Alaskan Bank Fishing
for Coho Salmon

 

If you, as a stateside fisherperson ever get the chance to fish for Alaskan Coho, do not even hesitate, but grab the opportunity without even blinking an eye if you are physically able.  This fishery is something you will probably never witness in the states.   Sure, you may find some fantastic fishing here at times, but if your timing is right in Alaska, when the Coho are entering the rivers, multiple repeated hookups are not uncommon at all.  The following article will be about a 2014 and 2015 trips to Yakutat Alaska of a group of seven fishing friends/buddies (or they were after the trip).

 

The good thing about this trip is that a few of these guys had made this trip numerous times before, so the the newbie's were not staggering around in the wilderness with the bears.

 

For a  introductory 46 minute video of Yakutat  CLICK HERE.

 

Getting There :  Getting to Yakutat is either by air or boat, as there are no connecting roads to it.  Alaska Air makes two flights a day, one in in the morning, leaving Seattle about 7:30 AM and the other out of Yakutat at about 6:30 PM.  Book early during the fishing season as there will be very few (if any) standby seats available, and prices increase on the few that may be left as the salmon season progresses.  The flight from Seattle stops at Juneau with about a 1/2 hour layover, then on to Yakutat which takes about 1/2 an hour, the flight continues on to Cordova and then on to Anchorage with no plane changes.  The outgoing flight from Yakutat to Seattle gets back about midnight.

 

The Alaskan Ferry system runs there once a week, but no cruise ships stopped at least at the time we were there, however the town is considering allowing a few of the smaller ships to start stopping.  Since the town is so small, they do not want things to get out of hand, so will be limiting things to start with to see how it works out.

 

There are numerous fishing lodges in the area, where most supply guides, like the Glacier Bear Lodge http://www.glacierbearlodge.com/  or Yakutat Lodge yakutatlodgeotb@gmail.com , or Leonard's Landing Lodge www.leonardslanding.com.   Or Monti Bay Lodge www.montibaylodge.com .  But we booked one that only has lodging only and caters to Do-It-Yourselfers who supply their own food and transportation, and self guide themselves.   This one, The Mooring Lodge http://mooringlodge.com/  where they just supply the facilities and have a well setup cleaning/processing area and a walk-in freezer.   The lodging is in a condo style du-plex with six total units that can accommodate 4 people in each unit.  The upper floor consisted of twin beds in a small bedroom and queen beds, plus a bathroom in the larger room were all good.   And maid service every other day.  The kitchen was stocked with pots and pans, utensils, refrigerator/freezer, coffee pot, microwave, stove and whole unit was heated with electric heat.  Each unit had a spacious mud room and a front porch shared by two units.  They even had a separate wood fired sauna.    This location is secluded, but right next to the well stocked grocery store.

 

Timing :  There, many of the lodges and even private airlines close down for the winter at the end of September when the fish runs dramatically slow down or are over. 

 

The last week in September was chosen these years because of the tides and the Coho run.  Our old-timers wanted to be there so we could fish the incoming tide from about 2 hours after low tide up into the high slack.  The preferred there being a low tide somewhere between 6 AM and 1 PM.  The year 2014 was a week earlier than most of their previous trips because of this.  The trip consists of 6 days, where we got to fish the afternoon of the first day, but no fishing the last day because of checkout time of 10 AM.  However the lodge allowed us to leave our frozen fish in the freezer (in pre-weighed coolers) and utilize one of the mud rooms for the rest of our gear until about 2PM which allowed some sightseeing of the area.

 

We rented a van that accommodated seven fishermen from  Leo's Vehicles LLC,  907-784-3909 which is situated right close to the airport parking lot.   Also there are other auto leasing businesses like Situk Leasing 907-784-3316, or Economy Auto Leasing 907) 784-3227.  When you arrive, usually a member of the leasing company will be at the terminal with a sign of the main booking party member.

 

Preparations : Our crew carried two Remington model 870s with extended magazines, each loaded with Brenneke slugs.  These shotguns were carried in a Cordova back-pack type quick accessible scabbard.  The bears we saw were a long way away, however one day we smelled one that had to be just across the creek.  We never saw it, but the wind was blowing our direction and what talking we did may have spooked it.  The second year I went there was a large supply of fairly fresh bear scat left in a trail that we had to use for access to the water.

 

Needed clothing was lightweight stocking foot waders (any fishing boots in Alaska now CAN NOT be felt soled).   The lightweight waders was needed to allow you to pack more other needed gear without being overweight for checked baggage on the airline.  Also bring enough warm layered clothing and DO NOT skimp on raingear quality, as if you get a few days of nice sunshiny weather, (as we did) it is UNUSUAL.  And then standing in the cold water up to your waist for hours if you go on a fly-out, brings on the chill factor to a high degree if you are not prepared.  This is where good long-johns or a pair of heavy fleece sweat pants are needed and a couple pair of wool socks inside your waders will be worthwhile.   Wool fishing gloves and hand warmers may also be a good item to include.

