When my fishing addiction started as a young lad the thought of traveling to foreign shores in search of all manners of incredible species used to send me into a constant daydream, 20 years later it still does.  The problem is social media literally puts a new destination or fish in front of your face every day and personally, I now have a bucket list the size of a medieval scroll. I suppose it’s not really a bad problem to have but the options seem endless. As a fly angler, there has always been one location at the top of the list, the ultimate fly fishing destination – Alaska!  The runs of salmon are truly mind-blowing and consist of 5 separate Pacific species that all run in a relatively short period of time in their millions, along with them the rivers are full of wild rainbows, grayling, and char that give anglers another option to target and the chance of a great mixed bag.

ATA lodge

There was only ever going to be one option for Alaska, especially after hearing all about it from my good friend Wayne Mcgee who just so happens to co-own the Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge (ATA lodge) situated on the banks of the pristine Alagnak river within the Katmai national park, every time he speaks about the place the emotions and love truly shine through, but also the millions of photo’s he has, always give’s me pure fish envy which is always is winner.  There was no way I was going to go alone tho, a big thing for me is experiencing such an incredible journey with friends, there’s something about being in the presence of others enjoying themselves, reaching their goals and catching a dream fish, this is no doubt why I love guiding people back home so much.  We eventually decided on our group and had literally put together the ultimate dream team, consisting of a great bunch of fishing fanatics from different angling backgrounds, abilities and walks of life, this is what I love about fishing so much is the people that you get to cross paths with that you would never meet in other sports and industries.

The journey

So after months of waiting September eventually arrived, and the day of our flight was upon us but unfortunately due to locality and times booked we were all on different flights, I did, however, have one of my good friends and Untamed Anglers co-presenter Ripon as company, one thing you can always rely on with Rip is entertainment, well when he’s not snoring his head off.  A few flight’s and thousands of miles later we arrived at anchorage to join up with Jonny, Marina, Russell, and Lee, we were instantly met by some of Alaska’s most iconic animals within the airport including a bear the size of King Kong, yes they were stuffed but it was the first time we’d ever seen anything of that size in person.  One short flight later and we arrived in the appropriately named King Salmon where we would wait for one final flight to the fishery, this is the closest airport to the lodge which is only accessible via a very exciting 4 seater bush plane which lands on the private airstrip.  If the flight in had anything to go by it was going to be one hell of a week and it got the old imagination running riot, all it required was some dramatic music and it would of been like entrance scene from a major blockbuster movie.

Once we were all settled in and had calmed down from the excitement of the flight, Wayne gathered all the new guest’s together for a pep talk on what to expect from the fishing but also safety, due to how remote the area is and how rich the resources of fish are there is a huge head of brown bears that absolute gorge on salmon, this is, however, is nothing to worry about as they are far more interested in the fish and if anything makes the whole experience even better, I mean who wouldn’t who wouldn’t want to see a bear?

After what seemed like a long night, mainly due to Rip snoring we woke to an incredible sunrise and our first morning of fishing, again my head was absolutely racing at the thought of what awaited us.  Due to it being early September we were predominately in prime silver salmon time but with the chance of connecting with pink’s and coho’s never to mention Arctic char, rainbows and Arctic grayling. Due to the multitude of species, this gave us an incredible chance of smashing in 2 totally separate Alaskan grand-slams, one salmon and one multi-species.  After what I can only describe as a breakfast of champions myself and a great friend/Iconic fish producer Jonny Mcgee headed upstream with camera in hand ready to get some fishy action, we were also joined by Ripon and Marina Gibson in another boat to add a little bit competitiveness and entertainment to the day.

Wayne, marina and myself ready to hit the water

Arctic Char

The first species to target was something both myself and Gibson had at the top of our list – an Arctic char, especially one of the males in his full spawning colour’s, these fish are so bright and stunning they don’t look real.  The method would be bead fishing using a standard fly rod and reel setup but with a plastic bead (replica salmon egg) placed just above the hook instead of a fly, this ensures that the hook doesn’t get taken deeply and is nearly always hooked on the outside of the mouth. This method of fishing was new to us and the only thing I can slightly compare it to is a form of Czech nymphing, the reason for using this method is the incredible volume of fish spawning at this time of the year means all the residential fish swap diet’s from feeding on invertebrates to salmon eggs and flesh.  Once we had arrived at some incredible looking water, full of seam lines dotted with deeper pockets and most importantly spawning fish I was instantly into a char, now these fish don’t half pullback due to the nature of the fast flowing water they live in and that fact they are pristine fully finned wild fish, after a few minutes of ragging me around the water I had my first ever Arctic char, not the male I was after but still a first and special fish.

