Leopard rainbows and what's what
Southwest Alaska Native trout
There are a lot of subspecies of trout in The United States of Amerrrrrca and we are so blessed to have some amazing public access out there! The Kanektok and Goodnews Rivers in Southwest Alaska's Togiak National Wildlife Refuge are both public streams that only require the logistics and outdoor prowess to access. For us as a commercial operator - as the Outfitter - we are privileged to be one of less than 10 outfitters in the entire wilderness system who possess a permit to operate on these cherished waters.
Within this refuge exists some of the largest spawning grounds for Sockeye Salmon known to humans - and this habitat is able to sustain an INCREDIBLE population of rainbow trout. More specifically a variant of Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) known as a Leopard Rainbow Trout. These Rainbows would most closely be related to the most specifically pure genetic strain of trout from the original landmass that would have been Russia and Alaska. Nothing to do with any of the lower 48 rainbows...
Obviously the "leopard" is referring to the spots. The pictures do none of these prizes justice; not only for the colors but for those spots.....they're everywhere! They're in their mouths, deep in their throats, all over the gills and inside the gill rakers - saturated in their branchiostegal rays (more on that), across their eyes and all the way to the tips of their tails. They truly are a specific variant that is easily identifiable in person especially.
Leopard Rainbows are also identified by some of their other physical traits - if you notice in the above two shots specifically there are quite large "jowls" much like the ones reserved for Foghorn Leghorn or lifetime politicians. This jaw pocket is usually seen on larger browns in our tailwater systems here in the Southeastern United States - but these rainbows in Alaska definitely develop quite the mouthful!
This pocket and obvious physical difference with "normal" rainbows is probably due to their protein intake. These leopards are just like their Serengeti counterparts - they ain't eating flies to get that big - they're eating MEAT! These residents of the woods spend their Spring migrating amongst the ice breaks to find their spawning partners along with feeding voraciously on the forage within. Juvenile rainbows, various smolt from all the migratory species, multiple species of sculpin, and 7 species of rodents make up their "early season" diet before the salmon start to show up in big numbers. All of these menu items require a predatory behavior and tools - hence the bigger stature and jaws.
Combine this diet with an incredibly short growing period (less than 5 months) and you get a trout that is genetically designed to grow grow grow! Once the salmon start to move in the leopard's diet starts to transition to another source of protein in the salmon eggs. Once the salmon are done spawning and they are dying in the river system at an incredible rate the leopards then transition to ANOTHER source of protein in the rotten flesh of the dying salmon. It may sound strange but it is a sight to behold! 10,000 trout a mile for 100 miles feeding on all that forage and eggs plus the very visual aspect of mouse and flesh fishing is magnificent. It truly is a fly anglers paradise!
The State of Alaska tagged over 200 leopard rainbows within the Kanektok River system and radio-surveyed them up until as recently as 2009. The initial data suggests that these trout are not only "resident" / they barely go in to the ocean and when they do they were studied to go to the very next watershed in The Arolik (and in most cases actually returned to the Kanektok) so scientifically they would not be considered a "sea run" species. The scientist team really wanted to see what the migratory habits of the trout were and they essentially uncovered the fact that there are SO MANY rainbows that they have subdivided the varaint species. This results in not only a Leopard Rainbow - but an "Upper River Kanektok Leopard Rainbow Trout" and a "Lower River Kanektok Leopard Rainbow Trout." The trout after ice out essentially find their Summer stomping grounds / some go up some go down and some stay in the middle. The most dense portion of the population being in the "middle" (20 miles from the lake to 20 miles to the Ocean).
In our experience it seems that the bigger older more colored up trout end up eventually checking the lake out they go so high up the system. Combine that with the mega population in the middle to lower river and the opportunities we have in The Refuge that other outfitters do not have is incredible. All of the pictures in this blog post were taken INSIDE the refuge.
We consider ourselves to be Rainbow Hunters - a skill and trade that was passed down to us from previous outfitters and guides who became as addicted as we are to the passionate pursuit of these leopards!
We have some open slots on the Goodnews River in 2022. We are currently booked on the Kanektok River until 2023. The time to book your dream leopard rainbow trout trip is NOW! We can lock you in on 2021 rates that will not change... These 2023 dates will be filled by the end of this Summer. With over 85% return rate our guests who get to experience it this year will most likely fill those slots -
Our team of seasoned guides can show anyone at any skill level this majestic place and we look forward to sharing it with you!
Give us a call at (828) 386-6216
Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or swing by our shop in Downtown Boone at Boone's Fly Shop
Why book a float trip roughing it for a week when you can book a lodge?
There are a variety of trips to choose from in Alaska - with a variety of experiences to be had! From halibut fishing offshore, backtrolling for Kings, casting dries to hungry Grayling, or floating for giant rainbows - Alaska really offers an incredible array of fishing expeditions. When choosing the right trip for you and potential participants it is important to understand Alaska is an incredibly dynamic state and not all of the biomes, scenery, landscapes or watersheds are the same. The Kanektok boasts all 5 species of Pacific Salmon. That is not the case for all rivers in Alaska. Of these 5 species The Kanektok harbors one of the largest Sockeye Salmon breeding grounds on the planet. 2 runs of Dolly Varden and resident leopard rainbow trout round out what makes The Kanektok "The Chosen" River.
So, obviously the Kanektok is a very special place with a unique ecosystem and an exclusive opportunity to catch a variety of species on fly rod.
But Why Float?