 

The procedure this group has done for years is for each of us to provide our own breakfast and lunch, PLUS ONE evening meal for all the fishermen.  This meant that we took our coolers with food to be used while there, and then the coolers were filled with frozen fish on the return trip.  One thing the year (2014) the tides were so that we were hardly ever at the room at lunch time, so we missed lunch most of the time.  Here is where a couple of slices of cheese and summer sausage, plus few candy bars tided me over until supper.  However we ate like kings, as most of us had some cooking experience, and one was even a previous chef.  The menus included spaghetti and garlic bread, stew and bread sticks, Bar-B-Qued steak or pork loins, clam chowder / garlic bread and apple pie, roast beef with mashed potatoes and string beans just to mention a few.  The last day, one of the guys served biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs for breakfast.  And some of the frozen pot pies we took for lunch were left for the cleaning lady.  Breakfast for me was tea, toast and instant oatmeal.

 

The lodge has a large Bar-B-Que and heavy duty table/bench seat combo that can be used by clients, that is under a tarped carport in case of rain (which is normal there).

 

Alaska Airlines allows fishing rods/cases to be included without an extra fee apparently if they are packaged less than 60" overall length (which can just fit in an overhead storage compartment).  However, depending on the number of passengers, the boarding agent may tag them for placing in with the cargo, or the stewardess may take the more bulky ones and store them in a compartment at the rear of the seating area of the plane.  The airplanes can be Boeing 737-400 Combi (1/2 passengers and 1/2 cargo), or a regular 737-400.  If the combo, then boarding will be on the ground and at the plane's rear door.  If the standard 737-400, boarding will be the standard front door loading.

 

Baggage fee is $25 per checked baggage for the first two, BUT if you have a third it is ANOTHER $75 JUST FOR IT.  This third could even be what would have been a free rod case if the overall dimensions were MORE than 60".  It is rather hard to read/understand their online instructions as the rod case dimensions say a total length by width can be 115", which can get expensive if you interpret it wrong and on the flight home, and TSA holds all the aces.  On my first flight up, at Seattle they took my "2" longer' case and put into checked baggage at no extra charge, but at Yakutat on the return trip, that was not an option.   And I really wanted to bring my rods back with me.  Seems there is some lack of communications here, as I had to pay $75 extra for the privilege to have them load my rod case as checked baggage, that I had taken there on the northbound flight for free.  The next year there was two signs in the Yakutat lobby stating something to the effect that due to lots of baggage, rod cases could be no longer than 60".

 

And do not think even for a second that a small airport like Yakutat will be even a slight bit lenient.   Those TSA employees must like their jobs there as they really went through all the checked baggage, even the frozen fish.   However the overall TOTAL OVERAL dimensions of being 1" over the allocated numbers was not an issue with my Coleman cooler, so it seems the weight was the main thing they checked if the size seemed to be within reason on these.  However two ratchet or buckled straps around your cooler (AND DUCT TAPED to provide a very secure strap) proved mandatory as when they loaded/unloaded the coolers, the baggage handlers used the straps to throw the coolers onto the conveyers.

 

Our group took two vacuum packers along and most of us also took two rolls of bag material and paper towels.  One vacuum packer was used only for making bags, while the other did the real job in the assembly line.  But it was nice to have the second one as a backup.  The next year the lodge we stayed at provided a large commercial vacuum packer and the special bags needed.

 

A couple of guys carried bear pepper spray in their checked baggage, while I carried a small PWC Freon horn designed for jet skis and a marine whistle as my bear retardant.  However you need to be discreet in loading these in your luggage as it appears to be a NO-NO and all bags get searched on the outgoing flights there.  And you had BETTER NOT put them in your carry-on as one guy did that and had to dispose of his pepper spray in the garbage before we left.

 

Information & Gear Needed :  The procedure was to use the rented van and drive to a selected creek/river, walk to a likely fishy spot, get your gear ready, take your position and start casting. 

 

Either a level-wind casting reels or spinning outfit works well depending on your expertise.   Rods could be regular steelhead rods in 6-12# or 7-18# line rating.  Rods will be limited to about 9' because of the length requirements on the plane unless you want to pay that $75 extra for over-length, as this overall length limit is 60" as mentioned above.  It would also be nice to find a collapsible landing net small enough to not get in the way and be able to store in the checked baggage, while yet large enough to land a 8 to 15# salmon at the bank.  So far we have not been able to locate an affordable one.

 

Some rivers you will have access from a gravel bar, where you can just drag the fish ashore.  Other streams will not be so bank friendly with steeper dirt banks and a drop-off of 3' plus of CLEAR water, but could have an occasional shallow area near the water with a small shallow mud/grassy area.  Here many fishermen may use a small gaff hook, as here, you can use a gaff if you intend to retain the fish.  A thing we found when gaffing, was to either gaff in the gills or in the forward part of the belly, which lessened damaging edible meat. 

