Capt. Steve’s Lodge Day 2: Float Planes, Glaciers, Cohos, Sockeyes And Some Very Hungry Bears!
Written By: Cal Kellogg, September 15, 2012
Location: Cherry Lake,
On July 28, avid anglers and Fish Sniffer readers Mark and Margaret Sauer and I headed up to Captain Steve’s Lodge on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula for a few days of Alaskan style angling action. What we experienced was nothing short of spectacular.
In the last issue of the Fish Sniffer I described our first day of fishing on the Kenai River. Here’s a quick recap. Steve and LeeAnne Smith set Mark, Margaret and I up with river guide Jerry Strieby to take advantage of the great sockeye fishing taking place in the river. We landed full limits of six salmon each and of course we lost and released a bunch of other fish. Most of the sockeyes were very large, ranging from 6 to 10 pounds!
Running the Kenai and busting generous limits of big salmon…With excitement like that on our first day, it’s hard to imagine things getting even better, but in reality, by the end of Day 2 we all realized that Day 1 on the Kenai was just a good warm up…Our fly out trip to the fabled salmon waters of Big River Lake and Wolverine Creek beaconed!
Steve and LeeAnne arranged for the three of us to do a fly out trip with the folks of Alaska West Air on Day 2, but for us to make the flight we had to get up early and be on the road by 5 in the morning for the ride to Nikiski where Alaska West is headquartered.
LeeAnne is always lacking sleep during the summer because she is always driving lodge guests around in the predawn hours. My crew and I were pretty whipped too after a long day of travel followed up with an intense day of fishing, but all of us were in LeeAnne’s van and on the road by the appointed time.
I won’t burn space describing the Alaska West facility beyond saying that it was top notch. Log buildings, big floating docks, multiple floatplanes and a host of friendly guides that have been hardened by the Alaskan wilderness.
At the “airbase” Mark, Margaret and I joined a handful of other anglers along with our pilot and guides aboard a big Turbine Otter float plane. We were on the east side of the Cook Inlet and Big River Lake is located on the west side. The flight took about 30 minutes.
Big River Lake is small by Alaskan standards. It is a shallow, mostly chalk colored lake that is fed by glaciers, snowmelt and tannin upwelling. The lake feeds Big River. The river flows for about 13 miles and then spills into the Cook Inlet.
A number of small tributaries flow into Big River Lake, the most famous of which is Wolverine Creek. Wolverine Creek boasts a very strong sockeye run. The water is very clear where the creek enters the lake and the fishing can be great, but the real attraction is the bears.
The salmon want to run out of Big River Lake, up Wolverine Creek to another smaller lake where they spawn. The creek is shallow and rocky and any salmon making the trip is easy pickings for a bear. The creek attracts both brown bears and black bears and anglers often have the chance to view them at close range!
Many of the other tributaries attract and hold pods of silver salmon from early July through the end of the summer. Being so close to the ocean, these silvers are biters and will readily take roe, spinners and flies, so long as you can locate salmon holding in clear water.
After flying up Big River, we touched down in the lake and cruised over to a huge muskeg island where several large skiffs equipped with 50 horse outboards were beached.
Jake was to be our guide for the day. Mark, Margaret and I were joined by a visiting nurse from Texas named Bell. Minutes after landing Jake had his outboard humming and we were running across the lake.
Jake is the real deal. Later in the day I learned that he spent part of his life living in the barren lands far to the north with the native people. He had lots of stories about subsistence living and hunting for caribou, seals and grizzlies. It was fascinating.
As we ran the lake he told us that he’d found a big group of silvers the day before crowded up against the base of a waterfall.
“To hook the silvers all you need to do is get a piece of roe into the clear water and hold on,” exclaimed Jake.
When we pulled up to Jake’s silver salmon hole it was so ideal that it looked fake, like something out of a movie. Most of the water was a chalky green color, but where this fabulous cascading waterfall entered the lake the water was clear. From there the clear water squeezed up against one bank, creating a clear band extending out from the bank a dozen or so feet.
