alaska summer.

The next two days we caught and released dozens and dozens of fish on many different fly patterns. Observing the fish in their underwater feeding we could see that they were often following bugs headed toward the surface, and I showed Karen how to strip in her line at an up-ward angle so as to mimic the emerging bug, and she had a great time watching fish after fish following the fly upwards before grabbing it.

We also re-learned the lesson that the big fish still eat tiny morsels just as their smaller buddies do and found ourselves hooking huge fish with a tiny nymph meant for the smaller fish and the grayling.

We hiked over to a small creek after dinner on night with one of the guides and had some fun throwing dry flies at the grayling that lived there, and In the middle of the trip we took our regular drive over to Bruskana Creek to fish for river grayling and enjoy the scenery on the west end of the Denali Hiway. Fishing was rather slow there, but we caught a few and had a nice hike along the river before turning back for dinner at one of the charming restaurants that line the Parks Hiway as it approaches Denali National Park.

The wind and rain greeted us on our last day, and we were little slower in getting going, but, the fish waited patiently for us and hit the flies right away. For a while, orange was the color they wanted, but it wasn’t long until they reverted to the usual colors of olive, black and tan on both nymphs and small streamers. Rebecca started experimenting with different flies and found a small, bright chartreuse streamer in one of her boxes that turned the fish on for a while too.

I think we could all have just paddled and caught fish forever on Chavey lake, but the trip was over all too soon. We’ll definitely be back!

Sockeye & Bows, June, 2015

High winds greeted us at the airport as we prepared to board our flight to the village of Iliamna, and the scheduler informed us that we might not be able to get across the lake to the lodge if the winds were even stronger there. They finally deemed it safe enough for us to fly and we experienced a really bumpy ride. But, when we arrived in the village we were pleasantly surprised to find much less wind than expected.

Lunch was on the table when we switched from the plane to the boat that took us to the lodge, and everyone was wadered-up and ready to fish in no time. It was windy but manageable on the river, and we quickly spread out into various spots that usually hold lots of sockeye, but found the territory pretty devoid of fish. We switched to fishing rainbows for a while, and landed several beauties. Rebecca started everyone off with a 21 incher on a “nothing fly” from my book, “Pacific Salmon Flies: New Ties & Old Standbys,” that she was using to catch sockeye.

switching for salmon fishingSuddenly a couple of small pods of salmon appeared in the clear water right in front of us. Switching back to our 8-wt rods and different flies, we went to work trying to get these notoriously hard to catch fish hooked up. Kelly was the only successful angler, but each fish she got on the line quickly got itself off. Nevertheless she was very excited about getting to at least feel a big fish jump.

good catchMary Louise and her husband, Ron, managed to get a few rainbows and a couple of sockeye each in a different stretch of river, and they were acknowledged as the winners of the day. Of course, everyone wanted to fish that exact spot the next day. Fish it we did, with Mary Louise and Ron each landing a fish and Chris and Kelly rotating with them through the hole. Both of them also got a nice sockeye for the stringer. Rebecca and Nancy, who were fishing in a location just down river of us pounded the water all afternoon and they, too, finally were successful and the guys had fish to clean and freeze when we got back to the lodge

Kelly's first sockeye salmonWe knew that the fish were coming into the river now, but not nearly in the numbers expected. We headed out the next morning into gale-force winds and pounding rain, which made casting difficult, to say the least. After lunch everyone but Kelly and I opted for a warm shower, a book, and a nap and headed back to the lodge. Steve, the owner of the lodge said that he would stay out with anyone who wanted to keep fishing and both Kelly and I were determined to intercept some sockeye.

Our dogged casting finally paid off as Kelly suddenly started to have hook-up after hook-up and we could see a large mass of fish pushing their way up-stream. I positioned myself up-river of her to help prevent the fish from moving on up-stream too quickly, and, with Steve as a spotter, I had my limit in less than an hour, as did Kelly. She and I agreed that we deserved the reward of fish for staying out in the storm.

sharing the river with alaskan brown bearsOur other disappointment was that we weren’t seeing the numbers of bears that usually appear on the river. Since bears can’t smell each other in high winds, they just “hunker-down” and wait for better weather. Sure enough, when the wind died that evening a sow and three cubs arrived behind the lodge, and we kidded Steve that they came for the party because it was his birthday.