 

Shown in the photo below, on my second trip, I have made a small gaff hook.  Here a protective vinyl tubing is used to shield the sharp point when not in use and a cord with a belt clip attached to the handle.   What we found when gaffing on these not so friendly banks, was don't gaff this wriggling fish and try to pull it up by the hook itself close to the bank, BUT make a big swooping motion at the fish, impaling it, then continue this motion on using the momentum, but then let go of the gaff at the end of your stroke, this now carries both fish and gaff away from the water, throwing them up on the bank as far as possible (unless this bank has no even somewhat flat spot), enough so it can not readily flop back into the water.  This can of course not be used if bank conditions are not right as explained below.

 

Or you may be able to move a tired out fish to the edge of the water, and if it is small enough, doesn't wriggle a lot, your knot is GOOD you MAY be able to lift the fish up and onto the bank by grabbing the mainline above the lure.  Or with the gaff shown below, as they could possibly be momentarily quiet at the bank, reach down and gaff through the gills, enough to get this fish up on shore enough so you can kneel on, or bonk and put it on your fish stinger.  Here you will see my gaff handle is painted bright hunter orange, so if I drop it in the grass, it does not disappear.

 

Here a short homemade gaff hook is shown.  Note the vinyl protective tubing & the QD belt loop


The first year I went, I took a OLD discontinued very slightly used Danielson folding gaff hook. This worked well until I tried to lift a deeply impaled through the gills of a 12# fish up from a steep bank, but the fish flopped and bent the flimsy metal body so bad that was mostly unusable.  Afterwards, since I still have a pretty well equipped machine shop and know another who owns a Plasma cutter and another sheet metal fabrication shop, I undertook a project to make a more sturdy copy of this gaff hook.  Shown in the photo below is the result, being made of a stainless steel heavier body, hook, nuts, bolts and spring all of stainless along with walnut handles.  The lock open unit consists of a spring loaded sliding cup that when opened, the cup locks the hook onto the body.

 

The cord attached to the rear of the handle has a belt clip that I usually snap onto my upper wader belt around my chest.  The cord loop is so it can be adjusted for a hand loop if being used in waist deep water so it does not fall off and get lost.

 

However the cost of material and labor involved would probably prohibit any great retail sales venture, except to the most dedicated fisherperson.  The one prototype shown below, made for the 2016 trip proved very worthwhile to those that went.

 

Here is a custom heavy duty copy of the flimsy old Danielson folding gaff

 

Shown in the photo below, is the same folding gaff, but in the folded and locked position.  This locked closed position is that the rear handle screw is placed precisely so that the sharp end of the hook when folded, snaps OVER this handle screw, retaining it under the tension of the long hook's design.  One word of caution, these need to be placed in your checked baggage or you will loose it.

 

Here the same folding gaff folded & locked in place

 

 

How the Fishing is Done : The takedown of these ocean fresh Coho can be dramatic if a fish comes out of nowhere and slams the lure, or so subtle the you go not realize it has been bumped or even inhaled.

 

Reels will usually be spooled with 15# monofilament and use a 3/8 oz. lead-head jig (maybe a 1/2 oz. in deeper or faster water) with a colored tail in either pink, white or purplish blue.  The jigs need to be hopped across the bottom like a grasshopper or bunny rabbit, not just drug back like a spinner.  

 

Others will use a #4 or #5 Blue Fox spinner in the same colors, but occasionally also in chartreuse color.  The #5 seems to be the predominate spinner size, except when the tide is near high where it is not moving as fast and you need a smaller blade to maintain your retrieve blade rotation speed.  Or if the water is pretty stagnated, then go to a larger #6.  Many of us also put a 2" squid/hoochie on over the hook.  These hoochie colors were usually pink or purple, however I had good luck using white ones.

 

In the photo on the left below, the spinners on the right are Blue Fox #5.   The top left 3 are my home made spinners using 3/8 oz worm sinkers and #7 French blades, which equated to the same size and weight as the Blue Fox #5.  However I found that in some faster flowing rivers, you need a heavier weight to be able to get the spinner nearer the bottom of some of the deeper holes.  To easily accomplish this, my thought is to add about a 6" section of line to your mainline with a snap on the lower end and at the upper end a 3 way swivel with a snap on the dropper eye, to which you could add your choice of pencil lead wire for extra weight.  This way you could still use your regular spinners if the extra weight was not needed.

 

The bottom left is a Mepps # 5 and the top is a Blue Fox #4.  The hoochies were attached by carefully cutting the nose off so it can be lubricated and forced over the hook's eye and the rear shaft eye.

 

The right photo below shows all 3/8 oz. jig heads with about 1/4 oz. Dolly Llama flies on the bottom.  These Danielson heads seem to be made using Do-It moulds and have a barb to retain the hoochie or feathers.  All the hoochies shown are 2".  Some fishermen will use jigs made up of marabou, as seen tied to the 3/8 oz Danielson head in the center.  Use medium sized Duo-Lock snaps as these fish are not leader/snap shy.

