CLIENT REPORT | MY ALASKA FLY FISHING TRIP
WITH MY SON, SCHORR
We received a great detailed trip report from a client who went on a great Alaskan adventure with his son. We are sure you’ll enjoy the read as much as we did. Enjoy!
“Schorr flew from Memphis to Anchorage, a town of 300,000 people, and Ernie from Traverse City on Saturday, August 30. We stayed at the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage on the 16th concierge level with a beautiful view toward the south and a full view of the Aleutian Mountain Range. We were able to use the concierge level Captain’s Deck lounge on the 17th floor for breakfast and cocktails in the evening. The weather was clear when we arrived and we could see not only the Aleutian Mountain Range but also north toward the Denali National Park and Mt McKinley and some of the other mountains in the Alaska Mountain Range.
After getting settled, we went to the Captain Cook lounge and had a beer and snacks before going to the Brewhouse for some dinner and IPA beers. After dinner we were a little tired after the over 10-hour trip and went to bed.
On Sunday August 31, after breakfast at the Captain Cook lounge, we checked in at the Alaska Railroad Station for our trip to Talkeentna and Denali National Park. We were in the Gold Star class so we had seats in the upper level of the domed passenger car and with a Gold Star pin we could go any where on the train. The train left promptly at 8:15am. Our route took us through Wasilla, a town of just over 10,000 people and Sara Palins hometown, which is kind of a bedroom district of Anchorage since the housing is so much cheaper than Anchorage. We continued along the Cook Inlet, Richardson Army and Air Force base and other small towns. The views were very special when we got out of the tree-lined track. We saw lakes, mountains, small villages, back woods cabins and a moose. We found it interesting, that as a matter of practice, when the train is running in the spring, summer and early fall, if a local resident living in one of the cabins waves the train down, the train stops for them and then returns them to their cabin.
When we arrived in Talkeentna, we departed the train and walked over to the K2 aviation and checked in for our 12:30pm fixed wing flight over Denali National Park. We and two other couples were led to our six seat small plane by our pilot. When on board and with our headsets on, the pilot briefed us on our flight over many glaciers and the rugged Alaska Mountain Range. We flew in between the clouds. Since Mt McKinley has it own climate, because it is over 17,000 feet, the clouds covered it so we were not able to fly directly over it. We were however able to fly over the many glaciers and right next to the high rugged and sharp mountain peaks. We saw the largest glacier in North America which was the Eldridge Glacier that is 40 miles long, at it’s widest point 3 miles wide and at it’s deepest 4,000 feet deep. Because the glacier carves up the mountain there was rock and sand covering some of it. One thing that stood out were the little ponds of blue crystal clear pools of water that looked like diamonds. To get to these glaciers we flew over tundra and at lower levels forests of evergreen trees along the glacier fed Susitee River Valley.
After our flight we walked into the little village of Talkeentna and had lunch at the Denali Brewing Company. We again enjoyed some IPA beers and had some fun people watching. We were sitting at a big table so at one point, we were joined by a local family who claimed they were native Aleutian Indians. If they were, there was some European ancestry in their past. They lived in a remote cabin, north of Talkeentna and this was a special Sunday trip to Talkeentna to have lunch. It was interesting talking to them about their life in a remote area of Alaska……a tough life.
Before we left the Denali Brewing Company restaurant, Schorr bought a Growler of their IPA beer. He called it our “Big Fish” beer, which honors the person catching the biggest fish. That was just the beginning of our “Big Fish” beer purchases.
We returned to the train station for our trip back to Anchorage and arrived back in Anchorage at about 8:00pm. Back in Anchorage Schorr and I had dinner at a sushi café. When we walked in the café was full except for the bar, where we sat. All of the customers were Asian, which is not uncommon for Anchorage.
On Monday, we just walked around Anchorage and enjoyed the sights which included watching fishermen fish for silver salmon coming up a local river, visited a knife shop and walked around all of downtown Anchorage. We were amazed at the large number of primarily American tourists that came to Anchorage via buses that had brought them there from the cruise boats that docked in Seward at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. The tourists were everywhere. That night we had dinner at a brick fired pizza shop and on our way back to the hotel we stopped at a liquor store and purchased three large bottles of IPA beer, which was also termed our”Big Fish” beer. We got to bed early to prepare for our flight to the Katmai National park on the Alaska Peninsula where we would arrive at the Kulik Lodge.