The next evening we saw a different sow and three cubs playing in the marshes below the lodge, so everyone hopped in the boats and drove down to get a better view from the water. Then, the next day a third sow with three cubs appeared right across the river from where we were fishing. At last, both fish and bears!

Rebecca catching fishOur last morning of the trip we headed down to where Kelley and I had been successful the previous day, but there was not one sockeye to be seen so we switched back to fishing for rainbows with dry flies. Nancy and Chris were both scoring on fish in the fourteen to sixteen-inch category on caddis and mayflies, and Rebecca, who was fishing below them also succeeded with a couple of different dries. Mary Louise and Ron each caught a sockeye, which they released because we couldn’t freeze them as quickly as necessary for them to take home.

Reluctantly, we headed back to the cabin to get packed for our return flight to Iliamna & Anchorage. The weather was finally beautiful, but buggy, and everyone had wonderful view of Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in the state from the air as we took off.  Join us next year when we plan to go just a little later to take better advantage of the fish. You can pre-book any time, and we’ll be waiting to take you along.

~Pudge

Notorious Nome 2015

Fishing for Arctic Grayling in Nome AlaskaEverything went off like clock this year for the Nome trip. The flight from Anchorage was on time, our shuttle driver was there to pick us up as we got our bags, and the 75 mile drive to the river was filled with sittings of moose, ptarmigan, and two of the chicks from a peregrine falcon nest that had just fledged and were hopping around near their nest, which was hidden under a bridge.

Tom was landing his sixth grayling at the boat launch just as we pulled in and we wasted no time in heading up river. Some hugs for BJ, Tom’s wife, a hearty lunch, and wadering-up were all done quickly when we arrived at the camp.

Sandy got right to business after landing a grayling from her first cast, but Robert, a long time conventional angler, needed a lesson or two to get his dry fly onto the water correctly. He was persistent and was getting the fish to rise on many of his initial casts. He was also delighted to start hooking fish on the fly. Several were in the 16-17-inch range and he was quick to show them off to the rest of us. The afternoon went by quickly and it was back to the camp for BJ’s specials spaghetti.

We fished one of my favorite stretches of the river the next day, and it was fish after fish for everyone. Ants were what were doing the trick and we all were “skittering” them across the water like pros. Trying out my various versions of ants was the challenge of the day. Black foam bodies with yellow legs, or black rubber bodies with orange or white legs all were enticing for the fish.

Skittering is a technique where the angler quickly skips the fly across the surface in different ways or at different speeds to see what the grayling like the best. The water can’t be too turbulent or the fish aren’t able to detect the action that skittering creates. Since grayling are found in schools and tend to line up in feeding lanes, large fish first, skittering works to get several fish going after it at the same time once the angler locates a feeding lane.

We spent some time watching an Alaska Native family netting fish on the river that day for subsistence because lots of both chum and pink salmon were also available. Many families have fish-camps along the river. The next day we actually got a chance to help a family with their netting. Tom stopped to help them and we got an invitation to help as well. The nets were seething with salmon, and members of the family from young to old helped to get the fish loose from the net and into the boat or large coolers for transport to the camps where they would be cleaned and hung to dry.

Watching an Alaska Native family netting fish in a fish camp near Nome.filleting fish for winterdrying fish for subsistence use

 

Catching pike in alaskaOur next day we decided the head out to fish for pike. With 40lb monofilament tied on to a conventional leader to create a bite-tippet, the action of the fly can really excite these toothy monsters. Tom poled the skiff up and down the little back bay as we spotted fish after fish hiding in the weeds just ready to dart out to grab our offerings. We missed some, but not many. By this time Robert’s cast was much improved so we weren’t too worried that he would hook one of the rest of us. The fishing was not nearly as exciting the next morning so we went fishing for pink salmon. Fishing in what had to be the panicle of bug hell, we could easily detect fish right out in front of us. Although it was hard to see through the netting, the white bellies of pinks make it much easier. Fishing both from the back of the boat and from the shore allowed for what seemed like a hundred-million hook-ups. When we couldn’t stand the bugs any longer, we got Tom to take us back to the grayling just up-river from the camp where we didn’t have to fish right next to the bushes.

