Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The last trip of 2016 Fly Fishing the Salt North of Sitka

On October fifth Rick and I headed to Sitka for our last trip of the season, five days of fishing from his boat the E-fish-ncy. We hoped to add some new species to our list of game fish caught on original flies. Our targets for this trip were Tiger Rockfish, four foot Ling Cods and bigger Halibut, all on a fly.

The rules are simple, we don't use added weight, the delivery has to include a back cast. The fly has to be carried by the line, not having the fly pull the line out. Per IGFA rules, we are trying to catch fish with 120 feet or less line out. We will not harpoon or shoot fish.

We are making our own sinking fly line that uses thirty feet of T20 sinking line attached to ninety feet of T14 fly line attached to our backer. We set up the drift so the current and the wind carry us over the structure we want to fish. If conditions are just right, we move at a rate of about 1 mile per hour. We sometimes use a sea anchor to control the drift better. After a particular piece of structure is covered we set up for another drift over the same one or we move on to another one.

On the fifth we launched the boat and found that we had dead batteries and bilge pump problems so we set out to replace the batteries, this involves removing floor boards and wall panels and contorting our bodies into shapes they were not meant to be in. One of Ricks bilge pump hoses had come off of it's fitting on the pump so it was just recycling water within the bilge whenever it came on. The back-up pump had come lose and it's float switch became lodged against something else under there which kept the pump on continuously. Rick had been having problems with the batteries anyway but the bilge pump issues exacerbated them for sure.

After getting everything taken care of we headed to camp 50 miles north out of Sitka. It was too late to do any fishing when we got in so we did some camp chores and got ready for fishing in the morning.
The seas were calm on day one, perfect for our kind of fishing. This Yellow Eye Rockfish fell for a rubber headed squid fly, new for this year.

This bait fish pattern was new for this year too. We set them up with six to eight inches of wire leader,  then 12 to 18 inches of 20 pound test monofilament attached to the sinking line.

A sea lance imitation, everything you catch spits up sea lances one the deck of the boat so ya just gotta fish sea lances.

Herring patterns have to be part of the line up too.

Rick's favorite fly, my original Non-Pelagic Squid always produces, and Black Rockfish, always willing participants, can be caught from just below the surface to 150 feet down.

Canary Rockfish are really pretty, this one liked my sea lance pattern.

We were able to fly fish all day, we caught and released lots of fish, and kept these for the freezer. The only thing really missing here is some big ling cod.

This Ling Cod is a little better, on a Non-Pelagic Squid.

The seas got a little choppy the second day, we were only able to fly fish about half the day.

These Ling Cod are toothy, it's important to to have a wire leader that they can chew on.

Every once in a while Rick even catches a nice fish.

Day two. Rick is proxy fishing for a really nice elderly lady so we actually have three limits here.

Flat seas again today, fly fished all day.

Two fish in one, the Quill Back Rockfish on a fly and the Big Ling Cod on the Quill Back.

We were catching some really big Copper Rockfish and Black Rocks on this trip.

Then, we caught a new species, I got this Yellowtail Rockfish on a Non-Pelagic Squid.

Day three.

These fish really eat everything they see. I caught this Yellow Eye on a Non-Pelagic Squid and a live crab crawled out of his mouth while he laid on the deck, with a couple of flops of his tail, a sea lance and shrimp also came out of him. We put the crab back in the ocean and the yellow eye went in the cooler.

Another nice Yellow Eye for Rick.

By the end of the trip, our gear was getting really beaten up. These fish are really hard on gear. By this time we had both broken a rod and taped them up.

 We started catching bigger Lings too.

Rick and I were neck and neck with Lings that weighed right at twenty three pounds.

Then he caught this one that weighed twenty five pounds and measured 43 inches long.

Day four.

Day five. Out of five days of fishing we were able to fly fish all but half of one day. It was a trip to be remembered.

On the way home, we had almost two hundred pounds of fillets all vacuum packed and frozen the same day caught. We have fly rods to fix and more flies to tie. It's six months till we get to go again, that might be just enough time to get ready.

