fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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insane fishing

A quick trip to the cabin last weekend, cloaked in the smoke of the myriad fires, yielded a day of insane fishing catching.

The weekend didn’t turn out as long or relaxing as I had hoped. I had to wait at work for the phone guy to switch some lines, postponing my departure Friday afternoon until five-thirty. While traffic was relatively light, my arrival in Twain Harte was later than I would have liked. And five o’clock the next morning came awfully quick.

I was on Moccasin Creek by six-thirty but spinners were being flung and bait drowned in many of the prime locations. But having spent more hours that I’d care to count on this rivulet, I knew a few productive spots were blatantly ignored by the meat fishermen.

My first target was a relatively fast-flowing run — maybe about 20-feet long — where an indicator with a couple of beadhead nymphs can lure a few fish out of hiding. Sure enough, after no more than four casts it was “Fish on!” A nice brook trout to start the day. I proceeded to pull another five fish out — rainbows and brookies — before moving upstream to nice pool that is divided midway by a fallen tree. Fish stack up below the tree at the tail of this pool and above the tree in the cascades pouring into its head. After a bit of catching here, I continued moving up river.

As it neared eleven o’clock, when I was left alone after the fishermen with their limits had headed home or those without headed to lunch, I stopped counting the fish I brought to hand. No real reason to keep counting past forty, I figured.

After a lunch break I switched things up, challenging myself, by rigging up a dry fly with a dropper. (A floating fly with a sinking fly tied onto the hook.) I don’t usually use dry flies, but the trout seemed to be both slashing and slurping, indicating that they were both chasing insect nymphs rising to the surface and sucking in insects already floating on the surface.

I’ve yet to master the technique of setting a hook with a dry fly — one needs to pause just a bit to let the fish turn away, otherwise a set simply pulls the hook out of the fish’s mouth — but it was amazing to see a fish rise to my dry fly and take it. The ones I did manage to hook went wild!

I spent much of the afternoon using the dry/dropper combination. Sometimes targeting specific fish I could see. Such as a fish that would hug an undercut bank and zip out for an occasional snack, leaving me to plan my cast to place the flies in the fish’s feeding lane at the right time. Other times I’d target likely areas though I couldn’t see fish. And more than a couple of fisherman commented, as they waded past me, that I seemed to be hooked up every time they looked.

I ended the day, after more than ten hours on the water, going after a fish sticking close to underwater weeds in an area that would be called a “prime lie”: a place where a fish can get shelter as well as easy access to food floating by. It took good drifts to get this guy to even glance at my flies. Finally an excellent drift and the fight was one. And true to expectations, he was a big one, maybe fourteen inches of brook trout.

The best part of the day? Driving the other fishermen crazy with my constant catch and releasing numerous fish. Ha!


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almost famous!

We’re almost famous! Okay, not in “fifteen minutes of fame” kind of way, but we got our mugs, along with some fish, posted somewhere on the Internet other than my corner here at “fishing for words.”

Sure, I sent an e-mail to Melanie at Tower Rock Lodge bestowing praise on TRL’s facilities and food as well as hosts Mark and Mike, guides Rich and Greg, chef Tom, halibut boat Captain Daniel and First Mate Dylan, and TRL staffers Dave, Etta and Austin. And yes, I sent pictures. So yeah, I facilitated the process and tilted the table in our favor. At least we’re not almost famous in a Post Office wanted poster kind of way.

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our excellent Kenai adventure: day five

Bob, our boat-mate.

Bob, our boat-mate.

For our last day at TRL we were teamed up with Bob from New Hampshire for a day on the Kenai River with guide Rich. Sun and blue sky emerged from behind the cloud early in the morning and the conversation — even the bantering between myself, my brother and dad, with Bob and Rich chiming in as well — was good.

Rich quickly began our earnest search for the mighty king. High tide wouldn’t bring fresh fish into the river until two o’clock, so we searched for any fish holding from the previous day. We drifted then ran upriver or to a new spot. Then we did it again. And again.

