I hardly know where to begin. I just spent a week fly fishing at Austin’s Alaska Adventure Lodge near Nome in northwestern Alaska. Unless you’ve looked at a map of the area, you would be surprised, as I was, at how far that is from here….
This pic says it all, a sign post in Nome:
I particularly like the 164 to Siberia !
It took a whole day of flying to get to Nome, an old gold rush mining town on the Bering Sea. They actually still dredge the beaches by hand looking for gold. Talk about desolate. The bars and liquor stores outnumber the restaurants though! Long cold winters for sure.
Getting there on Alaska Airlines we actually had to stop briefly further north at an even more desolate town called Kotzebue, which is north of the Arctic Circle by about 50 miles.
Because this trip involved so much neat and interesting stuff not directly related to the fishing, I’m going to put a lot of it in this narrative and break it into two parts to make it more manageable. It comes out as much as a travelogue as a fly fishing story, so feel free to skip over those bits you aren’t interested in.
The Lodge takes 6 guests a week, from June when the first salmon runs start to October when they end. We took all 6 spots, 3 friends of mine from Sarasota, one other from Texas and one from Oklahoma. The latter two were spin casters, but the rest of us all were fly guys.
Three of us arrived in Nome at the same time, planning on spending two nights and one full day getting provisions (a.k.a. refreshments), licences, checking the local fly shop (which turned out to be closed because it was Sunday), etc. Turned out we had time to spare, so we rented a van, unpacked the 5 weights and headed two miles out of town to the Nome River, which we were led to believe held Arctic Char and some Grayling. The river turned out to be a very easy wading river, with nice long runs, a few pools and wonderful riffles. Kind of like the Grand. Here’s a pic:
We were told dry flies or eggs, so that’s what we fished most of the day. Right away we got on a couple of Char. But the action was slow, maybe 4 fish in 3 hours. Near late afternoon we noticed a lot of surface action in a nice pool we were virtually standing in. Fish were boiling all around us, even though there wasn’t much hatching. I tried several different emergers, to no avail. Man, going crazy ! Then we noticed some minnows in the water, and the lights went on. The Char were feeding on salmon smolt, which apparently migrate down the rivers to the sea in the spring/early summer. I tied on a #8 Grizzly King, and hit paydirt on the first drift. Here’s what this beautiful fish looks like in the water:
We then had an hour of non-stop action with a variety of minnow imitations. Most of the Char were 14-19” in length, and would have weighed up to two pounds or so.
This fish is a member of the “char” family, which also includes Brookies, Lake Trout and Dolly Varden. You can see from the white markings on the fins that the Char is cousin of the Brookie. Quite easy to spot in clear water, and as they get close to spawning later in the year their orange-ish colouring deepens and becomes much more pronounced. The Char and Dollies are both resident and anadromous, moving back and forth to the sea.
As we were getting ready to pack up, one of the guys got a small 10” Grayling, our only one. He was too far away from me to get a pic though.
The rest of the crew arrived that night, and the next morning we all boarded a Bering Air flight over to the small village of Saint Michael, our last jumping off point. There we met up with our hosts, Jerry and Clara Austin. Here’s a pic of the village, which felt like the last outpost of civilization to us, population about 300:
It’s worth, I think, including some info about these folks. Jerry has been in Alaska most of his adult life. He ran a barging company for years, and now has a fuel distribution business in addition to the lodge. He’s a famous “musher” (in Alaska anyway), and ran in the Ididerod Dog Sled Race from Anchorage to Nome 19 years in a row. He’s the epitome of an Alaskan frontier outdoorsman if I ever met one, and he entertained us nightly with great stories. He has saved a man’s life on the trail in the dead of winter, and also shot and killed a man who went berserk and threatened the townsfolk with a gun. He has 41 dogs for mushing, because he takes people out in the winter on guided trips up the coast to the lodge. Guns are everywhere here too, it’s a way of life because of the threat from wild animals like bears and wolves. Here’s a pic of Jerry’s dogs, and of part of his gun inventory, a lot of which were loaded:
Jerry’s wife Clara is full Eskimo. Over half the people here are, and there is a lot of inter-marriage. The kids running around town all look like they have at least some Eskimo blood in them. They are wonderful people, quite shy, mostly educated, and very pleasant and friendly.
On to the lodge. We all boarded Jerry’s home-made 34 foot aluminum boat, and ran 32 miles up the coast to the camp, which sits at the mouth of the Golsovia River. We were accompanied by Jerry’s son and his son-in-law, both half-Eskimo. Here’s a pic of the lodge: