Big fish & bear coun­try

Wild ad­ven­tures on Alaska’s Ko­diak Is­land

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

TWO of my fish­ing pals de­cided to take a walk on the wild side, ac­com­pa­ny­ing me on a film­ing trip to Ko­diak Is­land off the Alaskan coast. Mike Cor­nall (aged 79) and David Brady (72) are both well-trav­elled but they wanted some­where that of­fers great fish­ing and the chance to come face to face with the world’s largest bears – don’t be alarmed be­cause they’re not as danger­ous as you might think! The Ko­diak coastal brown bears can reach 12 feet in height when stood on their hind legs, but they’re com­pletely non­con­fronta­tional due to a rich food sup­ply! Hugely im­pres­sive, the bear’s prime diet in­cludes berries and grasses to­gether with the mas­sive num­bers of mi­grat­ing Pa­cific salmon for which Ko­diak is equally fa­mous. Our re­mit was to catch those fresh-run, bright sil­ver coho salmon and to view these mag­nif­i­cent bears in their nat­u­ral habitat, of­ten at very close quar­ters!

Hot sum­mer im­pact

Coastal Alaska had en­joyed a long, hot and dry sum­mer which did im­pact on the salmon runs and the num­ber of bears tar­get­ing them. The coastal Pa­cific sea tem­per­a­tures were higher than nor­mal and wa­ter lev­els in the streams and rivers well be­low av­er­age. Nor­mally we’d have ac­cess to five miles of river but, with such low wa­ter, we could only fish one mile of river from the es­tu­ary ac­cess point. While salmon were run­ning up to spawn, num­bers were also well down on pre­vi­ous years. A lot of the Ko­diak brown bears were con­cen­trat­ing their feed­ing re­quire­ments on the huge vol­umes of sedge grasses and berries. They’d re­turn to the river es­tu­ar­ies and pools a few weeks later as the au­tumn rains came and river lev­els would rise, bring­ing in vast num­bers of late-run salmon. That said, my two fly fish­ers, who’d yet to catch a salmon from pre­vi­ous trips in Europe, would land and re­lease more than 100 sil­ver salmon in just six days. That did not in­clude a num­ber of beau­ti­fully-marked char (dolly var­den), rain­bow trout and the oc­ca­sional steel­head – all caught on fly.

Fish­ing camps

To reach the re­mote fish­ing camps run by Dick and Sam Rohrer, we had to fly to Ko­diak City via Seat­tle and Anchorage (easy flight con­nec­tions with Vir­gin/Delta and an ex­cel­lent daily ser­vice). Af­ter a qual­ity overnight stopover we’d fly into these re­mote camps by he­li­copter and float­plane, an ad­ven­ture in it­self. I use the word ‘camp’ and not ‘lodge’ as ac­com­mo­da­tion is com­fort­able, clean, warm and ba­sic. There is no run­ning wa­ter and the toi­let is a ‘long drop non-flush af­fair’. Per­fectly ac­cept­able in the true out­back wilder­ness of this stun­ninglyscenic and pris­tine lo­ca­tion. Our cook, Jean­nie, pro­vided ex­cel­lent meals, many of which used lo­cal pro­duce.

Moun­tain man!

Our guide for Sam’s Camp was a most knowl­edge­able char­ac­ter called Hi­ram New­comer, who we also named ‘moun­tain man’. Hi­ram had a great sense of hu­mour and has guided this re­mote area for 40 years. He knows ev­ery pro­duc­tive pool and glide on this beau­ti­ful river, which was ex­clu­sively ours apart from the oc­ca­sional rafter and eight Ko­diak brown bears that ap­peared each day at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions along the river­bank. With Hi­ram by our side we felt to­tally at peace with the bears and there was no fear fac­tor, just 100 per­cent re­spect, which worked both ways. On a num­ber of days we’d ap­proach a favoured pool only to

“My two fly fish­ers would catch and re­lease more than 100 sil­ver salmon in just six days.”

find a fam­ily of bears in it. We would re­spec­tively wait our turn and when they moved away, up or down river, we started to cast. It would not take long be­fore Mike or David was into a strong, hard-fight­ing coho salmon. The salmon were hold­ing in the deeper pools while the char and rain­bows fre­quented the shal­lower rif­fles and glides. We were given clear in­struc­tions to re­main calm if and when a bear turned up on the bank in front or be­hind us and that, if we were play­ing a fish, to im­me­di­ately lower the rod in or­der that the salmon would not splash. Bears are highly tuned into smell and sound and the splash of a salmon is an im­me­di­ate at­trac­tion!

Close en­counter

On one oc­ca­sion a mother and cub ap­proached us just as David was re­leas­ing his salmon and Mike was play­ing one too. We fol­lowed Hi­ram’s in­struc­tions and, as the bears ap­proached to within 15 yards, Hi­ram walked to­wards them talking in a calm but firm voice. They ac­tu­ally obeyed his re­quest to turn round and walk away. It was most re­as­sur­ing to know that we all fol­lowed the same script and it was all recorded on film in glo­ri­ous 4K (the film clip will be re­leased on my YouTube Chan­nel in De­cem­ber).

Ex­cel­lent sport

While the fish­ing was tougher than the pre­vi­ous year, it was still ex­cel­lent by our stan­dards. Sure we had to work at it, get the cast right, change flies fre­quently, and move from pool to pool. But with ef­fort came the re­ward of su­perb, hard-fight­ing, fresh-run salmon, prop­erly hooked, and weigh­ing in the re­gion of 10 to 18lb. Some days my fish­ing pals would share a catch of three or four salmon and other days they would catch and re­lease many, many more (we sim­ply lost count).

Itin­er­ary

We had a six night camp stay with a night in Ko­diak City at the start and end of our trip. In ad­di­tion we also stayed overnight in Anchorage, which is a great gate­way to ex­plor­ing the in­cred­i­ble state of Alaska. Du­ra­tions can be flex­i­ble and itin­er­ar­ies be­spoke to clients’ re­quire­ments. I am head­ing back yet again next Au­gust with a small group of friends who have the same wish as David and Mike – to catch salmon and trout/char and to get up close and per­sonal with the amaz­ing wildlife of Ko­diak Is­land. The camp’s ca­pac­ity is only four to six clients, it is as ex­clu­sive as that. Ir­re­spec­tive of weather or wa­ter lev­els, I’ve never been dis­ap­pointed.

“With ef­fort came the re­ward of su­perb hard­fight­ing salmon, prop­erly hooked and weigh­ing in the re­gion of 10-18lb.”

on the menu! A Ko­diak coastal brown bear: We’re not

Mike plays a coho two miles from the sea on Sam’s Creek.

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