Finally… a day of fishing! Our first trip out was about 10 days later than normal this year. The water levels on the Talkeetna River stayed very low due to a cold spring, and when they did come up enough to get a jet boat upstream, it was a matter of juggling three different schedules on short notice to make a date for Friday, May 24th.
Tri-River Charters ran us and our pontoon boats up river on their 21’ Woolrich. Strap three 9’ boats to the back of a river boat, add the three of us, two additional anglers headed upstream, plus the captain, and you have a full boat. Good news is that we were able to get a “freight run” price which kept the trip really reasonable, dollar wise. We asked to be dropped off just upriver from Fish Creek; and geared up our boats against a steep bank.
10:00AM launch – 11:00AM fishing: not bad.
We were greeted by sheets of bank ice on much of the river. It looked more like early May as opposed to the third full week into the month. However, the day was absolutely gorgeous, with sun all day long and temperatures that had to be in the 70’s. It was a weird way to fish; being almost too hot in shirt sleeves, while casting our flies into water that was cold and off color from ice and run off. It didn’t take us long to realize that the main stem Talkeetna was turning darker as we watched. Visibility went from almost a foot in the morning at the launch site to about 6” in just a few hours. We decided to concentrate on the areas where clear water from Fish Creek and Clear Creek mixed with the Talkeetna.
I rigged two rods; a six weight/floating line to fish fry patterns, and my seven weight with a 200 sinktip for deep streamers. In the first hole I fished a Tubular Smolt on the sinktip. I was in the Talkeetna proper and I thought the brighter pattern might work better. I work out my winter casting bugs for about 30 minutes, with no luck. By then Dennis and Lance were ready, so we moved down to Fish Creek, which took all of about 6 minutes float time.
Dennis was first in at Fish Creek, so he started working the mix line. There was a short, but fairly deep run before it shallowed up to less than a foot of water. Lance headed up the creek to prospect a couple of bends.
While Dennis covered the run I tried to take photos of the deteriorating shelf ice. It was striating vertically, and when it broke off you got a pile of clear ice spears that reminded me of the crystal icicles you can get for a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, with a bright overhead sun, photographing them was a huge challenge. What I did capture does not do them justice, even with some help from Photoshop.
Fishless at the confluence, we moved downstream to the next run where clear water from Fish Creek was still influencing the Talkeetna along the bank. I headed upstream to fish several small pockets leading into the run with my fry pattern, while Lance and Dennis stayed at the main run, working through it several times. By the time I got back, I was fishless; but Dennis and Lance had seen a fish take something off the top towards the bottom of the run. They had drifted through that section again, with no luck. I switched to the 200 sinktip with a tube Franken Sculpin. Starting at the top of the run I made two casts/swings and then took two steps down the bank. Repeat, repeat, repeat… Towards the end of the run a solid tap put me to a healthy fish. A Dolly Varden I think, as it was bulldogging deep. It started down and out of the run, into some shallow but fast water. I eased up pressure to keep it from running and with a single roll to the top it threw the hook. Great; my first fish of the year is a LDR! Good thing Dennis was there; I had backup for my fish story.
Our next stop was the confluence at Clear Creek. The flooding last fall has changed this area again. Lance says that the old hole that was so good for Kings is forming again. Gone is the “rock garden” below the confluence that Dennis did so well in last year. The water now flows back to river right (facing downstream) after the confluence and runs along the bank in deeper runs. That spot is impractical to fish while wading, but a couple of boats were tied to the bank casting out into the river.
Dennis stayed at the confluence and fished the mix from the gravel bank, Lance headed up into Clear Creek, and I fished a flat section, below a line of rocks (the old rock garden I assumed) to just above where the runs started along the right bank. The water was mostly from the Talkeetna, so visibility was low. I stayed with the sinktip and Franken Sculpin. My fishing technique was about the same as before; cast, twitch retrieve on the swing, repeat two or three times; step down stream, covering the water, shotgun style, top to bottom. Finally, towards the bottom of the flat, a tap and I had a fish on. This one had nowhere to go except in the net. A nice 18” Dolly Varden, yea!
My DSLR was in my boat upstream, so out came the iPhone and with two quick snaps, I was able to release the fish with very little stress. I’m telling you, on the HDR setting, my phone took as good of a snapshot as I usually get with my full DSLR system. I think I’m going to get a waterproof case from Lifeproof® as I’d hate to ruin my phone over a fish, and it would be way easier than the ziplock bag I’m currently using. (Not cheaper, just more convenient.)
Covering the bottom end of the flat produced nothing but more casting practice. Dennis had been unsuccessful with several different patterns; and Lance was back, having caught a rainbow up Clear Creek. We decided to move downstream.
We floated pass the two guide boats tied up in the run directly below where we had been fishing, and tucked into a spot that had slower water but a lot of shelf ice. We had to pull our boats up about three feet above the river level onto the ice. There was no bank to speak of so we started fishing from the ice shelf; myself at the head, Dennis below the boats.
At some point, about five minutes into fishing, a large slab of ice directly in front of Dennis cracked off and fell, tilting into the water. Dennis was nimble and jumped back from the “ice slide” just in time to stay out of the water, but it spooked us all. After a short discussion we decided to head downstream to find spots with less ice.
We found one last spot, a long gravel bar, across from the Gauging Station, with a long stretch of slower water off the main current. Same story – different spot: a lot of casting from all three of us, with no results.
For the rest of the day we saw a lot of bank ice and no good spots to pull over and fish. By now the shelf ice was calving like a glacier and we were dodging small ice bergs in the river. But the float was pleasant, as the air was warm and we were able to enjoy the evening sun all the way to the pull out. Rhett and Margo from Tri-Rivers came over to visit with us while we were putting gear up. Seems we did better than most on the river, according to their reports. In the end; the day was beautiful, and since we didn’t have high expectations going into the trip, none of us were too disappointed with the fishing. It was a great day to be on the river, and a great start to our fishing season.