Oh no, not another post on C&R tips and techniques! I know, I know, everyone knows about these bullet points. But in my experience, many of these best practices for catch-and-release are ignored during the excitement of the moment. It's just natural - I'm guilty of some slip ups also. Fish are brought in and banged against rocks. Big rainbows are held out of the water for 5 minute photo sessions. Hasty hook removal rips cartlidge on small fish. A fat char's guts are squeezed and compromised for the one-hander shot. There's no time to rescucitate because there are so many more fish to catch - how about just under hand tossing it into the fast current.
The truth is, if we're goint to practice successful C&R, we need to follow the commandments - religiously. For most of us, that means slowing down, and doing the things that we already know about taking good care of fish. Don't get in a hurry. The photos can wait. The long cast, the secret spot, the big fish, and the hero photos mean nothing without the resource. Here are a few bullet point reminders:
Pinch the barb on your hook flat so it's easily removed.
Choose your tackle wisely, plan ahead.
Land the fish as quickly and carefully as possible to avoid extreme exhaustion and injury near shore/boat.
Keep the fish in the water and resuscitate it. Handle the fish gently with wet hands or moist gloves.
If you must net it, use a release net made of soft knotless fabric and keep the fish under water in the net. Don't lift the fish up in the air or squeeze it. Minimize time out of the water.
Don't sacrifice the fish for the photo. Never squeeze your fish. Keep fingers away from gills and eyes. Minimize handling.
If you plan to keep a fish or two for the table, let the hook-up decide what you kill. Many people who claim to practice catch and release are in fact doing what commercial fishermen call "high-grading". They are sorting out the smaller fish, looking for the bigger fish. If a trophy size fish is hooked in the lip for an easy release – let it go. If you catch a smaller fish that is bleeding – keep it.
Locate the hook, then decide how to approach it. Back the hook out with hemostats or other hook removal tool.
Fish responsibly. Alter your method or your gear to minimize hooking mortality. That may mean going to circle hooks or setting the hook a little sooner. Apply deeply hooked fish to your bag limit and release the fish with good survivable hookup. If we are responsible in our approach today, it will mean more fish in the future for everyone.
Our friend Ryan Peterson from Alaskanist Stories participated in "End of the Line", a story telling event put on by the Salmon Project in Anchorage. The stories are about fishing, eating, and living with wild Alaskan salmon. If you're a guide, you'll probably relate well to this story.
Also, if you haven't seen Ryan's short film "sea-swallow'd" - check it out.
What strikes most visitors to Alaska is the sheer scale of things (Sorry, Texas eat your heart out). The mountain ranges go on forever, appearing to be spilling over the edge of the Earth. The rivers and tributaries meander across prehistoric landscapes, colliding with giant glacier ice fields that mimic something from a science fiction movie . Moose, bears, dahl sheep, and other large mammals dominate the state's population, and meander without notice of civilization. Let's face it, it's hard to look past the enormity of Alaska. It drives home a brand of humility that is difficult to find in the human-centric world of smart phones and rush hour.
Occasionally (actually quite often), I thumb through our large gallery of Alaska photos from many different areas of the state. In those images, I find examples of the more subtle beauties of Alaska. A close up of the scales on a big Coho Salmon or a grizzly track impressed sharply into a river bank. It is quite amazing to encounter these tiny miracles and glimpses of infinity at the smallest micro scale. One moment you are soaking in the grandeur of an Alaska sunset, the next you are looking at the intricacy of bear scat. There is beauty at every scale in The Last Frontier.
The best lodges in Alaska have incredibly high return rates. In many cases, guests have the first right of refusal for returning the same time next year, which means there can be few openings for new anglers. Your best chance to get a high-demand date is to book 6-12 months in advance. You can contact lodges directly through the Fly Out Directory.
