Kevin and John's Two Week Adventure on the Kanektok River

 

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We continued to drift down river for the remainder of the afternoon, enjoying the warm sun, multiple hook ups and an on-going discussion of our shared love of hunting and fishing. As the day drew to a close, John cast his Zonker towards a small root wad along the bank of a gravel bar that held dozens of red King salmon. The root wad could not have been more than three or four feet from the bank and I doubt the water was more than 18” deep. John’s line suddenly stopped indicating he had either snagged the root wad or a fish was on. When the line began to zip towards the main current, we knew it was a good Bow. I quickly pulled in my line and began to get my camera out for what we knew was going to be a good picture of a large Bow. As luck would have it, the fish jumped and the line went slack, a pattern that would repeat itself numerous times during our two week adventure. It was a great way to finish the day and we headed back to camp for dinner, a few drinks and dreams of more fish the next day.

The next morning, John and I headed down river with Albert Hunter to fish for Kings and “marching” Sockeyes. Albert is a year round resident of Quinhagak and knew exactly where we could find some good fish. After a 30 minute boat ride, Albert dropped anchor where a small side channel empties in to the main river. Using a Scott 8 weight rod coupled with a Billy Pate Bonefish reel that my wife, Sandy, gave me for our 10th anniversary, I cast a purple Egg Sucking Leech using a sink tip line up the side channel. The slow current carried the fly towards the main river and in the direction of at least half a dozen large Kings that were holding in the slack water just out of the main current. I repeated this cast several more times until the line went tight and the fight was on. The large, chrome colored King headed straight for the current and down river towards the ocean. The Billy Pate whined as the line and then backing quickly disappeared downstream. In spite of my best efforts, it was evident that we would need to fire up the motor and chase after the fish before I was spooled. About 20 minutes later, the mighty Chinook was wrestled to the bank. Albert estimated the fish weighed 25-30 pounds, although it seemed more like 135 to me. Exhausted, I told him I was going to take a break while he motored us back to where the fight had started, almost a mile back up river. John and I continued to catch Kings for the remainder of the morning until we broke for lunch.

After a couple of freshly made sandwiches and cold soft drinks, Albert said he knew where we could catch “marching” Sockeyes. Since we were pretty worn out from fighting big Kings, John and I were ready for a change of pace and frankly, a little less work. A short ride in the boat delivered us to a long gravel bar. As we stepped out of the boat, we could see exactly why Albert had suggested the change in venue. Hundreds of migrating salmon were “marching” (swimming) up river creating huge “v” wakes in the process. Sockeyes, Chums and Pinks were all mixed in with each other and it was possible to catch a fish on every cast on any fly that was pink. John tied on a pink Teeny Nymph and I tied on a Pink Alaskan Bug-Eye. In the clear water, we were able to see the fish peel off from the group and take the fly. Although the Chums and Pinks would put up a good fight, the Sockeyes were the most fun, repeatedly cart wheeling out of the water before being released to continue their journey.

It wasn’t long before my arms and hands were beyond the aching point and I was looking for something less tiring to do. Albert suggested that we walk up to the head of the gravel bar and see if we could “mouse up” a Bow in the small side channel that was fed by the current from the main river. As we walked up to the small side channel, I suggested to Albert that he take a few casts first. Gladly accepting my offer, Albert cast the mouse towards a sunken log not more than 10 feet away. The water exploded moments after the mouse hit the water and after a brief fight, Albert landed a beautiful 27” Leopard Rainbow trout. It was one of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen and I was shocked that a fish that size was holding in such a small piece of water.

Our life on the river developed a very distinct pattern---eat, drink, sleep and of course, fish. Each day we would fish with a new guide and try different parts of the river for a variety of fish. Two days after fishing with Albert, John and I went down river to Quinhagak with John Duncan to see if we could find some large Kings just in from the ocean. The water in the bottom of the river is no longer clear, having picked up sediment from the tundra banks along the way. John dropped anchor in the middle of the river and we rigged up with our heaviest rods. I was using an 11 weight Sage RPLX-I that John (Dunagan) had given to me for my 50th birthday along with a Tibor Riptide reel and a Teeny T-400 fast sinking line. The Teeny T-400 is not easy to cast but it will take your fly, in this case a purple Egg Sucking Leech, straight to the bottom of the river. It is a “chuck and duck” line in all respects and it takes a little practice and guidance to figure out how to cast it without wacking yourself in the head. John (Duncan) had such little confidence in my casting that he hunkered down in the boat and put a life preserver over his head.

Once I was able to stop laughing, I made a quartering cast up river, promptly mending the line to insure the fly would reach the bottom. The fast and deep current quickly pulled the fly down river. Suddenly, the line stopped and I knew I had a King on. I was quickly in to the backing and the fish was still heading towards the ocean and showing no signs of slowing down. John slowly motored the boat after the fish while I frantically worked the reel in an effort to get the fly line back on the reel. It seemed every time I made any progress at retrieving my line, the King would make another powerful run in an effort to get away. The fight continued for what seemed like forever to me until we were finally able to get the massive fish near the boat. As I pulled the fish closer to the boat, for some inexplicable reason, the fly simply came out of its mouth. It was, and still is, a mystery to me how this could happen but it does. I guess that’s just part of fishing, but it sure was disappointing to lose a good fish after working so hard to land it. John and I continued to cast for Kings and in the process, landed several Chums that seemed to have developed an interest in our flies. It was at this point that we decided to take a break and stop for a latte at the coffee shack across the river. Although it was not Starbucks, the latte was pretty good for a mobile stand operated by a young woman earning money to pay for college. I couldn’t help but think that some things had changed a lot since my last trip in 1994.

Our week at the Lower Base Camp was rapidly coming to a close. We were very fortunate to be able to spend a second day floating the river with Brad. A tireless worker, Brad made sure we fished all the good water, rowing and walking the boat as needed. As was the case earlier in the week, we were catching Bows immediately after leaving camp. Our good luck continued throughout the day and although we lost count, John and I each probably landed over 30 Bows. The highlight of the day for me was catching four very nice Bows on four consecutive casts in a side eddy with the mouse. I was also surprised to catch a Chum on the mouse as well. And the real highlight of the day? Remember the big Bow John lost on our first day? Well, I landed him on a peachy king colored egg just before it was time to head back to camp. The fish measured 24” and was in the exact same place as he had been earlier in the week.

The next morning marked the end of our week in the Lower Camp and the beginning of our week in the Upper Camp with Clint and his crew. Bags packed and ready to go at 8am, John and I were picked up by one of Clint’s guides and we started our 20 mile ride up river.


To Be Continued


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