There are a few jet boat operations in the lower river - outside of the boundaries of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. A couple of these jet boat operations have permits to be inside of the refuge as well, so there are absolutely "lodges" on the Kanektok. Go ahead - check them out. Weatherports and generators and jet boats - a quick charter wheel plane can get you to the village quite easily. From the lower river outside of the refuge if you left from the village of Quinhagak your average jet boat ride just to get to the boundary is 14 miles / now imagine burning more fuel and driving further spending more time in the jet boat just to reach the destination. Each night spent at the same location - fishing the same water.
Now imagine flying in a classic Alaska float plane to the headwaters of the entire system and approaching the river from a "downstream" perspective. It only gets better as each day progresses!
We carry top of the line equipment for floating, fishing, camping, and overall outfitting. Our tents have been upgraded constantly - with new guest tents in 2020 and a new cooker tent in 2019. We eat inside of our state of the art cooker tent at a real table with real diningware. A hearty menu cooked by the guides along with amazing dutch oven desserts. A shower tent, a bathroom tent, as well as heaters and on demand hot water. Sure - we don't have motors and generators but we really aren't that far removed from a "lodge camp."
OK - so the accommodations are pretty comparable. But still the question remains....
We operate on a permit only basis mandated by the Department of The Interior. This permit is awarded to less than 10 outfitters every 10 years. We have been fortunate to have held a permit on this river since the inception of permits in 1984. There are no other outfitters - no planes to fly on top of us - no jet boats in our holes - no drop offs - no other floaters period. It is a permit system that keeps the outfitters away from each other by law. Part of our permit requires that we have NO MOTORS in our possession or use. Since there are no humans and no motors our wilderness experience is unparalleled. Each day we begin by packing down camp and striking a course for our next camp - guests can hike and fish as much as they want. There is no time wasted transporting to and from fishing grounds in the jet boat - we are in the fishing grounds every day 24 hours a day!
So, no motors and no humans makes for a great experience but what else is up there - inside of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge - that the lodges and jet boats can't experience?
No one gets to see the lake / the "source" of the greatest salmon and freshwater fishery on the planet. Only folks who float from the top get to experience this grand place. When floating from the lake our wildlife encounters are endless / and the beds of spawning salmon immediately begins. Some of the biggest Leopard Rainbows in the entire system migrate up towards the lake.
Water and fish that receive ZERO pressure. No jet boats. No Planes. No drop off wade fishermen. Just your party floating through a majestic wilderness all to yourselves catching and releasing fish on fly rod!
Within Togiak National Wildlife Refuge on the Kanektok there is a tributary to the river itself that is home to one of the largest runs of Dolly Varden in the world. Big Western Dolly Varden - TWO RUNS of them - in the home of the largest run on the planet...... Its insane how many dolly varden are in the upper reaches that none of the lodges in the lower river get to see.
More Dolly Varden fishing in August and September than can be written about
We have an incredibly special trip - that honestly is for a certain type of outdoorsperson. If you're looking for a wilderness trip to Alaska there are a variety of options and we consider ours to be in the highest echelon of experiences. We offer the finest quality gear along with an incredibly exclusive trip that really can not be replicated. To float The Chosen is truly a life altering experience.
Click on the button to check out some guest reviews. They speak the truth.
We have availability on the goodnews river floats in 2021 and 2022. We have availability on the kanektok river floats in 2023.
If you are looking to plan your Alaska Float - now is the time. We have limited availability already in 2023 and would love to put together a trip for you!
You can email us at email@example.com
Call us at 828-386-6216
Or swing by our shop in Downtown Boone!
2020. What a whirlwind year for everyone. The plan for the blog was to update each trip from last season and paint the picture of what a full season in Alaska looks like. Now we are facing the reality that our Float Trips will not operate on the Kanektok River and our entire season has been rescheduled to 2021. Every trip stayed engaged and thankfully we are fully booked for our Kanektok Trips for next year. This means we can focus on booking our NEW OFFERING for 2021 - The Goodnews River!
Togiak National Wildlife Refuge awarded us with a permit to float this majestic river starting in 2021 - and we are so excited to bring our custom camp to this float! Our trip dates are June 19-25, June 27-July 3, July 5-12, August 25-31, Sept 10-16
We have also been awarded by Pisgah National Forest to have a Special Use Permit to run overnight trout fishing trips!
We have scouted out and pioneered a great program:
Pack your gear and plan for an overnight stay. Hand the gear over to the guides and we will pack it in to camp for you! Hike and fish your way from morning through lunch all the way to our custom camp that has been set up for your enjoyment - all you have to do is show up and fish! This trip is set up for 4 anglers and two guides / you will literally just fish your way up the stream on a guided full day wade to our camp. We will have a full course meal and dessert that night, along with streamside accomodations, and a shorter less than 30 minute hike out to the vehicles the next morning! We are offering this trip as soon as possible with an emphasis on late Summer into Fall. If this sounds like a trip for you please reach out to us and we can start setting up a date.
We have been working hard to update the new shop and bring the best gear and fun times to downtown Boone! Lots of new shipments have been coming in as much as can be filled. Our industry was hit hard with supply chain problems and we are filling the shelves as much as possible folks. YES we do have flouro tippet in stock including 5 and 6x. YES we do have rods and combos in stock as well as AIRLOCK indicators. We have bulked up the wader and boot supply for the guide service as well.
The new Smith sunglasses display is rad
We love our new spot and invite everyone to please come and see us! Our inventory is constantly growing and we are still finding new ways to fill up this historic space. Our fly tying inventory is literally still being put on the walls and we hope to have a space for tying back up and running soon. Please stay tuned for updates on MAYBE a tying night.... also stay tuned for the resurrection of hot flies and cold beers...