Once that first fish hit the net it turned into absolute carnage for the rest of the morning with both Rip and Gibson getting amongst the action landing numerous Char, that trophy male fish was still alluding us all, so the decision was made to split up and drift fish from the boats allowing us to cover a huge amount of water, this would also allow us target grayling and rainbows at the same time.  As the day went on the action never stopped, picking fish up on every single drift, it got to the point that you were expecting a take every single cast, with both rainbows and grayling showing a constant face giving me my first but not last Alaskan grand-slam, this, however, wouldn’t be the highlight of the day, as late into the afternoon I hooked the biggest fish of the day that not only fought differently but resembled something like Jason’s technicolor dream coat, Yes you guessed it, id finally hooked the bucket list fish I’d traveled thousands of miles for and it was an absolute belter, being overly careful I played it like an absolute fanny, probably taking far to long to land it, but I eventually drew it over the net for Jacob my guide to net it.  Id literally never seen a fish like it in person, he didn’t look real, the colour’s were so bright, bold and elaborate – He was an absolute stunner and dressed to impress the ladies in his spawning colour’s.

1 of 2 male Arctic char caught all week

Marina with a stunning char

Pacific salmon

The next day we decided to switch thing up in both the boats and on the species front, this time I was partnered with one of my salmon fishing buddies Gibson and it was time to do what we do best – Chase some silver.  The jet boat’s the guys use on the river are incredibly agile, fast and the minimal depth of water they can run over is insane, let’s just say it didn’t take long to get to the fish.  When it comes to down to the tackle, the preferred choice of rod for silver’s (Coho’s) is an 8/9 weight single hander, being a hardcore salmon fishing fanatic I couldn’t resist using my switch rod matched with a short head scandi line, my thought’s were id possibly be able to target fish the others couldn’t.  At the business end stripping back streamers and intruders were the preferred choices, with pink, orange and black being the most popular colour, nothing like we target Atlantic salmon with back home.  Like the previous day we literally hooked up in seconds, this time it was insane with me, Gibson and Rip all hooking up at the same time, it was absolute madness with fish running in all directions followed by us chasing them.  Unfortunately one of us had to slip up, and guess who – yes, it was me, the fish literally threw the hook leaving me to put on a brave face and watch the others both land fish.  I wouldn’t have to worry about missing out, as over the next week’s fishing we would have numerous double hook up of silver’s, including some absolutely stunning chrome fresh fish not to mention the fish in their bright scarlet spawning colour’s, it was crazy to think that between us we could land 20 silver’s in a morning, and this was normal – absolutely mind-blowing.

Ripon and Marina with a brace of silver’s

One thing I was determined to try out was my Stokoe shrimp, it’s accounted for hundred’s of Atlantic salmon back in the Uk so surely the pacific’s could be tempted at some point, I wouldn’t have to wait long, the perfect day actually came about when it was a little bit slow, and when the normal streamers and intruders weren’t doing their job – it was time for the Stokoe show!  To my amazement and only a few casts after putting the fly on, I was straight into a silver, now these fish fight well, but due to the slack water they’re hooked in they can’t use the strong current to their advantage, but the sight of seeing a scarlet red rocket charging around the backwaters is incredible, and on light tackle doesn’t half get your heart racing.  On a day when others struggled I managed a handful of fish to my fly, now i don’t believe it was personally just the pattern but think the profile/size of the fly had a massive part to play, due to the fact the fly was on a size 8 and only about an inch long, it was at least a third of the size of the normal streamers used.  Along with the silver’s the river had good numbers of pink’s and chum’s throughout the system, although not a prime time to target them they readily hit the fly resulting in a couple sought-after salmon grand-salams for myself and other anglers.

