|North Coast Angler|
|This was our second trip (for Al, Lloyd and me with first timers Steve and Rich) to fish the Tsiu (si-u) for Silver Salmon. Last season we enjoyed the fishing so much that we knew we had to return and we did! Our recollection of last season was just how incredible this fishery was and just how nasty and quickly the Alaskan Coastal weather could become. This time we were more prepared with an abundant supply of pre-tied flies and drier outerwear. |
We left Boston on the morning of Saturday, September 8, at 0630 and arrived at Cordova AK, the jump point for the Tsiu, at 1600 Hawaiian Standard Time (USA), 4 hours earlier than Boston. On Sunday morning we boarded a de Havilland Otter at Cordova and made the 200 mile flight (S/E) through the Chugach Mountains and arrived at the Tsiu River Lodge anxious to get ready for our first afternoon on the river. Without much effort, the Otter touched down on the mowed down marsh grass field a short distance from the lodge. The cargo door opened to a beautiful late summer morning sun (a rarity) with temps in the mid-50's. Our luggage and gear were transported to cabin #5, same as last season, while we hoofed our way along the path to the cabin. We met up with our guide Rob Milby, young and Alaskan born, in his first full season at the lodge. We liked him right off the bat as his easy going and eager to please personality shined through. It didn't take us long to get our gear together and suit up. We met up with Rob at the main lodge and boarded the ATV-transport wagon and headed down the path to the beach area that lead to the river mouth and the path upstream to the many Tsiu pools.
With some knowledge of the "pools" from last season, we asked Rob to take us to the "Flats" pool, a wide and shallow expanse that might resemble the Joppa flat on the Merrimack, but not quite so large. We had enjoyed this pool last season and thought it good to start in an area where we felt comfortable. It took but one cast for me to hook my first silver of the week, a nice, hard fighting male of about 10 pound. Within minutes of each other, everyone was tight to a silver! And so it went for the entire afternoon, tight to a Tsiu silver every half dozen casts or so. As our first afternoon of fishing came to a close, we boarded the wagon and made the 30 minute ride back to lodge through the marsh and admired the sunís glow dropping on the face of the Wrangell Range and Mt. St. Elias many miles to the east. The only thing I noticed that had a better glow on it was on the faces of the anglers, especially the first timers, Steve and Rich. What an afternoon of salmon fishing; great weather and the promise of 4 and one half more days of heaven on earth!
That evening, as all fishermen do, we recounted our personal experiences with the magnificent Tsiu Silvers, the strike, the first run, the leaps and their incredible will to survive and reach the spawning ritual waters some 5 miles farther upstream. The talk was lively as the beer and wine flowed easily with a truly fine dinner served up by the guides and kitchen staff. It didn't take long for sleep to come on that night.
Al's alarm clock rang out at 0545 and Monday morning broke with a milky sun rising to the east. We made our way to the main lodge for an early breakfast as we asked our guide, Rob, to have us on the river as early as the morning light would allow. He eagerly obliged that morning and every morning to follow! Rather than go through each day individually, I'll simply highlight our activities throughout the week. Rob had us on a different pool and section of the river everyday making the experience very enjoyable and more challenging than returning to the same waters daily. The weather, for the bulk of our time, was quite comfortable with mild temps (mid-fifties) and reasonable wind speeds. During the week we had just one morning with driving rain and wind, and even on that day, by afternoon the conditions had moderated. We also had the worst weather on our last morning with rain, wind and a low ceiling. We had to leave quickly that morning as really bad weather was forecasted and the plane was scheduled for one flight that day.
The fishing, in one word, was spectacular, 30-50 hook-ups per day! The calmer overall weather and lighter wind allowed us to spend more time throwing topwater popping bugs with the fly rods. It was simply awesome to experience the Tsiu Silvers track down the fly and crash it like a striper or bluefish on a popper plug (see video).
I also brought along a light spinning outfit as I wanted to determine if these silvers would chase down a topwater twitch bait such as a Jumping Minnow (scaled down with a single size 1/0 tail hook) and an assortment of soft plastics, weighted and un-weighted. It took a bit of trial and error with the twitch to get the right retrieve cadence and twitching, but once I did, it was amazing to watch.
The soft plastics were less appetizing, but if they were worked properly, they also caught fish (weighted was better than un-weighted). For the most part we threw wet flies and Clousers with an intermediate fly line (floating lines worked well when we were fishing somewhat shallower and slower currents). Best flies were egg sucking leeches in purple/black, bunny leeches in hot pink, bunny streamers in red and white and best of all the Alaskan Tutti Frutti Clouser (pink/chartreuse bucktail sandwiching a bit of crystal flash)
But they were not at all shy about taking any well presented fly so long as you found the seam or transit troughs. In the faster current seams, they easily scoffed up the fly while dead drifting. At times the salmon density was so thick that it became problematic to retrieve the fly as accidental snagging would occur.
As for the scenery, it was just amazing with the Wrangell Mountains and Mt. St. Elias as a backdrop (see video). I would simply stop fishing and just gaze at the mountains. And there were plenty of brown bears out fishing as well, but they were more interested in fish than humans. They sometimes would get too close and the guides would start up the noisy ATV and shoo them off.
The accommodations, lodge staff and guides were all super people, most accommodating and eager to please making the trip memorable. The meals were top shelf as well and any leftovers were creatively made into a luscious soup for the next day's shore lunch brought out to each fishing group out on the river . And on one occasion, the chef came out to a central streamside pool and fired up a campfire and cooked up the dayís catch for all to enjoy. Both Tom and Katy Prijatel, owners of Alaskan Wilderness Outfitters, are easy to work with. Here is the contact info: (P.O. Box 1516, Cordova, Alaska, 99574, (907) 424-5552)