We were soon into silvers or chums, though the fishing was a little slower than it had previously been. After catching a nice chum on almost my first cast with a sunk fly (purple ESL again) I decided to spend some time trying to get a silver to take a surface fly. For the remainder of the morning I had some very entertaining fishing, using a pink "hot-lips" fly, a sort of surface popper. I had quite a few follows, and swirls at the fly, and had two fish actually take it. Although I failed to hook them, just feeling them for a brief second or so, it was good fun. After a break, I changed to a chartreuse version of the same fly, but one that had been doctored slightly to fish in the surface film rather than on it. I had two silvers in two casts. I was onto something here I thought. But Alaskan salmon can be as contrary as their Scottish counterparts. I never had another take.
Overnight rain had begun to colour the river slightly during the morning. In the afternoon Steven and I went up to fish the S bends. The visibility in the water was about 2 feet, not too bad. I hooked a fish almost straight way, but it ran right out into the fast water, which, with a rising river was pretty fast by now. I tried to stop him and the hook pulled out.
Though it hadn't rained since the previous night, there was a lot of water coming down from the mountains. In the next half-hour the river rose almost a foot, and the visibility was reduced to little more than an inch. It seemed hopeless. As for the umpteenth time the increased current worked my fly around the pool I turned to Steve and said "you know, I'd be amazed if something took my fly right now". And at that very instant something did, then moved slowly, ponderously but very heavily upstream. But after a short time, again the hook pulled out again. I just wonder if it might have been one of the last kings. Mostly they had died, we had seen plenty of huge rotting corpses, fish well over 40 pounds. Maybe this was one of a few still trying to get up the river, who knows.
A while later, and shortly after dropping my fly into the river and ascertaining that a fish wouldn't be able to see it from more than an inch away, I had another take. It was a pink, a male fish with a humped back, hooked fair and square in the mouth. Steven immediately began casting into the same area and did the same thing himself. So we had started with pinks, and ended with them. We weren't likely to catch anything else in these conditions. It seemed a miracle we had caught anything at all.
The boat picked us up around 6pm. Although we would have had time to fish the following morning - our flight out of Anchorage wasn't until 7.30 p.m. - the float-plane schedules were such that we were to be picked up from the camp at 9 a.m. At least it would give us a chance to get into some of those tackle shops. We had had a brief glimpse before flying out at the beginning of the week. The array of tackle was staggering, and the prices far, far less than in the UK. We had been like kids in a sweet-shop. We definitely planned a return trip.
So the fishing, for the UK contingent at least, was over and probably around 200 silvers, plus innumerable chums & pinks, not to mention some nice rainbows and grayling had been caught by our party of 16 anglers (and I’m not, of course, including foul-hooked fish in this total). Most people had had a purple patch at one time or another (except Wendell, who had one lasting all week!). Steve had an afternoon when he landed seven or eight silvers. Server landed two nice silvers on a floating fly, then caught chum after chum from the same spot later. Edward also, near the end of the week hooked several in an afternoon. We were spread out over a long stretch of river mostly, so I can't give details of everyone's catches, but discussing the day’s sport over dinner each evening, everyone seemed to be very happy with what they had caught. But now the fishing was finished for us. However, the Alaskan adventure was far from over!
Around 6.30 p.m. I returned along the path to our cabin after taking a shower. Matthew, Edward and Steve were all packing, and I started packing away my fly-tying kit. A few minutes later we heard a dog bark twice at the back of the cabin. The second bark was followed by an almighty roar.
"What was that?" I asked.
"A dog" replied Edward.
"I never heard a dog make that noise" I said.
The barking continued and we rushed to the back window. About 15 feet away was a huge grizzly bear, being held temporarily at bay by the camp dogs. We all rushed for our cameras and were able to get some good shots through the window. Fortunately the bear was more concerned with the dogs than us. Had he wanted to get into our cabin I think he could have easily done so. The bear ran out from the back of the cabin, round to the front, right outside our front door, but was then chased back into the woods by the dogs. By this time Willie had been alerted and had turned up armed with his huge shotgun. The bear reappeared briefly, gave a few more roars, then disappeared into the woods. Edward had made up his mind there and then - that night he said, we would all drag our beds up into the loft & sleep there!
It was now dinner time, and we were given an armed escort across to the main lodge where we ate. We would be there until dark. We weren't sure how we would get back.
The bear spoiled the final night's party really. No-one dared drink too much for fear of needing a pee in the night. The toilets were some way from most of the cabins (to be honest, ten yards would be too far with a grizzly on the prowl!), and along dark, wooded pathways. Even peeing from your cabin porch could be risky - you just couldn't see what was out there in the dark. (In fact, the following night Bob started out for the toilet only to find a bear at the bottom of the cabin steps… needless to say he changed his mind, maybe his pants too!)
As we sat after dinner, talking fishing, I saw a big brown shape materialise at the back of Bob's hut. The dogs were going crazy. The bear was back. Fortunately I had my video camera with me and rushed out onto the porch and started filming. That was when I got the marvellous shot of Willie confronting the bear as it stood up on its back legs. He eventually fired a shot in the air, and the bear took off. Before this trip I never really paid much attention to bears - I knew they could run, but thought that if you were a fast runner you might outrun them over a short distance - they look sort of clumsy. No way - they take off like a rocket and can run as fast as a race-horse. I also never realised just how big they can get - the bigger ones standing over ten feet when up on their back legs. They are ten times stronger than a man and more than twice as fast. They can take your head off with one swipe of their huge paws. They really are awesome creatures, unpredictable too. And there were apparently three of them in camp that night. We hardly slept. The dogs were barking all night long. There was little comfort to be had in the fact that these weren't black bears, which apparently eat you alive. Grizzlies merely bury you, alive or dead, and come back for you later. They like their meat well hung you see!
Matthew and Edward had now decided they weren't going back to our cabin at all that night, but would sleep in the main lodge, even though Willie had promised to loan me a gun. During the course of the evening Edward changed his mind, but Matthew was resolute. It might have had something to do with the fact that several pretty ladies had turned up that night and were also going to stay in the lodge! But he was out of luck there - come bed-time they threw him out. He made his way back to our cabin (presumably with an armed guard - I never asked) only to see Edward's bed wedged firmly against the door. Thinking I had a gun (which actually I didn't) he thought it not a good idea to start heaving on the door lest he should get his head blown off. So he went back and spent the night in another cabin on the far side of the camp.
Morning eventually came, and the bears, having got what they were apparently after, the dog's food, had gone back into the woods, presumably to sleep. I doubt they were far off though. It seemed a good time to be leaving. We said our goodbyes to everyone, the great bunch of people who we had met there, and boarded our float -plane just after 9 a.m. on Saturday. As the plane gathered speed for take-off we passed some of our party who were already out fishing. They turned and gave us a wave. The water had cleared considerably – we could even see that someone was playing a fish.
We arrived at Gatwick 17 hours later, at around 11pm our time, on Sunday and feeling pretty much out of it. If I didn’t have jet-lag on the outward trip, I certainly did coming back. It took me the best part of a week to recover. People have asked me if I would go again. Well, if life were full of unlimited fishing opportunities, then I would, certainly. But unfortunately life, or mine at least, isn’t like that. Fishing adventures are few and far between. Apart from dangling a line in a couple of Canary island harbours, this is the first time I’ve fished abroad. There are plenty of other things on my fishing wish-list – salmon fishing in Norway or Iceland, tarpon, steelhead, tuna – the list is quite long, and most of the things on there are probably never likely to get crossed off, unless I win the lottery – like most of you I guess. But at least I’ve now crossed one off…. It’s a start…