Double hook up for myself and Ripon

Ripon with a chunky silver salmon

Rainbow’s and Arctic Grayling

Due to the salmon fishing being absolutely off the scale, you’d be wrong to think this was the main reason that people flock to the Alagnak.  The river is absolutely rammed with absolutely pristine, fin perfect, and super hard fighting rainbows, we had also had the bonus of having timed it perfect for the egg feeding bonanza, this is a time when all the residential feeding fish change their diets from everything to salmon egg’s – it is absolute carnage.  Again the most effective way of targetting both rainbows and grayling was to use bead fly’s, in other words, replica salmon egg’s, we would again be drift fishing from the boat allowing us to cover a massive expanse of water and fishing Czech nymph style.  It won’t surprise you that the action was absolutely insane, no matter where we fished we were constantly smashing into fish resulting in endless amounts of double hookup’s of both super hard fighting bow’s to 24 inches, and stunningly marked grayling bigger than I’ve ever seen.  Another interesting method was fishing flesh fly’s, now this consisted of a fly that was tied with rabbit strips that when wet resembled decaying and rotting bit of salmon flesh, this time instead of a chuck and duck style cast, we would be swinging the fly into deeper pockets and slack spots where hopefully the bigger fish would be lying in wait.  One of the highlights of the trip was on the last day’s fishing when both myself and Gibson smashed a double hook up of grayling that were literally like to peas in a pod, the strange thing was actually caught mine on a flesh fly, just incredible.

A fat rainbow caught with a flesh fly

Another double of rainbow’s

A brace of grayling to end an incredible week

On a whole, the trip was probably my favorite fishing holiday to date, a great combination of the untouched land, stunning crystal clear water, incredible fish, the best hosts and last but not least the company Iwas there with.  I will be going back to ATA in September 2020, for anyone interested in joining me please drop me an email for further details.

It’s always hard to justify fishing another river when you have in my eyes the best and most prolific river literally on your door step (well 300 yards away to be precise), but when there’s the chance of a Big Fish reunion with the smiling assassin Emma, the coarse king Ripon and a weeks salmon fishing the river Lochy there was only ever going to be one answer…….Road Trip!

As Ripon has never cast a line for salmon before we though it would be wise to get him on the Tyne a day before our Lochy adventure just to give him a taster and a good bit of practice, as using a double handed fly rod was totally alien to him. Along with Rip coming up my fishing partner in crime Phil decided to come up for the weekend to try his luck with us. The next day didn’t quite start as planned after a very heavy night in Newcastle, I was woken up by Phil at 7.30 am coming in the front door at my surprise, I had left the keys in the front door after crawling out the taxi!  So after a few more hours sleep myself and Rip managed to pull ourselves together and go down to the South Tyne to meet Phil, it was all going fine until I had a relapse and the hangover got hold of me harder than an angler grasping his prize catch, so a few hours sleep on the bench at the Bend pool was in order.  Going home for a few hours made me feel half human again so back down the river it was to see the lads who unfortunately hadn’t had a touch but was good a good bit of practice for Rip.  I decided it was a good time for a move further down river which when we arrived was totally empty and not another angler in sight, things were looking up.

Phil kindly let Rip fish the pool through first as we were determined for him to get his first salmon, we headed to the boat and baddox stretch where there’s always a good chance of a fish when the waters up. The weapon of choice was my 7’6 Rovex Ceratec FLX light spinning rod as always with a blue and silver flat rap at the business end, which after only 3 casts got nailed by a strong fish which sent Ripon into hysterics – the fish went ballistic dancing across the water surface and trying to throw the hook, I still don’t know who was more nervous me with the net or him playing the fish but thankfully a few minutes later we had the fish in the net, his first ever sea trout a cracker around 6lb. We all went crazy! Luckily know one was there to notice.  Once we had calmed down the fish was unhooked in the water then photographed then returned, which I was proud of him for doing.  After pulling himself together he went back in to finish of fishing the pool through and only 5 minutes later we heard those magical words FISH ONNN, the jammy sod was in again! This time the fight and fish was totally different, the fish kept deep making some fantastic runs and some huge head shakes, this had to be a salmon… but we were never to find out as the hook pulled and the fish disappeared, which was absolutely devastating! Ripon didn’t seem as gutted as we were but as salmon anglers we know that chances don’t come that often!