Davo has been offered to become a part of the RO Drift Boat pro staff and we will be welcoming a new boat to the fleet next month!!!
We will be here swinging for the fences every day - if you would like to book a trip or just figure out your local stubborn trout give us a shout!
The UNREAL weather continues!!! After having an incredible week prior to this trip - the guides were fired up for some more trophy rainbow fishing and stronger returns on the Dolly Varden and Coho runs. An extra special caveat for this trip was A) Return guests who we had a blast with a couple years prior and B) A friend of Davo's from his Montana days - Joe Moore - Owner of Big Sky Anglers in West Yellowstone, MT / outfitter, guide, general badass - joined us as well!
The guests arrived as early as possible via their amazing Beaver flight with Papa Bear Adventures out of Bethel. Since we got them on time we were able to disembark quickly and get the float under way DAY ONE!
Our lunches are a smorgasbord style deli lunch every day with a rotating protein. There isn't a condiment we don't carry - mayo, mustard, hot mustard, horseradish, pickles, pepperoncinis, tomatoes, onions, jellies, jams, lots of snack items - you get the picture! All of our lunch sites are predetermined to get out of the elements and typically have some great fishing!
We have a sweet view from a bluff from our first camp site in the Upper River. The range of mountains visible are the Ahklun Mountains - the Eek Range.
Early enough still in the season, we really didn't have to worry too much about low water conditions yet. With that being said the endless days of UNREAL summer weather continued in to this magical date as well. At this point the Dolly Varden have started to come in real numbers in to the system and the full blossom of the bio-mass of Southwest Alaska has started to show. All 5 species of Pacific Salmon are in the system at this point, along with resident Arctic Grayling, resident Lake Trout, resident Arctic Char, resident Leopard Rainbow Trout, along with the dollies has created what we call the "Grand Slam" date.
2019 was a pink salmon year for Southwest Alaska, but honestly it was not the GIANT braid plugging runs like we have seen in the past. We feel the lack of strength in the run was because arguably the Kanektok experienced one of the biggest King Salmon runs in recent memory. Technically the river was still shut down for King fishing by the time we got there to guide in July - but a later run snuck in to the system and FILLED the beds with King eggs.
The Sockeye run wasn't quite the "Tail to Mouth" run like we saw in 2018 - but it was very strong run indeed. Southwest Alaska has the largest run of Sockeye salmon in the world, and the Kanektok harbors one of the largest spawning grounds in the region.
The rainbow fishing was exquisite!
The first few days of rainbow fishing was unreal on forage and mouse patterns. There are older and hidden braids in the upper river that have resident rainbows in them who have migrated up from the lower river. This is a special and magical place only accessed by the put in at Kagati Lake and floated to from there.
Our average trout is around 20" - and the above specimen is about what we expect as an average size visually. They all have different characteristics and some of the "smaller" 17-19" rainbows can kick ass much more so than the bigger ones - and we consider any trout over 22" to be in the BIG range. Multiple fish over 20" were landed on this particular date, and it was perhaps our best rainbow date of the 2019 season.
With the incredible weather and voracious rainbow trout all week - why fish for anything else?!
We discovered a new camp in 2018 in a braid in mid river and have since started to fall in love with said campsite. We had an amazing Moose sighting upon first strike of the location and it is a mossy spot so its called "Moose Moss." And it is a very special and magnificent camp for wade fishing.
With only 5 permitted float fishing outfits and 6 person capacity trips - these float trips are as exclusive and private as one could imagine. We have a 100 mile river inside of a 6 million acre wilderness refuge (that is 10 times the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) that only has a total of 15 float fishing guides - TOTAL. Imagine the incredible fishing right at your fingertips as you float through a Permit Only Exclusive Float Trip in Southwest Alaska. We have availability for this date in 2021.
(Best for Last)
Capt Chris guided Joe on to this BRUISER of a leopard rainbow. Naturally it was on a mouse - and luckily for everyone we ALL got to see it first hand. The take, the fight (which was epic - nice job JOE!), and the landing. All at our lunch sight for the day as we came in to dine!
2019 In Review
We experienced a lot of new things in 2019. David had a new addition to the family, we hired some new guides, changed locations, created a new partnership and forged new bonds. David became a member of the Scott Rods Professional Team in October and was voted "Best of The Blue Ridge". Alyssa graduated from Appalachian State University, and we couldn't be prouder. Lots to go over - Let's break it down!
Spring started off with a bang , lots of great fishing and trips were as good as ever!
New team member Nate with a local brown trout
Davo with Hardiman - aka Meatball
A logo we worked on with the old shop - before we moved and were thinking about using it. What do y'all think?
David was honored with being voted in as "Best of the Blue Ridge" for Fly Fishing Guide
Scott Fly Rods welcomed David on board their Professional Team. These rods are all handcrafted in Colorado and are the highest quality available.
We miss the old shop and its tininess, but are really digging the new space!
Its a really terrible picture but the new spot is so amazing! It was the old Farmers Hardware building, built in 1914! The doors are over 250 years old, theres floating beams and crazy amounts of soul and history inside this place. We couldn't be happier to be a part of it!
Alaska was amazing. 2019 will forever be remembered for the remarkable weather and giant King Salmon run. Best weather ever, but with the lowest water we had ever seen as well. Made for fantastic rainbow fishing!
