I’m slow to emerge from my cocoon. Especially after the previous day, portaging and paddling through a wind-driven rain, the warmth of my sleeping bag compels me to remain here and grab just a few more precious morsels of sleep. Yet I notice wisps of quiet sunshine marbling the walls of my tent, telling me I have my wish — a dawn in which the clouds have given way to the pale blue of a clear sky, curtains of fog waltzing over the mirror of a glorious tree-lined stage, complete and unbroken.
Once up, it is difficult to contain my excitement. Setting out in my canoe, I feel somewhat guilty at the intrusion of my paddle into the stillness, the prow of my boat splintering this vast unspoiled plain. Yet there is something almost sacred on a morning like this, a wealth of beauty and enchantment cast in each stroke as I paddle to the far end of the lake.
The calm tempts me to start with a dry fly and see if I might, despite the lingering chill and lack of flying insects, attract something to the surface. Not on this particular morning. After attempting to coax them with a variety of dries, I plunge subsurface with Old Faithful: the lake leech, in this case a small brown version. It’s difficult to be patient, to slow my retrieve — excruciatingly slow — barely a twitch of the fly here and there, just enough to keep its sculpted body of feathers undulating above the weeds.
It’s not long before a sudden tug snaps my line to attention and a beautiful rainbow trout bounds out of the water only a few feet in front of me. For the lakes it’s a nice one, nearly 20 inches, somersaulting haphazardly around the boat.
This is the scene each spring, a first venture out onto one of the many lakes that dot our countryside. While a large percentage of fishermen bemoan breakup, springtime in Alaska, when so many of the rivers close, for those of us who love lake fishing, it is hardly a reason for despair. For us it simply means the opening of a new chapter. We know that while fishing flowing water is special, there is also something to be said for Alaska’s still-water, something almost elemental, almost primal, in feeling the full impact of fish here. It is a unique experience that keeps us returning to this lakeside land of plenty each year.
Equipment and tactics
The best time to hit Alaska’s lakes is soon after ice-out, usually around mid-May. No matter the time of year, however, it is important when first approaching a lake to be a fish detective. Look for where your quarry rest, feed, and migrate. If a lake is new to you, cover as much area as possible. Try trolling in a boat or canoe, trailing a favorite spinner or weighted fly. Vary its action with a twitch of the rod tip or by letting out line while exploring the shoreline. Prospect around islands, shoals, and drop offs, places that provide both cover and a safe haven for fish. Also, always be on the lookout for large weed beds sprouting below the surface, and try wetting a line at any inlet or outlet, where the current often stirs up a smorgasbord of food items.
Whether staying on the road system or traveling far afield, another valuable piece of equipment is the float tube. Along with a canoe, or any watercraft, float tubes allow the angler the ability to escape the thick brush that often lines lakes. They allow fishers to reach productive water, the weed beds and shoals that are so often out of range for shore anglers.
Fishers heading to the lakes for grayling, trout, and Dolly Varden will most likely want to arm themselves with an ultra-light spinning outfit and any variety of small spinner or spoon (1/8 to 1/4 ounce) in a variety of colors. And those using spinning gear should not be bashful about trying a large weighted fly, such as an egg-sucking leech, over weed beds. The best method for this is to attach a float or bobber far enough above the fly so that it sits just above the weeds. In most cases all that is required to entice a nice trout is the slightest movement, a mere twitch of the rod tip.
Fly rodders in this situation will want a 3- or 4-weight rod with a floating line and about a ten foot leader. This allows you with the addition of a split-shot or “lead-head” to easily switch from dry fly fishing to wet. Because dry fly fishing is only occasionally an option, fly fishers may want to carry a sink-tip or full sinking line, which is fished with a shorter leader of approximately four feet. Keep a large sample of flies handy. Fish the surface with mayflies, midges and caddis, or dip below with your favorite streamer, Woolly Bugger, or leech.
With so many species and so many lakes, it’s not difficult to find a locale that will suit just about any angler. And if it’s a springtime experience you are longing for, and one beyond the maddening crowd, look no further than Alaska’s vast still-water wonderland.
A very fishy event
F3T, The Fly Fishing Film Tour, the very popular annual national film series, will be back on the Kenai Peninsula April 26, at the Kenai Convention and Visitor’s Center, with special guest, fly fishing funnyman Hank Patterson.
This popular series regularly makes its way around the country, featuring clips of the most exciting fishing footage filmed over the previous year. Once again this year’s event is a fundraiser for the newly formed Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Along with these exciting films there will be door prizes and a silent auction. There will also be beverages and food available.
Last year’s event was a huge success and sold out. Tickets for this year’s F3T are currently available from event organizer Mark Wackler of Fishology Alaska (394-8378) or they can be purchased online at https://www.ticketriver.com/event/8879
Dave Atcheson is the author of the guidebook “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” and “National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond.” His latest book, “Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas,” will be published later this year.