I set the anchor for Jake and he broke our four medium action spinning rods spooled with 15-pound mono. The rig was super simple. All Jake did was attach hooks to the end of our lines via egg loop knots and he baited the hooks with bright red pieces of roe that were very stiff and tacky.
“When you get bit, and you’ll get bit right away, let the fish have the bait for several second before you set the hook or you’ll miss them,” Jake warned as he finished baiting.
Mark and Margaret were in the back of the boat. They would be casting toward the bank. Bell was next and I was up front. My target was the area where the waterfall entered, perhaps 60 feet away. That tough sticky roe, really allowed you to put some muscle in your casts without worrying about tossing off the bait.
I covered the distance easily. My bait had barely hit the water and I felt something strange. I thought it was snagged on a rock, so I gently lifted. Up to the surface came a beautiful 8-pound silver salmon. My roe was in the salmon’s mouth but it wasn’t hooked. The fish casually spit out the bait before I could react and slipped back down out of sight. I let the bait sink and either the same salmon or one of his buddies grabbed it. This time I opened the bail, allowed the salmon to move off and then slammed the hook home.
The next 90 minutes were a blur. Margaret and Mark laughing and high fiving in the back of the boat as they hooked one acrobatic silver after another, landing some and loosing others.
For me it took four casts to put a three fish limit in the box with silvers weighing from 6 to 10 pounds. Quality fish!
Miss Bell had some difficulty casting her bait into the clear water sweet spot, so I put my rod down and took over casting duties for her. With Mark, Margaret and I limited out, it was fun watching Bell boat her limit. She’d caught her share of stripers in Texas, but I doubt she’ll ever forget those Alaskan silvers!
With 12 handsome salmon in the box and a bunch of fishing time left, we motored a few miles over to Wolverine Creek in hopes of seeing some bears and hooking some sockeyes. Even Jake wasn’t clear on the ever changing salmon regs along the west side of the inlet. He wasn’t sure if we could keep limits of silvers and sockeyes, so we decided to play it safe and release any sockeyes we caught.
The salmon were abundant, stacked up in vast clouds. To hook them all you had to do was cast out a fly and slowly reel it back in.
Where the creek entered the lake, the water was only a few inches deep and we could see salmon, fully exposed battling their way up stream through the thin water. What magnificent fish!
For most of our stay at the creek no bears were in attendance, but then right before we left a pair of black bears showed up. One was a large adult bear that came partly walking, partly tumbling down a steep muddy hillside. That bear would dart out into the creek, grab a fish and take it back into the brush to eat it. We could see the bushes shaking, but that bear just didn’t want to be seen eating.
The other bear was smaller and less shy. It just walked into the creek, nosed around until if found a salmon in really shallow water and casually picked the flopping fish up by the head.
Next Yogi backed up to a flat-topped rock. The bear sat it’s broad backside on the rock and proceeded to leisurely eat the fish as we watched. When it was done, it went back to the creek, got another fish and once again sat down on it’s rock. I can’t argue with the bear’s logic. Those sockeye eat great, so why not sit down and really enjoy your meal?
Our return flight was nothing short of spectacular. We soared over a massive glacier at point blank range. We drifted down into a gorge where a brown torrent of 25,000 year old water surged out from beneath the ice and we glided over a basin that contains one of the world’s bluest lakes which is said to be lined with ancient ice, giving it the blue hue…
Two days of fishing and flying, boat rides and rain, blood red salmon fillets and memorable meals….We were living the Alaskan dream and loving it!
To find out what happened next pick up the next edition of the Fish Sniffer to read my third and final article chronicling the 2012 Fish Sniffer/Cal Kellogg School of Fishing adventure to Captain Steve’s Lodge on the magnificent Kenai peninsula!Back To Reports