Sight fished less than 100 yards from the put in, about an hour in to the 7 day trip
We were honored to have our very own outfitter - Mike Trotter - come and float with us as a guest!
The rainbow fishing was non-stop for all 7 trips
We got a brand new custom made Western Shelter Systems Cooker/Diner Tent
We got a brand new custom made 1992 Ford F250 "Big Country" Edition
(wheels are a big deal in the bush)
Thrashed some Lake Trout for the first time ever
We were honored with having the Head of the New Zealand Guide Association, Kevin Payne - as a guest
(the dolly varden run was incredible too!)
This Arctic Char was definitely the biggest Char we have ever seen. Estimated at 22 pounds
Returned home to Western North Carolina to a beautiful Fall and some fantastic fishing!
Checked out some new species to target in the Winter
Our beloved Mountaineer Football Program reached new heights - taking down UNC Chapel Hill and USC Gamecocks as well as their 4th consecutive SunBelt Championship and 5th straight Bowl Victory!
We are excited to host the 2nd Annual High Country Fly Fishing Festival in June! We will have more details to come
Overall once again it was a big growth year for us at High Country Guide Service. There are quite a few things on the horizon and were looking forward to growing some more with our community. We have some events planned, monthly tying nights, clinics to offer, lots of expansions planned to the shop, some Travel Lounge and hosted travel opportunities.....Its looking like a fun and new year!
First Weekend in February - "Closed" Spawning Sections on South Holston Open Back Up
First Week of March - Delayed Harvest Stocking begins for 2020
First Weekend in March until first weekend in April - Hatchery Supported Streams CLOSED
First Week of April - Delayed Harvest Stocking / Hatchery Supported Streams Open
June 20 - High Country Fly Fishing Festival
July 14 - First Week on Kanektok River Float Trips
Our first trip of the season kicked off in style with a return guest that I have had the honor of fishing with for the last 11 seasons. Linda has always been a welcome addition and this year I had the pleasure of hosting a group of her friends and peers! This is a date that is very special to the guides as it gives us a chance to see the river "before the spawn." Before the massive push of Dollies in particular, but also before the sockeyes and chums start to really lay their beds and there are still chrome bright Kings in the system! Since the biomass is still kind of taking shape we get to focus on these salmon species which we typically don't do - and it makes for some great chances for exploration as it is our first descent!
As usual we floated day one - only spending an hour or so at the lake/put-in to gather our gear and rig up some rods. The river appeared to be very low and we definitely did some dragging coming out of the gate. Two of our guests were return clients, with 4 others who had never experienced "The Chosen" before!
After our first nights camp it became clear that the weather was going to be phenomenal. The warm days and pretty much nonexistent night time temperature swings resulted in a consistently warming trend for the water temperatures. Anyone who has fished in SW Alaska knows that if the water temps start to rise just enough the resident Rainbow Trout start to get pretty happy!
The best part about these rainbows becoming so happy is that they really dont have much to feed on yet, since the biomass is still arriving! This means the residents are looking for other baitfish/sculpins and MICE! Some of our best mouse fishing for rainbows is this time of year and the action can be non stop. With 7 different species of rodents in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, this can be a legit "hatch"
With the water being so low, the path down to the ocean was not a mystery. In low water years the notorious braids and channels kind of become a novelty - because the main river is where all the life and fishing is. This early season fishing is primarily based on the rainbow habitat. Instead of fishing wide open beds and gravel drop offs - we're focusing on the wood and brush piles...
The weather continued to bless us with extraordinary mornings and evenings with great dining and fantastic camaraderie.
As we got in to the lower river we found more and more salmon - and even bumped in to a few worthy Kings!
This trip really was a trip of a lifetime for both the guests and the guides. It was a treat to share with such great people - and to reconnect with some longtime guests! They rebooked for next year so if anyone is interested in this date - it is available in 2021.
We have availability on August 17-23 with two spots open. And our August 25-31 trip also has availability with 6 spots open as of 11/15. Our August dates are typically not available and will be taken by the years end. Don't delay - book today - as these are our only spots left.
Swing by our Fly and Bottle Shop in downtown Boone NC to discuss some future possibilities or to book a trip on our awesome resources here in the High Country! We have trips going out daily to our Tailwater fisheries in Tennessee on the Watauga and South Holston - along with lots of local wade opportunities while the weather is still placid.
So ALOT has been going on over at High Country Guide Service since the return from Alaska. (We will be updating some Alaska trips and notes from the 2019 season as the Winter goes on). Our fishing season has really picked up here in the High Country and the leaves are in FULL PEAK right now. Might have missed it.
Our local streams received a much anticipated stocking and as of right now its raining, with more rain in the forecast. Next week the state will stock more fish - and this November looks to be shaping up in a big way!
The wild streams around Boone have been showing their true colors with the transition of the seasons, and the browns and brooks are starting to put on their Winter weight.
The tailwaters of East Tennessee - the Watauga and South Holston - have indeed kept enough stream flows for the trout to sustain and thrive this Summer. As we slip in to the Fall months the resident browns are starting to make the move for the pre-spawn. The fishing is really starting to heat up over there as the nights start to cool down! We are floating practically 7 days a week right now and would love to get you out on the stream!
We have moved locations!
We are now in the old Farmers Hardware building - inside of Highland Outfitters Fly Shop.
140 S Depot St. #1
Boone, NC 28607
Please come and visit us as we move in and occupy a really rad building. This thing was built in the 1920's and full of character and history. It is much bigger than our previous space, has much more exposure being in the "outdoor corner" of Downtown Boone, HAS PARKING, and is a collaboration with a budding business partner. We couldn't be more excited and honored to be a part of it!
