The old quote states that, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." If that is the case, then I think Alaska being north of the lower 48 states, should be considered the crown jewel of our country. That of course is my own biased opinion, but I believe many whom have seen the vast beauty of this place would agree. It is not to be said that Alaska is the only beauty of our country, because that would be foolish. I just wish to make the statement that the beauty of Alaska is one to be held and protected. It truly is a jewel!
Now, just for informational sake, here are some tidbits of information regarding Alaska that you may or may not know. First of all, Alaska is our largest state (by far)! It makes up 1/5 of our countries real estate and is 2.3 times the size of the state of Texas. Sorry all you Texans....whoever said everything is bigger in Texas has obviously not been to Alaska. Alaska also has 3.5 million lakes that are 20+ acres in size or larger, reaches temperatures of 80F in the summer and can drop below -60F in the winter, and has a highest point of 20, 320 ft (Mt. McKinley). As you can tell, it is a vast, harsh, awe inspiring landscape that will leave your heart pleased.
Having set the stage for the series I would like to call "Alaska the Beautiful," come along into some of the stories and memories from my brief moment in time in this great place called Alaska.......
The story begins (at least for the blog) at Naknek River Camp. (Check them out at www.naknekrivercamp.com). You can hear the rumble of the truck as we pull off the main road and slowly wind our way down the alder crowded drive. The drive isn't a paved road by any stretch! It is simply a gravel drive that shows the harsh reality of the changes of seasons. Pot holes throughout mandate that you drive slowly. That's quite alright though, because you see, I'm in Alaska....there is no better time than the present. I sit shotgun taking in everything I can. I'm on sensory overload and my mind is already fearing the end of the week, even though I am just arriving. Stop it, I speak to myself.....just sit back and enjoy the ride. As I relax, I am back into enjoying the landscape. The alders (cousins to the Aspens) are very tight to the road, and the golden colors are starting to please the eye.
After several minutes of winding through the bends, the alders give way to the tundra. Laden with short bush cranberries that are sweet to the pallet, I am awestruck by the beauty of what many would call nothingness! Nothingness is hardly true. In reality, the tundra is an amazing thing. It is a short forest of immense diversity and complexity......a place so different from the norm. As we pull in to the camp, we are escorted to the cabins to unload. In short order I am out on the tundra and a smile graces my face. You see, the tundra is very spongy.....cushiony......like walking on a mattress only smoother. What an amazing piece of work that stuff is!!!! It almost brought out the kid in me.
Fast forward through the unpacking and the first nights stay.......
The next morning I'm up with the sun and as it rises so too does my expectations. You see I am now, at this very moment, on the edge of an experience I have dreamt of for years. What would it be like....my mind races....will it be everything and more, or have I built myself up for disappointment? Quickly I snap myself out of the stupidity of my mind that was probably resulting from the negativity in my mind after discovering that both of my reels had been severely damaged by, shall I say, mindless people who respect noone or no thing (airline baggage handlers). I'm over it really....no, I swear. At any rate, back to the edge.....I am standing on the deck of the cabin with a thousand thoughts clouding my mind when I realize it's time. Without hesitation, I grab the over abundance of gear that is my standard method of operation and head for the boat. You see today was my chance to hit the Brooks River.
THE LOWER BROOKS RIVER WINDS TO NAKNEK LAKE
Brooks River is world renowned. For what you ask? Sockeye Salmon of course....well truth be told it is really known for that which likes to eat Sockeye....the infamous Grizzly Bear! Brooks River is a short 1-2 mile river that connects Brooks Lake (above) to the Naknek Lake (below) and is home to the highest seasonal concentration of Brown (grizzlies) Bears anywhere in the world! If you want to fish with bears, this is the place! I suggest everyone have the experience!!! I loved it, thoroughly enjoyed it, and fully recommend it! While I was there, I had as many as 8 bears within 75-100yds of me at one time!!! OH YEAH, IT WAS AWESOME!
