I'm just back from a 21-day float down the Kanektok River, Alaska. Ninety miles, fishing for arctic grayling, sea-run Dolly Varden, rainbow trout and Silver salmon (coho). Four other species of salmon were in the river at the same time and we caught quite a few of all but Kings. Awesome trip, again. Fishing and catching was incredible, as was the weather, this time. Bear sightings were up, 34 total, all right there, on the river
This float is most often a guided, seven-day float. Ninety miles in 6-days (actual float time) is humping it. I’m lucky enough to have made friends with a guy who self-outfits the whole trip every even-year (to coincide with the pink runs – have not clue why) and invites only his closest friends. This was my third trip, 23, 22 and 21 days. We have the luxury of travelling very slowly, stopping frequently to fish for resident fish behind spawning salmon, using egg patterns, and anytime we see backwaters or seams that could hold Silvers. We also back-row most of the time, improving our drifts while fishing from the boats. Silvers are the targeted salmon, but we get lots of action from pinks and sockeye, especially in the upper river. Chum are usually rare, as are Kings, but this year all both runs were late and the river was a highway of spawning chum and Kings, as well as migrating Silvers. Weir counts put the Silver run as “on track for a record run” and we were there as they were streaming in.
We caught more and larger fish of all the resident species. Collectively and individually, we all though we caught more and larger rainbows than the previous two trips combined. I know we caught more and larger grayling than the two previous trips combined. We always catch innumerable Dollys, but this time they seemed bigger as well. There is little – maybe no – skill in catching these egg vacuums. We speculated the reason for catching more and larger fish was the late runs of chum and Kings, compared to being in the lull between chum/Kings and Silvers.
Largest rainbow caught was 26 inches. It was unusual to catch one under 20 inches and even rarer under 18. This river is right at the northern extent of the rainbow range and is not known for the size of rainbows, like some other renowned Alaskan rivers, but they are known as uniquely spotted, thusly named “Leapord Trout”. There is no rainbow anadromy here, so none are steelhead. Regs are catch-release on rainbows. All others are harvestable, with few limitations. Floating 3-weeks, we carried no refrigeration, so kept no fish to transport home. Only fish we kept were at the end of the day to eat for dinner. Dollys rule here, better than Silvers!. We always kept a bright Silver if we caught one late in the day, but it was incredibly dependable to be able to go out after camping and catch a couple big Dollys for dinner.
Connection to Spey Pages or spey fishing/casting, you ask? Perhaps not a lot. Earlier this year I acquired a spey outfit and started learning to cast, anticipating being able to use it on this trip, primarily for the silvers. I hit practicing pretty hard, took some lessons and posted a few times about technique, etc. What I found, on this river, was that it wasn’t very effective, possibly more due to my inability to lift and throw the heavy streamers used. You can fish this river, during this period, with two flies, an egg pattern and a Purple Egg Sucking Leech (PESL). I tied and fished a couple versions of Intruder tube flies, in red and purple and they kicked butt (regardless of casting technique), but the go-to fly for ALL species is the PESL, especially the way I tie it as a string leech. My buddies coveted these flies. The backwaters and seams Silvers hold in are close quarter and there is little need for distance casting and swing casting is of little use (earlier in the year, during King season, spey fishing is BIG, whole guided camps focus on it). The fishing technique for Silvers is usually stripping in to just a few feet of line outside the tip. We’re talking 20-40 ft cast distances. There were times when double-hauling was needed to reach further, but it usually was still strip in until the leader hits the tip. (Given my newness to spey fishing, if I’m missing something here, please let me know – as if you wouldn’t… I do plan to go back.)
What I hoped for and realized was the increased flexibility and options for using spey casting techniques with single-handed casting. This is where my practice with spey casting practice paid off. 3 wt. through 9 wt., single-handed casting, I was able to fish places and situations where my buddies couldn’t come close. The usually just waited back at the raft. Snake Roll was the primary method. They were all envious and wanted lessons. But there just wasn’t time (for them or me), there were too many fish to catch.
Pictures are available, but there are so many…