HFest 3: Horker Apocalypse......the Final Chapter....
We’ve had a fabulous fall up here in Alaska…..normally fall consists of one week with the trees starting to turn, then a cold snap, the wind blows and within two weeks the leaves are all gone and we move straight from summer to winter with about a 10-14 day fall intermission. Not so this year…..we’ve had a full month so far of slowly turning leaves and the weather slowly turning colder….best autumn we’ve had in my 20 years up here. I debated going down to the Kenai one last time as the cooler weather was evident by the mountains turning white on my drive home from work:
Additionally, I had not obtained an appropriately signed, dated, and notarized spousal permission form her royal wifeyness. But come Thursday she consented to let me run off one more Friday. I called my buddy Dennis and sure enough, he was open…..told him to pack up the boat we were going horker hunting one more time.
On the ritual 125 mile drive down to the Kenai River I began to have a few doubts as the temperature reading kept dropping and by the time I reached the river it was a positively blistering 28 degrees….and damp. There was a mist rising off the river from the temperature gradient and I knew my fingers were going to be very chilly until it warmed a bit….but the river was gorgeous:
For some odd reason (could have something to do with the necessity of me washing my hands 3 million times everyday….) my index finger and thumb on both hands get very cracked, chapped, split and painful as I fish. So I have begun wrapping them with a fabric tape to prevent this…..well between that and the lovely cold weather I couldn’t feel my index finger on my right hand for the first two hours. Those who flyfish much would understand my problem…..that index finger holds the flyline tight against the rod…..especially on striking and playing of the fish. Shoot I couldn’t even feel if my index finger was touching the rod let alone the flyline…..made for some interesting issues on the first several fish as I’d lose the flyline and everything would become a comedy of errors from there. Around the first bend we managed six or seven fish…this dolly being the best of the bunch….kind of a minihorker:
As I walked around the island the sun was just peaking up over the valley sides and made a striking fall picture:
The water level had dropped by half since last Friday…..from over 11,000cfs to 5,500cfs totally changing where the fish would be. Our initial Horkfest site in the first gate produced absolutely zero fish. We continued on for nearly 3 hours only catching a few small to medium dollies and rainbows. By now I could actually feel my index finger….barely. We still had nothing significant into the 3rd gate of the Kenai when we decided to cross to the other side which was in the sunlight…..and here we finally located an infestation of horkers. My first cast in produced this nice blimpie:
YEAH…..now we were freaking horking again. Not too long later came the first fatty’s sister:
We felt like someone was watching…..then looking up right behind us we spotted a rather large white-headed fishpecker eyeing our catches…..when I got out the camera he proved to be a bit shutter shy and fled:
Several small dollies followed the obese bows……looking up the third gate here was also very picturesque:
Dennis and I were having a vigorous debate (it’s always very difficult to win an argument with your guide about terminal tackle on “his” water) on the bead color for the day….I was using my very successful, this year anyway, natural roe with mottled nail polish color while he was using a much lighter tangerine bead painted with a pink pearlesnce nail polish (not sure what name brand….these are closely held trade secrets). We sounded like two women chatting while getting a pedicure. He promptly tried to assert the superiority of his prostituted bead color with a very nice horktrocity:
He was quietly gloating….looking very smug and smirking when I tagged a more slightly modest rainbow myself (this one was almost too svelte to be considered a horkster):
And as we left the now exhausted fishing spot, continuing the float, I wiped the smuggy, know-it-ally smirking away with another fine horker:
Of course, it would be less than honest of me to admit that Dennis was not fishing much as his last big horker had taken him quite awhile to land and his back was killing him…..at least that’s what he claimed, though he had no doctor’s note to verify his contention. By now it had warmed up to a blistering 44 degrees and I was tempted to shed my shirt to improve my nonexistent suntan but resisted the urge.
We picked up a herd of smaller dollies and rainbows until we got down to the area of last weeks horkfest. Although the water flow had taken away the bigger part of the fishing hole here there was one good fish horked on the outside edge (we managed to get the lense all wet for this one):
As we got near Skilak Lake Dennis picked up his rod and again tried to assert his “supposedly” superior bead color with our last real horker of the day (BTW he claims that thing in his mouth is an active form of bug repellant….hmmmm):
The final ˝ mile of river was just full of dollies going from 12 -15 inches but none of the big ones could be found. There was a weather front moving in and the wind was really picking up and the lake was lookin a little gnarly, so we decided it had been another great day, especially this late in the year, and we headed out across Skilak to the boat launch. The mountains on the other side had gotten a serious snowfall the night before:
As always the beautiful fall colors along the lake were impressive:
Moving around the last point to the launch we were ogled by a majestic baldy bidding us goodbye for this year:
On the long drive to the launch Dennis’s labrador, Chip (you can see his face behind in some of the pictures), hates when there are waves and had crawled down at my feet and stuck his head under my arm. Really made me wax melancholy for my big old chocolate lab, Rex, who passed from cancer about a month ago.
