Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alaska, Part 3, July/August 2009

On the last day of July, Regan and I returned to Port Alsworth and Lake Clark, to spend a few more days exploring this beautiful area, and make the most of the remainder of our visit before the trip came to an end. We stayed at the Farm Lodge (associated with Lake Clark Air) for an evening, and enjoyed the luxury of hot showers, an excellent dinner made for us, and a cozy bed. I also wandered along the shore of Lake Clark on a beautiful afternoon, and sought out the Tanalian river, a nearby tributary that is known for good grayling fishing at times.

I found a few of these beautiful natives upstream, in some of the quieter side channels to the main raging river (swollen with snowmelt, but still retaining a beautiful dark jade color). Here are a couple of closeups of a fine, 13-14" specimen that took a #12 Krystal Hare Nymph on 3X (I used 3X the entire time in Lake Clark, as the fish were not leader-shy). I noticed that the grayling in the Tanalian river were generally darker than those caught near Snipe Lake in the previous post, and these pictures show the myriad of colors well.

I made my way back to the river's confluence with Lake Clark, where the darker currents of the Tanalian met the smoky pale turquoise of the large stillwater, under sweeping skies.

The river slowed down as it approached the lake, and created a nice, deep run to the left of the gravel bar shown above.

I fished a brown #10 BH Girdle Bug, drifted it through the deeper currents, and was soon rewarded with a couple of good Arctic grayling, both chunky, 16" fish, including the specimen shown above and below (shortly after release). Notice the enormous dorsal fin, extending almost to the adipose fin--a sign of a male fish. It is hard to tell from these photos, but the dorsal fins on many of the larger grayling I landed were beautiful, with seemingly every color of the spectrum reflected in them, when held up to the sunlight.

I returned to the Farm Lodge and met up with Regan for a superb dinner, and then we both made our way back to the confluence of the Tanalian River with Lake Clark. The weather remained sunny and pleasant, and created an idyllic evening along the shores of the vast lake.

This friendly fellow followed us over as we passed some of the few houses near the airstrip of Port Alsworth, and stayed with us until sunset.

I cast up through the deep run that I had fished before dinner, while Regan photographed some of the sweeping landscapes surrounding us, and noticed a few size 16 lime and yellow sallies puttering about in the air. Soon, a few grayling began rising towards the head and center of the run, and I quickly tied on a yellow #16 Neversink Caddis, and began working individual fish. What followed was one of those marvellous times in fly fishing where insects were hatching, I cast a convincing enough pattern, and the energetic rises of multiple grayling covered the stretch of river, as evening turned to sunset and the last golden rays of day glowed on the water's flowing surface--a crazy, magical, productive session of fishing, the kind that can keep an angler coming back for more.

I landed about 10 fish in this period, most of them strong, sizable grayling in the 15-16" range, and a couple 17-18", including the one shown above and below, just before and after release.

The following day, Regan and I shouldered our backpacks, and hiked along the lone maintained trail in Lake Clark National Park, en route to Kontrashibuna Lake, yet another lovely stillwater here (and the source for the Tanalian River), for a couple more days of backcountry camping.

We passed a pond and wetland where moose and beavers are commonly sighted; Lake Clark and numerous mountains are visible beyond.

Eventually, we arrived at Kontrashibuna Lake, and searched for a campsite. I found this lake to be particularly scenic, as indicated in the image above.

We headed back down the trail after setting up camp, and wandered near the base of Tanalian Falls, an impressive, thundering chute of water. I surveyed the water, and found a great-looking pool, where currents joined together and produced an ideal holding area for feeding fish, amidst the churning whitewater of the rest of the river. I spied a few grayling rolling near the surface in this slot, tied on a yellow #16 Neversink Caddis once again, and experienced some truly exceptional dry fly fishing over the next several hours. I literally hooked a fish on each of my first 15-20 casts, and all told landed somewhere around 25-30 grayling. Half of these were large fish as far as this species goes, most 16-17", and a few that went 18-19", including the dark specimen shown above and below, one of the best grayling I've caught to date.

The larger grayling used their size and large dorsal fins to advantage in the strong currents, and proved worthy adversaries against a stout fly rod.

Here are a couple more closeups of the grayling, with the turquoise and lavender hues evident along the head and body.

And I included another look upstream at Tanalian Falls, a stunning backdrop for some of the most nonstop fishing action of this Alaska trip.

We eventually returned to Kontrashibuna Lake, after I had gotten more than my fair share of excellent fly fishing.

The lake surface grew still with the slanting golden sunlight of late afternoon. I decided to fish a bit more here, and cast the same #10 white Hareabou Leech that I had used with success at Snipe Lake. The water took on a smoky turquoise color where it grew deeper, felt chillingly cold even through fleece layers under chest waders, and held an aura of silence about it, broken only by the mournful cries of loons.

Fortunately, this stillness was also interrupted by the abrupt tightening of my line, and a good fish that made several runs before being brought to hand. I gazed at another impressive Lake trout, this one 19-20", with a more subdued coloration than those caught in Snipe Lake. I admired the predatory char a moment longer, and then watched it swim back into the depths of the pristine lake, with jagged spires of mountains rising above in the distance. It always strikes me as a happy arrangement that wild and native trout (and their relatives) so often inhabit places of such breathtaking beauty.

The following day, Regan and I hiked up to the summit of Tanalian Mountain, one of the major peaks looming above Kontrashibuna Lake.

The trail proved steep at times, but also afforded increasingly fine views as we climbed.

Regan paused for the camera in the photo above, about halfway to the top.

Kontrashibuna Lake was visible from one of several false summits, as shown in this image. Dall sheep are often seen along these slopes, although we did not spot any on this day.

Wildflowers bloomed in the fragile alpine landscape, including the Mountain harebell shown above.

Finally, we made our way to the summit of Tanalian Mountain, and were rewarded with some sweeping views of magnificent country. As I have noted in the previous Alaska posts, the magnitude and wildness of the landscapes here can make a person feel humbled, overwhelmed, and inspired.

Here is one last image from Alaska, a view of the Tanalian River just below the thundering falls, as we hiked back to Port Alsworth on our final day, before returning to Anchorage, then Oregon, and finally preparing for the last leg to Arizona, to begin a new chapter. Alaska was definitely a highlight of our summer travels, and I would strongly recommend a visit to all those who cherish wild spaces, not to mention fly fishing in places that may see few, if any, human visitors within a given season.

No comments:

Post a Comment