 

Braid line works best on jigs, and this is where an extra spool filled with braid line came in handy.  However changing spools can be a pain if you are watching non-biting fish, so many just continue using mono for either spinners or jigs.  Jig rods would probably need to be for a lighter lure weight, (more like a steelhead rod) or 6-12#, for the rod tip to give the best effectiveness of those lures.

 

  1. Here are some of the spinners we used   And the jigs, the two on the bottom are actually flies & named Dolly Llama
     

 

Most streams/rivers will not be wide, 30' to maybe up to 70' in places, and it is easy to cast into the brush on the far side.  Start casting near you and slightly upstream.  Reel in letting the lure sink a bit.  Next cast would be to cast farther out.  The following casts should be the same but farther downstream so you cover all the water in front of you UNLESS you have found a hole where they are holding and you can see any new recruits that may be swimming upstream.  Here Polaroid sunglasses are essential as sight casting is very effective.  If this is the case, many fishermen will just stay in that location and wait for the fish to move into the spot and cast just upstream of them.  If you get no hits, try to change your retrieve speed by reeling 2 or 3 quick cranks then hesitating, letting the spinner fall, and repeating this process, however you can do very similar by twitching the rod tip as if you were using jigs.  Sometimes just changing the color of lure and start the sequence over may start a bite.

 

Now, depending on the river system, there may be logs, limbs or sand bars with bottom moss/grass that can get fouled on the hook.  In these streams at low tide, you will see many lost lures visible, which will give you a clue as to where to not cast to.  However one trick to retrieve your hung up lures.  First don't set the hook is you suspect it is hung.  But take along a 20 oz. water/soda bottle and fill it about 1/2 full of water, tie a cord around the neck below the cap and a few inches away tie a snap like you would use on the end of your mainline.  Reel in your line without applying a lot of tension, snap the bottle onto your mainline.  Let out 50' or 100', let it get directly downstream of the hung lure, if the current does not pull it loose, then jerk/set the hook a few times, this repositioning the direction of pull will usually free the lure about 90% of the time.  The bad part here since some of these hits are light, and you set the hook as if it was a fish, if it is so badly stuck to a log that you break the mainline at the knot, you also could loose the bottle.

 

These fish will move in from the ocean and head upstream with the incoming tide as the water flow lessens in this situation so the fish have a homing instinct of swimming upstream to their home stream, where on this incoming high tide the current softens up so they do not have to exert a lot of energy as compared to if they were swimming at a low tide where the water flow is running considerably more current.  Remember we were usually fishing the flowing water within a mile or two of the ocean and the tidewater backup really effects these sections of water.

 

Most of these fish will be in the 8 to 12# range, however we did catch one that went 14 1/2#.

 

One must have item to have along, is some sort of salmon tote rope system to drag your booty back to the vehicle or airplane.  However I found that you want to have it adjustable in length until you find the right length for yourself, as if a tote that is to short will mean that you are LIFTING more weight than need be.   You really want to just lift the fish's head up enough to not snag up, otherwise they get HEAVY.  If going any distance, 25# of fish gets heavy if you are lifting most of them, but if you dragging 3/4 of the fish, that gives your arms a break.

 

Also it may be wise to carry along extra filled reel spools or fishing line, and LOTS of swivels and snaps as you WILL loose tackle.

 

Here this stream is within a couple of hours of backing up to a high flood tide.  This bank here has no gravel bar & one fisherman is in the process of gaffing the other's fish.  With these high banks seen below, these do restrict fishing areas considerably.  

 

Where it is Done :  Now I will not be mentioning the exact streams that we fished to protect myself from the others that I went with since I was the newbie invite, and most of the others had invested a number of years and dollars learning the areas.   And I may want to be invited back again for another trip before I die.  

 

However there are numerous close by streams that are ,close to this area that can be driven to, and all have fish, the largest and most popular being the Situk River (but with a limited walk-in fishery), then smaller ones being the Lost River, Tawah Creek, Ophir Creek, or the "culvert" NE of town.  Some rivers/creeks could be closed in upstream spawning areas. 

 

Most bridges that have a fishing area nearby if it is over a fishy stream will have well worn foot paths to the water. 

 

The Situk has the best wild stock Steelhead river in the world for catch and release.  Here you can book a 14 mile drift boat fishing trip.  It also hosts all specie of salmon from June thru October.  Coho fishing is also good if you drive all the way to the end of the road at the boat launch and walk, fishing upriver(which will usually be  about 1/2  a mile).

 

You can also drive all the way down the road that takes you past Tawah Creek, which will lake you out onto the beach slightly north of the Lost River mouth.  Here you can fish right at the entrance to the Lost River channel off the beach, and if there at high tide, casting into the river mouth can be a very good producer. 

