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!
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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 tailgaters 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 SAGE Z-AXIS 796, the longer length being great for the wilderness floats. 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.
ur 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.
Guest Review August 9-15
This review first appeared on www.expeditionbroker.com
“I recently returned from a wonderful, amazing trip on the Kanektok River. It’s on the Southwest Alaska Peninsula and flows into Kuskokwim Bay. It is north of the Aleutian chain if you look at the map of Alaska. It was arguably the best fishing trip of my life.
I began with a one day trip from Spokane to Bethel, AK via Alaska Airlines. I stayed overnight in Bethel, and the next morning boarded a float plane that flew us to the Kanektok headwaters at Pegati Lake in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Our group consisted of five anglers (a family group of a grandfather, two adult sons, a 12 y/o grandson, and myself), plus three guides rowing 16 ft. rafts.
We traveled about 100 miles, spent 7 days and 6 nights on the river. Some fishing was done from the rafts as we floated downstream, while at other spots we would stop and wade to fish promising water. Camp consisted of a large cook/dining tent, a bathroom tent and 3 roomy sleeping tents. Each comfortably held two cots with sleeping pads. As a solo guest, I had my tent all to myself. On the third and sixth nights we had warm showers in the bathroom tent, which was a welcome and much appreciated way to clean up. Meals were over the top – steaks, halibut, lasagne, fried chicken in the evenings, bacon, eggs, pancakes for breakfast. On the last morning we even had eggs Benedict! For lunches we made sandwiches stream side.
Where it flows out of Pegati Lake, the Kanektok is crystal clear and fairly small, probably no more than 50 ft. wide. It got gradually larger as it was joined by tributaries downstream. We had sunny/partially sunny weather for the first three days. On the fourth day the weather turned, with gale force winds and heavy driving rain. The guides had to work hard to keep from being blown back upstream on the river! Despite the weather we continued to fish, with surprising success. For the last two days the wind was gone, and we had intermittent drizzle with periods of sunshine, as well. Even though we were wet on the outside, with good gear we were warm and dry on the inside.
And the fishing? Even though awesome is an over-used term, I’d describe it as beyond awesome. Phenomenal. Unbelievable. For the first three days we found pods of spawning sockeye salmon (easy to spot because of their red color), and would cast a salmon egg colored egg fly or a 6 mm. peach/natural egg bead over them. Below the spawners were hordes of Dolly Varden/Arctic Char, Grayling and Rainbow trout, eagerly fighting each other to gobble up the stray eggs that floated downstream. It was rare for my fly to be in the water for more than 30 seconds before I had a fish on, and it was nonstop action all day long. On my first day I stopped counting after landing 73 fish, and I’m sure I landed over 300 during the week. They were good sized fish, too, with some of the Dollies going over 5 lbs. We also cast flesh flies (imitations of decomposing salmon flesh) to Rainbows as we floated downstream. They would rush out of their hiding places in streamside root balls and strike them with a vengeance. It was definitely a “catch fish until your arms ache” experience.
On the fourth day we began to run into silver salmon/coho in slower water in sloughs or on outside bends of the river. They were in their red spawning colors when we first encountered them, and became more and more silvery as we moved downstream closer to the ocean. On the last day some of the chrome bright fish still had sea lice on them. We would cast either a purple egg sucking leech or flashy pink/purple starlight leech, and the more aggressive fish eagerly attacked them. Several times our group had triple and quadruple hookups. I landed at least 30 silvers over the last three days, and hooked/lost probably a dozen more.
The guides had a lot of experience on the river. They were knowledgeable about the fish, wildlife and plant life, and were excellent fish finders, mentors and coaches. I really enjoyed my time with them, and thank Beyond Boundaries Outfitters for putting together such an outstanding trip. Even though this was a “trip of a lifetime”, I look forward to doing it again in the near future.” ~Thatcher – Chattaroy, WA
Our trip down the Kanektok went very well. Lots of fish of every kind. Chris scored the Kanektok slam with at least of one of every species. Most exciting was a large king that toasted her spinning reel. Dave, Chris, and Sky really went out of their way to make the trip special. Dave is an amazing logistician and a fountain of river knowledge. Chris does it all and was as enjoyable as he was in base camp last summer. Sky’s easy going personality is well suited for the job and he is a tireless worker. Together, there is great synergy and teamwork.
