When the fishing is this good, we were our smiley faces. But what about finding small smiley faces on the gill plates of two different Silver Salmon caught on the Togiak River? Who put them there? When was it done? How did they do it? And maybe even more important, why? What is even more intriguing to our guides and fisherman is that there was a very similar one found on the gill plate of a Sockeye Salmon on the Nushagak River some 100 miles away. It remains a mystery at this point, but we will keep digging.
Fishing was a near repeat of the week before. Frickin’ great! Come on, how else do you describe the volume of catching that took place each day You can not really say ‘off the hook’ because is was a whole lot of ‘ON THE HOOK’! The only less than epic fishing was in Katmai National Park, but even that was pretty dang super. The big difference between this week and last were a couple of monster Silver Salmon being landed with one approaching the mythical twenty pound mark and a little more color to the Dolly Varden!
It is sure nice when things workout on schedule. Trains, planes, doctor appointments and yes, Bristol Bay Alaska Silver Salmon runs. This week brought with it more and more Silvers both on the Goodnews and Togiak Rivers. Right on time. The numbers landed were approaching the silly mark, which usually brings with it complaints of soar elbows, arms and shoulders. That is why we offer massage therapy – to keep you fishing!
Rainbow trout fishing continued to pick up as the salmon spawn really got going on most rivers. We had a couple of fish come to the mouse, but surprisingly the larger Grayling were pouncing on Mickey in great fashion. Catching Arctic Grayling up to 23 inches is pretty cool, but it is even cooler to see them take down your monster dry fly, aka. the mouse.
We switched from our traditional ‘Lake Hops’ over to ‘Refuge Hops’ as the Arctic Char and Dolly Varden ascended the little creeks that feed the lakes of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the Lake Hops, where you fish the drop-offs where the streams hit the large lakes of the Wood-Tikchik State Park, the Refuge Hops consist of walking up the small clear streams of the refuge and sight casting for beautifully colored Arctic Char and Dolly Varden. Super fun stuff indeed.
Be careful what you wish for. We all did our various rain dances, chants and such for the past month and it finally paid off. Big. Too Big. We got rain all right and lots of it. It brought the rivers up and in a couple of cases a little too much up. Morraine Creek out East was almost un-wadable by all but the biggest anglers. Mule Creek got colored up and high, as did the upper Nushagak River. Nothing really blew out per say, but we now had plenty of water after watching our bay nearly dry up.
Fortunately, the effects of all the rain were short lived and all of the rivers settled back in by weeks end. What the extra flush of water did do, was bring the Silver Salmon to all the various fisheries, giving us extra targets of opportunity. Rainbow Trout were again tough to come by as the Sockeye Salmon were still vigorously jockeying around for spawning position, fighting off anything their size and bigger – aka the big ‘bows. There was talk of the Rainbows being gone, until one of our guests donned a dry suit and swam with his GoPro on one of the more popular trout streams. His footage was both a relief and a point of frustration as plenty of sizable Rainbow Trout swam by his lens. It is only a matter of time, which is no consolation if you have just gone home.
Fishing for the other resident species; Dolly Varden, Arctic Char and Arctic Grayling was actually great with some really big fish landed all week long. Once again some new names were added to the trophy board at the bar. Sorry to say that the Silver Salmon record will fall over and over the next couple of weeks.
It was truly like old home week with lots of returning guests who were joined by a couple new faces. For the staff, this weeks flies by too quickly as we have so much fun enjoying the company of such great guests/friends.
We get some pretty driven customers from all walks of life, but non compare to the high tech crowd and especially an entire lodge full of Silicon Valley type folks! The energy they exude is contagious for sure, but at the half way point in our season we can barely keep up to say the least.
The fishing program this week was balanced between Salmon Hops on the Nushagak searching for the thus far elusive Silver Salmon, our famed Lake Hops and Rainbow Trout missions. The Salmon hops were crazy with fresh Pink Salmon choking the river. According to the State of Alaska there was supposed to be over 300,000 Coho [Silver] Salmon in the Nushagak River. But talking with all the other lodge outfits who fish there with us, none of us agreed with those estimates. According to the biologist, the sonar is never wrong [insert your best John Belushi BS cough here]. So hey, after thirty seasons fishing that river, what the heck do we know? After all, we are only flying it every day and looking into the low, clear water with our expensive polarized sun glasses.