Ok, back to the story...Today was my day to hit Brooks and I was elated. All that separated me from my first Alaskan fish and bear sighting was a 32 mile run in the boat across Naknek Lake. (Naknek Lake is the third largest lake in Alaska at 40 miles long). The ride was a bit rough, but could have been much worse as I was told and really, I didn't care! The excitement was too much to care about discomfort at this point.
After an hour boat ride, that seemed like a day, we arrive on the beach near the mouth of the Brooks River. There was no doubt where we were as the beach was packed with visitors.....float plane, bear, two boats, two bears, float plane another bear......in fact, the bears out numbered the boats and planes combined. It was really cool.
JUMP OUT OF THE BOAT AND THIS WAS THE SIGHT
After some quick directions from our guides, we jumped out of the boat, grabbed our gear and made our way up to the Brooks River lodge. Immediately upon arrival, we attended bear etiquette school (mandatory as we are currently in Katmai National Park) and then hit the trail. We had a mile plus hike to get to Brooks Lake where our fishing would start. I was amazed at the amount of bear scat we saw along the trail as we walked. I mean, come on, it doesn't take a real genius to figure out "tons of scat = tons of bears." This was sure to be an experience!
Within a short time, I can see the trail approaching Brooks Lake. As I walk, I can feel the excitement building within me as I anticipate my first Alaskan casts with a fly rod.....I couldn't wait! But I guess it would have to....why? AHHHHH......AHHHHHH.......BEAR!!!!
Oh yeah, anyone who says they weren't at least startled by the first sight of a bear is a liar....sorry to all you over macho guys out there. I loved the bears and eventually wanted to have them around! However, the first time you look up and see a bear charging across the river, your heart will stop even if just for a second! Well, that is precisely what happened to me! I was walking along the river when all at once a bear on the opposite bank charged into the water right in my direction. Now, first of all, I didn't know the bear was on the opposite bank and secondly my mind hadn't yet bought into the fact that a bear charging into the water from shore was always going after fish....NOT ME! Well, my heart was slow to convincing in that moment and so it did what any startled heart does....skipped a few beats. After that first experience, I was more comfortable and learned to ebb and flow with the majestic beasts of the Brooks. Following are a few pictures I snapped while on the water.
THE WORLD FAMOUS BROOKS FALLS - HOME TO GRIZZLY
BEARS CATCHING JUMPING SOCKEYE SALMON
Below is a bear that is actually the bear in the top of the photo above. This bear was amazing! In fact, I named him "Prayer Bear." The reason being is that he would sit looking into the foamy water for endless amounts of time...not budging. Then all of a sudden, he would lunge down at his feet and come up with a meal, just like in the photo below. Therefore we called him "Prayer Bear" because it looked like he had his head bowed in prayer saying, "Oh Lord, I thank you for this meal I am about to eat, Amen" and then he would pounce.
PRAYER BEAR GETS HIS NEXT MEAL
Now, not only did I see bears, but I saw many sows (mothers) with cubs (babies). This is one adorable pose, but as cute as they may be, keep in mind Momma was close by and always had an eye on her little cuddly ones.
THREE CUDDLY CUBS LOOK ON AS MOMMA
FISHES FOR HER DINNER.
Again, another sow fishes as her cubs follow along learning and eating as they go. It was amazing watching these mothers care for the little ones. And it was equally as cool to watch the cubs learn from their mothers behavior.
MOMMA FISHES WHILE THE CUBS GO TO SCHOOL
A LONE BEAR SCANS THE WATERS OF THE LOWER RIVER
But the good thing is that with bears come Sockeye and with Sockeye come fish that like to follow Sockeye....namely Rainbows, and large Rainbows at that!