 

Then there is the bridge over Monti Bay, where on an incoming tide, bright ocean salmon can be caught right off of, or on either side of the bridge, even using a herring bait.

 

The Yakutat chamber of commerce prints out a good colored map of the area, which obtaining a copy would be beneficial for a newbie.

 

If nothing else, ask the vehicle rental guy where to go.  They will not steer you totally wrong as they may like to see you next year.  Or just drive around and look for parked vehicles at bridges or turnouts near the water.  However there is the possibility that the locals may look at you funny and act as if they do not understand the English language well if you ask for information.

 

If you get bored while here, you are not a fisherperson, as you could spend a couple of weeks fishing and only hit the same stream twice. 

 

Read the Alaska Fishing Regs. :  The limit may vary between rivers.  And the word is that they (AF&G) frown heavily if you to use scent.  However barbed hooks are just fine.  And some streams have closure boundaries to protect spawning fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trails along the stream banks can be a chore if a lot of fishermen have been there trudging through the swamp before you, as much of this ground is covered with grass and possibly a lot of moss in between with muskeg below.  With all the rain, when you walk over it more than a few times, it becomes mucky for about 4" deep and very hard to walk in for any distance.  However on the main trails along the streams (at least part of the trail closest to the trailhead) may have plastic egg crate type grating laid down to keep the muskeg from being treacherous, as seem in the photo below.    This appears to be plastic about 1" thick and has 2" square holes for 16" wide and 36" long.  They are screwed to 2" X 8" cross boards at the lengthwise joints.  These really help, except where numerous some have slid off to one side (usually on a corner) and went almost hip deep.  However in the photo above, we were beyond where this walkway ended and it was a bit mushy and therefore quite a chore to walk in.

 

Here the plastic egg crate type pathways prevent a lot of mucky walking.

 

Consider Taking a Fly Out Trip :  While you are here, you might consider booking a fly-out trip to an area where not that many locals or DIY guys frequent.  Even if it is a popular location, the cost of the fly-out reduces the number of fisherpersons as compared to driving there, as there are enough new fish swimming in that your chances are very good for a great time.  These trips can vary in cost depending on the plane and the distance to the destination.   The one we took was with Yakutat Coastal Airline which is located in the airport parking lot was in a Beaver that seated 10 passengers.  This trip was to the East Alsek River and took 1/2 an hour flight that cost us $229 round trip each for the fly out, and the return trip.

 

Again large Rubber Maid containers was the order of the day for transporting fish in the plane.

 

On this one we were taking bets on when the plane would return.  They said 4:00PM would be the pickup time.  He made it back at 3:58.5 PM.  And these pilots want you ready and waiting so departure time is SOON after the wheels quit rolling.

 

This area is part of the Glacier Bay National Park and at the airstrip was a large posting sign giving bear instructions to the fishermen.  It also had a yearly running dated account of bear encounters and what the fishermen did to discourage the bear.  These instructions tell you to keep your fish near you, or tied to you as you fish wading in the water.  Stand your ground and do not "give the fish to the bear" as this will encourage more threats.   If in a group, stand together, forming a larger obstacle than many single persons, holler and wave your arms.   One of the bears described, appears to have done this for 3 years and tries to bluff the fishermen.  When his bluff does not work, he goes back to his own fishing.

 

Here the Beaver bush plane has just dropped us off & is heading out for another trip

 

 

Since you are there, the extra dollars for one of these trips may just produce the highlight of your total trip.   However do not let the pilot just drop you off without giving some idea of where to fish.  We lucked out on ours as the other three passengers that filled out the Beaver airplane, who had been there before and really helped us out in this aspect.   On this river system, the limit was a liberal 4 fish.  We came home with 3 each as the bite died as the tide neared high, along with two guide boats from the nearby lodge along with our 10 fishermen may have pushed the fish back downstream where we could not reach them.  But it was a good thing, as at the end of the trip, we brought in enough fish from the other streams that we could not have brought home many more fillets.

 

If you do take a fly out, I suggest you consider taking along a folding saw or small axe and some fire starters.  If it is raining (normal here) and the tide changed, or the fish quit biting, OR YOU LIMITED, on a RAINY, WINDY, day, waiting 3-4 hours can be miserable and no amount of friendly BULL SHIT can keep you warm.  OR the weather gets so bad that the plane can not get back for you that day.  And here there may not be much protection nearby (where even a turned over native American skiff gives some protection) or even not much readily available, burnable wood for that matter.

 

On this trip to the East Alsek River, we landed in the left hand airstrip in the photo below and walked along the shore wading to Steve's  Island and fished off the southern corner into the deeper pocket against the peninsula.  At other times of a high tide, we were told fish could be caught along the gravel shore that we walked along.  This is evident by observing the photo below showing the deeper parts.  Also in the photo below, the lodge visible at the end of the airstrip on the right side of the photo below is Vern's Fishing Lodge.