Ripons first sea trout from the South Tyne

Ripon’s first sea trout from the South Tyne

As I was watching the guys fish the pool through Rip gave me the rod and told me to have a few cast’s while he had a stretch, he would totally regret this seconds later as on my forth cast I connected with a fish which had power I hadn’t felt for a long time – I instantly knew I was into a huge fish that would give me a fight to remember.  Part of me was absolutely gutted for Rip but the other half was full of adrenaline playing this huge beast thinking I may have ended my 20 year search for a 20lb plus salmon. With Phil at the net I guided the enormous fish deeper than anything I’ve seen with my own eyes towards him and with his first and only attempt lifted the net perfectly with the fish safe inside, it looked colossal and is by far the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught! I had finally done it, this fish was over 20lb easily but we didn’t have any scales to get a genuine weight but we all decided it was over 20.  After calming down and getting the fish to some well oxygenated water I got my trophy which are always photos then watched him swim alongside Phil like a well trained dog as he slipped off into the depths, what a sight and what a fish…..!

My first ever 20lb plus Tyne Salmon

My first ever 20lb plus Tyne Salmon

The next morning was the day of the journey but I wanted to give Rip a few more casting lessons which he picked up no bother at all, so good that he some how managed to hook a salmon which put up one hell of a fight and that he played like a pro but devastatingly came off just at the net, not again, he was gutted but a quick reminder of the week ahead pulled him round and made us come back to the house to get ready for our road trip.

The car was packed and we were ready to roll.  A quick goodbye to my girlfriend Vic and so long to Phil who was heading home and we were on our way with heads full of fishy thoughts and hearts full of hope and after what felt like a lifetime constantly stopping for food (if you know me and Rip we don’t stop eating) and to admire the amazing views and also getting lost (we blamed the Sat Nav) we eventually arrived to Ivy Cottage where Emma (from the Big Fish) and Harry her son welcomed us with open arms.  The cottage actually overlooks the river and what a river, absolutely spectacular and even tho it was 3 foot up it was as clear as a fortune teller’s crystal ball, everything was looking great and falling into place and the morning couldn’t come soon enough.

Our home base Ivy cottage on the river Lochy

Our home base Ivy cottage on the river Lochy

Day one we woke to clear skies and a forecast of bright sunshine and high temperatures but this didn’t phase us one bit as we were as excited as kids at christmas, theres something about the build up to fishing new and unchartered waters the mystery and expectations run riot in your head especially when the river produced 25 fish the week before.  It was time to head down to the water to our first beat, now the way the river Lochy beat system works is that due the the length of the river being just 10 miles long it is split into 4 beats which have 4 available rods to fish per beat and they rotate as each day passes which is great as you get the opportunity to fish each beat during the week.  We were to start on beat 4 which is closest to the tidal stretch so we decided to split up so myself and Ripon on the bottom half and Emma and Harry on the top and with the height of water would give us a great chance but after a few hours fishing for some reason it all seemed void of fish and with no fish showing and us being new to the water it all seemed rather intimidating so we decided to do a little exploring and it didn’t take us long to find so amazing pools and runs with truly spectacular scenery but yet again we had no luck, hopefully Emma would have some news she did but unfortunately it was bad in the sense she lost a fish at the bank it was coloured and around 12-14lb but Emma had managed a small sea trout around 2lb on a black and orange tube fly which was great news and a good start to our trip.  We finished the first day overlooking one of the pools with the sun setting in the background and sausages sizzling away on the barbecue thoughts moved to tomorrow a new day and chance of our prize.

Beat 4 on the river Lochy with Ben Nevis in the background

Beat 4 on the river Lochy with Ben Nevis in the background

Day Two saw us move to beat 1 which is the top beat and luckily about 100 yards from the cottage and an endless supply of food, the conditions were again against us with bright sunshine and temperatures of around 24 degrees which after a mornings fishing saw the others retreat back to the cottage i was determined to stick it out and resorted to trout reservoir tactics using my cortland 7 weight with a di 5 line and sunray shadow which was allowed to sink right to the depths which some of the pools can be over 20 feet deep then stripped back at a hefty old pace to try and get a reaction out of a fish as nothing again was showing at all, it didn’t take long to work but unfortunately the wild brownies of the river took a liking to it but i did however get a reaction off something more substantial as the line got ripped from my hands but unfortunately didn’t hook up this would turn out to be the closest i would get to a salmon or sea trout the whole trip.