2. Choosing the right Type of Operation
There are many types of fishing and adventure offerings in Alaska. In fact, it's an outright wilderness of options out there. Each lodge/company is unique in their culture, fishing operations, and other services they offer. Trying to classify the variety is a task – one with a lot of gray area. With that said, this is our attempt to categorize the Alaska fishing trip types:
Fly Out Lodge ($$$) – The most exclusive and luxury way to see and fish Alaska. These operations fly to different remote rivers, lakes and ocean locations daily. A fly out lodge allows you to experience the wonderful variety of Alaska, in addition to accessing the most remote fisheries in North America. For many, just the views from the air and the daily flight experience are worth the price of admission. In addition to having the most versatile and mobile fishing options, in general, Fly Out lodges offer extraordinary accommodations and dining.
Fly-In or Wilderness Lodges ($$) – Naturally, these lodges are located in remote locations, always from the road system, and only accessibly by air - hence, the name fly-in lodge. These lodges can be located on a lake system, ocean bay, or river; and it is this homewater that is the foundation for their fishing programs. Wilderness lodges do not have a daily fly out routine, but sometimes fly out options may be available a la carte. The meals and accommodations vary with each operation, from borderline luxury to "homestyle" country cabin and cooking.
River Lodge ($ - $$) – Located on Alaska's road system, river lodges provide comfortable accommodations, and delicious meals at a great value. The Kenai River boasts many reputable river lodges in Alaska, offering the complete Alaska experience including bear viewing, flight seeing, fishing, glacier tours, and more. At Alaska's river lodges, an angler gets the opportunity to experience everything that a single fishery has to offer with an easy accommodations package that doesn't require complicated travel logistics.
Float Trips ($ - $$) – A classic Alaska adventure focusing on a genuine wilderness experience, self-reliance, and a world-class fishing adventure. Despite the roughing-it nature of a float trip, most outfitters provide accommodations that are surprisingly comfortable, and the food always tastes good after a long day on the river. This is a great option for those fishermen and women who are looking for quality in fishing without all the fluff. If adventure is your passion, a float trip may be the best fit and value for your vacation.
Guide Service ($) – Individuals with a reputation. That is how we define the "guide service" category. Their strength is in intimate knowledge of the fishery, personal attention, and outstanding customer service. In most cases, a guide service will be able to provide food and accommodations with partnering lodging.
Often times, lodges have discounted weeks that are traditionally difficult to book. These weeks can be a great deal if you act on them while they are available. And, you won't sacrifice much in your Alaska experience or world-class fishing. On occasion, lodges will offer up to a 50% off as a result of a last minute cancellation. AlaskaFlyOut.com will start posting to our "Specials Page" for the most up to date discounts and cancellation rates. Stay tuned.
4. Find Reviews
User reviews are an excellent way to get genuine and honest information on a particular lodge or operation. Guest testimonials displayed on a company website are mostly handpicked, and usually a small sample size of the overall experience. Customer reviews are raw, showing the true quality of the product. Don't limit yourself to just looking at the rating or score, but read the comments, where the most valuable information can be found. Popular review sites that are linked through our directory are Trip Advisor and Yelp.
5. Consult an Alaska Expert
There are many guides, veteran anglers, and travel professionals that have first hand knowledge of different Alaska adventure and specific lodges. These folks have valuable 3rd-party information that you cannot find anywhere else. Whether you are planning your first trip to the Last Frontier, or you would like a 2nd opinion on a new adventure, there are resources out there to help. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Or, better yet, let someone else do it for you. Use an expert to help you cut through the clutter and marketing fodder that you see on the company websites. In most cases, that advice is free to you! You can Contact Fly Out for advice on planning a trip to Alaska at no cost. We're happy to provide unbiased and honest information on Alaska lodges and adventures.
Flying is part of the adventure in Alaska! This video showcases the beautiful landscapes that you can see each day as you travel to your fishing destination. Tikchik flies in the Wood-Tikchik Mountains, in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, and in the Wood-Tikchik State Park. Enjoy the flight!