GRAYLING on... Spruce Bud Worm Moth, Egg Butt and Egg Head Scud, Egg Butt and Egg Head Nymph, Pink Bluff Chub and Salmon Fork Smolt, Weighted Egg, Salmon River Red
RAINBOW Stocked and wild, on Egg Head Scud and Egg Butt Scud, Weighted Egg, Maggot, Weighted Flesh Fly
SOCKEYE  No name red salmon pattern I will call Noname (pronounced "No nah me")
NORTHERN PIKE Pink Bluff Chub and Salmon Fork Smolt, Innoko Pikey Minnow
SHEEFISH Salmon Fork Smolt
BLACK ROCKFISH on Klag Island Squid, the e-FISH-ency Sea Lance Fish
DUSKY ROCKFISH on Klag Island Squid
CANARY ROCKFISH Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
COPPER ROCKFISH Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
SILVERGREY ROCKFISH Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
CHINA ROCKFISH Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
KELP GREENLINGSea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
LING COD Non-Pelagic Squid, Herring Pattern
WALLEYE POLLOCK Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
PACIFIC COD Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid
ROCK SOLE Sea Lance, Non-Pelagic Squid 
HALIBUT 25 Pounder, Herring Pattern.
DOLLY VARDEN Weighted Egg, Salmon River Red, Weighted Flesh Fly
ARCTIC CHAR Gravel bar nymph.
LAKE TROUT Nymph, Minnow pattern, spoon fly
CHUM SALMON Weighted Egg, Salmon River Red
SILVER SALMON Salmon River Red, Orange and Silver Flash Fly
ROUND WHITE FISH Orange and Silver Flash Fly

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sag (Sagavanirktok) River Float July-August 2016

On July 31st last fall a Survival Writer and friend of mine Kevin Estela and I embarked on a three week float/survival trip of the Sag River on the north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska's arctic. We were field testing my 1911 Combat Survivor Bowie, something new from me, my survivor ulu/ tomahawk and a bunch of other gear Kevin was bringing with him.

The Brooks Range Aviation Beaver that was taking us to our drop off point Upper Sag lake near the headwaters of Sag River.

Our adventure begins as we wave goodby to our pilot and the DeHavilland Beaver.
Although the sheep season wasn't open, the plan was to walk up toward the head of the river and look at some sheep, if we found some nice ones, we would wait for the season to open and maybe take one. We checked our rifles, Kevin's were fine, mine however could not hold a 9 inch group at 100 yards. I've guided and hunted for myself with this rifle for over thirty years and noticed the groups getting larger that last few times I used it. I suspect that too much pitting in the bore from salt spray on the many trips to Kodiak had washed out the barrel.

We decided to share Kevin's rifle and headed up the river with light packs and two days worth of food. 

This is how we cached our gear when we left for spike camp. We saw five rams while up river but didn't think we should spend more time waiting for the season to open. We headed back down to our cache.

This is how our gear looked when we returned from up river, I'm sure we pushed the bear off of the cache when we returned.

You can measure the tracked and know how big the bear was, this one was a 6 1/2 foot bear. Not big, but it sure made a mess. It didn't eat our breakfast sausage...
...but he did eat the seat on our raft. He left the tubes alone, but poked a hole in the floor that would need patching.

We had planned to spend one more night at this location and see what kind of fish we could catch in Upper Sag Lake, but we knew the bear was close and the he might want to come back and give us more trouble, so we had a quick meal of sausage quesadillas...

...we patched up the boat seat (it took almost a whole roll of duct tape) fixed the hole in the floor and headed down river.

Our first stop, a point on the river adjacent to this lake. These high mountain lakes sometimes hold surprises, but the only way to find out is hike up and fish them.
Some of our fishing gear, leaving nothing to chance, Kevin actually had two spinning rods and I had three fly rods. We brought the lightest ones up to the high mountain lakes.

Our first lake only had grayling, but they were pretty good sized and we knew they had probably never seen a lure or a fly.

The first fly I tried was a size 28 mosquito, here it is along side one of the real ones I slapped off of my hat. This fly wasn't very productive.

I switched to a minnow pattern and Kevin used a spinner on conventional gear and before you know it, we had dinner.

It's pretty hard to beat fresh fish grilled right on the river. Now this is living.