The last day was short because we had to catch the flight to Anchorage so we fished along a productive area right near the settlement of Council. Eighteen and nineteen-inch fish were just waiting for us here when we had to say good-by.

Our shuttle had us back in Nome by late afternoon and we headed for the fresh Bering Sea crab that we always have for dinner before we going to the airport. Grayling heaven will be there again next year. Join us and see for yourself. There really is, “No place like Nome.”

~Pudge

Orca Lodge Fly Fishing School, 2015

2015 Women's flyfishing schoolThe school bells were ringing as the shuttle from the airport dropped us off at Orca Adventure Lodge’s 2015 Fly Fishing School for women, but it was too late in the afternoon to do much fishing. So, we had a delectable dinner and then gathered for a quick lesson on gear and got everyone outfitted for the up-coming days.

The first day of the school found us on “humpy” creek for our first casting lesson with the 8-wt fly rods. After practice of the overhead, roll, and side-arm cast, we got right down to business on the creek. It was absolutely packed with pink (humpy) salmon headed up-river to spawn. Everyone got a bright pink fly to get started with and pretty soon I was hearing things like “got one,” and “just had a hit.” You almost couldn’t avoid getting hooked up with a fish even though it was not necessarily with a fly in the mouth.

lined up to learn fly fishing techniquesBecause there are so many fish in the creek students get lots and lots and lots of chances to hook a fish. Then the instruction on landing the fish occurs. Everyone needs to learn how to keep the tension on the line so that slack line does not enable the fish to spit the hook. Then, they need to practice how to get the fish on the bank, and also how to release it. Because the fish are in spawning condition, and not good to eat, we don’t keep any, but they sure are fun to practice on.

catching salmon with fly fishingWe headed home mid-afternoon so as to leave time for our first knot-tying session. As all the students do, these women found that mastering the three essential fly fishing knots was easy as pie with an accompanying glass of wine. They were ready for day number two.

fishing near Cordova alaska The weather kept us from traveling very far from the lodge so we headed over to breathtakingly beautiful Hartney Ban, where a Shorebird Festival is held in Cordova in May, to chase the humpies as the tide went out. One of the women even managed to catch a huge chum salmon. That afternoon we took out the 5-wt fly rods and fished for cutthroat trout in a lovely little lake near the airport. All of the catch was pretty small, so we headed back into town for our annual visit to the Copper River Fleece shop before ending at the lodge for a lesson on flies and which ones to use for different fish.

women fishing in sheep bay near CordovaWeather was better the following day and we got our chance to visit spectacular Sheep Bay. Absolutely chocked full of fish, the creek provided absolutely incredible fishing opportunity. Twenty or thirty-plus fish were the numbers for everyone. Their arms were sore when we headed back across the salt flats to meet our boat for the trip back to the lodge, and watched for sea-otters all the way home.

The 2015 women's flyfishing school group on the dock.Our last day we flew out in a small plane to scenic Hook Point to fish a small stream that always produces cutthroat trout as well as pink salmon. Once again using 5-wts, they all were catching “cutties” with both dry and wet flies and weren’t much interested in the salmon. The weather was beautiful and provided picture-perfect views of the rolling tide coming in the half-moon shaped bay on a beach covered with logs and wild flowers. As an added treat, Steve Ranney, Orca’s owner and our pilot, always treats us to a glacier flight-see over massive Sheridan Glacier on our ride home. It really takes your breath away!

catching cutties with both dry and wet fliesWe celebrated their graduation from the school with some excellent pizza that we picked up on our way to the airport and a Women’s Fly Fishing fly box that signals success for everyone. What a great trip it was!!

Join us next summer and we’ll make a flyfisher out of you!!

~Pudge


 


 


 

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