I got back early last week from a week long float fishing trip to Alaska. An original participant could not make the trip so I got to fill the vacancy. Scott, a friend who organized the trip, is trying to learn the area and this summer is floating three tributaries to the Togiak River which drains into Bristol Bay. I joined a mutual friend Ken for week one which was floating Pungokepuk Creek from Pungokepuk Lake to it's confluence with theTogiak River; a distance of 16 miles. We had six days to float the 16 miles of the Pungo and 5 miles of the Togiak to our pick up point so we had a lot of time each day for fishing.
Ken and I had taken the redeye from Denver to Anchorage and then took a smaller PennAir turbo prop into Dillingham arriving there at 10:30 am.
We were met by Scott, loaded our gear into the van and headed over to the float plane that would take us into Pungo Lake. Here is just part of our gear being redied for loading onto the float plane.
There was a bit of discussion with the pilot over the amount of weight of us and our gear which included the boat you wil see later. Our pilot is apparently more conservative with weight than many other pilots who rountiely carry up to 1500 lbs in their Beavers. Our pilot prefers 1300 lbs as his maximum and we were coming in at a bit over 1400. We went through our gear and pulled out some weight; but short of leaving something we would need behind we only pulled out about 20 lbs. The pilot still seemed concerned but we loaded up and did not seem to have a problem on the flight
On approach to Pungo Lake
After landing on Pungo Lake, we taxied over to a gravel bar at the mouth of a small incoming creek which is where we would camp for the first night. We unloaded the gear and proceeded to put together our inflatable pontoon craft which Scott designed and had built. This was to be it's maiden voyage. After assembling the boat we put up the tent and got our camp in order.
It was still only 3 pm so we got our gear together and rowed across the lake for some fishing before supper. Pungo Creek at the outlet was probably 30' wide and averaged 2' in depth. On my second cast I had the first fish on, which promtly got off. Scott briefly had one on a couple casts later. On about my tenth cast I was fast into a nice fish which turned out to be a nice, bright hen Pink Salmon.
We quickly decided that the salmon would be our dinner that evening. Going back to fishing we did not catch a lot of fish, but the action was pretty steady. I got another Pink salmon along with the only sockeye of the trip and a small rainbow. Ken hooked a number of fish but only landed two pinks. Scott was using his 6 wt switch rod and also hooked a number of fish skimming a mouse pattern over the surface looking for rainbows. Only one stayed on long enough to be landed but it was a really nice 25" rainbow.
We quit fishing about 7:00 and headed back to camp for dinner. Fresh salmon and fried potatoes tasted pretty good and we were off to a good start on the trip.
After a good nights sleep we awoke to the sounds of sandhill cranes and loons - not a bad alarm clock. We then fell into what would be our routine for the next few days. Generally, getting out of our sleeping bags around 7:30, fixing breakfast, breaking camp and packing the boat, start fishing around 10:00. That may sound like a pretty late start, but with sunset at 10:45 pm we stillhad lots of time to; float, fish, make camp and have supper. We probably averaged 8 hours of floating/fishing each day.
Our fist full day of fishing started back at the outlet of Pungo Lake. The fishing was a bit slower in the morning but I managed to pick up my best rainbow of the trip a nice fish between 25" and 26".
We would fish while drifting and when good looking water appeared we would pull over and fish the area on foot. At our second stop of the morning I saw a group of Chum Salmon on the far side of the creek. While Ken and Scott worked downstream a bit I decided to try for some Chum Salmon on the far side of the creek. I had foul hooked a couple that got off before Scott returned. He told me to change to a bright streamer as the Chums are generally a pretty agressive fish. Sure enough on my third cast as my fly swept in front of a fish it grabbed it. Scott didn't think I had much chance of landing the fish on my 7 wt and 2X tippet, but the fish would not leave the pool and after three nice jumps and several minutes tug-of-war I managed to beach the fish - my first ever Chum.
And so it went. While there were some salmon in the creek, most of them were not fresh fish. We were mostly targeting the resident Rainbows, Dolly Varden and Grayling. Mostly Ken and I were fishing beads with either a bare hook or a large nymph while Scott mostly fished a mouse pattern with his switch rod. While we did not catch a lot of big Rainbows, I managed at least one "Bow over 20" each day. Mostly the nicer Rainbows ran in the 16"-20" range. The Dollies ran in the 15" - 21" range and the Grayling ran 14" - 19".
A typical Grayling of about 16"
One of my nicer Dollies at about 19"/20"
Ken with a nice one on.