David has been given Pro Status with Scott Fly Rods out of Colorado. This company is the real thing - still making from scratch Fly Rods in America one at a time BY HAND. Honored and beyond stoked to be a part of such a quality group.
We've got lots going on up here as we move in to the new space - and lots of new events to host! Stay tuned as we update fishing reports, happenings, and meetings - see yall soon!!!
We all made it out to the tailwater for a training and fishing mission this month and it was an incredible experience to say the least. We floated a giant stretch of the Watauga River in Elizabethton, TN - fishing streamers for native browns mostly. My boat didn't have a floating line on it! We were throwing various sink tips, I really like this Rio Streamer InTouch that has a pretty aggressive but short tip. We were using various patterns and colors - mostly olive or brown - some lead eyed articulated stuff, but also some craft fur heads with glued on eyes. The back of the boat was on fire for the most part, and at the end of the day I was astonished to report 6 fish over 18" and two taped at 20"!
It was a fantastic day for training as the river was running over 2000 cfs and lots of water profiles and characteristics to read all day long. We worked on ferry angles, drift boat speed for various uses, netting fish, anchor drops and just general behaviors and techniques that HCGS guides need to exhibit. We feel it is paramount for all guides to be on the same page for professional quality and overall expectations. It was a long day by the clock, but worth the rewards! We packed our standard Melanie's Food Fantasy lunch and some beers from the shop - and shared these with our favorite; the Watauga Riverkeeper.
It seemed like the colder and junkier it got weather wise the better the bite was. The native predators were definitely on the hunt, the barometric pressure varied through the day but it was triggering an amazing streamer bite.
These were all from one day of fishing, and there are other photos floating around that I haven't been able to get posted just yet. We had multiple follows on the same strip sometimes, and lots of bumps all day!
We have been receiving new shipments weekly of new gear and new beer! We have a lot of resins and epoxies for streamer heads and nymphs backs from both Loon Outdoors and Gulff Fly Fishing. Just got in a huge order of ducktails in a lot of different colors, along with some new Kona streamer hooks. These things look like the real deal - a little bit better of a price point than most but look and feel to be very stout. Lots of new tools for the tying table, and some awesome Hareline Mega Pads and Bead Pads. These things are great for containing the mess, and are a great addition to anyone's table.
We're hosting a Tying Night with the Appalachian State University Fly Fishing Club next Wednesday night - February 20 at 6PM! We've been building up the materials just for this event and we really hope to engage the community in a way that hasn't been done in Boone before. Our neighbors across the street, The Turchin Center for The Visual Arts - has been gracious enough to allow us to use their space for the night! The Turchin has always acted as a common ground linking the campus and the downtown scene, and we feel like an event like this is perfect for their goal. We will be offering two levels of tying instruction; an introductory level for folks who have never done it or still aren't comfortable using the tools, and an advanced level for anglers looking to further their skill and knowledge. The intro class will be tying a couple of bead head flies, while the advanced class will be tackling articulated streamers! We will have lots of sales on materials and tools, but will provide some stuff for the FREE class itself. We will also have lots of beer specials and some pretty awesome news to reveal too!
There are lots of other happenings in the next couple weeks as well! Trout Unlimited High Country Chapter is having another meeting this Tuesday night at Valle Crucis Park at 6PM. They're doing a Fly Swap where you can swap out flies and share stories about said flies. We plan on bringing some stand-bys but mostly plan on bringing FREE BEER for the masses. The TU Chapter is providing Pizza, but we figured we might as well chip in and encourage more participants with some free alcohol.
Friday March 1 the state of NC will start stocking our Delayed Harvest streams in Watauga County and surrounding areas. Make sure to get out there and enjoy this awesome resource, and kick off the "Spring" fishing.
Friday March 1 we will also be hosting yet another Art Crawl First Friday at our shop in downtown Boone. Im thinking the theme of a "Fly Fest" - just kinda celebrating the fact that our streams are getting stocked and our season is kinda getting going. Also maybe trying to come up with some whacky 90's themed "Fly Fest" idea. We'll see. Lots of beer specials as always on First Fridays!
2018 - A Watermark Year
2018 was most certainly the year of precipitation. With the High Country reporting the wettest year on record and a sharp curve on the obvious climate change occurring in Alaska high country guide service tested all of our rain gear and techniques.
2018 was a giant growing year for the business and we brought on Skye as the head guide. Skye grew up in Watauga and his streamer prowess is highly desirable for all guests! Just before our Alaska season he boated quite possibly the biggest brown trout in company history. I know it is a special fish in his world and I am happy that he was able to get it himself!
For the most part of was a high water spring, allowing us to explore and kinda float wherever we wanted!
My wife changed careers and is now part of the only real estate team in Downtown Boone - 828 Real Estate
So proud of her and motivated by her all the time.
After a fun filled and productive spring guiding season it was time to travel to the last frontier and experience the most special place on the planet to me. The Kanektok!
this was my second season as the head Guide for the Kanektok float trips through Beyond Boundaries Expeditions. We had six amazing trips down the river and each one was filled with different challenges. It seems like every week it rained and no question each guest had to deal with the wind in their own way. 70+ mile an hour sustained winds during one week tested all of the camping equipment and the mettle of everyone. I tried to be as proactive as possible and bring lots of tarps and even an extra tent just to provide some relief from the rain.
