Life-altering events are a rare commodity, and for a good reason.
Can you imagine how discombobulating it would be to have your worldview negated on a regular basis? All the things you were led to believe suddenly don't apply...welcome to swinging for big trout in Bristol Bay.
They aren't migrating to spawn. They aren't conserving energy to wait for a mate. They feed like ravenous wolverines. Given the right conditions and the right presentation, they will chase a fly for a good 15 feet before trying to take it from you. The water they sit in is called "class III" by kayakers.
As a steelheader, we have gotten into the long habit of looking downstream while we fish. Channeling the fish, we let our eyes track the best path up the river, the easiest passage with the best escape routes. We linger on certain buckets and wells that look fishy, and we assign percentages to bits of water. single-cast the low percentage water, thoroughly cover the high percentage water...
This is where the Bbay trout guys laugh their asses off.
These fish come downstream (DOWNSTREAM) to feed. Simple as that. Wherever the food is, that's where you find the fish. Where you find the fish, there is a good chance that Walter will be lurking nearby. On the big river, the observant guy looks upstream at what might be funneling food into a particular stretch, or fishes below a grinder, the big rockpiles that smash the bejeesus out of the ubiquitous Sockeye carcasses.
Enough about theory...our worldview has been altered significantly, and we're still trying to process most of the experience into rational, cogent thought.
The following is a non-chronological journey through the surreal world of Bristol Bay, AK, deep in the heart of fall. For the most part, we will let the pics tell the story, but some of them might require a little in the way of explanation so a fella can wrap his or her brain around the image.
While we got a little 38° sun filtered through the clouds, most mornings started off at or below freezing, with a jet-boat ride through a windtunnel while wearing 5 to 7 layers of fleece and down underneath your shell layer...Crazy, but worth the payoff.
Sockeye - the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All things depend upon the salmon for life in Bristol Bay.
Sockeye = Bears.
A fella could get a little nervous around the brown fuzzy anglers, but it wouldn't do much good. They're in their own house, you are a guest, the best you can do is give them some distance and marvel at the sheer single-mindedness with which they approach their caloric uptake.
Most of the time, they are indifferent to your presence. A fella can fish through during naptime, or sneak a fish out above their hole...they don't seem to care.
Occasionally, they get a little close. Or they go snorkeling through a patch of huge trout...Just like they do to each other, you gotta let 'em know that cool is cool, uncool buttheadedness won't be tolerated.
Big. Ass. Trout. The real reason to be in the Bay in October. A few from the little water.
Bycatch on the big water
26"-28"...smash and grab artists. Bring steelhead gear, 'cause they will seriously mess up your little trout twig.
Sasquatch and a nice 28", picked out of our back pocket.
Same bucket, different passes
The fish we came for.
31somethin X 18somethin'...3 casts after a 28" took us for a ride. No, this is not a steelhead. It is about 16lbs of Wild AK Rainbow Love on the Swung Fly.
About 50 yards downstream and 45 minutes later...
Crumptastic: "Hey, reel up, let's go get that smooth grease upstream."
Us: "Ok, but first lemme peel off a few more pulls and yank that 30" out from behind that rock over there..."
2 casts later...30 X 18+. On a called shot.
It will take us a while to get used to this goofy new worldview. Like the kid in the youtube dentist video, we find ourselves occasionally staring off in space and wondering if this is real life, if we're gonna be this way forever.
Not sure if we'll ever get back, but we won't ever forget the time we spent there.
Not sure we could if we wanted to.