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Alaska, the second time around is a charm!
Fly in phase - Part 3

Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

The next day was fly-in again from the same floatplane base. New guide and new pilot, but the same cramped plane for the offensive linemen. We had the first go and were there ready by 0700. The trip was shorter, on this side of the inlet, to another fantastic lake for grayling fishing. In fact, the lake had only grayling in it. It must have been too high or cold for trout.

Flying up to the lake was no less exciting and the landing from a 270-degree turn between steep walls down and onto the lake was just as breathtaking. The lake was called West Crescent, had that shape and was about two miles long by a quarter mile across. It had steep sides and very little shallow water except at the end we landed. There you could walk out fifty feet in some areas but the rest of the lake had drop-offs at the shore.

We downloaded and waived goodbye to the plane and started our seven hours of grayling fishing. The guide was once more saddled with the task of fishing may styles and capabilities and, we came to find out soon, had never been here before. I guess he was supposed to man the rubber dingy and protect us with the shotgun he had along.

After we proved there were no fish near us, I could see the familiar panic in the guide's eyes. He figured out how to put the Zodiac together and then he was faced with problem that the little thing would not hold but a couple of us at a time. He had seen a stream coming down the west face about a mile away and loaded Unk and I into the small craft and set off to see what might be down that way.

The stream was small and came directly down the face of the mountain and into the lake. There was a three-foot ledge to stand on and fish from before the deep drop off. This lake was not glacial so it was clear but we had little sun on the water because of the steep mountains. Unk hooked into a big grayling, about 20 inches, right off using some sort of deep dredged nymph pattern. I was not having any luck on the surface flies but then we were not seeing too much action or fish anywhere. Unk quickly caught two more. I recognized a familiar pattern and watched to see what he was doing so I might learn. It was all roll casting and the fish were very near the shore. My gentle casting is poor as I have a stroke that sends the line far and fast. It is a small tight looped effort looking for a stiff breeze to bust though. I finally got the cast down and then caught a fish when I went deep. The guide figured anyone could catch one if I could and left to fetch the others.

It took an hour or so for him to get back with Whacko and Teresa. We had a few more fish caught but there was not much to do or even a place to sit down where we were fishing. As the new load was debarking, a few fish started hitting on the surface fifty yards down the bank. You could not walk that far so the guide did the only sensible thing and gathered up Teresa to go after the risers. Looking at the anglers on the shore, I would have put her in with me too. She proceeded to catch about six with her Mepps spinner in the next half hour. He brought her back and somehow Unk got in the boat ahead of me or Whacko and they pushed off to go back to the fish. They barely got there and the boat started taking on water. Unk hardly got to cast. They started the motor and headed back to the base camp as the guide had left the pump behind. They made the next point a couple of hundred yards away and he threw Unk out so he might make it back before sinking. Unk fished there for about an hour and then started working himself back toward us. Some of this would have to be in the water along the underwater rock shelf and he managed to break that off and end up head over heels in the drink. He sat on a rock just out of earshot after the diving/swimming demonstration and looked like he might need some help. I felt the water and figured out he just might die before I would swim to him. He did get back to us and was just cold and winded.

Meanwhile, Teresa had worked a little down toward where the fish were breaking the surface and could heave the spinning gear near it and caught about six more of the fine grayling. A couple of them were deep hooked, a estimony of how much they liked that lure, and she would pass her husband up to walk them to me to get unhooked. I guess my pliers, not looks, was the key. After three of these I gave the tool to her. I was not using it anyway.

Back at the home base the guide and Van worked hard to get the watercraft back in shape. It seemed that Unk had undone a plug somewhere but the boat was not put together correctly anyway. So, beside draining and pumping it full again, it had to be rebuilt. At the end of this there was no time for Van to join us, as the two trips to recover us would eat up the rest of the day and perhaps all the fuel. Van was left alone again. Van is not a patient person at times and we did not need a fire, so he hiked all over that end of the lake and fished the whole shore. . .alone. During a nap in the sun he was awaken by loud thrashings behind him in the dense foliage along the stream flowing into the lake. Having nowhere to go and being alone he figured out how to open the shotgun case. The noise did not approach closer and finally went away but he was at least prepared to defend himself. Later, the guide asked him if he had found the shells.

Unk and I were the first to be recovered. On the way back the guide said the fish were eating on the surface at the home base and they were still there when we got there. He went back to get the hosts and we spread out to catch fish. Van stated they had not even looked at his stuff. He was tossing the same lure as Teresa was but somehow she had the corner on technique.

For an hour we both had zero luck. I was standing in waste deep clear water with bugs all over the flat surface just watching all these fish eating something. I put about six differently patterned flies to match all I could see fluttering around me but the fish were just not looking at anything I had. Out of desperation, I put the black fly the guide had handed me that morning back on. BAM, the first cast had one come from the bottom three feet down and knock it silly. A closer look at the mix of bugs on the surface revealed a tiny black bug sunk in the surface of the water. The fish passed up all these juicy bugs thrashing on the surface to take these little half drown beetle-like things. My fly was not that small but since the little food chunks were clumped up something black, not size, mattered.

These were still the good sized grayling of earlier and I got a couple more to catch up a little before I shouted to Van, and he passed to Unk, "black, surface fly." Unk switched to a black gnat and off to the races he went too. Unk moved around the corner to be in sight of me so he could continue to catch at a rate to keep ahead of me. That was going to be hard as I'd see a fish and put it near him and he would eat. We matched fish for fish for about an hour. Once again, trip saved/guide saved by one short period during the whole day. Oh, and I got the credit for solving the problem making the "happy hour" really happen. . .again.

We both admitted a flat surfaced perfectly clear lake made for challenging fishing but once we got the right fly and could land it soft enough, it was magic. I think we eventually caught more than Teresa but she landed her fish when the conditions were bad. Oh, during the time they, Whacko and wife, waited for the ride back she says they stripped down and went swimming in the lake, because they had never done that before in this kind of lake. Tough lady, she must be. I questioned Whacko's sanity. I'd have trouble finding some of my stuff after hitting that water. They must find Alaska a continual challenge, as there are more such lakes here than the number found in Minnesota.

The flight out was routine if you can call flying below the canyon walls below clouds and over forest fires routine. And, we were flying into a beautiful sunset the whole way.

That ended our fly-in stage of this trip. That made two days and two home runs for Whacko. You could probably get better guides for these two lakes but they both met the problems well and ended up getting tipped. I'd have hated to come to work to find such a motley crew to find fish for. ~ Scud Yates

Stay tuned, more to come!

For more information on fly fishing in Alaska:

Part ONE of Alaska, the second time around is a charm!
click here!

Part TWO of Alaska, the second time around is a charm!
click here!

For the Mini FAOL Fish-In Alaska, 2000, click here!

For the 1999 Kenai fly fishing trip in Alaska, click here!

For the 1998 Kenai fly fishing trip in Alaska, click here.

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