Rich offering advice to dad on his first fish of the day.

Rich offering advice to dad on his first fish of the day.

Then, sometime during the mid morning and after we had been lulled into inattention, dad’s rod tip quivered. Rich shouted, “Jerry, set it.” Dad pulled the rod out of the holder. At the same time, the rest of us began to reel in line to avoid tangling. Rich positioned the boat to keep the fish from running to far. Soon enough, probably no more than ten minutes, we had a smallish, eight to ten pound king alongside the boat. The decision to keep or release was given over to dad. (Regulations allow keeping one king a day…once you do, you’re done fishing for the day.) The decision was to release the fish. Thanks to this king, I think optimism was fanned in each of us.

After lunch we began to experience what is called “the cheeseburger drop.” Hearty cheeseburgers and homemade chips tend to bring on an urge to sleep, and a warm sun didn’t help. Mark’s head began to bob. Dad’s a bit more practiced at napping in a sitting position, but his eyelids gave him away. I couldn’t see Bob, but I am sure he struggled as I did to keep attention on his rod tip.

With no indication that fresh kings had pushed up with the incoming tide, Rich told us to reel ‘em up as we were heading upstream. We passed the TRL docks and passed around a sweeping bend, then settle in a bit further upriver. Told to “drop ‘em,” we were fishing again. After an initial drift through this run, we motored back up to the top. We had about two hours left to fish.

Me on a king.

Me on a king.

About a third of the way through the run, Rich was on his cell phone and all was quiet. I stared at my rod tip, in disbelief, as it began to bounce towards the stern. “Um, Rich?” I asked. “Strike it!” was the answer. I yanked the rod out of the holder and drew back the rod. The tip plunged toward the river. I reeled for all I was worth through the line seemed to be slack, wondering it whatever was on the end of my line might be running toward our Willie boat.

Sure enough, in a flash of silver the fish turned and began to head around the bow. Rich motored the boat forward to keep up with the king, then drifted as the fish turned downstream. Taking me all the way around the boat, the fish began to tire as I stood at the stern. Three times we tried to get the fish to the net and three times it veered away from the boat. But with Rich’s expert instruction I was able to lead it forward, raise my pole over Rich’s head, then pull down to lift the fish’s head, allowing Rich to get it into the net. My first Kenai king, which ended up measuring 44 inches and about 38 pounds! What a way to end the trip. Since the regulations dictate taking only one king a day from the Kenai, I was done fishing for the day.

Me, my fish, and Rich.

Me, my fish, and Rich.

After settling down and getting my king into the box, we ran up to the top of the run for another drive. We had 90 minutes left to fish.

We had drifted a short distance when dad’s pole tip began to dance. Again Rich called for a strike. Dad lifted the pole out of the hold and heaved back. The pole almost doubled over. Then the line went slack. Bob, Rich and I told dad to keep reeling, knowing that kings often head towards the boat, giving the illusion that there’s nothing on the line. Sure enough, dad’s line began moving away from the boat and in no time was 150 feet out. The king headed to the rear of the boat and rolled, showing a rosy side and giving us a glimpse of its huge size.

This tug of war would play out for almost twenty minutes, with much excitement. I prayed that this fish could be landed as it would be a great way to cap off a “trip of a lifetime” for dad. Again Rich coached the fish into the net and we all were amazed at its size. Fifty inches and an estimated fifty-five to sixty pounds. That king is still in the river…unfortunately it fit nearly smack dab in the middle of the slot limit (forty-six to fifty-five inches). Near as we could determine, it was the biggest fish caught the week of our stay at TRL.

Bigger than he thought!

Bigger than he thought!

That would be the last fish we hooked this trip. Exhausted and exhilarated we headed back to the lodge for a celebratory beer with Bob and Rich, followed by a nice seafood dinner. A surprise cake for Bob’s anniversary and champagne ended up as our dessert.