We hit Moraine Creek a couple of times and decided that it was like Jekel and Hide. One day it was game on, the next turned stone cold. Part of that was the sudden change in the weather up there. The days it was working good, the fish were very plentiful and jumping all over the place.
The Lake Hops we did this week were great overall and the Lake Trout kept getting bigger and bigger with the new all time record being shattered with a 18.8 pound hen! Way to go Rob! The Arctic Char starting to disappear from the edge of the lakes as they started to chase the spawning Sockeye Salmon up the various creeks.
The weather started to shift during the week and we are hoping it brings some much needed rain to stabilize these very low rivers. Our boat mechanic was even caught secretly doing ‘rain dances’ out in the shop. Low water equals a lot of rock filled motors.
Early in the season we all tend to stare at the lodge ‘trophy board’ and day dream of filling in the boxes with our name and some extraordinary catch. The thing is wide open, completely wiped clean from last year’s records. However it is almost like staring at a 120 foot put on a monster green while needing to make par. There is some pressure that you will come up short and dropped from the leader board. For that reason, the names go up slowly at first as the assumption is that certain size fish of whatever species will not hold up for the remainder of the season.
This might be true of the Rainbow Trout boxes and their season-long gorging that will literally add pounds to their girth. The salmon on the other hand are only around for so long before their big party and untimely deaths. Any catch put on the board has a shot of hanging around for the season. One never knows. So this last week and the week prior, board fever started to set in and set in big. People that you never suspected of being super competitive come out of the closet and even bring a little trash talking with them.
The last week of July is traditionally a transition between King Salmon and Silver Salmon fishing and this year was no exception. We managed some late King Salmon on the Togiak River and early Silver Salmon on the Nushagak River. On an even number years like this, it also means lots and lots of Pink Salmon, or Humpy’s as they morph into evil beasts that will not leave a streamer fly alone. The lake hop was in its prime with the upper lakes kicking out some nice Lake Trout including a couple of double digit fish.
Seriously, how cool would it be to have a spouse that was excited to come out into the wilderness on a fishing trip with you? One that was willing to even rough it for few days. Get slimmed by fish and actually be happy about it! It almost brings tears to your eyes just thinking about it. A spouse like that would be a great catch indeed. Not only did we have some couples that fit that description this week, we also had Ms. Sylvia join us again, who has been enjoying remote fishing camps for the last forty years.
The good thing about roughing it at Mission Lodge is that it is usually defined by moments like when the Bailey’s runs out in the boot room and you actually have to ask for more before the fairies have replaced it. Or that time in the gift shop when they ran out of that cute little top in her size, you know, that was just the right color. Maybe it was when you could not get a last minute reservation for a massage. Yes, that would be roughing it in Bristol Bay Alaska – at least at Mission Lodge anyway.
We had a combination of guests that did the normal full week trip and some that split the week. For those splitting the week, I am pretty sure their short stay felt like roughing it. Just as they got all settled in, it was time to leave. Well at least that got to join us at all.
The concept that we are experiencing a drought is starting to set in. The water kept dropping throughout the week and despite the best ‘doom and gloom’ forecasts that NOAA could come up with, we never really got much rain. This was bad news for everyone hoping to catch lots of King Salmon. Throughout the week it was dead one day and then pretty good the next. As we have mentioned before, King Salmon rarely like hot sunny days once they have entered the rivers of Bristol Bay. Fortunately for longtime returning guest Ms. Sylvia, she hit the Togiak River on one of the good days and celebrated her 90th birthday with a couple of bright King Salmon. Major congratulations to her for not only catching big salmon, but for being an inspiration for all who meet her.
