Silver coatings: chasing salmon and hope in Alaska's Tsiu River

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At the beginning of our second day of silver salmon fishing on the "Lost Coast" of Alaska, the vast arch of desolation whipped by the wind and waves that embraces Cordova and Yakutat, the nominal leader of our group, Tom Ackerman, made a deep observation.

"I did not think it was meteorologically possible," he reflected from under the hood that dripped off his Gore-Tex jacket, "so it would rain so much."

Little did I know that we had not seen any crazy yet.

The story of our week on the Tsiu River is, ultimately, as much a story of survival as of fishing for silver salmon. Imagine that you are trying to launch a fly while you are being hit by a water cannon, as the protesters used to be in the old days of the United States, and you have an idea of ​​the way we were in a team, day after day, because of the rain and the wind. The statement "These are the worst conditions I have ever caught" became our collective mantra, and with each passing day we re-define its scope.

And yet, beyond the pale conditions, we enjoyed periods of extraordinary sports. At some point it occurred to me, after taking my thirteenth bright salmon in the ten to 12 pound class, that the equation is quite simple: to experience what is possibly the best silver salmon fishing in the world, you must be willing to endure Some of the worst climates in the world.

I can honestly say that I caught a salmon, a bruised hen with sea lice that still clung to its mirrored flanks, in my first launch of the trip, and among our group of seven rods, the multiple connections were not the exception, but the ruler. I remember looking around after releasing a fish and realizing that the other six rods were bent; I remember that my friend John McMahon was so tired after fighting the salmon after the salmon that he finally had to sit on a log to recover. At least one bar exploded under constant tension; At least one reel uttered its death rattle. The number of equipment in ruins would have been greater, I have been told, if we could have spent a "normal" amount of time in the water.

We should also have been able to fish a couple of other rivers, but the combination of swollen currents and scorching winds not only made them inaccessible, but limited us to only a handful of stretches on the Tsiu. His mouth, for example, which in the temperate climate is said to be a carnival of silver avid ones, was a whirlpool, and the restless ocean beyond was such a daunting possibility that it could have induced Ahab himself to leave the sea and take a desk. work.

The landscape is equally prohibitive. When we disembarked the Otter that took us to the camp, our eyes moved nervously hoping to see something familiar and welcoming, a tree would have been good, one of our band members observed: "This place is lunar."The Tsiu meanders through a huge flat sand, miles across, braille inscrutably with low, elliptical humps held in place by dunegrass and the strange group of alders, sand is the color of gunpowder.

Inside, several mountain ranges rise one above the other like tiered wedding cakes, but for the most part we had to settle for brief, tantalizing flashes (shadows behind the curtains) when the ceiling was partially raised. The same thing happened with the glacier in the distance: a sudden explosion of neon blue, as if someone had pressed a switch, and then again the leaden edge of the cloud.

With the Tsiu out of its banks (only distinguished as a dark seam of the current that meandered through the flooded plain, like a lake), the amount of salmon chose to leave the channel and take the shortcut to their spawning waters above. We often find small pods of them as we move into the "cart" (the wooden cart towed by a tractor that served as our transport), causing them to rush for safety, throwing alarm clocks and even roostertails into the water.

There was some speculation about whether they could be harassed or thrown at similar bone fish, but the tide of opinion was opposed.

Also, when the wind was semi-manageable, or when we just felt brave enough to give it a chance, I can tell you that it is possible, if not necessary, to fish in a storm that screams: the silvers in the river. appropriate were more than willing to mix it. Chartreuse was his favorite color at the moment, and if you could slip a cast and throw an egg-sucking leech through the strike zone, you'd probably be in business.

There was a particular pool in which, for a couple of hours, I got as close to heaven as I have ever done. It was clear that I had stumbled upon a thrust of silver fresh from the sea; It was equally clear that they had it wrong for a chartreuse ESL. Each cast resulted in a shaking blow, a pitched battle and, after a moment of admiration for the beauty and the hard and bright perfection of the fish, an animated release.

I do not remember all the salmon I landed during that stretch, but there was one that I will never forget. His blow was violent, and was followed by a series of frantic greyhound jumps. There was a savage in this salmon that revealed all the power and mystery of the sea, a savage that humans can barely begin to understand. He took me to the back again and again, tearing the line against a screwed drive as strong as I dared; when it stayed in the stream, it

The degree of pressure would move him. My arm trembled with the effort; I began to fear that I would play before the salmon.

I also began to fear that I had hooked him. That would explain my inability to move forward. Many minutes into the battle, I was no closer to landing this salmon than I was at the beginning.

Eventually, however, I took it to hand. It was a thick-bodied dollar of about 13 pounds, hooked right in the right corner of his overlapping jaw. It was not a big salmon, just an excellent one. And it reinforced my conviction that while chinook may be the king of Pacific salmon, silver is its true aristocracy.

Finally, on the last afternoon of the trip, the clouds broke, columns of sunlight fell instead of rain, and the wind came with gusts without punching instead of roaring. "Hey, they really are mountains, "someone hummed, gazing with wonder at the jagged, snow-capped tops, our state of mind, which at that time resembled a burial detail, brightened considerably, and became positively festive when it was announced that we should keep the tips of the the sinks and the split-shot, the rig with complete floating lines, and make a serious silver fishing attempt at the top.

This was what we had been waiting for, waiting for, and maybe even praying. There are many places in Alaska where you can catch silvers until your arms fall; The trick that makes the Tsiu and some other rivers of the Lost Coast unique is that, under the right conditions, their plateres will become certain pink foams or deer foam when those bugs jump, gurgle and wake up in the surface.

Tom Ackerman was the first to make a cast, and as he watched his mistake get stuck, I blinked in disbelief. I thought I was seeing things, except I was not there. His mouth opened, his snout completely out of the water, a salmon emerged behind the fly and enveloped it. The only thing that was missing was the musical theme of Jaws

"They are sharks, man!" Someone shouted. "All good!"

It was more than good; It was absolutely the most crazy and exciting fishing I have experienced. They cut, they cut, they beat; They took our flies in great sips, in wild hikes and in detonations that left holes in the water where our flies used to be. I've seen bass pop-pops, I've seen blue fish compete against each other to hang a water plug, but I've never seen anything remotely comparable to what the Tsiu River salmon did to those pink bugs on our last afternoon at the camp. We were screaming and screaming from ear to ear; the call of "Did you see that?" was answered by the cry "Did you see? that?"

"This is why we came!" Ackerman crooned as he placed the steel in another silver. "Can you imagine having four or five days of this?"

After standing at the gates of paradise and taking a look inside, yes, I could.


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