Finally, I wanted to ask about the openings for next year for the weeks of August 9-15or August 1-7
When my father in law moved to Alaska in the late 70's there was a bounty on Dolly Varden. It was something like 5 cents a Dolly, I assume paid upon receipt of a beautiful carcass. The thought was the Dollys were destroying the Pacific Salmon eggs, therein destroying the population. Thankfully the state of Alaska moved beyond this mentality and kinda recognized the fact that we as humans were the ones hurting the salmon numbers. Still arguably overfished commercially but at least anglers weren't paid to recreationally kill fish.
So, besides the fact that the State was giving them a bad rap, there is no commercial value to the species. In other words there's no set nets with holes specifically designed to harvest Dollys, there's no seine nets with Dolly quotas, no longliners would venture in to their domain. Add to that the fact that Dolly Varden spawn in the same systems the Salmon do but they live to see another day. Instead of spawn til you die it's more like spawn til you're colored up like a psychedelic lollipop and then eat some more and return to the ocean. Dollies can spawn upwards of 7 or 8 times in a lifespan. That's a lot of Dollies!
More than you can wrap your head around. On the Kanektok we have two runs of them, an early season hawg run, and a late season babydoll run. This results in an infestation of the system. Last year, 2017, they estimated our sockeye salmon run over 5,000,000 fish and I can say without a doubt there were 5 times that many Dollies.
So you may ask what's the dilemma? The dilemma is solely based on guiding for these voracious predators. With so many in the system all feeding on eggs it's hard to get a fly in the water without them grabbing it. On some of the big Red beds there's so many Dollies anglers' numbers multiply by the minute. I've had guests go from a few to over a hundred in about an hour and a half. So what do you do after you've caught that many? "I want to do something different " is what I hear a lot. Of course you do, you're tired of getting destroyed by hard fighting 20+" fish that never quit. There's so many Dollies that they outcompete the resident Rainbows, literally consuming their grounds with numbers. As a fly fishing guide can you imagine taking off the hot fly just to give the net some relief? We do it daily on the Ktok!
On the subject of nets, we all carry nets and hook outs. It is imperative to give these fish the utmost respect on a good release. Barbless hooks are not only part of our permit but critical for the health (and wealth) of all the fish but especially Dollies. They fight harder and harder the closer they get to the net and have a tendency to twist violently. We prefer the hook to just pop out; as evidenced below:
Or the highly acclaimed "shake and bake"
We're incredibly fortunate to have such a dilemma and the biggest reason for this is because Alaska is still truly the last frontier. We can not take this rare last place for granted, and our 6 million acre Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is as important as ever. Support Alaska and visit this awesome place!!!
Just a note to let you know the Kanektok River trip was everything we hoped for and so much more. Saw beautiful scenery, caught lots of fish, and had an overall great adventure. It was an added bonus to have Andrew and his dad Dan join us to finish out the group. I remembered Andrew from his time working at the Lodge. They certainly had more camping experience than we four Texans, and were a great help the first few days as we learned how to set up and break down our tents.
Dave runs a fantastic camp and knows that river and the fish like the back of his hand. He served the finest meals I have ever eaten in a tent camp. Chris and Sky were great guides and worked their tails off to make sure we had a great experience. The added hot shower system is a real luxury. We joked only thing missing was the spa robe and slippers.
We each caught lots of Rainbows and Dolly’s, the occasional Sockeye that took us well into our backing, enough Pinks and Chum for everyone to get pics, and a few Coho on the last day. Probably 3 of the 6 caught the Pacific Salmon grand slam, with the others lacking only a Coho. We each had the chance to catch Rainbows on a mouse pattern which is always fun.