Part of our mission on this trip was to field test my latest project, the 1911 Survivor Ulu/Tomahawk.
It holds a survival clip just like my Combat Survivor Bowie. Without wood in the handle it works like an ulu, and with a wooden handle it's an axe.
With the wooden handle in, it has a heck of a bite, it made short work of drift wood for the fire.
The Survival Hawk comes with a diamond hone in the handle with all the other gear, but the river was full of these flat rocks that were just perfect for keeping a keen edge.
Next, I built a snare with a figure 4 trigger using the Survival Hawk
 I used a counter balance for the spring pole and put the loop at a ground squirrel hole. We left it overnight.
The next morning we were rewarded with this plump fellow.

We didn't need to kill this guy just to prove a point, so we let him go.

Mountain House was one of our sponsors on this trip and I probably don't need to tell you it tastes a lot better than a ground squirrel.

Ah, a porcupine. The mountain men used to say "Never kill a porcupine unless you need to, cuz some day you might need to kill one for eatin" 

To spark up a fire, we used the magnesium/ferric rod from the survival kit that tucks into both the Combat Survivor Bowie and the Survivor Hawk. I gathered up some dry birch paper and Eskimo cotton for tinder, and shaved some magnesium onto a platform of birch bark.
Dry tinder, birch bark for a platform and some bark peeled paper thin with some Eskimo cotton and the stage is set for a heart warming (not to mention supper warming) fire.

Then I put sparks to it using the ferric rod.

Did I mention the supper?

I decided I should tie a fly that would imitate some of the aquatic bugs we had seen in the river. I used hooks from the survival kit in the Survivor Bowie and a willow stick for a fly vise.

We hunted the gravel bar for feathers of the right color; black ones for a nymph and some white and some barred, reddish brown ones for a streamer.

I robbed a piece of copper wire from a solar charger cable (from my In-Reach) for the rib of the nymph. I'm using gray down for dubbing in the body.

The nymph is done, next the streamer.

I cut a strip of foil wrapper from a Power Bar to use as the tinsel on the streamer body. With the two new flies tied, it was time for more fishing.
The next lake had both grayling and lake trout. These fish up here are extremely colorful.

The blueberries were so plentiful we were always stopping to pick a handful.
 We caught lots of fish, but kept only three each night for supper.
Lake trout tacos for dinner. We were catching lots of grayling and lake trout, but the fish we really wanted to catch had been eluding us, Arctic Char. Since fisheries biologists discovered that Arctic Char and Dolly Varden are actually two different species, Arctic Char became one of the most difficult to catch. They were only known to exist in a handful of northern Alaska lakes. Dolly Varden are primarily river fish while Arctic Char mainly stick to lakes. Before starting our float, Kevin and I spent a few days fishing some of the known Arctic Char lakes near the Dalton Highway, but we were unable to catch any of the elusive fish.
Then, in a lake that was not known to hold fish, far from the river or the highway Kevin caught this, an honest to goodness Arctic Char.
Then I caught this one... on my gravel bar nymph!

We were fishing a chain of lakes that were all connected together by a little stream no more than two and a half feet wide. It eventually trickled it's way to the Sag River, but these were lake bound fish.

The biggest one caught that day, about five pounds.

We caught both Lake Trout and Char in that un-named chain of lakes, twenty to twenty-five in all. I caught both lake trout and char on both of the flies I tied from feathers on the gravel bar. These three would be dinner.

We fished the inlets and the outlets of the lakes mostly, but fish were caught all around the lakes.

We'd hiked almost three miles across the spongy tundra and climbed over a thousand feet to these lakes. Just before it was time to head back, I switched to a spoon fly I had tied at home before the trip, it proved to be the deadliest of them all. Fish just kept hitting it.
 On the way home.

Lake trout and char steaks.

Can't wait to eat'em.

These fish seemed to really specialize on prey species, some ate nothing but nymphs, some ate only scuds, this one only had snails in his stomach.

This is the flesh color of two different char caught in the same lake. Fish biologists tell me it's because the two fish specialized in two different prey species.

I like cooking fish almost as much as I like catching them and eating them.

We were not fortunate enough to get a lot of ptarmigan, but this one was a pleasant supplement to our mostly fish diet.

Trout and wild chicken.

In the land of the midnight sun, it's possible to see (and photograph) a simultaneous sunset and sunrise. Unfortunately this adventure, like all of them, had to come to an end. Already planning the next one and can't wait to get started.