Saturday, September 29, 2012

September on the Kankakee

Will Winans shares the following thoughts about one of his favorite local fisheries, the beautiful Kankakee River: Will fishes and Amber takes some great shots!  As always- click on individual pictures for larger images.

Last week, my good friend Amber drove through Chicago for a visit, en route to New Hampshire.  Amber, being from Western Montana and having guided white water for several years in the Flathead and West Glacier, has introduced me to countless Western rivers.  I saw her visit as a good opportunity to show off some of the water that I fish here in the Mid-West. 
We spent a day floating the Kankakee River, my go to fishery for day trips and summer smallmouth for as long as I can remember.

September is one of my favorite months to fish the Kankakee and this year has been no exception.  The smallmouth bite has been fierce.  Fish are aggressively feeding before water temps drop and things slow down for the Winter.  The Kankakee, along with most local rivers this year, is low but exceptionally clear. 

 River grass and weed beds cover large stretches of the water but provide great cover for fish and filter much of the silt that clouds the water.

As usual, baitfish and small crayfish patterns have been the ticket for pulling fish out of runs and away from weed beds.   Dry flies and soft hackled nymphs, with a little persistence, produced a few fish for us in the early morning.   

I definitely accomplished my goal of showing an old friend that there’s more to Northern Illinois than endless suburbs and smog.   Here in Chicago, we might not have the Blackfoot River or the Bob Marshall Wilderness in our backyards but if you get a chance to spend a day on one of our local smallmouth rivers, just imagine a few mountains on the horizon and you won’t know the difference!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A week at Alaska West!

 Alaska West Aug 24 - 31 2012

A few clients and I just spent the final week of August at Alaska West, on the beautiful Kanektok River, located in way south west Alaska.  As it turns out, we were there for the final week of their season, in search of Silvers, Dollies and of coarse rainbow Trout.

Upon arrival, we had part of the afternoon before dinner to walk and wade on our own around camp. Within a few hours I had hooked more salmon than should be legal, and again was reminded why Alaska still ranks as one of the best fisheries in the world. The trip hadn't officially started, and yes, my arms were sore!   You just don't realize how "alive" and "thriving" of a fishery Alaska has until you you experience it first hand!
The weather in Alaska this year has been very different than much of the lower 48's, colder than "normal" and wetter than "normal".  This week proved no different- it was cold and wet the majority of the time and the 2 sunny days felt special.  Apparently the fish could care less about the weather-  and were more than eager.  The right gear is a must for any Alaskan adventure.  The Simms Guide Jacket and the Simms G3 Guide Jacket literally saved my hide yet again!  One last product pitch - The Simms Fall Run Jacket is one of the BEST LAYERING PIECES EVER MADE and insulates while wet.  I lived in mine 24/7 on this trip

 The Kanektok drains into the Bearing Sea , and has a world class reputation for incredible runs of all of the major salmon species.  The Silvers, or Coho as they are known around here, are the last major migration of the season and were present in mind boggling numbers.  Most were dime bright, still carrying sea lice and full of energy.   If you have ever seen the Deneki website (parent company of AK West, BC West and Andros South) and read their own description of the fishery, I can tell you that the tag line "You will catch fish till your arms are sore" is 100% accurate!  Especially if you are there during the silver run!!  A 7 or 8 wt fly rod is perfect for this species, and I can not say enough about the 9' 7 wt Sage One- it was my go to choice and infinitely useful for steelhead fishing around Chicagoland as well !

Jim G hoisting a freshie!
Father and Son striking a pose
Dime bright hen with sea lice attached!

Those who have fished at Alaska West also know that the resident population of leopard rainbows makes this a special fishery as well.  Unlike the Bristol Bay drainage which lies east of here, the rainbows are more often than not "river resident" fish and wear a coat of color that is unlike anything that I have ever seen!  They are not found in numbers comparable to the rivers of the Iliamna drainage, but they make up for it in their vigor and beauty and then some!  As I have mentioned before, my absolute favorite "western" or bigger river trout rods are the Sage 691-4 TCX and the Sage One 691-4.  These rods just make the difficult casts seem easier and the impossible casts seem possible!

