TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

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windknot
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TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by windknot » Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:44 pm

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Imagine that you are sight-fishing for two-foot long fish in gin-clear waters with nobody else around for miles. Imagine that the action is rapid-fire and that you are hooking fish nearly as fast as you can toss your fly or lure back into the water. Imagine that these fish average 4-5 pounds each and put a ferocious bend in your 7-weight fly rod, making drag-screaming runs and taking you into your backing even when you think you've gotten them subdued.

You may be picturing a place like New Zealand or Christmas Island, and you are probably right. However, this is also exactly the kind of fishery that can be found up here in the Pacific Northwest when the pink salmon are running during an odd year from July through September.

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To be sure, there are pink salmon runs right here in the Puget Sound, as well as runs of much larger salmon, too. But hiking away from roads and crowds of people is necessary in order to get that backcountry fishing experience, and so what better place to find roadless, uncrowded streams than in Southeast Alaska?

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We flew into Juneau last week and spent the next 10 days exploring in the general area and checking out nearby environs. Although the trip wasn't centered around fishing, I did get to get out on the water a handful of times -- about a 10-minute bike ride from the place where we stayed was a stream running through the middle of town, and on a few different days we biked 10 miles and then hiked 4 miles up another more remote stream. I wasn't disappointed with what we found -- swarms of hundreds and hundreds of pink salmon, fresh from the ocean, moving upriver as they prepared to spawn.

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By Alaskan standards, this barely elicits a raised eyebrow -- most of the locals ignore the pinks and wait a month for the peak of the coho run so they can go stock their freezers. The visitors who do come to fish usually either take chartered trips out into the open water for halibut (more meat to take home) or head to the more celebrated fisheries farther north where (for a hefty price) they can avail themselves of the bustling economy centered around fishing tourism. Nothing wrong with that, and it's probably the most efficient way to get you onto the fish of a lifetime. But nobody ever said that backcountry fishermen had efficiency on the top of their list of their priorities.

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The result of this particular confluence of factors is that during a certain window of the summer, the discerning backcountry angler can locate some wonderful little hike-in gems that offer fisheries on par with some of the most iconic fishing destinations in the world. And the icing on the cake is that it takes only a fraction of the effort or cost it typically requires to get to a marquee fishing destination, and you can have the stream almost entirely to yourself.

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The only thing that would have made the fishing even better would have been landing an early-run coho, too. A few silvers were just beginning to enter the river last week, and so by the end of the month they should be much thicker. I guess I've got a good reason to return a bit later in the year next time and explore some more.

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gary c.
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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by gary c. » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:25 am

Sounds and looks like an awesome trip.
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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by balzaccom » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:36 am

Fabulous. Already making my plans...
Balzaccom

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by BillyBobBurro » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:55 am

Looks like an awesome time in Alaska!

For the uninformed, the USFS built and maintains a large number of backcountry cabins typically located where fishing or hunting is decent. This generally means right next to a river that will get a good salmon run. These cabins generally sleep 4-6 people and can be/need to be booked in advance. They will have either a fuel oil stove or wood burning stove for heating. The prices are pretty reasonable. Most of these cabins are really only accessible by float plane or boat which is going to be the big $$$ part of a trip.

So if you are interested in an awesome fishing experience in Alaska and don't have the money for a fancy lodge consider this an option.

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maverick
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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by maverick » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:31 pm

Beautiful fish! I have some Alder and Cherry woods all ready to smoke them babies. :)
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by neil d » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:36 pm

Good god, that looks like fun. Thanks for the pics! Love the one with the big bendo in the rod.

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by freestone » Thu Aug 17, 2017 1:42 pm

Good stuff! What flies do salmon that are going to spawn react to?
Fram...

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by austex » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:29 pm

Nice Humpies! Classic and yes BIG by our Sierra standards.
Over July 4th was up on the Kenai, Kasilov and Russian (salmon) and Homer (Halibut) Old Ranger is there now. The salmon don't really feed it's called flossing where you are really snagging them in the mouth as they go up stream opening and closing their mouths. I've heard of the wilderness cabins and they are affordable; but yes the float trip can be $...

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by windknot » Thu Aug 17, 2017 10:49 pm

Thanks all! Yes, it certainly was fun fishing (as is much of the backcountry lake fishing I do in California and now Washington). I am by no means a technically proficient fly fisherman, and so matching a hatch with tiny #22 flies or spending hours swinging for steelhead is not my idea of fun (especially not when I know there are dumber, ahem, more opportunistic, fish available elsewhere).

As for flies, I predominantly used a bright orange weighted woolly bugger. I was told by locals that the sockeye can only really be caught by flossing as they do not chase after moving objects, but at least for these pinks I could see the actual take for about 75% of the fish that I hooked and they were certainly moving up to several feet to chase after our lures/flies. I don't think they're feeding once they're in the rivers, so it's definitely more of a bite out of reaction than feeding, but I think something in the flashiness of the lure or fly does trigger the chase-and-bite instinct in the salmon that were fresher from the ocean (like many trout in lakes, too).

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Re: TR: Backcountry fishing in Southeast Alaska

Post by Fly Guy Dave » Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:58 am

Awesome! Great photos and the best way to do Alaska without breaking the bank. I've got to get back up there soon! Thanks for sharing. :)
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Some pics of native salmonids: http://flyguydave.wordpress.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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