Music: Open Air by Lemolo itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-kaleidoscope/id575354928
The Fly Out team had the opportunity stay a few days with Crystal Creek Lodge on the Naknek River in Bristol Bay, Alaska this past summer. As expected, Katie and I arrived to a well oiled staff and guide crew, with everyone being incredibly friendly, making us feel like part of the gang. We fished and filmed for two days in early July with Dan Michels and his crew of pro guides - Alex Oberholtzer and Aaron Rogers-Richter. The first day, we flew all the way down to the Alaska Peninsula past Ugashik Bay to fish a little-known river for King Salmon. The authentic Bristol Bay snot was in full force, so the skies were a bit gray for the cameras. However, we did find plenty of hot King Salmon and Chum Salmon that were very accessible with the fly rod. You can see scenes from that day in our short film - Long Live the King (showing at the Fly Fishing Film Tour).
The following day, we took a quick trip to a very small wadable creek in Katmai National Park. Alex flew the plane, walked us across the tundra, and put us on 5 species of fish in a matter of 4 hours. See the short video above for a quick summary of that day.
I can confidently say that Crystal Creek Lodge is the nicest lodge facility I have ever been to in Alaska. In addition to their incredible accommodations, the dining program is top tier. But besides all of that, the genuinity of the staff, the welcomed feeling and the atmosphere is what makes CCL special. If you want the authentic Alaska experience, you can find it here.
The world’s longest ongoing salmon research reveals the astounding complexity of wild ecosystems.
Scientist Daniel Schindler and his daughter, Luna, watch the "red wave" of sockeye salmon navigate up Sam Creek, home to one of the earliest-spawning populations in Alaska's Bristol Bay ecosystem. by Jonny Armstrong
Don't take our word for it - Read the article on the world's longest ongoing salmon research from Daniel Schindler and why Bristol Bay deserves our attention and protection. Read the article.
A fantastic audio interview from Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix with Jim Lichatowich, the author of the new book, "Salmon, People, and Place". Lichatowich is a biologist who has worked as a researcher, manager, and scientific advisor for more than 40 years. In this audio piece, he gives a glimpse of his book which explores the problems wild salmon face in our complex world. Particularly, he speaks on the philosophical shift on the use of hatcheries.
From the interview:
"The fish factory and the machine metaphor are a perfect match. The mechanistic worldview reduced salmon-sustaining ecosystems to an industrial process and rivers to simple conduits whose only function was to carry artificially-propagated salmon to the sea. The mechanistic worldview still has a powerful grip on salmon management and restoration programs in spite of a growing scientific understanding that the picture of ecosystems created by the machine metaphor was seriously flawed."
A very interesting article when thinking about salmon conservation in the state of Alaska, and the direction we are going. See the full article at EarthFix
Every year, when the Alaska fishing season winds down, we host a trip to one or two of our favorite international destinations. We just got back from a great trip to Costa De Cocos in Xcalak, Mexico with a group from the Santa Cruz Fly Fishing Club. Although most members of the group are seasoned anglers, all but a couple had any saltwater flats fishing experience. So, we all knew that the first few days would be a crash course on technique, fish recognition, objectives, etc. We were primarily targeting bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda. The bonefish in this part of the Caribbean can get as big as 6 pounds, with most of them averaging between 2-4 pounds. All of the anglers in the group quickly realized what the chatter about bonefish was all about. Very few 20-inch fish in Alaska will rip you to your backing in the first run. Pound for pound, these little monsters are some of the strongest sport fish in the world.
Part of the appeal of fly fishing to me is that it is challenging. Flats fishing for bonefish, tarpon, and permit can be challenging! I don't like "tough" fishing anymore than the next angler, but I can say that I gain much satisfaction during the learning process of a new sport, process, technique, etc - even when I am struggling. I believe all 8 anglers felt the satisfaction of putting everything together this week - seeing the fish, making a great cast, strip set, and landing the fish. That's what it's all about.
For the months of July through November, Costa De Cocos offers a 2 for 1 discount for an all-inclusive package at $2,050 Per Peson (6-Day/7-Night Package). Although this is the tail-end of the rainy season in Mexico, believe me, you will be hard pressed to find this type of value anywhere else. Contact us with questions.
From the Gallery: