Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 Alaska Trip: Days One and Two

Just got back from Alaska...what an amazing time! After looking at my options I decided to go this time of year to chase Silvers and Char, also the bugs are not as bad as earlier in the year and the bears are calm and full of salmon. I ended up going on a trip hosted by Greg Senyo and Patrick Robinson, of Steelhead Alley Outfitters, up to Jim Johnson's Naknek River Camp outside of King Salmon and directly on the shores of the Naknek River. It was a comfortable set of lodges nestled amongst the world class waters in the area, and is set up to make all of their guests feel like family.

On the trip out I spent nearly four hours on the tarmac in Chicago, and was then informed that my luggage would not be sent along with us...basically ensuring we would not have any checked bags until sometime later in the day on Sunday. Since I did not have any waders I spent the first day floating the Naknek wearing just my travel pants. It was a tough go at it but we were able to get a few rainbows and sockeye to play nice.

As we got off the water we were greeted with a spectacular double rainbow directly across the river.

The camp itself is set directly against the bank of what may be ther greatest rainbow hole on the Naknek River. In the evenings it was fair game to drift eggs and flesh flies to see what monsters would come out. This shot is one I took of another angler, Wayne, and the 27+" rainbow he had slam a small flesh fly. Fish like this seemed to be relatively common, though I did not get 'used' to seeing them while I was there. This particular fish took out it's displeasure with being hooked on Wayne's rod, snapped it, and ended up being hand lined in for the picture.

Each night as it got dark we had a single bear come right down behind the cabins and snorkle along the bank to find any salmon carcasses from the days catch and make a quick meal of them.

This shot was all of about 10 yards from the deck of my cabin!

Day two found me jumping in a De Havilland Beaver for a flyout to Contact Creek. I was not a fan of small planes and landing on water, but the rumors of massive numbers of char and rainbow, as well as world class grayling, I decided it was too much to miss.

The flight in the bush plane was absolutely amazing. We cruised at about 1000' over the tundra and the view was truly spectacular. The ride to Contact was about thirty minutes so I was able to take it all in and really anjoy the ride.

As we were getting close I had Patrick Robinson tap me on the shoulder and point down to a small pond off to our side, telling me that was our landing spot. I laughed, figuring he was nuts since it could not been more than a few acres, and then the plane banked and started to circle. Sure enough we came in no more than three or four feet over the tundra and set down. We were informed that the pick up was going to be a 40-50 minute walk on the tundra around the mountain since the weight of the anglers made it impossible to take off from this pond!

Once we got all geared up we headed off across the tundra to get to the water. Walking on the tundra was quite a new experience, and very taxing, as it was like walking on two foot thick sponges. With no plane and being over 50 miles from the nearest building I realized this was likely the most remote I have ever been.

The setting of the river is idyllic...water full of fish winding through the valley with the mountains in the background.

I did not want to simply drift eggs so I decided to swing a small streamer behind an egg. After a little bit we started to make our way downstream, as the salmon had started to back out of the creek, and were soon in to fish. My first of the trip happened to be my first ever Grayling, and on a swung fly!

The next surprise was a Chum salmon that tracked down and took the streamer as well.

The Chum salmon was one fish I wanted to catch but did not think I would have the opportunity to on this trip. It was really cool to hook up to one, and between the fish and the current it put a serious bend in the rod.

The view from up bove the river was amazing.

and this is why I went! This Arctic Char was as colored up as they come. The neon blues, greens, and reds on this fish were lke nothing I have ever seen in nature.

Of course since Greg netted this gorgeous fish for me we got in the shot together.

Here is a shot of Contact Creek and the surrounding tundra that I stitched together

It is certainly never a disappointment to get in to big rainbows on a swung fly. This beast came in a deep soft seam, just feet from the bank, to crush this weighted streamer as I swung it through the current break.

At the end of the day we were all physically and mentally exhausted from making the hike out across the tundra without any stops to ensure we made it to our waiting plane for the ride home. It was great to get back to camp and have a beautiful Alaska sunset to cap off the day.

I will be working on the next set of pictures now. Next up,Ugashik Narrows and Naknek...

-mike schmidt


  1. That's one trip you will never forget! Great pictures man, beautiful fish!

  2. Awesome trip.Looking forward to the next installments.

  3. It truly was unforgetable guys...great time! I should have the next few days up tomorrow.

  4. Great stuff Mike. Now that I have Nipigon out of the way, I think Alaska is next.