The morning of the third day already felt warmer than the days before. The daily jet-boat flotilla had broken through the haze on Lake Creek before any of us could muster the energy to crawl out of our tents.
Mike and Will collected wood for a fire and another freeze-dried meal. Alaska’s Lake Creek teamed with pinks, chums, and a few held-over, spawned-out kings. Trailing behind, large rainbows snatched eggs errantly carried away by the current. The four of us had caught several of each, and all on fly gear. It was Will, on the first evening, who caught a silver (coho). Since that first night, we had longed for another meal of fresh silver salmon!
That morning, on their long trip back to the coastal lodge for more fishermen, a couple of river pilots stopped to chat. Mak, always alert to an opportunity, recognized one of the men from the day before. They spoke briefly and confirmed our suspicions about the silvers: the majority of the run remained downstream. Sympathetically, one of the boatman offered to take us back down to the best fishing during the evening’s dry-run back. What a break!
We passed the time at our drop-camp resting and pitching rocks to each other in a make-shift home run derby. By 5 p.m. we were pacing on the river’s edge—then the sound of boats. True to his word, our new friend waved as he went by with the cargo of fishermen, soon returning for us.
These pilots knew the river! We traveled the roughly two-mile stretch at a rock-skipping pace, especially considering the river’s low water condition, curves, and rapids. After a few instructions, we pushed the bow of the boat back into the river, and it soon disappeared around a bend. The long-anticipated moment had arrived.
The water was an oxbow pool that was formally the main river channel, now just a slough that backed up from one inlet of the river’s current path. Coho and a few chum salmon were stacked in the still water like goldfish in a city park pond. Like fish in a barrel? Perhaps, but this was a subsistence fishing trip, and aesthetics were not an issue—after all, we were still in Alaska. Besides, we still had to entice the fish to strike the flies that were offered.
It wasn’t long before everyone had fish on in twos and threes. The shiniest streamer-style flies, pulled past the fish in quick jerks, were enough to incite an occasional strike from either salmon species. Otherwise they chased each other ’round and ’round their self-imposed holding pen. To increase the challenge, Mike enticed a couple to take topwater flies—a feat that impressed us all.
The Alaska summer sun looped below the treeline as we collected our larder of two bright coho and boarded the boat back to camp. This was another river pilot that knew of our deal and gladly obliged. He seemed to fancy himself a pirate—large gold hoop earring, head scarf, and all! He was incredibly funny and kept us entertained the entire trip back to camp.
Once back in camp everyone scrambled to collect utensils, spices, and firewood. All for the delight of dining on another supper of silvers.