Guide Jakob Lunde holding one of our sight caught bows
Jim Prybylo and guide Trevor with another beauty!
A "gagger" fish makes the guide and clients happy!

No bears- but lots of foxes!
In spite of the long, cold and wet season - things ran very smoothly at Camp Alaska West.  All of the walled tents had functioning heaters and were dry as a bone.  Beds were made and things were much tidier at the end of each day's fishing.  The showers had hot water and the port o potties were cleaned daily.  The staff was still enthusiastic and genuinely concerned about everyone's happiness.  The guides were still excited and worked long hours with a smile and enthusiasm which were genuine.  The food was hearty, plentiful, fresh and delicious.  Everything worked!  That is something that is impossible to fake - and a huge shout out to the entire staff is in order!  Having been to Deneki's Andros South Lodge, I can tell you that their staffing sets them apart from other lodges and organizations!

We principally fished the Kanektok, and one smaller river that they have exclusive access to called the Arolik - what a gem!  In spite of the lack of daily fly outs like other lodges that I have fished at in Alaska, I still pretty much felt each day, and each "section" of the river, made for a great variety of conditions, scenery, and fisheries.  

Jim Grusecki poses with a great bow held by "Wiggler"
 We floated the main river up high and down low in search of "gagger sized rainbow".  We walked for miles on back channels and small branches, sight fishing for rainbow.  There were place to nymph flesh flies, throw sculpins, and even venues for mousing and wogging.  We were always within minutes of another Silver Salmon spot.  It never got stale- on the contrary - the guides knew how to keep it fresh. 

As close as we got to seeing bears
An important distinction of this fishery is that we saw hardly ANY bears.  There are fresh tracks and fresh signs, but the fact of the matter is that the bears are super weary of people in this part of Alaska (my guess is that the local hunting pressure keeps the bears at a safe distance)  We saw a total of one "group" all week - and that was way upstream on the Arolik.   If you want to fish side by side with bears all week, there are plenty of spots in the Bristol Bay Drainage that I can share with you.  IF you have not fished Alaska due to being afraid of bearsor if you have a phobia of bears- have I got a place for you!!

Pete Viau, a new fishing buddy hoisting a toad!

Yet another really cool feature of Alaska West is their "Father/Son or Daughter" special that they feature.  They allow parents to bring a kid (no matter the age) at half price and make a week of bonding more economical.  There were 3 father/son teams at camp that week and I loved seeing all three of them having an unforgettable experience together!
Father/Son team New York
Father/Son Reinertsen

Another aspect of all Deneki Lodges that I really like is the clientele that they attract.  Alaska West is no exception.  My experience was enhanced by the fellow anglers looking for the real deal- and the other 15 guest that week were a pleasure to get to know and share a vacation with!  I never once heard about a stock position or had to endure a laundry list of "the most incredible experiences of my life" the entire week.  Good folks and hope our paths cross again soon!
Guide Ben Paull holding another impressive bow

Male Dollies color up in the fall - and are a hoot!
Flesh eater on upper river

No matter your skill level, or lack there of, this fishery has a lot to offer you and as importantly, a guide staff that is prepared to make it happen.  I can not imagine a better fishery to take a rookie to.  Silver Salmon make for a lot of action and drama.  If they were not so plentiful, one would take pictures of every perfect one!  If you are looking for a challenge, trust me, there are solitary rainbows in gin clear water, tucked in between snags and salmon, that will frustrate you.  There are rainbows there that will have you practicing your knots, because they are not supposed to snap 12 lb Maxima- but they do!!

Would I go back?  In a heart beat and actually we have dates reserved for our next hosted trip to Alaska West Aug 23-30, 2013.  We have 7 spots left and would love to have you along for the adventure. In addition to hosting a trip there, we also act as a booking agent for all of the Deneki lodges including Alaska West - See more details here.

Salmon can be taken home fresh or house smoked - all trout are released.

Dollies galore
One of the countless braids ready to be explored

A particularly memorable battle....