Six of us left Gig Harbor early morning Tuesday last, pumped up with coffee and dreams of giant steelhead lurking in an Alaskan river. Six of us rushed through SeaTac, still a block or two away from the gate when we heard "Last call for boarding Alaska Airlines Flight 61 - You should be on the plane by now!" Six of us ran to the gate, barely making it onto the flight.
Four hours later, we were on the ground in Yakutat, pop. 600 plus-or-minus depending on the season. And two hours after that, we were on the Situk River, fly rods in hand, licking our chops in anticipation of these legendary fish.
Here's how it's supposed to be: an epic run of steelhead every spring, with a guarantee of 20-30 caught per day. Thousands and thousands of fish running upriver to spawn; the chrome of the steelhead hens flashing by in pursuit of gravel beds far upriver.
How it did work out. Southeast Alaska saw record snowfall this winter. Where the ground is usually free of snow by late April, here we were in early May with 3-4 feet of snow still covering the earth. All that snow, mixed with rain, is melting into the river, keeping it at record heights for this time of year. And keeping it cold. Fish need a water temperature in the mid-40s. It was still in the mid-30s when we arrived. Hence. . .there were no fish in the river.
Well, that's an exaggeration. There was one fish in the river, at least.
First day, fishing in the river, no fish hooked, no fish caught.
Second day, floating the river, a couple fish hooked into. One landed.
Third day, floating the river, four hooked into, two landed.
Fourth day, we split up. One party floated, while one hiked upriver a ways. Floaters hooked one, landed none. (That's 12 hours of fishing, for one hooked.) Walkers hooked about four, landed two or three.
Fifth day, we all walked up. 8-10 fish were hooked. I think two were landed. At least we saw more flitting through the water. Oh, and we also saw a moose grazing by the river bank.
Afternoons, at the boat ramp, notes were exchanged with other anglers. Same story. Epically disappointing year. Mornings and evenings at the B&B, stories were shared with other groups. Same story. The worst year ever seen.
Oh, and this. It rained a lot. And hailed. And snowed. Ever sit in a boat in the middle of a river having hail come crashing down on you, all while you're trying to untangle the mess your line just made on that poor cast?
As for me. . .I hooked one fish all week. An hour before it was time to go home. Fought it momentarily, but then it got away. So that was my trip. Flying to Alaska and back, floating rivers through cold rain, falling through holes in the snow, waking too early and going to bed too late, freezing my fingers, all to briefly hook into one fish.
And almost drown, when the drift boat wedged up against a tree and almost flipped. But Erik saved us all, for which I am thankful.
Oh, and then all 6 enjoyed a nice dinner at the lodge before heading home. Enjoyed it too much, since we got to the airport late and barely made it on the plane. Leaving our luggage behind for another day.
Still, through it all - the rain and snow and hail and wind and cold and lack of sleep and lack of fish and smelly guys and greasy eggs for breakfast and trail food for lunch and travel difficulties. . .it was the best time I've had in a really, really, really long time.
Oh, and I should say something about the dozens of bald eagles lining the river bank, standing guard over the river as we floated past. They were beautiful.