In our quest to pursue the mighty King Salmon, it can be easy to overlook the maligned Chum Salmon fishery right in front of us. Anyone wanting some great, knuckle busting action need not look too hard. The Chums were thick on the Togiak this week with some of them chrome bright and others showing their stripes. They will hit light tackle and flies with equal enthusiasm and just do not want to give up the battle. The Chums were almost as easy to take for granted as the Bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. There was no shortage of great Bear viewing to be had this week to say the very least.
An invasion of sea-run Dolly Varden was in full force this week and proved to be so good, that when you made a cast without catching one, it seemed like there was something wrong. Or is it wrong to think that way? Hmm, nah. Rainbow Trout on the other hand were a bit more elusive by comparison, as they were getting pushed around by the near-record number of Sockeye Salmon that were now jockeying for the prime spawning beds. We had to search out the Rainbows a bit on some rivers, while other spots were more predictable. The ‘Pac’ even proved tricky in a Montana-esk sort of way, requiring some matching the hatch techniques. Once the right nymphs were dialed in and tied on the line, the river gave up some really good action for both Rainbow Trout and Arctic Grayling.
Finally, again this week the ‘Lake Hop’ continued to blow minds. Fishing-wise it was very solid. Easy at some stops, but tricky at others. Overall the Lake Trout have been very cooperative this season and we have even seen some double digit fish, with the largest one this week hitting sixteen pounds and change. The big star on these trips however is the scenery. It is so amazing and vast that we all struggle to capture its’ beauty with our cameras. Although judging from the volume of photos from the lake hops that I sort through weekly, we are all trying our very best to portray these awe inspiring views.
We invented a new lodge game. If the game would have started on Black Tuesday then all parties would have had a legitimate excuse for this new sport. After all, for those of you reading this that have not been to Mission Lodge, Black Tuesday is the day after Margarita Monday. Tuesday’s are normally a foggy day and we are not talking about the weather. Those evil drinks go down like Grandma’s lemonade on a hot summer day. But I digress.
Unfortunately the ‘blame it on Margarita Monday’ alibi is not going to fly since this new lodge game started on Sunday night. Basically this game is just a twist on the old ‘Musical Chairs’ game we all played as kids. When the music stops late, as in way too late at night – pick a room. Any room it seems. Hope there are two beds in chosen room or plenty of floor space. After two nights of mystery guests entering random rooms and mornings of embarrassed confessions, the fun kind of wore off. Since the rooms have names of fish that happen match up to the dry bags provided in each room, the game was quickly switched up by the end of the week – “Pick a bag, any dry bag” before heading down to the planes. One Just hopes that the other guy who just swapped bags with you was nice enough to load his thermos with the same careful mixture of Coffee & Bailey’s or Bailey’s & Coffee that you did!
All games aside, fishing this week was very solid overall. The King Salmon fishing on the Nushagak River produced some nice fish on the first two days of the week, but before we decided to go back it slowed down to a crawl. The forecast was on the low side for this year and since we were close to reaching the seventy some thousand fish predicted, we pulled the plug on that camp by weeks end. Conversely, the Togiak River showed signs of picking up nicely as it produced more big adult fish. Kudos to Kevin Winter for hooking a giant King on the last pass of the last day. The guide actually gasped as the fish came to the net. It was taped for length and girth, then released to go pass on its’ 53 pound genetics to the next generation. Well done indeed.
With another beautiful week of weather our ‘lake hops’ were truly stunning. As many times that I have guided them, I am always in awe as we travel through our little ‘Alps of Alaska’. The lower lakes were transitioning from migrating smolt to incoming adult Sockeye Salmon, which slowed down the Arctic Char fishing a bit that had been stupid good the week prior. Meanwhile in the upper chain of lakes, the Lake Trout were showing themselves in great numbers and size, more than making up for lighter Arctic Char action. Another big hit for the week was fishing with Mice patterns for Arctic Grayling, with some fish even coming clear out of the water to hit the mouse on the way back down.