Technically we never got swamped that week - but plenty of others out there did!
something that I had never experienced in the 14 years that I’ve been out there was the river changing weekly. A typical summer revolves around a dropping water column through the entire season. This summer it seemed like the river just continued to rise the entire season. I’m pretty sure each week we took a different route because the braids would change so much. Found some new and interesting braids and also lost some old standbys.
The type III typhoon that made landfall on us will always send me into a semi PTSD state when I look at the big huge weather systems above my head. We had a brand new cook tent this year and I can’t speak highly enough of western shelter systems and the safety that they provided.
overall it was an incredible season for the salmon especially....it wasn’t quite the banner rainbow year that I personally look for year in and year out. High water levels don’t always create the best trout fishing but nonetheless some of the mouse fishing on certain days was incredible and needless to say the Coho fishing was as epic as I’ve ever seen it. The Kanektok is an outfitters dream because she will always give you something to redeem the trip with!
The end of the Kanektok season Brought me back home in time to see some great football games and still some pretty hot tail water fishing on both the Watauga and the South Holston. The “guide bite” was still on and I was fortunate enough to have plenty of trips to keep me busy.
After proudly rowing my handmade boat for 10 years I finally decided it was time to upgrade and add another boat to the fleet!
.My RO Tailwater Skiff is the ultimate vehicle for plying the waters of the South Holston and Watauga Tailwater Rivers. It is beyond stable and lots of room for any angler. I am proud to be a part of the RO team and have enjoyed every minute in this boat!
it is a welcome addition and will allow for us to accommodate even more guests!
as my fall season was in full swing I decided to throw my hat into the retail ring and open up a brick and mortar fly shop in downtown Boone right on King Street! I have lived here for 18 years and was basically waiting for someone to open one so instead of watching the world go by I figured it was time to put up or shut up.
Boone is changing and growing so fast - I wanted to be a part of something that I feel like I’ve always been on the outside looking in. As a downtown business we want to reach in to the market and spread the scene of catch and release fly fishing.
I opened November 2 and it has been a whirlwind ever since. I was fortunate enough to already have my head guide Skye - Who always has my back and is the definition of what a high country guide should strive for - but I was luckily able to bring Alyssa on board. She has been a huge help with her prior experience and a welcome addition to the team!
Our crew is growing and a home base has been established. There will now be a full time HCGS presence even in the Summer while I’m gone to Alaska.
when we first opened it was quite busy with guiding and some retail sales and after a short while I was able to attain my ABC permit to sell beer in the shop. This has been an idea of mine for over 20 years and it is humbling to see it come to reality. Hot Flies Cold Beer just sounds right doesn’t it?
Our location is across the street from App State campus, and literally mixed in to student apartments - we wanted a platform to bring in the students and open our doors to the downtown scene and literally to everyone!
Then the big snowstorm came in really kicked off our winter season here in the high country. My family and I enjoyed lots of snowy days and then my beloved Appalachian State football team decided to bless us all with a conference championship right here in Boone!
High country guide service is proud to call Boone home and honestly I don’t think there’s another place like this in the country. I just celebrated my 36th birthday and was fortunate enough to guide on the last day of the calendar year 2018. Looking forward to a productive and fish filled 2019! Stop by our downtown Boone shop for all your flies, fly tying materials, and beer!
Please feel free to contact us and let us know if there’s something you want in the shop. Or just to say hey!
We had our first taste of Winter before the season is truly upon us!
At the house we picked up a super dry and fluffy 17”!
All the snow has got the shop in full on tying and regrouping for the Spring mode. While the Tailwater rivers of the South Holston and Watauga stay consistent with the full on spawn/post-spawn bite our trips over to TN for guests has started to slow. The skiing and riding on the slopes right now is prime time so I can’t say I blame any visitors of the High Country for taking advantage!
With this hunker down mindset comes the avenue of new ideas at the vise....or just restocking the essentials....
We’re stocking and restocking the tying essentials in the shop in anticipation of the Winter tying sessions/the oncoming Spring Guide season/and hopefully soon announcing some community open tie Tying nights! Stay tuned...
As promised we are expanding the beer selection. Just brought on New Belgium, Foothills Brewing, Lost Province (literally down the street), Greenman, Highlands, and Rogue from out West!
As always this is all from everyone’s input:
If there’s something you want me to carry just let me know and it’ll be here!
Stay tuned on Facebook and Instagram especially on our stories - typically general shenanigans with huge beer sales!
Til next time Goodnight Grandfather!
Come see us downtown Boone -
We are #boonesflyshop right across from App State campus
Thanksgiving Weekend Did Not Dissapoint!
Friends and Family for Thanksgiving festivities followed by some unreal fishing, some awesome beer deals in the shop, and a Conference Championship coming to Boone! What’s Better?!
we had some great holiday deals in combo with free beer (if you missed it, it was truly special) we just got our first fly tying inventory in and already selling lots of ammunition for the tying heads out there!
The fishing on the Watauga and south Holston tailwater rivers was truly incredible. I had five lady anglers Inn for days and everyone got to pull on fish over 20 inches! The resident brown trout are on their beds and the biomass that his following them around his astonishing. Our blue ribbon trout streams really are showing their true colors right now.
some of our floats are very uncrowded this time of year full of native fish. We have float trips going out daily and super happy customers living their trout fishing dreams. It is a special time in the Highcountry indeed.
all of these photos were from this weekend!
The Fly Shop that sells beer
Yeah that’s us!!!
I have had this dream since I was in college. Last week it became a reality. I always wanted a one stop shop - where you could gear up for fishing and beer up for the reflection afterwards!
