Rob Russell, a friend of Alaska West, told a friend of his, Rick Allen, that Rick should check out Alaska West this summer. Rick followed Rob’s advice, and Rick’s attached trip report is the result. Friendship is what makes the world go ’round.
Rick and Rob, thanks a ton for the report!
When you work hard, it’s good to play hard. So when I heard those glorious words from my wife this past May, “You should go on a fishing trip,” I smiled ear to ear and said “Good idea.” She smiled back.
After weeks of weighing my options, I decided on Alaska. I was told about an outfit called Alaska West on the Kanektok River by friend and fellow steelheader Rob Russell. Six short weeks later, I set off solo for a dream fishing trip. After four flights and a 25-minute boat ride up the Kanektok, I was in the right place at the right time. With only one spey casting lesson under my belt, I began the first of six full fishing days, spending twelve hours on the water, chasing ocean-fresh salmon and monster leopard rainbows.
When I arrived, I was fed and led to my quarters, which I shared with one other guest. The river was full of salmon. And I mean full. Kings and sockeye were everywhere. It was like standing in an aquarium, with fish bumping into my legs, along with the occasional chunk of tundra breaking free from the permafrost banks.
The first day fishing I hooked and landed seven chum, two sockeye and one jack chinook. Great start considering I wasn’t much of a spey caster. I was pumped, ready to put my skills to the ultimate test – fighting a big king! That night I couldn’t sleep so I put my waders back on and took a 10 min hike up river with my 10-weight single hander. I found a slough that was teeming with fish. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. More sockeye and chum, but still no kings. I wasn’t complaining. We don’t get this kind of action where I’m from. Chum are a kick in the pants! Strong fighters. I hooked ten and landed six that night. When my brain told me it was time for bed, I looked at my watch: 11:30PM. Still one more hour till sundown. What a place!
It took a while to get used to the midnight sun but it sure worked to my advantage. Day two was more of the same, with lots of fish to the bank and all day to work on my Skagit casting. Each day my casting improved with the tireless help of my guides. In addition to the Alaska West guides, our crew included Brian Niska, owner of Whistler Fly Shop, and a super nice guy. He had some mad casting and teaching skills. We were very fortunate to have him with us. He would literally spend hours helping those who were interested in improving their casting, day and night. Another expert spey and Skagit caster, Jerry French, was my guide on day four. He was one of the key players involved in the development of the now famous Intruder fly. He was very cool to be around and he kept us in the fish all day. He also really helped with my casting.
I keep bringing up the casting. Those of you who have tried spey casting know that every time you think you’ve got it, your cast falls apart. It is very much like a golf swing, in that the more relaxed you are the better the end result. As soon as you try to muscle it, the ball goes off course. It is the same with spey casting. Try to muscle it and you’ll end up with a pile of line in front of you. So I learned to take it slow and it made a huge difference.
On the fifth day I fished with Alaska West’s head guide, Ed Ward – the Skagit casting guru himself! Fishing with Ed pretty much made my trip. He kept real quiet, taking me to great spots, giving me pointers. Then I asked him for some casting help. The once quiet guide took me through a crash course in Skagit casting that I will never forget. It was awesome, and I am looking forward to seeing his upcoming movie Skagit Master, due out this August.
I could go on and on about all the fish we caught, the incredible rainbows and monster kings, but I’ll let the photos do the talking (thanks, Cameron!). Suffice to say that I give Alaska West a big Siskel and an Ebert. I plan on going back next year for more world class fishing.