Good weather, amazing scenery, big fish. What an amazing trip!

I’ll be watching for my next opportunity to return…

Gallery of day five photos from our Kenai fishing trip:

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our excellent Kenai adventure: day four

There’s nothing so nice as taking a one-minute walk to the TRL dock to fish the Kenai River. After a nice breakfast at five-fifteen in the morning we were ready to head out with Mark T. as our guide, with guest Doug. The sky was overcast with the sun winning the battle to shine down upon us. The temperature was about 44°F.

Our guide called the conditions very “fishy,” but the fish were less obliging. He rigged up and dropped our lines. (We were set up with a diver to take the bait, trailing behind the boat, down near the river bottom.)

Most of the early morning consisted of drifting a run then running back to the top to start the drift again. The sun began to warm our bones about mid morning, encouraging a bit of onboard napping.

About mid morning my line was tickled and I made an almost-too-fast hook set. I was expecting a strong tug on the line but instead nearly felt that there was nothing there. Urged by the guide to keep reeling, I did so and felt a bit of more resistance than just the “diver” used to keep the bait close to the river bottom. A short minute later guide Mark proclaimed it to be a decent “red,” meaning a sockeye or red salmon. Reds don’t seem to fight too much and in short order we had a decent sockeye of just about two feet long in the boat.

A short while later Doug’s pole began to dance. With a quick hook set he had a fish on. His line was out about forty-five feet and the fish made a fast run to the boat. A quick turn of its head and it was off…but not before our guide estimated it to be a “large” king. (Large meaning huge.)

One of the nice benefits about fishing the Kenai River is the ability to run back to the lodge for a coffee break and lunch. After lunch we hit the water again. Unfortunately, the red would be the only action we would see this day. All of us in the boat stuck at what seemed to be salmon playing with our bait but to no avail. Regardless, it was a good day with sunshine and fun, capped off by a great Thai dinner and a comfortable cabin.

Gallery of day four photos from our Kenai fishing trip:


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our excellent Kenai adventure: day three

Thankfully, a late high tide meant we didn’t have to get up as early as some folks. We were to chase halibut, and tides make all the difference. Halibut fishing is dictated by the tides and an early tide can mean a roll call as early as three o’clock in the morning. We rolled out of bed shortly after five and assembled in the dining hall. The TRL staff do a great job staying on top of each guests’ schedules, and breakfast was waiting for us as well as packed lunches and a cooler for our catch. We were on the road by six o’clock.

The gang's all ready.

The gang’s all ready.

An hour-long drive got us to Ninilchik, where we checked in and meet our captain, Daniel, and first mate, Dylan. The captain’s early speculation that we’d have a calm day were right on the money, and soon we making an hour-long run out into deep waters the Cook Inlet. But first there was the unusual and dramatic launch of the boat. Pictures may better describeit, so you might want to check the Kenai Trip photo album. But it went something like this: We joined the captain in his truck at the fishing charter office, then pulled the trailered boat to a nearby beach about five minutes away. On the beach the captain unhitched the trailer and loaded us and three other clients into the boat. When our turn came about, a lumber skidder hitched up to the trailer and pulled the boat to the water, then backed the trailer into the surf. With the water so smooth, soon we were cruising at 45 knots.

Once on station, 240 feet above the ocean floor, lines were dropped with four-pound sinkers. Within less than ten minutes three of the six rods were bending against the strain of halibut that had taken the bait. Dad was the first of us to pull up a decent halibut…after a lot of cranking on the massive saltwater reel and short stiff rod. Mark was up next to pull up a keeper. Then it was my turn. Lines went back down and we started all over again. Tell you what, the second time you reel up all that line and sinker, every fish feels a bit heavier. Dad’s next fish was a Pacific cod (aka grey cod or true cod). Mark and I pulled up our second halibuts, kept those, and sat back to watch everyone else crank up fish. It didn’t take too long for dad to pull up a second halibut.