Booneshine Brewing is a perfect fit for our local focused and community minded shop. We offer their IPA, their Tropic Pale, and their heady Coffee Porter. We plan on expanding their selection as we make more room!
We also offer all the yummy Sweetwater tallboys including their 420 Ale, TropicPaleAle, and the good ole yellow can IPA. Lagunitas IPA, and Sierra Nevada TORPEDO and their Pale Ale rounds out my craft beer selection for now.
Cheaper domestics like PBR , Hamm’s, Coors Original, and some Modelos for the cost efficient crowd.
Being Downtown Boone’s only Fly Shop we felt this was a perfect fit. We have always felt fly shops should embrace the community around them, making the space more for collaboration than secrets.
Less Egos, More Amigos
More about common ground rather than a culture of shit talking. We are the Fly Shop for everyone.
Fly & Bottle Shop
On November 2 2018 I was finally able to open a physical location for the Guide Service and open some doors for walk-in business! I had always envisioned opening in Downtown Boone and was able to find a perfect place for all Anglers right on King St. It is an intentionally small spot offering guide approved flies from Solitude Flies, Umpqua Feather Merchants, and Montana Fly Co. We also have a healthy selection of house tied flies.
We also have streamside accessories including tippet, split shot, leaders, and indicators. Super cost friendly Knockaround polarized sunglasses in a variety of styles and logo apparel. We also offer an awesome line up of gear from Strip N Fly Wear our of Montana!
As always we will be offering the finest guided trips in The High Country, with a central location in Downtown Boone! Daily trips to the Tailwater Rivers of the South Holston and Watauga, as well as locally on the Watauga, Elk, Helton, and Big Horse Creek.
So it finally happened, a real cold snap hit our region and putting in the boat yesterday morning was a chore with 20 degree temps!
I floated the Watauga Tailwater starting at 7:30 and took out around 4. A pretty typical timeline for me with a full service Shop and full time parent!
One thing I noticed during the bite was the cold temps had resulted in what guides refer to as a “short strike”
We fish Long leaders under indicators for the nymph bite that occurs daily, and these indicators “indicate” when the fish is biting. (They also indicate when your drift is failing but that’s for another blog) Sometimes that bite is aggressive and very obvious, other times as it is quite frequently on our tailwaters, the bite can be elusive.
The indicator will barely slow down, hesitate, bobble, hover, etc. The Guide is insisting that it is a bite - but a lot of times the Anglers are not so convinced!
In times like these it is best to default to the guide and just set the damn thing!
What we noticed in the cold was a very tiny window to capitalize on the hook set.
EVERY bite was minuscule and remote and we had to set it super fast and super hard! Make sure to reach up there and get another Strip on that retrieve with that long of a leader!!
When Fishing the tailwaters of East Tennessee - the Watauga and South Holston in particular- it is imperative to give every hookset your best shot. Those Long leaders are tougher to get the hook jammed in and it takes confidence to rip that hook set efficiently. Our guides are highly trained in the clandestine ways of the trout, if your wanting to hone your skills give us a call!
Offering Trips year round!
Boone has never had a fly shop downtown until 2018. I moved to the High Country in 2001 and every year for the last 17 I have just figured that someone would open a Fly Shop.
Right across the street from Appalachian State University campus, 444 W King St - next to my awesome neighbor Hollow Moon Tattoos - we are a Fly Shop that welcomes everyone.
We are fly focused; proud to carry Solitude Flies, Umpqua Flies and Montana Fly Company creations. Streamers, nymphs, girdle bugs, dries - you name it we’ve got it!
Along with our full lineup of guide approved flies you can also find tippet, leaders, split shot, indicators, and lots of fly boxes.
We carry Strip N Fly Wear our of Montana, and are stoked to be the only distributor in NC!
Downtown Boone is our home, and we love being able to call the High Country our own. Sharing this special resource the right way is our goal. Being the only Guide Service located right in town, we look forward to serving the guests and patrons of our awesome community!
Whether you’re needing some flies for the Delayed Harvest section of the Watauga or the tricky Tailwater of the South Holston River - we’ve got you covered!
Polarized sunglasses and lots of logo apparel for the traveling angler.
Guided Fishing trips daily/year round on our Tailwater fisheries.
Give us a call or stop by our shop!
The watersheds in the Boone area are all experiencing the Fall transition right now. The days are getting shorter and the native trout are starting to stock up on protein for the Winter. Also, the Delayed Harvest sections of the Watauga river in Valle Crucis and 321 area as well as Coffey Lake in Watauga County all received a fresh stocking from the state last week.
While this section of the Watauga is most known for lots of pressure, going on a guided trip during the week has its advantages! Our guides know how to employ Tailwater tactics (the same magic we use on the Watauga and South Holston Tailwater Rivers) and get these pressured fish to play!
Using Caddis emergers this time of year along with some high Country midges can produce all day!
Give us a call or stop by the shop to book your next fly fishing trip! Our guides are available year round and would love to share this favorite resource with you today!
our fall fisheries are really starting to show their true colors! Local streams are starting to show lots of life and the resident fish are on the move. The Watauga delayed harvest section just received a fresh stockings last week and lots of fish or coming to the net!
although we love floating the Watauga and South Holston tailwater rivers our local streams this time of year can be the true gem of the high country!
we have availability for any of your trip needs. Please call or email to book one today! We offer guided trips year round but the local streams are very weather dependent.
Guided Tailwater Fishing Year Round!