Up bright and early, we took a cab to the Katmailand airplane terminal at the Anchorage airport for a 7:30am flight. We checked in and boarded the flight on a small two-engine plane to the lodge with three other passengers, Norwood, Glenna and Jackie. We found it interesting that they were loading firewood on the plane but after inquiring we found that Kulik Lodge had no firewood so this is how they got their firewood. The flight was to take only and hour and a half but because of head winds it took us two hours. On our way over, we flew over the Kenai Peninsula, the Shelikof Strait and an active volcano that was surrounded by clouds. The day was clear with a few puffy clouds. We had to wear earplugs because the flight was so noisy.
As we flew toward the gravel runway we flew over Kulik Lake, the Kulik River and the Nonvianuk Lake. We could see the Kulik Lodge at the east end of Nonvianuk Lake. Upon our landing, a van was waiting to take us to the lodge. We noted that there were barrels of aviation fuel that they used to fuel the plane for its trip back to Anchorage. The plane makes as many as three trips a day to and from on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
A big breakfast of omelets, bacon ad toast was waiting for us. While we were eating our breakfast, Pete and Frances, the lodge managers, gave us an orientation and assigned us a fishing guide for the day. After breakfast we were taken by the guide to get our waders and boots, fishing poles and two reels, one had a floater line, the other a sinker. Since our cabin was not ready for us we left our luggage in the bathhouse where we changed into our waders. After we were ready our guide, Dave, took us to our boat where we headed up the Kulik River. This was Dave’s first year at Kulik Lodge and he was very helpful getting us set up to fish and coaching us on bead fishing. We fished in an area called dead fish, because there were so many carcasses of dead sockeye salmon. We fished until around 1:00pm and there broke for a shore lunch of sandwiches, chips and cookies. We caught a number of smaller rainbow trout but nothing really big. The weather was sunny and a little breezy and the currents were flowing pretty strong.
It was interesting to hear about the sockeye salmon, which were so abundant at times the water was red. Every year beginning in late summer, the sockeye salmon come up the rivers and lakes from the ocean to spawn and die. When they arrive they are beautiful silver but when they get to the rivers to spawn, their body turns bright red and their tail and head turn black. They spawn in schools, which is why the water looks red. They use their bodies to move rocks and establish depressions where they lay their eggs. Some of these rocks are the size of your hand. That is part of the reason their body’s are so beat up when they die. As they spawn, some of the eggs are released and flow down the river and are eaten by the other fish.
The sockeyes can get up to 15 to 20 pounds so if you hook one they are hard to land; so many times you just break the line and rerig your line. So…..you really want to avoid catching one. Normally you hear a few curse words when you snag one. You don’t catch them in the mouth because they are not taking your bait, but you are accidently snagging them on a gill or fin. The sockeye are no longer feeding when they are spawning. This whole spawning process replenishes the nutrients in the rivers and lakes and provides abundant food for the wild life, especially the bears and other fish
We came off the river about 4:30pm and got back to move into our cabin about 5:00pm. After a warm shower we both headed down to the main lodge where there was a big fire in the fireplace and most of the other guests were having cocktails. We had a chance to meet some of the staff and many of the other guests. Next to the bar was a big board that drew everyone’s attention. It was a record of the largest types of fish, rainbow trout, silver salmon, lake trout, dolly varden (char) and pike, caught this year and the all time records. The record catches were based on overall length and weight. The biggest rainbow trout was 26” long and weighed over six pounds.
We met the Robinson family from Bend, OR, Lee, Susann and son Brian. Lee is a retired surgeon and his son Brian had just graduated from Oregon University and was headed to work with his uncle in LA. There was a couple that was a second marriage, and each one had their son with them……. their sons were from Baltimore and the couple from South Carolina. Glenn and Jackie, the couple we few over with, are from Mesa, AZ. Norwood, who also flew in with us, is from Tucson, AZ. Charlie, Norwood’s friend, is from Seattle. There were also three older men, one of whom has family at Walloon Lake in northern Michigan. After dinner, we met with our guide, Hunter, who told us we would be flying out the next day to the lower American River, which sounded very exciting. We also placed our order for our shore lunch. Schorr and I went back to the cabin where he proceeded to beat me six to one in backgammon…..what a whipping. It then was early to bed to get ready for a big fishing day.