 

Here is the East Alsek River location of our fly-out

 

Another fly out destination would be closer by about 1/2 the distance to the Italio River for a price of $150.  Here there are two choices, (1) being the mouth, or (2) being the river upstream of the bay/delta.

 

Here is the Italio River with the landing strips above the delta being gravel bars at low tide, which will time your flights into & out of that destination.

 

 

In the lodge we stayed at, they had a very good cleaning station and processing area with a walk-in freezer, all right across the parking lot from our cabin.   On the 2014 trip, we brought in 63 Coho which after being processed and frozen, then being divided up between the seven of us, depending on the cooler, filled some completely and the others very close to being full.  Some had to transfer some of their frozen fish to other coolers or put a few packages of frozen fish in their checked baggage.  My Coleman 58 quart wheeled cooler (which had a unloaded weight of 14#) had a slight amount of space left but weighed in at 49.5# after the fish were divided.  The gallon of refrigerated eggs that I kept from the last day of fishing was double enclosed in gallon zip-pock bags and stuffed inside my insulated jacket and placed in my checked baggage, which fared well on the return trip.

 

The next year more fish were caught and frozen fish fillets had to be transferred into my checked baggage, being wrapped in a garbage bag and sandwiched in between clothes for insulation. Plus another gallon of refrigerated eggs in the checked baggage.  When that bag maxed out in weight, a few more fillets were then placed in my carry-on.  I did not even have enough extra room to even bring home a coffee cup souvenir for the wife without paying extra baggage.

 

Here the crew & the results of our fly-out,  21 fish Here is the vacuum packing line is in full swing

 

The last day, since we had to check out of the cabin by 10AM, with not much chance of freezing any fish, and the plane did not leave until 6:30PM, so we did a lot of touristing.  We were also allowed to keep the frozen fish in the walk-in freezer until we headed to the airport or about 3PM.  Since I also had frozen fish in my baggage, I left both the checked bag AND my carry-on in there also for the few hours of the last day after check-out. 

 

The town is small and not a lot of roads, but we did drive about 26 miles out to Yakutat Glacier.  At the end of this road is a bridge to nowhere, just a turn around on the far side and a trail leading closer to the glacier.

 

Here is the Yakutat Glacier at Harlequin Lake & the headwaters of the Dangerous River with the photo taken off the bridge  

 

 

Here is the Yakutat boat basin with Leonard's Landing in the distance, mid-right

 

 

Expenses : Actual expenses on this 6 day trip were evenly split by all seven fishermen for all the expenses except our own meals, beer, drinks, personal or take home items like a shirt or hat etc.  This does not include any personal gear like rain gear or waders or fishing tackle needed to take / use there.  My one person's non alcohol drinkers share for the whole time there was as follows ;

 

                                                                         Year 2014                                       Year 2015 

 

Airfare, roundtrip                                         =    $722.90                                     $729.50

2 checked bags, both directions                  =    $100.00                                     $100.00

Extra baggage for oversize rod case           =      $75.00                                          -0-

7 day non-resident fishing license              =      $55.00                                        $55.00

Auto leasing                                                  =      $82.15                                        $80.00

6 day Lodge room (bedroom shared by 2)  =    $544.82                                      $504.50

Extra for shotgun baggage                          =      $21.00                                         $21.00

rental vehicle fuel                                       =      $15.00                                         $13.00    ($4.88 gal)

Fishing Fly Out                                            =    $229.00  (East Alsek River)        $150.00    (Italio River)

Long term airport parking at SeaTac         =      $20.00                                         $27.00

Evening meal for all                                    =     made at home                               $72.73    (purchased all components there)

Tip for shuttle driver                                  =      $10.00                                         $10.00

Miscl. cookies, hat, halibut burger etc.    =      $30.00                                          $43.00

Total                                                                $1883.87                                      $1800.73

 

If we would not have to take the meals up there for the group, we could have forgone the coolers and purchased the special heavy waxed cardboard frozen fish container boxes for $10 and saved $15 plus gained about 12# (weight of cooler) of fish on the return trip.  But purchasing food there for 7 would then have bumped up the price.

 

Observances :  On these trips the weather was good enough that on some of the streams were clear enough that on the incoming tide, we could see fish moving upstream on the upper end of the tide, some in singles or doubles, others in schools of 15 to 30 fish.    Usually about 80% were non biters.  On one occasion, I had three right in front of me, hugging the sandy/gravel bottom.  They were not interested in my spinner, of which I changed colors 3 times.  I managed to get it close enough to even bump one's head, for it to only push it out of the way.  On the next cast, I then placed it so it fluttered and laid on the bottom just in front of the same fish.  It absolutely ignored this spinner.  Another when the spinner got within 3' of it, the fish simply moved away from the middle of the creek to near the bank under my feet and then upstream to avoid it.