With snow already falling in the high country it already seems like winter is approaching quickly. The brown trout in the region recognize this as true fall weather in therefore time to spawn. These south Holston and Watauga tail water rivers both have huge populations of resident brown trout that are becoming more and more eager as the days become shorter. These Brown’s become very territorial and starred to congregate all sorts of life around them. Right now is a great time to get out on the tail waters an experienced this fantastic resource!
join us downtown and check out our new fly shop! 444 W King St right across the street from ASU !!
Guide approved flies, tackle, sweet HCGS and Strip N Fly Wear and sunglasses
We are proud to be Downtown Boone’s Original and only Fly Shop & Guide Service!
Mouse fishing; just the words chained together alone almost doesn't make sense. In the lower 48 you're pretty much cornered in to throwing them at night. Ive had various success hucking big rats at night on the tailwaters of Tennessee, mixed with some memorable moments on the South Houston in the middle of the night in particular. Theres no question that trout feed on these furry servings, but nowhere else in the country like in Alaska.
Southwest Alaska is world renowned for its mouse fishing. Most fish on wilderness floats have never really seen too many mouse imitations thrown at them and can be quite vulnerable to top water feeding. We are lucky enough to have a system that barely receives any pressure from guides, and little pressure from the public in general. The Chosen flows through Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, all 6 million acres harbor ridiculous amounts of water in various states. Tundra ponds, beaver ponds, springs, wetlands, brooks, creeks, ditches, streams, rivers - you can imagine how every once in a while one of the 11 species of rodent might fall in to some water. Kanektok translates in to English something along the lines of "changing river." When the river changes, the braids and forces of flowing water can cut off traditional burrows and routes used by rodents as well. These two factors, plus the incredibly short growing season results in trout who feed on mice daily.
Many anglers come to Alaska loaded with mice patterns of different sizes and shapes. The different shapes are meant to imitate different species; lemmings, mice, rats, voles, moles, shrews, and even ermine. The easiest for guests in general to throw would be the mice imitations. Do the trout eat all the other species? Absolutely. Ive thrown split shot in front of some of the larger rodent imitations just to get a real sense of a "drowned rat" and had lots of trout takes. Some of the bigger and longer imitations out there for bass and musky I have used as well that even 16" trout feed readily on. But the easiest to throw and most effective would have to be the mice imitations. The Morrish Mouse, Mr Hanky, and Mercers Mouse are all great imitations. When selecting patterns I like to stick to these, and variations thereof.
The preferred set up for throwing these flies is at least a 7 weight. I use a Scott 790 Sector - and the Scott 990 TIDAL. I use straight Maxima tied to the fly line - 15lb. This allows for the fly to be presented rapidly firing at will to the targets. Targets for the mouse cast is typically along the wood and root wads the Kanektok is so famous for. We fish out of Avon Pros with custom frames so we are able to slow the boat down and get the correct angle for the cast to be made. What is important to recognize with the mouse in particular is the trout's "cone of vision." The Leopards might be deep in the wood, but they're looking out there in the current and in the traveling windows of seams. Presenting the fly far above these lies and allowing the mouse to drift and drag and skitter in to these zones will produce the eat. Most people love to shake and skitter the mouse which is applicable to some degree. I like to almost dead drift the mouse, allowing the river to make it go in to places you would otherwise be skating and skittering you're way out of. With the dead drift comes incredible takes as well. Most mouse takes are pretty violent and trashy because of the very nature of them. Most trout are going for the death blow on the first "eat" and then circling around to take down the injured prey. With the dead drift mouse (the Ive given up and am going to die mouse) the trout almost realize the prey is already injured and I have seen them sip down palm size mouse imitations like a 24 midge on the tailwaters!!
Our entire Summer on the Kanektok can have windows of opportunities for mouse fishing. Just last year we were still catching them on mice all the way in to September! That being said, after 13 years out pursuing these legendary trout Id have to say the best time for mice in particular is July. The bulk of the salmon have not started bedding up, theres no flesh in the system, and I think the trout are just looking for easy meals before the salmon biomass shows up.
Mouse fishing in Alaska will push your abilities and techniques to the limits. They're terrible to throw and a bear to manage in the wind. Most of the time the trout are feeding on eggs and flesh which they don't have to hunt down and prey on. You miss a lot of takes because of the nature of the takes and the speed of the boat floating by. But successful tactics and great conditions can really change your perspective on what trout typically do. On the Kanektok there is no "typical" behavior, these trout are so wild and free they can do what they please when they please. But when they choose to eat mice, Ill be there with my guests happily feeding them!!
All photos courtesy of Capt. Chris Maher
*Dolly Varden and Cohos eat mice, too. Just a thought...
This Review originally appeared on the Diablo Valley Fly Fishermen "Windknots" E-newsletter
Aug. 17-22, 2017 | Jim Shively
Dan Maher and I, along with our sons Evan and Jordan, were guided by Dan's son Chris from Beyond Boundaries Expeditions in a 100-mile epic journey down the Kanektok River in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness area of southwest Alaska.
If you are ready to catch fish until your arm aches and are prepared for a wilderness adventure in a remote part of Alaska then this trip is a must for you.
Our target fish were coho (silver) salmon and rainbow trout. We landed scores of each species with mice on the surface, streamers and eggs. In addition, each of us landed hundreds of Dolly’s as well.
Bent rods, "doubles," and "foursomes" were too numerous to count. The number of fish in the Kanektok Rver is truly amazing, easily in the millions, and the fish were willing to eat.