The planning was fierce, nine days and nine nights floating Alaska’s Arolik River, in pursuit of Arctic grayling, leopard rainbows, Dolly Varden, and potentially all five salmon species. Getting there was the easy part, thanks to Papa Bear Adventures, who orchestrated our fly in, fly out, and necessary gear which included raft, cooler, kitchen, and tent…the big stuff!
We needed to travel as light and practical as possible, but on a trip-of-a-lifetime, shortchanging ourselves on fishing gear was not an option. We chose to be prepared for every fly-fishing opportunity available; taking an heirloom 4-weight Steve Kiley bamboo for upriver grayling, a 6-weight Sage XP for trout and Dollies, and a single-hand 8-weight Lamiglas for feisty and acrobatic coho. These rods would allow us to fish dries, swing streamers and flesh patters, run TroutBeads, strip gaudy pink clumps of marabou, and even Wog once we encountered active silvers. Wealso packed a special rod for mousing, an eight-and-a-half foot 7-weight Mike Brooks bamboo. Suffice it to say, I love bamboo!
To balance the rods we needed reels, and to be honest, fly reels have always been a place to store line. In fact, growing up fly fishing Oregon’s McKenzie River I have always utilized the iconic Pfleuger Medalist. Let’s face it, they hold line fine, and they still look great, especially on classic cane. This year’s trip would be different. It was a trip of a lifetime, so our reels needed to match our adventure. For the recently commissioned Kiley bamboo I could find no better compliment then a raised pillar Bradley hand crafted reel, which offers amazing looks and balance on cane plus has a butter smooth click and pawl. Next, I selected Solitude Reels for the trout rods and the Brooks bamboo. Solitude reels operate much like their namesake, in the fact that they have a drag that could stop a freight train, yet they are noiseless, something quite nice in the solitude of Southwest Alaska. The 8-weight would sport a G Loomis Venture 7 with a Rio VersiTip to provide greater options.
The upper river system we fished primarily with our 4-weight Steven Kiley bamboo rods, both equipped and floating line. There’s something about the feel of a bamboo rod and the sound of a classic reel that screams “I’m fly fishing”. The first cast evoked a strike from a fat and feisty Arctic grayling, eager to devour the first red-bodied calf tail Humpy that drifted by. Grayling in these upper stretches are just as enthusiastic to strike smolt and muddler patterns just below the surface, and the trophy of the day was a nice nineteen-incher, which tested the true strength of the power fibers lying in the heart of the hexagonal cane heirloom.
As we entered bigger water we were spotting bigger fish… it was time to pull out the big guns, the six-weight Sage XP competition fly rods, which are white in color, because they are indeed true competition rods. The rods and reels met for the first time and the first casts were made. Hey, these reels are quiet! Whether stripping line or reeling in, not a sound came from the Solitude reels. For the first time ever fly fishing the sound of the reel was replaced by the sound of splashing fish. Silent fly fishing, no wonder they’re named Solitude.
The spawn was on and chum and sockeye salmon lay everywhere, guarding their reds. Sight fishing with a pegged TroutBead about 2 inches above the #8 hook and a strike indicator makes for spectacular fishing. The technique is quite easy: Stand parallel to the spawning fish and cast upstream at a 45-degree angle. The dead-drifted TroutBead will hit its required depth just about when it crosses the spawning fish. The opportunistic trout or Dolly Varden will not hesitate to grab the free-drifted morsel. When the float drops you simply lift the rod tip to set the hook, and it’s fish on, safely hooking the jaw while using the fish-friendly “hang-back” hook technique.
Silver salmon are encountered in the lower fifteen river miles, and once we were in silver country all other fishing became secondary. The froggy backwater of most beaver dams proved to be the holding water for most silvers during their final pursuit to their place of birth. To successfully fish silvers the best technique was using a floating line with a ten-foot Rio VeriLeader rated at 5.6-ips, a six-foot twenty-pound fluorocarbon tippet and a weighted marabou leach pattern. Fast stripping was the technique of choice, and fish-on was the likely response if there were fish holding in the froggy water. Once in silver country it was a true 100-fish-a-day fishery…epic in anybody’s book!
They say fishing is more about fishing than catching, but on our last night on the Arolik the sun was fading into a glorious sunset when a nice-sized fish rolled just in front of camp. A few minutes later he rolled again. It was too tempting, so I reassembled the mousing bamboo rod and floated a Morrish Mouse near the last boil. You could see the fish, as if in slow motion, approaching the mouse from the rear as he stealthy ambushed his prey. Another 22-plus-inch Dolly, battled to submission on classic cane in the solitude of Alaska’s Great Land.
The Arolik River offered us nine days and nine nights of fishing utopia, in the solitude of Alaska’s Great Land. The river is remote, abundant, and beautiful, and the only thing less than ideal during our trip were the mosquitoes, whose larva can be calculated in tons per acre of tundra. Until the next cast…
Contributing Editor Troy A. Buzalsky currently lives in West Linn, OR, where he enjoys jet-boating, fishing, hunting and photography.