En­ter­ing the fi­nal fron­tier

The Prof takes his sons, James and Tom, fish­ing in Amer­ica’s ice box: Alaska, the 49th state

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - David Pro­fumo caught his first fish at the age of five. A nov­el­ist and a bi­og­ra­pher, he lives up a Perthshire glen with his new cocker puppy, Pom­pey, who only un­der­stands Latin

David Pro­fumo fishes in Alaska

CON­CEIV­ABLY be­cause their fa­ther spent their for­ma­tive years re­lent­lessly ex­tolling the virtues of the pas­time, my sons James and Tom have man­aged to reach their thir­ties with­out ever hav­ing fished for salmon. This sum­mer, I re­solved to rem­edy that— but where in the world to take them with a vir­tual guar­an­tee of suc­cess?

Twice the size of Texas, with more coast­line than the lower 48 states put to­gether, and fa­mously sold by the Rus­sians in 1867 for less than two cents an acre, Alaska takes its name from the na­tive alaxsxag, mean­ing ‘great coun­try’. There are also sev­eral thou­sand salmon rivers and we were head­ing to­wards the Bris­tol Bay area, to the mighty Alagnak river. It’s a longish schlep to get there (six flights for one of the boys) and wasn’t overly help­ful of Ice­landair to leave most of our kit in Ke­flavik, but, even­tu­ally, our bush plane left the lit­tle airstrip at King Salmon—where, aptly enough, we had been wait­ing for an­other guest named Mr Salmon. Be­low us was end­less green hin­ter­land pocked with lakelets and scrib­bled across with streams.

Now in its sec­ond year of op­er­a­tion un­der the fa­ther-and­son own­er­ship of Wayne and Ja­cob Mcgee, the Alaska Tro­phy Ad­ven­tures Lodge is lo­cated some 50 miles up from tide­wa­ter on the re­mote Up­per Braids area of the river, which boasts some of the most prodi­gious runs of Pa­cific salmon on the planet. Fully equipped from the lodge’s tackle room, we sped down­stream in a jet boat the first morn­ing to find a chum bar that I last fished in 1998 with the late an­gling swami Arthur Oglesby.

We didn’t have to wait long there for Mis­ter Salmon. Within min­utes, the boys were both hooked up into feisty chums (or ‘tiger’ salmon)—real drag­bust- ing bruis­ers, some of which weighed about 15lb and ea­gerly chomped the vast tan­dem cerise zonkers we were throw­ing off sin­gle-handed rods. The chum is hugely pow­er­ful for its size and, al­though some of the old stagers looked as if they’d been in a bar­room brawl, they pro­vided great sport. Our team of five prob­a­bly hooked up 100 fish that day—one heck of a cur­tain­raiser for the ex­pe­di­tion.

There are five species of Pacifics here and their pro­fu­sion can be as­ton­ish­ing. Kings grow the largest (you can catch them to more than 50lb), but, this sea­son, the run was sparse and late. For sheer num­bers, the sock­eye (or ‘red’) is the one to seek and we were lucky that they were still com­ing into the

‘We had a two-day bo­nanza be­fore the run be­gan to dwin­dle ’

river at the end of July. On day two, veteran guide Justin took us up to a sidestream nick­named Costco, where, in the de­li­ciously clear wa­ter, you could see them swim­ming steadily, of­ten four abreast— part of an es­ti­mated mi­gra­tion of three mil­lion this sum­mer. It was an awe­some spec­ta­cle.

Al­though, as they ap­proach spawn­ing, the sock­eyes de­velop epigamic humps and zom­bie den­ti­tion, with gar­ish spinach-and-car­rot col­oration that makes them look like fish painted by Matisse after a tum­bler of cal­va­dos, when fresh and coin- bright like this from the ocean, they’re as lithe and lovely as our grilse—and fight as vig­or­ously. Be­ing plank­ton feed­ers, they won’t chase your fly and there is a knack to the hook-set, but the boys ex­celled them­selves (claim­ing, of course, to have out­fished the pa­ter­fa­mil­ias). It was hard to be sure, be­cause we gen­uinely lost count, but we had a two-day bo­nanza be­fore the run be­gan to dwin­dle, hook­ing lit­er­ally hun­dreds. As they say, it was a truly ‘sock­eye-delic’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

The bears love reds and, on oc­ca­sion, we had to beat a ju­di­cious re­treat—a big brown can cover 50 yards in three sec­onds. Up at the Black Hole pool, one spec­i­men am­bled round be­hind me as I was play­ing a big male sock­eye, but it seemed unim­pressed.

The camp is homely and in­for­mal, al­though some of the ameni­ties are still a lit­tle makeshift (they have no liquor li­cence, so be sure to bring sup­plies). There were 13 guests stay­ing and the guides put ev­ery­one onto mul­ti­tudes of fish.

We landed eight species, in­clud­ing the Pa­cific pentarchy— James caught the camp’s first coho of the sea­son, friend Todd bagged a small­ish king, I man­aged to hood­wink a humpy and we also took nu­mer­ous grayling and rain­bows on dry cad­dis and nymphs. On the last day, we en­joyed a float trip in two in­flat­able rafts, which is an ideal way of si­lently see­ing the river­scape.

My own most mem­o­rable fish was a re­splen­dent 2ft-long Dolly Var­den—a char named after a colour­ful char­ac­ter in Dick­ens’s

Barn­aby Rudge, its quick­sil­ver flanks prinked with mad­der. In six days here, we had the equiv­a­lent of six sea­sons of fish­ing any­where at home.

Back in An­chor­age, we cel­e­brated at Humpy’s seafood joint and the boys bought me a bumper sticker say­ing ‘I Got Crabs at Humpy’s’. Not sure that quite counts as an­other species.

Above: A triple hook up by the Pro­fumo fam­ily. Right: The out­come of a morn­ing’s work in the Black Hole pool

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