Monday, August 23, 2010

Unalakleet River Lodge - Alaska - 2010

Stepping off the plane this past week was a sad experience. After spending an entire week at my favorite lodge in Alaska, I was back in the baking heat of Dallas. The high was 106 degrees. What a nightmare it is going from a refreshing 55 degrees with a cool breeze to nearly double the temperature. To brighter things, the week up at the Unalakleet River Lodge, was another unforgettable experience.

For those of you that don't know, I guided for the past three seasons at this lodge. As I wasn't guiding this summer, I wanted to host a Tailwaters' group to the lodge. I was pretty excited to get up there. Not only was I a guest at the lodge that previously employed me, but I also was given my old jet sled to cruise around to shoot photography and video.

The Unalakleet River Lodge is located approximately 400 miles northwest of Anchorage. After a quick Penn Air flight, we were greeted by Sal, the owner and a few guides. The town itself is quite rundown. It looks third world. 4-wheelers are the primary means of getting around and the summertime activity for the natives is fishing.

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Checking the weather is always pointless when visiting Alaska. I know for a fact that everyone else did, but I knew what was coming. It was cold and raining, exactly what I needed as I was coming from 22 straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees. I did have a problem, however. My job this past week was to document the trip by shooting video and photography. Constant downpour was not making this an easy task. My first day out, I was limited to shooting as it literally never stopped raining. After little footage captured, I needed a solution. The only thing that came to mind was an umbrella. Luckily, the lodge had some left over umbrellas they used to cover the garden from getting flooded. So, that is what I used. For the rest of the week, I filmed with the umbrella by my side. Photography on the other hand, was a different story. Obviously, shooting photography with one hand is complicated. I came home this week with the least count of photos I've ever had. It flat out wasn't a good week to shoot. Now, if I had an umbrella that mounted to a tripod or to the bottom of my camera it would have been a bit easier as I would have been able to shoot with two hands. When I got home, I did look up umbrellas that attach to either a tripod or that mount to the underside of a DSLR. I found this umbrella. I am definitely going to add one to my arsenal for future rainy days.

Thursday was an amazing day. The North River (my favorite), is one that feeds into the Unalakleet. It is almost always clear and allows for great sight fishing. In the past three seasons as a guide, we were always held back from navigating past a spot called "butches cove," about a 45 min jet sled ride up. With the help from this summer's higher rain accumulation, we had the opportunity to run our boats 2 hours up the North. This is a section of river I have always wanted to see as it rarely is seen by any guest or guide at the lodge. This river starts very narrow and closed in by trees and tundra banks. Shooting upwards, the river opens up into an incredible valley with views that are endless. It was the only stretch of water that week that was actually clear. I managed to bust out the underwater rig for a little bit, only getting two shots that I was relatively pleased with.

Fishing for me this trip was super fun. All I brought with me was a Sage TCX 6wt. Yes a bit light, but a perfect rod to have fun with for all species in Alaska. I had the most fun skating mouse patterns for BIG grayling. My biggest of the week measured at 21.5" and was pushing 3.5lbs. Of course I was angling alone so, sorry, no photo! Grayling aren't the most difficult species to catch, but they are fun. They wouldn't give up on the mouse pattern. It could have lasted all day if I wanted it to.

I'm not sure I could ever get tired of these guys. Coho fishing was like it always is at Unalakleet, nonstop, rod bending action! Everyone in the group found themselves unable to count the amount of fish being hauled in. Throw a fly in front of em' and they'll likely hit it. Due to the high water, the silvers were stacked in creeks and up in the grass, making it more like bass fishing than salmon fishing. They took wogs at times, but mostly were nailing bright colored streamers. As always these fish showed off their acrobatic skills, jumping and flipping until they tire.

We finished the week with claws and butter. It was an endless glutton of fresh king crab legs. I couldn't stop eating them! After our bellies were full we hit the bar for a bit (Alaskan Amber is always my choice) and then were stunned by the incredible sunset that saturated the sky. I grabbed my camera, a tripod, my ND filters and hiked up the hill to get a better view. What I saw was the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. I couldn't stop snapping shots. With my filter in place, I continued to snap sequences that I would later stitch together to create panoramas. Note that the ND filters I used are the plastic Cokin filters. I still haven't been able to afford the glass ND filters, but so far am pleased with the plastic substitute. Once I have glass filters, I will just bring them along for backups.

All in all, the week was nothing short of perfection. I do wish that I could have snapped a few more photos, but who cares. It was nice to devote some time to film (my main task on this trip) and capture some good fishing action.

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