 

One thing that I learned here over the length of time we were there, was when I was able to watch (wearing good Polaroid glasses) numerous of upstream migrating fish IF they did not aggressively strike the lure on the first or second cast, they may either ignore a spinner, or inhale it but then they would stay in position, or would slowly back downstream and slightly shaking their head trying to spit it out.  It was frustrating to see your spinner disappear in their mouth with very little different feeling on the rod, (just that the blade had quit spinning) then when you tried to set the hook, only to pull the spinner and hook out of their mouth.  I even tried to "feed" them more line when they had in in their mouth, which did not help either.  These fish did not turn, allowing me to set the hook on the inside of the jaw.

 

What I concluded in the limited time we had there, was that I was using single Siwash Sickle type (Gamakatsu Big River Bait Open Eye) hooks.  I preferred Matsuo Sickle hooks but they were hard to find in my area in the sizes that I needed.  When hooked, these sickle style hooks really did their job, but many times with the single hook on a DOWNSTREAM CAST, I either missed, or had fish on for only a few head shakes.  My conclusion was that if I was casting slightly upstream or straight out with a single hook, I would usually hook the fish either in the rear of the upper or lower jaw.  This was probably because on the takedown the line was angling rearward of the fish.  But on a downstream cast, or at the end of  swing, IF they did not strike it aggressively, the line angle was away from them and the hook either only got lightly imbedded (which often pulled out on the second run of the fight) or did not hookup at all.

 

Since I could watch this scenario NUMEROUS times, my thoughts were just how many "bites" did I have but that I did not detect ?   All the more reason to occasionally drop then lift the rod tip in a jigging fashion which may trigger the fish in to doing something.

 

A couple of the guys used triple hooks, and this may give a better chance of hooking the fish, but also they had a much greater chance of snagging on logs/limbs or weeds and would be a problem in the smaller creeks, of loosing gear, or if you wanted to release the fish.

 

After a lot of thought, I decided to try two of the Sickle style Siwash hooks (back to back), however I did have to downsize about two sizes to get both eyes in the factory spinner rear eye, like for the #5 Blue Fox spinners where we used a single 3/0 hook, I had to go down to a 1/0 for the double eyes.  Using this double hook would still allow a hoochie to be used if one hook was rotated 180 degrees and the hoochie threaded over both hooks, then when on, un-rotate the hook.   An alternate would be to use thin 1X wire triple hooks (but the problem of finding the right ones was an issue) instead of single hook and use 30# or 40# braid line.  With this, it should increase hookups on downstream casting AND allow me to possibly pull the hung up lure loose by straightening the hook out.  To use triples without a split ring, simply cut one side of the eye with heavy side cutter pliers and slightly bend the eye to insert it over the spinner's rear wire loop.   You say but is this strong enough?  How do you think the Siwash hooks are made, same principle.   You can find a few triple Siwash hooks if you look far enough so some are being made that way.  But it will be about impossible to attach a hoochie to these triple hooks, unless you install it before you attach the hook to the body wire, so just tie on some bright yarn to the eye of the hook.

 

I tried this mentioned above in 2015, but found that I made a mistake in downsizing the hooks and got numerous hits that did not stick on the really non-aggressive biters.  The reason for the downsize was that with factory Blue Fox spinner eyes I could not get 2 of the larger hook eyes in the spinner rear eye.   I could however use larger hooks on my custom made spinners because I made larger eyes.

 

Another thing I found was that since I made many of the spinners that I took and used there, was that on some, I decided to try the plastic quick change plastic clevis system where you can change the blade while on the stream without changing the whole spinner.  I found that numerous times if I overcast and hit the far bank, or bounced it off a log just at the water's, edge (anything somewhat solid) that this clevis released the spinner blade without breaking the clevis.  So much for that great idea, but now I see a metal QD clevis is being made.

 

Another thing I found was if any of your spinners have a swivel attached to the front, REMOVE IT, as this results in more flopped over blades of the spinner when casting.  However if you remember to give the spinner a slight jerk on the instant the lure hit the surface of the water, this got the blade rotating and also helped straighten it out pretty well eliminating it being folded over itself and the blade becoming inoperative.

 

On one day, we worked our way downstream early on our attach of the stream, to a location where we had done quite well the day before on the same tide timing.  There we caught all but 4 fish to limit our group out as the tide came near high slack and the bite really slowed down.  We headed back upstream toward the trailhead, fishing as we went.  One fish was caught downstream a couple hundred yards from the trailhead.  Two of the crew who had been there before headed for a hole they knew usually contained fish at this part of the tide.  BINGO, two fish on in the first two casts, which were both lost.  But the remaining three fish were landed in a matter of minutes.  As we were walking out, and looked into this hole, there were possibly HUNDREDS of fish stacked up there.

 

For some reason on the streams we fished, a high slack tide seemed to shut down most of the bites.  Not sure why, buy maybe the bulk of the fish had already passed by and were stacked up farther upstream as indicated by the above scenario.