Day Three Couldn’t of started any better with a phone call from Jason who had just arrived the day before with his son Will saying he had just landed and returned a coloured fish of around 8lb (early bird gets the worm) from beat 2 which was fantastic and gave us all hope but again the conditions were against us with scorching temperatures and constantly dropping water we decided to stick to early morning fishing from 5 to around 11 then 6 until dark when the sun and temperatures drop.  We literally tried all manner of fly’s, lines and retrieves but nothing wanted to play game and Jason’s fish turned out to be the only of the day.

Day Four had us on probably the most spectacular beat being beat Three which has pools and falls that look like something you’d see on a painting or a blockbuster movie.  Again we fished the morning waiting and dreaming of the solid take as the fly swings across the pool, it never came not for any of us which was mind blowing as the pool’s looked and fished perfect but again the weather conditions were against us so morning then turned to afternoon so a plan of scoping the pools out while the sun was at its highest planning the attack the evening.  Myself and Rip decided to fish totally different tactics id fish deep with a mix of tube patterns and he would fish closer to the surface with cascades and bright patterns to try an entice some grilse that surprisingly hadn’t been spotted yet, the bites were instant but from the insect type those horrendous like cretins midges that were unbearable and persistent but we battled through them and managed a few sizeable brownies to half a pound but our silver friends were being illusive as always. Tomorrow would be our last chance and things would have to change or we would be traveling back empty handed.

Ripon casting into a spectacular pool on beat 3 of the river Lochy

Ripon casting into a spectacular pool on beat 3 of the river Lochy

Our last day began with an early start and clear focused heads ready and armed to take on beat Four with the advantage of already fishing the beat and its spectacular pools on the first day with the added bonus of clouds and rain forecast at some point was going to be our best chance.  Between 4 of us we went through every option fishing the pools through quickly and thoroughly so that we covered the whole beat and didn’t miss any fish but again the river was unwilling to give up its secrets and was very quiet and stayed that way until an hour before we had to leave from home.  The conditions seemed to change in an instant with solid cloud cover and heavy rain, the fish obviously sensed this and just like someone turning a tap on started running harder than Usain bolt.  I would say we saw more fish in that last hour than we did the whole week but thats fishing for you and even tho its frustrating thats a reason why we love it so much as a blank day or in this case week spurs you on harder for the next time and it makes that next catch so much more rewarding.  It was time to leave and say bye to Emma and Harry, it was so nice seeing her again she is an amazing women and so very kind to invite us to such an amazing and spectacular river which on its day can be phenomenal but it just wasn’t our week but we will meet again!

 

After getting back to Hexham late on Friday night we decided to have a well deserved lie in well until 9am as i was determined to get Rip his first salmon on the fly so it would be back to my local stretches on the South Tyne where i new there would be fish but it would be hard in summer low conditions and clearing waters but the sight of your home river is hard to beat.  I gave Rip the choice of picking what fly he wanted to use which he opted for one of my Stokoe shrimps which i thought was probably a bit on the large side but he was adamant that he wanted to use it which i eventually gave into which 10 minutes later turned out to be the right decision as those words id waited to hear all week came shrieking from his mouth Fishhhh Onnnnn,  I couldn’t believe it he’d done it he was into a fish and again the runs and head shakes it had to be a salmon it had only taken a week and a 600 mile round trip but the fight was on.  The fish was really going for it and giving head shakes even a punk rocker would be proud of  which is a horrible but great feeling, the minutes were passing and the thoughts of the fish coming off were increasing by the second and as the fish kept coming close but not revealing its flank ready for the net, Rip starting pleading me to hurry up and net it but stabbing at a fish that isn’t ready with a treble in the corner of its jaw is a disaster waiting to happen but in an instant the fish turned within reaching distance and bang it was in the net, Rip went crazy dancing and singing like lunatic which i cant deny that i joined in with as for me seeing someone catch their first salmon (around 10-12lb) is as close to catching one myself.  Again Rip played the fish like an absolute pro and the only time it left the water was for a few quick photos before being released.

Ripon with his First ever South Tyne Atlantic Salmon on the fly

Ripon with his First ever South Tyne Atlantic Salmon on the fly

Even tho 3 of us had a fish-less week on the Lochy it truly is a spectacular place with pool’s and runs that miranda through the most breath taking countryside in the shadow of the one and only Ben Nevis and i can promise that i will be back to fish its waters in the future if i’m lucky enough……..!