As I waited for Dennis to get the car and trailer into the water I looked out across Skilak, into the waning sun, feeling great about a fabulous year of horkinating (hopefully that’s not morally offensive to anyone) on the Kenai….hopefully it will fish well again next year.
P.S.: Of course any decent writer would leave this report as being classically concluded and have a nice tidy end to the season. But, hey….it’s me….things couldn’t quite end so peacefully. I really…..no I mean it, REALLY intended on driving straight home to Eagle River………….BUT it was a little earlier than normal and although Quartz Creek rarely produces this late in the season…….I sucuumbed again to the primal urge to “check it out”. Driving down the pot-holed dirt road to the Crescent Creek campground I found there was no one else around…at all. As I pulled in and walked to the creek I could still see some spawning sockeye….amazing, they have never persisted this long into the season. My first drag through I hooked onto a very nice dolly and while wrestling for the camera she got off. I was by myself for half an hour when another fisherman showed up and moved upstream a bit. After working up to him we had a brief chat and I moved to a backwater area which is very calm but had lots of spawning reds. There were 3 or 4 dollies working around the reds scooping up eggs as they darted around…..one fish was a very hefty, beautifully colored male…him I wanted bad. In this absolutely calm, virtually no current backwater these dollies are extremely skittish….the other guy had tried them for 34 minutes without luck. Me, well, I have a personal philosophy for these difficult fish. First you have to pick a good spot to just freeze and watch their movements for a while….they tend to be repetitive. After figuring out a basic pattern I try to just lay my bead on the bottom where they will swim close by….if you move it at all they take off. This little game was going on for about 30 minutes when finally one of the smaller dollies sucked it up. After releasing that, I dropped it several feet in front of the big one but as he got close another smaller fish darted in and sucked it up…..ahhhhhh. By now the skies were darkening and as I stood, unmoving for another 20 or 30 minutes trying to get the big guy to inhale my bead….I thought there was a rustling right across from me in the bushes. This was an IDEAL bear feeding spot…..and my motionless, noiseless, stealthy position for the last hour is not exactly the ideal way to behave in bear country. Sure enough as I peered into the bankside alders there was a big, brown (did I mention big?....like really big?) teddy bear face staring out in my direction…..from about 30 feet away….which is wayyyyyyyyy too close. He stepped down right to the creek opposite me. Now this brought on a interesting conundrum in my feeble, deteriorating grey matter. Oft I have criticized people in accounts where they did absolutely the wrong thing when confronted by a big brownie…..which usually got them seriously chomped on. It’s always easy to be the distant critic when you haven’t been in the situation….oh, I’ve seen my fair share of bears, blacks and browns, but never this close, all alone with the bear generally unaware of my presence. I didn’t move….but stood up straight, waved my arms, yelling “Hey, bear”……this is Dennis’s technique. After a few moments the bear froze and was giving me the hard look over….I have to admit being pretty proud of myself that there was no urge to turn and run….the absolute worst thing to do. As a matter-of-fact the stupid part of my brain actually interjected momentarily the thought of reaching for my camera instead of the pepper spray but I resisted the urge. Not sure if it would have worked due to age (I need to get a new can….make a note) but I had it out and the safety off. Fortunately the bear must have recognized my serious resolve, or extreme manliness (more probably he knew I would be old, tasteless and tough to eat) but he turned and moved back into the forest. Okay….it’s time to just mosey on….walked back down the stream, encountering the other fly guy, and informed him of the impending bruin fishing trip just upstream and we both headed for our cars. Great way to end the year fishing the Kenai and Quartz…..will probably be packing next year when I fish Quartz….in addition to the bear spray.
Hopefully more fishing elsewhere is still in store this year……
Breathtaking report as always Doc.
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WOW , AWESOME REPORT AND PICS , Thanks for sharing .
I for one will miss these great reports Doc. Can't wait for your next one. Hope you have a safe and as short as humanly possible winter.
Beautiful photos and some damn fine horkers! (Although part of me wishes this report was "HFest 3: Hooker Apocalypse"...)