 

Also if you have a hit, but it comes undone, that fish will not usually take another lure soon.  So the fish may still be there but now are then among the non-biters for a while.  That may be the time to go from spinners to a jig.

 

For some reason 2014, jigs did not work well for us.  But to be fair, about 1/2 the water we fished had lots of debris in it, which unless you knew the bottom well, you could get the lure hung up and loose gear.  Especially where we tried to fish as a group strung out along the bank so our shotgun toting friends were close, which at times forced some of us into somewhat unfavorable water.  I did notice the regulars only fished specific areas, as they probably knew the non-productive areas or ones that tended to grab lures, where me being a newbie, my experience was learned painfully or expensively.

 

The fish we caught were mostly all fresh ocean fish with sea lice still on them.  However one day, there were a few that were slightly off bright color and I suspect the tides were probably then minimal creating a chance for the fish to stay for a few days, instead of moving upstream.  Then, as here in some parts of the state, the natives were also gill-netting near the mouth of the river at times.

 

Standing on the Lost River bridge and watching other fishers below at a high tide, by wearing Polaroid sunglasses, we could see the fish and the lure.  The one thing that I observed was that most of the spinner fishermen used a lure that did not weigh enough to get deep enough into that water, AND/OR that they retrieved it way to fast.  From the bridge, we could see fish turn, follow the spinner, make a run at it, but the retrieve was so fast that they may have gotten close, but gave up and returned to where they came from.  It was apparent that the lure was going too fast and therefore higher in the water column, however if the fisher would reel, stop, reel, stop as if they were fishing a jig, that they may have had more success on these reluctant biters.

 

One thing I was glad that I took was a Plano fanny pack fishing belt that had three zippered compartments.  The center compartment holds two Flambeau 4 1/2" X 9" plastic tackle boxes, which had removable dividers, allowing me to customize them to my needs.  This along with me wearing a pocketed vest, allowed me to carry all the gear I needed for the day without having to carry a backpack.  This fanny pack also acted as a middle wader belt.  One thing that was good using this, was that if I missed replacing my wallet or camera back in a pocket, gravity took over and when I took off my waders there they were, just slid down inside to above the fanny pack belt, or if it went farther, above my shoes. 

 

Most of the other fishermen used small backpacks and another one used a chest pack for their tackle.

 

Another thing I did was to secure a small PWC Freon marine horn (bear repellant for me) and a pair of small scissors to a strap around my neck.

 

If there was any actual restaurants in the town, we did not see them, however at least a couple of the bars did have food facilities or delis located in other businesses were observed.  The business part of town was pretty scattered, with no real central district except near the ferry dock, but a couple of "clumpings".  The grocery store had a Deli that had pretty good food, considering!   One thing that you might consider is if you go to a bar/restaurant there, why would you order a hamburger that the meat had to be flown in, when you could get a thick juicy halibut burger probably cheaper?  The Yakutat Lodge has it's office and bar/restaurant right next to the airport (with cabins across the road), but the kitchen did not open until 5PM and the plane boarded at 5:50PM.

 

Glacier Bear Lodge is a bit away from the airport, but about 1/2 way to town, it advertises as it has the only restaurant in town, not sure of their definition however.  But it is a very large nice log cabin type facility and seems to be well run.

 

The one visible gas/fuel station and auto repair shop next to the grocery store was not open all the time, however there is a self-service fuel pump at a bulk plant, which had no visible sign and was hid behind the tavern and had the price of $4.88 a gallon in 2015.   And alcohol can only be sold in a tavern in Alaska.

 

The "natives" there tolerated us "Sporties" as they seem to realize that we are a great influx of dollars into their community.  Well, not all the time as in 2015, one local was irritated because he had to wait for us to be waited on and left the store after his comment.

 

Alaska Fish and Game recommends that you do not clean your fish on the river bank to keep the bears from hanging around, being able to find free food.   They also recommend to have a tote rope or tether, where you keep the fish secured to YOU as you are wading these streams.  Do not leave the fish on the bank, (unless you have a large group of fisherpersons  which tends to keep the bears away) thereby feeding the bears.  Therefore we just bonked and bled them while in the river.

 

The areas we fished seemed to not be frequented much by bear, and probably because it was mostly tidewater and the fish were not concentrated, or in a small enough stream to force them into an area where the bears could readily catch them.  However our guys who had been there before, had on occasion seen a couple in somewhat close quarters over a span of the last 7 years, but never had any trouble with them.  But in 2015 we did have to walk around a large pile of bear scat in one of the plastic trials along the creek.

 

The vehicle leasing company provided large Rubber Maid tubs to put our fish in while transporting which solved a couple of problems. he

 

For a link to a article written by JD Richey on "Advanced Spinner Techniques for Salmon" CLICK HERE.

 


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Originated 10-01-14, Last updated 10-08-2017 *
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