At 5:00am the next morning Hunter knocked on our cabin door……..the guides always knocked on our cabin door an hour and one half before we left to fish. They would also leave us a hot pot of coffee outside our door. We had a big breakfast at the lodge and then put on our waders and met the plane at the shoreline of the Nonvianuk Lake. Our pilot was Shawn Robinson, the grandson of the founder of Angler’s Paradise. We loaded up with our guide, Norwood and Charlie and the plane took off headed for the American River. As we were flying there Shawn made many steep turns to look for schools of sockeye salmon, which were spawning. We landed on the river, a really neat experience, and waiting for us was a johnboat with a jet motor. We loaded our gear into the boat and the five of us headed up the river, which took about 25 minutes. During our boat ride we began seeing grizzly bears fishing for salmon…..a really neat sight. At one point we saw a mother and two cubs. When the bears catch a salmon, they put one foot on its head then use their teeth to tear off a fillet. They leave the carcasses for the birds and in some cases wolves, which we had the pleasure of seeing one with a salmon carcass in his mouth while walking along the shoreline.
Upon arriving we got our fishing rods ready and unloaded our gear, landed and secured the boat. To fish for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, we used a bead that simulates a salmon egg, a hook was tied on the end of the leader and about two inches above the hook the bead is placed and about a foot or two above the bead are two lead shots and about five feet above the lead shot just after the optic yellow floating fishing line is a indicator. The fishing concept is to cast the line into a school of spawning sockeye salmon while the rainbow trout and Dolly Varden are feeding on the salmon eggs. They take the floating bead for a salmon egg and strike it. You fish in a grid where you cast the line ahead of you up stream and let it float normally with the stream, mending the line as it floats. When you see a strike on the indicator you set the hook and if you’re lucky and good enough you hook a trout or char…a concept that really works if you do it right.
The lower American River is a braided river that is a circle that you walk and fish. The circle is about three miles long. So we began our walk and wade fished along the way. We caught rainbows and some good size Dolly Varden’s. The Dolly Varden is a beautiful fish with orange spots and orange tipped fins. It is a member of the char family. We almost always had a bear in our sight but they never bothered us and we didn’t bother them. At one point we were fishing on a “Y” in the river and a bear came out of the high brush and began running full speed after a school of salmon. He got our attention because he ran within ten yards of us. We were ready to move as fast as we could. It is amazing just how fast the bears are, to be so big, some almost 1,500 pounds and 10 feet tall when they stand on their hind legs.
Our guide, Hunter, was very helpful especially to the ol’white haired guy. Schorr and Hunter really hit it off……..Hunter is from Baton Rouge, LA and is a fishing guide in that area. I bet Schorr joins him at some point in Baton Rouge to fish on the Gulf of Mexico.
At one point we hit the trifecta, we saw a mother and a cub, a large male grizzly bear and a beautiful bald eagle at the same time. We had our shore lunch and continued fishing until we made it back to the boat. We loaded up and headed back down the river to meet the floatplane. What a day, the weather was warm, sunny and we had little wind. The bugs were bad, because we had no wind, so we all had to use insect repellant. We loaded our gear in the plane and flew back to the lodge.
We got back about 4:30pm and Pete and Frances were waiting for us on the shore with a fine glass of brandy…..a Kulik Lodge tradition for returning anglers. We went to the cabin and cleaned up and headed to the lodge for cocktails and in Schorr’s case the “Big Fish” beer as he easily caught the big fish. Dinner was fried chicken and pulled pork with cold slaw and baked beams. After dinner our guide for the next day, Tanner, met with us and we decided we would fish the Kulik River because the next day’s forecast was cold, rainy and very windy. Big winds and fly-fishing don’t go together very well.
After dinner Schorr had not had enough fishing so he went out on an evening fish with Lee and Brian Robinson and a guide. It was a beautiful warm evening with almost no wind. This time of year it stays light until around 10:00pm, so Schorr had another two hours of fishing. In June it stays light until about midnight and the sun comes up about 2:00am in the morning. If we had been there in June, Schorr could have fished 22 hours per day. While Schorr was evening fishing the old white haired guy was back in the cabin reading.
On Thursday morning Tanner knocked on our cabin door at 5:30am, a half hour later than yesterday. These early O’Dark Thirty mornings are tough for this ol’white haired retired guy. A pot of coffee awaited us outside the front door. When we opened the door to get the coffee we knew it was going to be a tough day on the river……….it was raining, cold and windy. Thank God we chose to go on the Kulik River versus a fly out because we could come back to the lodge for lunch and warm up.