Like the Char, the Rainbow trout seemed to be on the move too with the parade of salmon heading to the spawning grounds. Fishing for them was solid and by weeks end we found some really nice ‘Bows sitting behind the already spawning Chum Salmon that had entered the rivers early. To make up for slightly lighter Rainbow action, the sea-run Dolly Varden were almost completely taking over some of the rivers. Early in the week they were intent on just traveling, but as the week went on the bite started to happen in an ‘every cast’ kind of a way. We rounded out the week by casting flies to bright and semi-bright Chum Salmon and a few early Pink Salmon.
It was a cast of characters right out of a Marvel® comic book. ‘Team Awesome’ showed up after a couple year break with their side-kicks Holly and Jake. By weeks’ end, they deputized the entire group of guests as honorary members. Which was somewhat generous of them, since membership to ‘Team Awesome’ used to mean passing the shotgun beer test required to gain access. This oversight might have been due to some technical issue with minors drinking or some such thing.
Regardless of the unorthodox initiation requirements to join this elite club of superior fisherman/persons, ‘Team Awesome’ could not help but include honorary membership status to our lodge legend, Mr. Brown. And I am not talking about guide Zach Brown and his band – truly another story altogether. No, I am talking about the longest returning lodge guest, Mel Brown, who has joined us every season for the last twenty-nine years in a row. Basically the ‘Cal Ripkin’ of our lodge. We are always honored to have Mel join us and it would not be King season without him. Mel also belongs to the some other distinguished clubs like the ‘Greatest Generation Club’, ‘World War II Veterans Club’, the ‘WWII POW Club’ and the newly established ‘Gin Rummy Anonymous Club’ just to name a few.
This year the Fourth of July fell on Friday, our change out day, and the incoming guests got to listen to and barely see our brief fireworks display, since it was too sunny to see it at 10 pm in the land of the midnight sun. The weather started out sunny and warm the first day or so, but soon turned cloudy with some drizzle which our salmon like a whole lot better than the bright sun. King salmon in particular enjoy the darker days, and you would too if your entire ocean life was spent at depths of eighty to 120 feet or more below the surface. Entering a shallow river with sun beating down is like coming out from a cave after fours years, into a desert during the mid-afternoon.
Fishing was a bit tricky and slow for King salmon, but we all still managed some really nice fish during the week with a couple forty pounders landed. At least one from the Nushagak and some from the Togiak. While the Sockeye salmon slowed down on the Wood and Agulawak Rivers, we shifted our efforts for these chrome bright beauties over to the Kvichak River. This was combined with great bear viewing at Brooks Falls to make it a ‘Click & Cast’ trip. The lake ‘hops’ were amazing with really good fishing and great scenery this is hard to believe.
The old saying in Alaska about the weather is that… “if you don’t like it, just wait ten minutes and it will change”. Normally this is a motto that we live and plan our days by for good reason. Dressing in layers is the name of the game when getting ready for a day of fishing out in the bush of remote Bristol Bay Alaska. Mother nature can be very cruel to folks up here that are hoping for a nice summer day in this region.
No so this year. Considering the area’s panache for crumby weather in June, also known as ‘June-Gloom’, and last year’s rough patch during this same week, it came as a huge surprise to our clients to be able to fish in shorts and flip flops most of the week. The Haynie family was back again, making it twenty years in a row at Mission Lodge. Not a lodge record, but darn impressive for sure. They reminded us that last year we only saw the sun for about 2 hours during this same time period.
While the sun might have kept the King Salmon fishing from really breaking lose, catch numbers were pretty solid for us all week on the Nushagak River. The Togiak River kept kicking out lots of Jack Kings and every other fish that swims in these parts. The flow of Sockeye finally peaked over the weekend, with plenty of fish throughout the entire system. In fact, late in the week a nine pounder was caught on a lake hop way up high in the Wood-Tikchik chain of lakes.
And with all those Sockeye Salmon pouring in, Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park was the happening place to watch large coastal Brown Bears feed on the migrating salmon. The previous week our guests when out to Brooks Falls and hit the park two days after the first bears showed. This past week it was ‘Bear central’ out at Brooks Falls. Fish jumping, bears catching, etc… truly the stuff of t.v. commercials.