The rest of our day on the salt was occupied by good conversation and friendly ribbing between ourselves and the other clients. In talking with one gentlemen, who was fishing with his wife during their anniversary vacation, I found out that the had also attending my alma mater, Humboldt State University, about 12 years prior to me. We also watched as another guy — who had pulled in a few smaller halibut earlier — kept throwing back smaller halibut in the hope of landing a bigger one. He ended up cranking up four decent halibut, one after the other. I don’t know if it was the fact that he was tired or that the next halibut was a tad bigger, but he called it quits with the fifth fish. About one o’clock everyone had their limit of flatfish and he headed back to the beach with Dylan quickly filleting our catch.

Our lodge package included fish processing, so we dropped the halibut fillets off to have the skin removed and the fillets cut into small pieces and flash frozen. Soon dad and I were in the dining hall chatting with other guests while Mark tried to catch a nap. The barbecue dinner was great and shortly afterwards we were again in our bunks, with two of us sawing logs.

Gallery of day three photos from our Kenai fishing trip:

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our excellent Kenai adventure: day two

Daybreak on the Kasilof River

Daybreak on the Kasilof River

Tuesday was our day to drift the Kasilof River, which is about an hour or so south of TRL. After a good breakfast, picking up our cooler for the fish we hoped to catch and lunches, we headed out under overcast skies. Gawking at moose along the roadside and a bit of confusion delayed our arrival, and our guide wasn’t standing by his boat, but it was an amazing morning on the Kasilof River. The green of the water glowed while mist hugged the river surface. Soon we drifted for a bit then anchored while the guide rigged up our ten-and-a-half-foot rods. As with most king salmon fishing on the Kenai peninsula, Qwikfish lures were on the end of our lines as we back trolled.

Our guide Greg was a great guy with whom to spend most of a day on a river. Even if you don’t catch fish. It was a tough day for fishing but I think all three of us were amazed at the size of the fish being caught around us, the constant appearance of bald eagles, and the simple fact that we were in Alaska. During our drift we learned the Greg guides in Patagonia and on the Rogue River. We talked about enticing a salmon to bite and how to hook and play a fish. Mid-morning I was lucky enough to hook something seemed relatively small, but my hookset must have been weak as my line went slack and the lure came to the surface alone. On one bend of the river we watched a fly fisherman battle with a salmon for at least fifteen minutes. After dancing down the short with his rod doubled over, he landed what was probably a twenty-pound king. Never having fished from a drift boat, it was an experience for all of us. Greg even kept us on the water a couple hours longer than usual, hoping to get one of us into a fish. Hooking a king wasn’t in the cards but it was a great day on the water.

Some of sting of a fishless day was softened by the fact that we could return to the lodge, have dinner served and be regaled of others’ tales of their fishing adventure. Dave, his wife, Mom and Bob had a great day on the Keani River, with each landed a keeper king. Seeing those amazing fish, all twenty-five to thirty-plus pounds, made the prospect of hooking one even more exciting. As one might expect, dinner was a wonderful salmon and after-dinner conversation was just as enjoyable. But being out-of-door takes a lot out of a person and by nine-thirty that evening we welcoming a visit from the sandman.

Gallery of day two photos from our Kenai fishing trip:



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our excellent Kenai adventure: day one

Note: Since I was incommunicado during my trip, I will post details of the Kenai fishing trip that my dad, my brother and I enjoy during the following days in chronological order. I hope you enjoy it! Pictures will follow soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

After weeks and months of agonizing anticipation I was finally at the San Francisco International Airport with an Alaska Airlines boarding pass in hand. My sister and her husband graciously allow me the use of their son’s bed the night before, so my wake up time wasn’t until five thirty and the drive to the airport (Thanks Tom!) a short ten minutes.