After a breakfast of a Kulsandwich, a breakfast sandwich of an egg and sausage on an English muffin, we met Tanner at the boat and we headed off to the river. Thank goodness for the heavy rain gear as the wind and rain got our attention riding in the boat. As we were entering the river we were greeted by a bear sitting at the edge of the lake feasting on a sockeye salmon.
Tanner took us to a location called Grassy to fish. The wind was at our backs so the casting was easier and the wind and rain was not in our face. There were gusts of wind sometimes over 40 MPH that almost knocked us over. The fishing was good however……..we were catching 15” to 20” rainbows that helped to keep us warm. At noon it was back to the lodge for lunch and warming up. It had stopped raining but was still cold and the wind was really blowing.
After, lunch we were back out on the Kulik River, this time fishing a place called the Office. Again thanks to our guide, Tanner, he set us up so we were casting with the wind and the wind was to our back. We really started slamming the bigger rainbows. It was a lot of fun even under the weather conditions. About 4:00pm another big rain shower came over us just to remind us we were in Alaska where the weather can change quickly. We left about 5:00pm and headed in to the lodge but half way there we ran out of gas and had to change tanks. When we changed tanks there must have been some water in the gas because the engine would sputter then run for a while then sputter. Instead of landing the boat on the beach in front of the cabins, we limped it into the floatplane secured area and walked to the cabins a few 100 yards away.
As we were coming in to the lake from the river there were three bears sitting in the water feasting on salmon
Through out the day, Tanner, our guide from San Diego, wisely placed us in favorable locations to use the heavy winds to our advantage. He kept the wind and rain to our back and we fished across the river so the wind would help casting. Tanner made fishing in very tough conditions almost enjoyable. It is amazing how you warm up and feel better when your line is tight and you are catching fish.
That evening for dinner it was a Thanksgiving Feast……..turkey, dressing, cranberries, green beans, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie alamode. After dinner we met our guide for the next day, Galen, and our plan was to fly out to the Morraine River, which is known for it’s large rainbows. The forecast was for lighter winds but some rain. It was back to the cabin where Schorr continued his dominance over his father and beat him badly in Gin. Then being tired after a tough day on the river we were off to bed. The ol’man read and Schorr spent time on his computer. The lodge had Wi-Fi but no cell service. So Schorr was able to do some face time with Kathleen, Harper and the twins. Because we were three hours behind Memphis time, Schorr had to call the just after we got in from fishing. Harper loved the story about the baby bears.
Friday, we got the knock on our door at 5:00am for a 6:30am fly out to the Morraine River. After breakfast we met our guide, Galen, at the plane and off we went, to the river known for it’s big rainbow. Our pilot was Sonny Robinson, the son of the founder of the Angler’s Paradise lodges. It took us about 15 minutes to get to a small lake next to the Moraine River, where we landed and then carried our gear and a deflated raft along a ridge of the river for about 200 yards, then down the steep ridge to the river. Right where we were going to put in, there was a big bear that eventually moved on so we could put the raft in after we inflated it.
We floated down the river and fished various spots with great success. The rainbows were big but they were smart and you had to do everything just about right to hook them and land them in. Most of the trout we were catching were 20” plus. At shore lunchtime we put in to a sand bar where the fishing was also good. On one end of the large sand bar were a mother bear and two cubs. When we docked the boat and began our lunch the mother bear and two cubs kept walking our way. As they got closer, 20 or 30 yards away, our guide, Galen, threw a few rocks and yelled at them and the mother and the cubs eventually swam to the other side of the river. As we were coming in to the sand bar we noticed on a hill near the river a large male grizzly bear sitting up surveying the river. As we were beginning lunch, we noticed he was now lying on his belly taking a nap.
After lunch we began fishing the sand bar area. It was exciting because with the cloudy conditions we could see the trout in among the salmon. Sight fishing was very rewarding because you could see where the fish were and watch them take your bead and hook. Of course in the water the fish look a lot bigger than they were but they were still 20” plus in length. While we were fishing, the mother bear and her cubs came back on the sand bar and the mother laid down for a nap. The cubs kept playing. When we returned to the lodge, Frances told us that the mother bear felt comfortable with anglers because they kept the big male bears away from the cubs. In some cases the male bear will kill the cubs so the female will go into “Heat”.
