There's no better place to conclude one's autumn than on Katmai's American Creek! © Glen Nielsen
Nymphing the Upper Chena River, the author’s daughter Courtney Carroll finished the season by finding a few late-season holdouts. © Daniel Hoffman
Ready for fishing?
Story by Daniel Hoffman
It’s early springtime in Alaska, and – to be honest – I’m going a little nuts. It has been six months since my last foray for grayling on the Upper Chena, coaching my daughter to watch for that quick, upstream twitch signaling the take of her late-season nymph, heralding the presence of one of the river’s last autumn holdouts. It’s been even longer since my reel virtually screamed with delight, as I attempted to maintain sufficiently judicious pressure against the energetic – and delightfully rotund – rainbows of Katmai’s late September fishery as they feasted at the tail end of the sockeye run. Where has all the time gone? Oh, believe me, I can tell you…
It was Tennyson who famously wrote: “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Well, I’m not that young anymore, so I suppose that might account for my preoccupation with the progression of this winter’s ice-melt, the return of free-flowing streams, and the anticipation for the fish that’ll inhabit them. Our long winter nights are slowly giving way to the steady progression of that much-anticipated “midnight sun,” a glorious, transformative orb whose openly displayed worship I do not shrink from.
Waiting for Spring
In conversation with friends and other folk, one often hears reference to the term “love/hate relationship.” I don’t know that I ever truly understood what that meant… that is, until I’d spent my first few winters in Interior Alaska. I truly DO love most of the components that define the frosty stillness and isolation of our winter landscape: The almost never-ending progression of impossibly pink and orange hues reflecting off the snow, the late-day dawns transitioning in a palette of smoldering embers to early afternoon dusks, and the awe-inspiring auroral displays that fill many of the lengthy stretches in between.
Spring can seem like a long time coming for Alaska’s flyfishermen, but it’s just around the corner! © Daniel Hoffman
But, as wondrous as this special environment can be, it does have its downsides. As time goes on and I continue to get older, I suppose the prevalent darkness is starting to get to me much more than the cold temperatures do. Attempting to ward-off both foes, one can dress for the weather, and I suppose one could attempt to fish with a headlamp as well. Unfortunately, while today’s outdoor gear usually provides for adequate bodily warmth, river water that has frozen at forty-below is likely to remain unfishable for quite some time. I haven’t quite decided if it’s a good thing or not, but of one thing I’m certain: This frozen landscape in which I’ve voluntarily imprisoned myself lends itself quite handily to the exercise of introspective thought and contemplation.
Toward that end, I’ve spent a fair bit of time writing about flyfishing these past few years, and I often try to relate what I believe to be the true, underlying attraction of the sport: the values that flyfishing both teaches and reinforces in us, often transcending to other areas of our lives that we might not even realize, should we fail to periodically stop and reflect on what the waters – and fish therein – are really teaching us. It is during those times, when our periods of reflection are focused upon frozen, barren waters, that the flyfisher truly earns his master’s degree in the sport’s quintessential value: PATIENCE.
The author doesn’t consider the Interior’s spring to have truly sprung, until he’s caught an Upper Chena grayling on a dry fly. © Daniel Hoffman
Yes, to be sure, there are many other notable values imbued through our fine sport, not the least ofwhich include persistence, adaptability, inquisitiveness, creativity, and so on. (And believe me, in trying to endure the totality of yet another far northern winter, all those values—mostly in search of suitable “replacement activities”—have been thoroughly exercised!) But, while one can tie dozens of flies, research future destinations, work on gear adaptations, etc., it soon becomes apparent that the preponderance of these exercises define their illustration of “sub-values” under the sport’s hierarchy, all done in furtherance of maintaining one’s patience while waiting for spring’s inevitable thaw.
Keeping Busy in Winter
Lest my detractors categorize my “introspection” as mere bitching, I suppose I should offer at least a rudimentary list of activities and considerations for flyfishers to consider employing, as they work to achieve their own level of winter-loving zen:
- CHECK YOUR FLY LINES! While I’d love to perpetuate the myth that I’m a highly organized, efficient, and proactive angler, the truth of the matter is that I’m one of those guys who’ll throw their stuff in a garage or shed in the fall, expecting to pick it up and use it at first opportunity in the spring. Rather than losing a decent early season fish or two to break yourself of this bad habit, take the time to check lines, backing, etc., making sure all are in good shape.
- MAINTAIN YOUR GEAR! Reels need to be cleaned and lubricated, rods need to have guides and wraps checked, waders should get filled and leak-tested, and those nice, rubberized landing nets can have any holes tied up with heavy floss.
- GET YOUR FISHING LICENSE NOW! That may sound silly, but there is nothing worse than getting an unexpected 10:00 p.m. call for a fantastic, early season fishing opportunity, only to remember that you don’t have your license yet, and finding that no stores will be open before your buddy’s bush plane is scheduled to fly out at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.
- CHECK YOUR FLY INVENTORY! Tie what you want, buy what you need, or go to your friend’s box and steal whatever you think you can get away with…
Yeah, I know… none of these things are “fishing,” per se, but you’ve made it through the worst of the winter, which is something you can already be proud of! Rather than waiting for the rest of your patience to wear too thin, use this remaining time during “ice-out” to get your gear (and maybe yourself) in some semblance of shape, so that you can maximize those glorious months that are just around the corner!
Reveling in the final days of the late-September fishery, author Dan Hoffman sight-fished this particular Kulik ‘bow with a small bead. © Glen Nielsen
Daniel Hoffman is the author of An Alaska Flyfisher’s Odyssey: Seeking a Life of Drag-Free Drift in the Land of the Midnight Sun. As a corporate speaker and trainer, Daniel frames his presentations addressing safety, business, and leadership within his unique flyfisher’s perspective. Find Daniel’s speaker profile at: allamericanspeakers.com.
If you’re ready for fishing and looking for more fishing content, check out the Fish Alaska blog archive.