Although I had brought one of my better DSLR's and a telephoto lens, I hardly used it for as far as wildlife went we saw virtually none. Apparently if we had been there about two weeks earlier we would have been tripping over bears. But according to Scott, after the sockeye run the bears lose interest in salmon and move away from the streams preferring to forage for berries, etc. There were well worn bear trails up and down both sides of the stream but the scat we came across was all several days old and consisted primarily of berries. We saw one female with two cubs and a solitary bear. We saw them on the second day, about ten minutes apart. Both were at least a quarter mile away near a ridge top.
The low bush blueberries were just getting ripe so we took advantage of that fact several times. On one occasion we even spent some time collecting enough for a fine desert one evening after a meal of Dollies caught earlier in the day. We had fresh fish twice. The remainder of our evening meals were freeze dried with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
Bear kill site
The bear kill site in the third picture above is only 15' from our tent in the second picture. Without enlargement it is difficult to see but there is a partial caribou jaw in the middle of the shot, along with several hooves, multiple bone fragments and lots of hair. We generally tried to camp on either small islands or gravel bars. Apparently the grizzlies when they kill large prey will drag them to a location and bury what they don't eat, returning periodically until everything is devoured - hence the name bear kill site. This site must have been from a particularly enterprising bear as there appeared to have been at least two caribou consumed there, meaning the bear had to drag each of them to this island. But the site was pretty old; but nonetheless impressive.
Mostly the floating was uneventful with only sweepers and snags to worry about. The only rough water came on the thrid day around lunch time when we hit a 1/4 mile stretch of class II/III white water where the creek narrowed down to about 25' wide as it passed between two ridges. Prior to that the creek had grown to an average of 50' - 60' wide due to several joining tributaries.
Ken with a nice Dollie while drifting
My second best Bow at about 24"/25"
The Pungo Day 3
There were also lots of wild flowers in bloom; some like the Iris were unexpected.
We wound up floating all of Pungo Creek in five days. While we did not find fish in as many locations in the last 8 miles when we did find them we generally found a lot of fish. In this larger water we were primarily looking for spawning salmon - mostly Chums. When we found them we would find the Rainbows, Dollies and Grayling below them. But there were long stretches of fishless water between the groups of spawning salmon.
Our original plan had been to spend six days on the Pungo and then breeze through the last five miles on the Togiak on the sixth day arriving at our pick up point with time to pack everything up for an afternoon pick up. But we wound upwith an extra day for the Togiak which is at least 10 times the size of the Pungo.
The Pungo joining the Togiak
The Togiak River
We camped one night at the mouth of the Pungo where we got into a group of fresh Pinks. Earlier in the week on a whim, I had tried fishing a 2" chartrueuse and white clouser and caught several Rainbows and Pinks. At this particular spot I had the clouser on and probably hooked ten pinks in a little over an hour. Not something I would have expected.
Ken fishing a confluence eddy
A male Pink just starting to form a hump.
Our last day of floating was a liesurly float down the Togiak. We stopped at likely looking structure picking up mostly Dollies and Rainbows. At one long riffle we came across a large number of spawning Chums, and for awhile we were all catching Dollies and an occasional Rainbow on almost every cast. Later at one point while drifting along the edge of a large eddy. Ken hooked into a really nice fish which turned out to be the only Silver of the week. It hit some ungodly looking four inch long articulated purple and pink thing with dumbell eyes. Who knows what the fish thought it was.
Me made our last camp on a large gravel bar at the mouth of Geshiak Creek. Our last morning we were expecting our pick up around noon. But Scott checked in with his satelite radio and found our pilot would be a couple hours late. So I got in a last couple hours fishing. There was a large eddy on the downstream side of where the Geshiak entered the Togiak just upstream from where we had camped. For two hours I watched a parade of fish moving through, Chums, Pinks and what may have been a few Silvers as their run was due to start any day. It took most of the two hours to figure out a presentation that would interest the fish passing through. Eventually I did and wound up getting two Pinks and a Chum.
About 2:00 our plane showed up ending a wonderful trip.
The bears are great to watch - from a good distance! Good luck on your trip.
While there aren't any salmon in the Big T , there is a lot to be said for a stream that is barely an hour from my driveway, full of 11" - 13" trout eager to take dries, surrounded by great scenery. Alaska fishing is awesome and in it's own way so is the Big T up in RMNP. I enjoy a wild 14" Brown caught on a 7' 3 wt as much as that Chum did on my 9' 8 wt. and it puts up just as respectable a fight.