Galen was the most technical guide we had. He really focused on fishing in a grid in a section of the river were you allow your bead to flow through every portion of the river were the sockeye are spawning. The theory proved right when you could see the rainbows in the water and you cast properly and allowed your bead to floatby them. Galen also stressed the importance of keeping a reasonably tight line so when a rainbow strikes, it is easier to set the hook. He reminded Schorr and me of a fishing guide, John Way, we had in Montana who really stressed fundamentals.
We floated on down the river and eventually began helping the guide paddle in order to get to the take out point. Once we arrived, we deflated the raft just as the floatplane was landing on the river. We loaded our gear on the plane and the plane began its take off. Since the river curved, the pilot had to use the rudders on the pontoons to follow the curves in the river. The pilots were all very skilled at take offs and landings in interesting conditions.
The same routine, cocktails at 6:00pm, dinner at 7:00pm, but no evening fishing. A guide, Chris, came by to see if we wanted to fish the next morning since our plane did not take off until 12:30pm the next day. Schorr elected to go but I decided to stay at the lodge and turn our gear in and check out.
As was a tradition after the last nights’ dinner, Sonny Robinson, the son of the founder of the Angler’s Paradise Lodges introduced a film, now in DVD form, that his father made in 1956. The DVD was a promotional film for the Anglers Paradise Lodges, which includes, Kulik Lodge, Brooks Lodge, Grosvenor’s Lodge and Enchantment Lodge. His father also started Alaska Consolidated Airlines in 1956.
Kulik Lodge was established in 1950 prior to Alaska becoming a state. At that time, they were able to float a barge part way into Kulik location then drive the caterpillar the remaining distance. The caterpillar was used to grade and made the gravel runway used to bring customers into the lodge. The rest of the lumber to build the lodge and all construction equipment and materials and passenger vans were flown in by plane.
After showing the film/DVD, Sonny gave us one interesting fact…….there are always two employees remaining behind at the lodge until they have not seen any bears which means all the bears are hibernating. The bears can be very destructive. It could be as late as January before no more bears are spotted and they can be flown out.
Schorr got back from fishing about 10:30am on departure day and he checked his gear in, packed, set our luggage on the front porch of our cabin to be picked up by the staff and we went to lunch at 11:15am. After lunch we hopped in the vans and headed to the gravel landing strip to catch our plane back to Anchorage. When we arrived back at the Katmailand airline facility; they drove us to the Captain Cook Hotel. We watched some football in the Captain’s Deck lounge, then headed to fire bricked pizza for dinner. After dinner it was back to the hotel and to bed as Schorr had a 6:00am flight and I had a 7:00am flight out the next day.
The trip was not inexpensive, but was worth every penny for this unique, rewarding and enlightening experience…..the culture and so many tourists in Anchorage, the glaciers, rugged mountain peaks, the train trip, the floatplane rides, the swift currents of the rivers, the bears, size of the rainbows and Dolly Varden, my time with Schorr and the superb service and hospitality of all the staff at the Kulik Lodge…….they always had a smile, always wanted to help and were accommodating in every way. Pete and Frances, the lodge managers, deserve very high marks on their choice of staff.
This trip was in the planning for over 10 years while Schorr was going through his post Bac, medical school, residency, fellowship and finally back in Memphis to practice medicine. It was well worth it.
What was the most memorable moment of the whole trip? There were so many from which to choose. There really wasn’t any doubt, it was being with my grown son on a special father and son trip………watching his patience, courtesy to others, his helpful manner, his engaging style with people he has just met, how others sought to talk to and be with him, how much he loved the whole outdoors and fly fishing environment no matter the weather, the respect he had for the fishing guides and the fact that he enjoyed being with me. A father could never have a better, more memorable, and rewarding one-on-one experience with one’s son. What a special time.”
– Ernie Behnke
The Ol’White Haired Guy
Yellow Dog Flyfishing Lodge Page:
Now is a great time to get in early on those prime Alaska dates! From topwater mice fishing to playing tug of war with a King to salmon, we can certainly put together your very own custom great Alaskan adventure. And remember, it’s at no extra cost. Our prices are the same as the lodge prices; we just offer the hands-on experience from door to door. It’s the Yellow Dog Difference. If you have any questions on Alaska programs don’t hesitate to give us a call here at the Yellow Dog Flyfishing office.