Below a gentlemen named Moose Watson (owner of the White River Inn on the White River in Arkansas) re-rigs while maneuvering around the bears. This was common place on the river.....often times too common place. Moose wasn't a part of our group, but by weeks end was definitely an honorary part of the group. He was a great guy and fun to fish with. You will see more of him later. Hey Moose, if your reading this, make like a cheetah and catch up to that fish.....he's out runnin' you ; )
MOOSE WATSON RE-RIGS WHILE THE GRIZZ FISHES HIS HOLE
DAVID ROBINSON PAUSES TO SNAP A SHOT WITH
A NICE GRIZZLY FISHING IN THE BACKGROUND
EVER BEEN SHUFFLED BY A GRIZZLY? WELL, I CAN TELL YOU
THAT THEY DON'T CARE WHO GOT
THERE FIRST....AND NEITHER WILL YOU!
But the cool thing is that wherever the grizzlies are, the fish are there also! So as soon as the bear would get their heads out of the water and move on, it was time to fish and at Brooks, Sockeye and Rainbows abound!
MR. GRIZZ FISHES THROUGH AND WE
PREPARE TO FALL IN BEHIND
Sockeye were the most plentiful and I assure you at times, you couldn't keep the fly out of their mouths! Some say they are ugly, but I loved catching them and looking at the awesomeness of their kypes and humped backs. They were truly awesome fish. In fact, I am currently trying to find a good place for one on my wall.
A BEAUTIFULLY KYPED BUCK SOCKEYE
(CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE THE SET OF TEETH)
So, as soon as the bears moved out, we would move in and the sheer numbers of fish would amaze you! In places the Sockeye were so thick, that the water looked like blood.
RYAN FLEMONS STANDS IN FRONT OF A
HUGE POD OF COLORED UP SOCKEYES
IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG TO GO FISH ON IN THIS STREAM!
Now, back to the story......after the intial shock of my first bear encounter, it was time to give fishing in Alaska a shot! I quickly put my rod together and tweaked my rig ever so slighty to fish to the thousands of Sockeye in front of me. I was literally fishing the lip of the lake just before it dropped into the river and before I could get a line in the water, something spooked the fish. I can honestly say, I have never seen so much whitewater produced by fish. That lip erupted and looked like a saltwater blitz. I was amazed at how many fish were sitting in that hole!
Just seconds later I made my first cast and didn't get out far enough for a good drift, so I compensated and when I did, I hit Sockeye pay dirt! It wasn't a large fish by any stretch of the imagination, but in my mind it might as well have been a world record.
HERE I POSE WITH MY FIRST FISH IN ALASKA.....A SOCKEYE
Just moments later I was into another only this time it was my first hen sockeye. Most of what I caught were bucks, but every now and then you would come up with a fiesty hen like this one.
A BEAUTIFULLY COLORED HEN SOCKEYE
With my brother Jeremy in tow, I did what I could to help him get started fishing more effectively on the fly. He was fairly new to the sport and had so many fish in front of him at times that he didn't quite know what to do. However, with a little encouragement and direction, it wasn't long before he was able to pick out the rainbows amongst the bleeding waters.
JEREMY ROBINSON POSES WITH HIS FIRST
ALASKAN RAINBOW WITH GUIDE JIM JOHNSON
One thing is for sure, after a week of fishing, it never got old looking into the waters of Brooks or Margo, or the Naknek and seeing fish stacked up like you see in the photo below. It is an amazing sight to see....to behold.....to enjoy. So many Sockeye that it clouded your mind. Trust me when I say I still have residual effects.
SOCKEYE LAY THICK IN THE WATERS
OF THE BROOKS RIVER
So, after a day of exploring the amazing waters of the Brooks River, it was time to go.....albeit much to soon! The waters were so pure and so plentiful, so amazing and awe inspiring. Sockeyes and Grizzlies is something I can't wait to experience again and again and again!
Next time, I will share with you the experiences from elsewhere on our trip. Until then, keep your ears to the wind.....I hear steelhead starting to splash.....
Patrick "Flybum" Robinson
Steelhead Alley Outfitters