Atomic Glow goes to Yakutat, Alaska
It has been a “bucket list” desire of mine to go to Alaska and fly fish for salmon. After researching several excursions, I decided on the trip lead by Paul Anderson, owner of “Flyfishing Strategies Fly Shop” in The Dalles, Oregon to Yakutat, Alaska. It was really exciting when my wife Diane wanted to go. We scheduled for the September 23-29 dates, the peak of Coho salmon fishing. (We also learned that Paul’s wife, Peggy, would be joining our group giving Diane female companionship.) Since we know what a “fish getter” Peggy is, we were even more excited!
All summer long we gathered details and made plans. We scheduled flights, tied Atomic Glow flies, made food, packed equipment and checked on bear conditions for this trip.
After a summer of obtaining clothing, rods, reels, lines, cooler and many smaller items we were set well in advance! On September 23, we met Peggy in the terminal for our trip to Yakutat, Alaska where Paul would pick us up and take us to Leonard’s Landing Lodge. Due to COVID only a few fishermen were present at the lodge upon our arrival.
Day 1 After a short lunch, we were off to the Tawah River which is a small shallow flowing stream for sight fishing along the bank. I caught my first salmon within 3 hours of my arrival in Alaska! This was even more incredible since the Coho run had “disappeared” from the normal fishing places. No worries! With Paul’s extensive knowledge of the area, he located plenty of fish for all of us. with Paul’s guidance of how to present our Atomic Glow, Clouser style fly we were successful with these aggressive Coho salmon!
Day 2 The next day, we had another treat awaiting us with the availability of a halibut charter trip arranged by Paul before our arrival. Usually these charters are booked months in advance but COVID made access to trips easier this year. We were joined by 4 other fishermen from another lodge that morning. We all had high hopes for landing “big” fish. I had expressed my “concern” of my wife “out-fishing” me. All the guys laughed until she landed 5 halibut before the rest of us caught one. That’s 5 fishermen to one fisher-lady and she “kicked our butts”. All in all, we had a great halibut run and everyone caught something.
Early afternoon, the captain found a school of seabass. It took less than an hour for us to reach our limit of 30 fish. The day topped off with a couple of ling cod and two small sharks, which were deposited back in the bay. Upon returning to port, Diane and I decided to have Leonard’s Landing Lodge handle our fish processing with deep freeze packaging included. Leonard’s Landing prices were very reasonable and on-site for convenience. We spent the rest of the evening telling fish stories and catching up on sleep.
Day 3 Paul had arranged a “fly-out” to the Akwe River. We drove to the airport only to discover our Halibut fishing buddies from the day before (Mike, Paul, Jeff and Melvin) were joining us on the same flight. After much laughing and kidding, we “masked up” and piled into the plane holding 10 passengers for a ½ hour ride to a small sand bank along the Awke river. A bear and moose were also spotted while in flight. I couldn’t believe how quick the pilot dropped us down on that small beach. In no time the two groups were headed in opposite directions to fish. Paul and Peg encouraged us to keep only the large hook-nosed male fish. Each of us were allowed 4 fish. We hooked and released several fish throughout the day wondering if we’d get a “bigger” one! (Something I’ve never considered before.) By pick-up time we all had our limited and worked our way to the landing site only to have a couple of the gear guys want to try fly fishing. They were casting flies in no time. Almost on the dot, our plane arrives and we load up along with our piles of fish. I had the thought, “I hope we can get off the ground”, screaming in my head, but quick as a hop we were in the air and headed to the lodge for food and rest.
That night I got a change to talk to another of Paul’s clients at the lodge. It turned out that Glen was a former neighbor that lived about a ½ mile from me on the same road when I lived in rural SW Clark County, WA. We both knew where each other lived! What a small “world”.
Day 4 We met in the kitchen and made breakfast and thought we’d kick back a little only to discover that Paul had arranged for us to go out halibut fishing with a local boat owner and fisherman. We layered up for another day on the water. Here is where I have to explain the idea of layering as suggested to us by Paul. Long underwear, long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt and a real good rain jacket? I soon realized that Paul lives in The Dalles, Oregon where they don’t get much rain. We live on the west side of the mountains where it rains constantly!! What he called heavy rain was simply normal “showers” to Diane and I. It was a lot easier to manage the conditions and attitudes about the weather once we experienced his Alaskan rain! I kidded Paul about this a lot…. Our day out halibut fishing didn’t fare so well for three of us. Paul had all the bragging rights this day. While out in the bay we noticed rougher seas and much stronger winds coming our direction.
We dined that evening at a local restaurant remembering that food in Alaska is very expensive. A regular priced meal at home is double in Alaska. While eating we met Don Nelson, former owner of the River City Fly Shop of Tigard, Oregon was dining at the same restaurant. Again, what a small “world”! After returning to the lodge we heard warnings that hurricane force winds, up to 75 mph, would be hitting just north of our location. Extreme winds are rare for Yakutat.
Day 5 Since high wind conditions were forecasted for the entire day, we decided to do a little sight-seeing by taking the Dangerous River Road to see glacier icebergs. The road goes about 30 miles to nowhere (literally a turn-around at the end of 30 miles). It is an exceptional experience to see the “iceberg blue” in a river with white snow around it. We also stopped at a local bridge along the way and observed the remains of an earlier sockeye salmon run. You could tell bears had been feeding on salmon leaving remains everywhere. It’s been a blessing that we haven’t seen bears up close. A bear encounter is always a concern when traveling in Alaska. There are warning signs everywhere to educate tourists you are in “bear country”.
Day 6 Glen left us this morning which gave me an opportunity to see shipping procedures of frozen fish. We still have one more day of fishing before our seafood would be boxed, weighed and strapped to be flown back to Washington. This day was spent fly fishing in the Village Lagoon where salmon jumped and played depending on the tide conditions. As usual, the ladies out fished the guys. I must admit, I was so thrilled for my wife to have this kind of action, my ego wasn’t bruised a bit.
The last morning was getting fish into special boxes, weighed and driven to the airport for inspection and shipping. This has to be done hours before the flight is scheduled to leave. Diane and I ended up with 210 pounds of salmon, halibut and sea bass to take home. We had so much fish we didn’t have enough room in our freezer at home. After a 4-stop flight we got in late and stuck as much fish in the freezer as we could. The next morning, I ran to Lowe’s to buy a small chest freezer before the deep freeze from the lodge wore off.
I can conclude that it was a wonderful trip with total success and a desire to return to Alaska next year. I will admit it was a little different than I had imagined (who wants to be chased by bears anyway!) but it was so much more!! We are checking our calendars for the July sockeye salmon run in 2021 with Fly Fishing Strategies as our tour guide. We would recommend their services to anyone who is looking for a great Alaskan experience. I saved the best for last…our cost was way less than most Alaskan trips. Call Paul at 1¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬ (509) 930-4406 and let’s see you there in 2021.
Al and Diane Wood