While I’m not a terrible traveler, I don’t settle down for a flight until I’m on the plane, but the wait was short and soon we were winging it northward to Seattle. The flight was uneventful – which as the saying goes is a good thing when flying – and I was able to watch Northern California slip away. Above the Golden State I was able to identify a good many locations and after I spotted the Weed rest area (readily identifiable by its proximity to the Weed airport), I was able to follow Interstate 5 to Oregon. The Oregon border also was easily identified by the overcast that would conceal my view of the earth for most of the remainder of both legs of my flights.

The flight landed in Seattle on time and in short order I boarded my next flight. Then the trouble began. The seats that remained vacant as our departure time neared should have been a clue. Our departure time came and went. Almost thirty minutes later a gaggle of Texans destined for a cruise from Alaska raucously boarded the 737-300. After another half an hour or so of tussling with carry-on baggage and deliberating over seats, all was ready again. Another few minutes were required to remedy a mechanical glitch and we were off.

My seatmates, two elderly gentlemen, keep me chatting as fishing Alaskan waters was their goal as well as mine. This helped while away the time and stirred up more excitement in each of use about hooking a Kenai king.

Despite forecasts of possible showers throughout the week, the cloud cover broke up a bit for our descent into Anchorage. Chiseled mountains peaked through the clouds, while breaks in the cloud cover gave way to glimpses of incredibly green rivers. Our aircraft passed over the Turnagain Arm on our final approach to the Ted Stevens International Airport. Once on the ground with baggage in hand, I called my brother/chauffeur for curbside pickup. (My dad and Mark landed about two hours before my expected arrival.) I also called the lodge to leave a message that our arrival might be later than planned.

Mark driving after arriving in Anchorage.

Mark driving after arriving in Anchorage.

The fact that I was in Alaska didn’t dawn in full force until we headed south on Alaska’s Highway 1. Snow-covered mountains seemed to rise out of the ocean. Turquoise rivers and meandering creeks seemed ever-present. Species of trees I had not seen before peppered the hills. Moose nonchalantly glanced up as we passed by.

Mark and I shared the task of driving and three hours later we found the short gravel driveway to Tower Rock Lodge. In accordance with the instructions I had received, we entered the log dining hall to check in. My brother cast an uneasy glass around, wondering where everyone might be and voiced concern that no one was there to greet us. Being new to the fishing lodge experience, I speculated that, gee, they might be out fishing. As if prompted by some unseen force, lodge manager, guide and great host Mark T. called me and quickly came to greet us. He and chief cook Tom helped us lug our baggage to the cabin, and with a quick primer on the lay of the land an introduction to our cabin for the week, we settled in.

To say that the service at Tower Rock Lodge is great wouldn’t accurately describe it. We sat down in the dining hall to enter our fishing license information in a log and wind down from our flight, and suddenly appetizers were brought to the table by Mark T.

Me and Mark in from of the dining room at TRL.

Me and Mark in from of the dining room at TRL.

The plate of marinated and seared moose, two cheese spreads, some meats and crackers was more than just food, it was a warm prelude to what would be fantastic experience at TRL (Tower Rock Lodge).

We relaxed and talked for a bit, meeting some of the other guests as they returned from various fishing destinations. We met Dave, Mary Ann and “Mom,” his petite mother-in-law who just happened to love to fish; Bob from New Hampshire, who had made the trip after being sick the first time he tried to make it out; and (another) Dave and Etta, TRL staff members and culinary students who had joined the lodge for the summer. Dinner, served at 7:30 p.m. to allow for guests returning late, was an excellent tri-tip with potatoes, followed by German chocolate cake dessert. During dinner Bob warmed up to the typical Konoske boys’ banter and he would become a welcome part of our TRL experience.

Our first of four fishing trips had been scheduled and posted during dinner. We were to drift fish the Kasilof River. We were to be on the river at six o’clock the next morning. We “hit the sack” about ten o’clock despite the sky lit up like a late afternoon back home. I would wake up during the night at three o’clock in the morning to find it just as bright outside.

Gallery of day one photos from our Kenai fishing trip: