Was it fishing with some wine tasting? Or wine tasting with some fishing? Either way it was one heck of a good week of great fishing, great wine and even better friends. We joke with the ring leader Mr. Messina, that he can come hang out all summer with us – with or without his generous staff of premium Washington state ‘Reds’. To up the ante this year, instead of just bringing wines, Marc brought the wine makers. Our livers should recover my next season. Regardless of his sharing of some wonderful wines, Marc is a very easy going group leader who brings up an energetic group of anglers each year.
Also back this year was Alan, Mike, Larry and Jim who have been on a multi-year hiatus from Alaska. It was great to catch up and even better to remind them why coming to Mission Lodge should be on their radar each year!
King salmon were still going strong this week with the hot fishing shifting from the Nushagak over to the Tog. Board records fell all week with some fun back and forth. Sockeye fishing held on just long enough to fill a few fish boxes, but by week’s end it was over. Basically it was a full week early this year. One never knows what mother nature has in store.
It had all the making of a great college rivalry. We were privileged to once again, for the 19th season no less, host the Haynie family from Louisiana. Like all of our return groups they have become family. The family ties got even more engrained this season with the recruitment of one of the many Haynie grand children to come up and work with us. On the other side the ‘field’ came some ‘newbes’ to the lodge, the Henry clan from Texas. On paper this match up had the appearance of mixing like sheep and cattle, or more accurately, Tigers and Longhorn! However as it turned out, it was nothing more than a bunch of really nice folks who all shared the common bond of coming to Alaska to enjoy the great fishing and relish in its beauty. To complicate our little sports analogy, we had the Sayer’s and Wach’s from Toronto – bring out the hockey sticks, eh?!
The King Salmon were firmly in the Nushagak drainage with the fishing as good as it gets anywhere on the planet for bright fish. Sockeye Salmon were now running thick in the Wood-Tikchik drainage, filling fish boxes with Red Gold. As for our native species, the Arctic Char were happily reeking havoc on the outbound salmon smolt [juvenile salmon ready for the salt water] at all of the river and streams that dump into our lake systems. Basically it was game on across the board.
As per tradition we did our annual ‘burning money’ celebration to honor our great country and its independence from a tyrannical government. We gave it our best go with rockets and mortars, but in the land of the midnight sun it is more of a sound show than your typical fireworks display. Hey, its the thought that counts – right?
After weeks of crazy-warm weather throughout Alaska this spring, Mack and the boys brought with them some cool temperatures and much needed moisture. A ‘burn-ban’ was in effect throughout Bristol Bay. That was about to change. Saturday morning came and so did the nasty weather. Fortunately we were ready with a big new lunch tent at our King Camp on the Nushagak River. Thirty mile an hour winds are no match for a good game of ‘pitch’ from the inside of this palatial tent. Heated by a large wood stove, it is hard to leave this place after a big lunch on a crumby weather day.
A lot of fish were caught in the driving rain of the first day, however the group was concerned that once again, they were facing a cold, wet week ahead. Fortunately the winds and the rain let off a bit and the weather gradually improved throughout the week. The big benefit to those strong South, Southeast winds was how they drove the fish in from the bay in a big, bit way. Over 11,000 King Salmon passed the sonar that Sunday and provided for one the best days of fishing this group has seen in the last ten trips to Mission Lodge.
The other big event we got to see this week was the return of the Sockeye Salmon starting on our change out day, Friday the 21st of June. We typically see the first big push on the Wood River hit around the 28th so they were almost a week early. Great for this group, not so great for those anglers arriving later in the season. Such is fishing.
As we left the heavy rains and dark overcast skies of the Florida Keys this June, it never occurred to us that we would be met in Bristol Bay by 84° and sunshine. The other surprise awaiting us was the ice on the lake. Once again it did not come off our lake until June 10th. So much for fishing the Rainbow trout opener on June 8th!
This summer we played host to the 5th annual Bristol Bay River Academy, a unique program that has been set up to teach local youths the ins and outs of becoming a fly fishing guide. It was truly a privilege to be able to host this year’s academy and having the chance to help pass along the gift of fishing.
Fishing was a bit ‘off’ to say the least. The Academy opened on the 13th of June – the ice left our lake, the bottom lake in a four lake chain, on June 10th. Despite very warm air temperatures, the water was only in the high thirties. Our first day on the water left the instructors scratching their heads as the giant Arctic Char swam in and around their offerings with little to no interest. The next ‘field-day’ a couple of days later was down on the Nushagak and did yield a handful of King Salmon to lift spirits. Fortunately, the warm weather helped bring up the water temps each day and the final ‘field-day’ to the Agulapak River turned out great. The students got to do some mock-guiding with local supporters and had great angling success across the board.