In the Kenai Peninsula the rivers run high, swift and oh so cold in June. They are also brimming with Sockeye and King Salmon and the number of drift boats and anglers lining the bank will attest to this fact. I had never drift boated before, so when the opportunity presented itself, I leapt at the prospect of throwing some flies and enticing a bite or two. Our guide explained that the Sockeye are coming back to spawn and therefore are not actively feeding any longer. Catching them is a technique called lining. Essentially you are hoping to put your fly in the path they are swimming and have them bump into your leader and the fly or lure sets as they attempt to spit out the line. This technique wasn’t the vision I had of a Salmon rising to snatch my fly on the surface and catapulting out of the water, thrashing above the surface to dislodge this impediment they had mistakenly thought was dinner.
We had a variety of rods of different weights and decided to pivot to dry flying for Dolly Varden and Rainbow Trout. With a 5wt in hand I was ready to try my luck at catching an Alaskan sized fish. Let me preface this with the following disclaimer; when I say luck, I mean four leaf clover, cross your fingers or knock on wood type luck. My fly-fishing technique is best described as enthusiastic novice or trick a very hungry trout that an aggressive splash isn’t danger but dinner. The enthusiastic part is a love being on the water, taking in the natural beauty of the river environment.
After much coaching from our Guide, I actually started to catch a few Dolly Varden which was super exciting, and a huge boost to my confidence as a fly-fisherman. We decided to take a break and “parked” the drift boat on a sandbar. While my friend and the Guide had lunch, I continued to look for Rainbow Trout habitat. Either an eddy, a shady spot created by an overhanging tree limb or behind a rock in the shallows. As I surveyed the water surface I saw movement near the shore, approximately 20 feet away. I did several back casts to get my line flowing in the correct direction and enough line to reach my intended landing zone. To my astonishment my fly rested gently on the surface in the exact location I had visualized. I was stoked at my ability to have executed a cast with a level of skill previously unattainable. Imagine my absolute surprise when in a nanosecond later a large Rainbow Trout attacked that fly with a ferocity I had never experienced before. I set the hook, kept my tip high and began to strip line like a fire fighter pulling hoses for a 5-alarm blaze. It ran upstream, back toward me and tried to get under a submerged log but I controlled it’s every attempt at escape. For a brief moment I had channeled my inner Norman Maclean and followed all the techniques I had gleaned on YouTube, or turning the pages in The Longest Silence. After I had the fish in the net and taken the perfectly posed “trout in hand” photo, I released this beauty back into the Russian River. The trout learned a valuable lesson about lunch choices and I was invigorated to continue to swing an arcing line at other unsuspecting trout in other magical locations.
Joel Thompson is FSPW Program Manager and a lifetime lover of wild places. He is passionate about keeping our wilderness areas accessible to all. He has professional experience as a kayak guide in the Puget Sound and he believes that nature has a significant role in teaching us to slow down, be introspective and live in the moment.