Gold in Them Thar Hills

It did not take much for my good friend Christie Dobson to convince me that I should take her fishing. We have made two attempts to run the upper section of the Middle Fork of the American River without success, and we thought the third time was going the be the charm. On our first trip we set shuttle and made it almost all the way to put-in. Upon approaching the Tunnel Chute over-look, we noticed many whitewater rafting vans stopped. It turns out something happened at the dam and the scheduled release was cancelled for the day. So, we had to divert back to the lower section which you can float at 200cfs. On our second attempt, we made it to the river. Christie had a good day but lost a big rainbow towards the end of the day. She hooked it at the beginning of a long class II rapid. She managed to fight him all the way through the rapid, then I blew it and caught the wrong eddy. That one got away. Third times a charm, as always.

Here, Christie shows us here prize.

After this success I turned my attention to teaching Christie how to manage the oars so I could get some Rod time. It took some time but on the same fly, I was able to stick another nice Buck.

We were fishing a 200 grain full sink line with two feet of 0x. I tie a fly I call the Sex Pig. Its a cross between Kelly Gallops ‘Sex Dungeon” and the “Ditch Pig”. Strip as fast as you can….

American Creek, Katmai National Park Alaska

From Sacramento to put-in required five flights over a two day period. On the second to last leg of the flight, we stopped at Rainbow River Lodge to load the plane for the final push to put-in.

After waiting for the cloud ceiling to lift, we were on our way and set to arrive mid day.

The pontoons of the small plane settled on the water without even a bump, and we motored toward the beach.

In a few minutes we are off-loading all of the gear that will support us for a 6 day float down American Creek – which is actually a river with a flow of about 1200 cfs. Our put in is Hammersley Lake, about 60 miles south of the southern shore of Lake Illiawma.

Our guide , Jon Streeter quickly inflates the 14 foot raft, attaches the oar frame, and begin loading the gear –tents, stove, chairs, cots, spare oar, water filter system, bear box with all of our food….. our gear goes on as well, fly rods, and equipment, clothing for all types of weather, toilet kit, cameras, and a couple of books – everything in waterproof bags.

For the next 6 days, we will live in our boots and waders, and layered clothing that ranges from only a T-shirt on a day when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, to seven layers of clothes – (everything I had), when we encounter cold rain, heavy winds, and temps in the low 40’s.

Now loaded with our gear, plus three guys, Jon, my son Robby, and myself we slowly enter the creek. Over the next six days we will cover about 45 miles to reach our take out at Lake Colvill.

The first fish belongs to Robby, a 22 inch rainbow that falls for a size 14 Adams. The weather is drizzly and very wet, there is no wind; this section of the river is very wide, wadeable all the way across, with lots of small riffles and long glassy runs. We are using 0X tippet – they are not leader shy.

The afternoon passes quickly – we land numerous rainbows up to 23 inches. But now we have to get down the river a couple of miles and set up camp. A small damp, gravel bar will be our home for the night. It looks singularly uninviting until our cook tent goes up, some chairs get set up, and we start snacking on some cheese, salami, and crackers. At 11 o’clock in the evening, the sun still has not set, we go to bed with our hats shading the still bright light.

On our second day we remain in tundra terrain, and camp about 100 yards from a long deep run, with a large back eddy on the far side. Nymphing the run immediately produces a nice char, and then another and another, and another. Robby and Jon wade across and search for an angle to present a dry fly in the eddy, and ‘boom!’, its fish on with a big rainbow.

The char hug the bottom and only seldom will jump after being hooked, but the quantity of them in this run is astounding.

Now we are moving down into heavily forested terrain. We see our first grizzly with two cubs about a mile away. She is maneuvering down a steep slide area several hundred feet above the river when she loses her footing and rolls head over heels for 100 feet or so.

Well, it just shows that its not just humans that take risks in the heights, and it turns out she appears to be uninjured. At camp that night we are introduced to Alaska’s national bird, the mosquito.

I have a spray bottle of 100% Deet and it is my constant companion for the next few days. Our guide Jon who is exposed for the entire season is reluctant to use Deet on a daily basis, so he wears a head net.

As we lose altitude, more grizzlies appear like ghosts moving in and out of the dense brush. They want nothing to do with us. In fact when they are close they refuse to make eye contact.

They just turn and leave, or keep moving on. It is clear that neither party wants anything to do with the other.

The gradient of the river is steeper now, about 450 feet per mile. Lots of pocket water; the river braids into multiple small channels. Several times we are forced to exit the raft and clear away logs and brush to keep moving. At one point the river comes together and there is a huge rapid – class 4, which Jon expertly negotiates.

On our 4th day we have dropped over 1000 feet in elevation and we start to see a few fleeting red forms in the water – sockeyes! This is what is drawing the bears, but as yet, the sockeye are still too few in number and too fresh and fast for the bears to catch them.

The weather changes to unbelievably hot 85 degrees or so. Moose flies, which are gigantic versions of horse flies buzz around us constantly. The fish shut down – we don’t get a hit for hours-, so we entertain ourselves killing moose flies with our hat brims.

Jon offers us his own mouse pattern – made something like a gurgler with gray foam and of-course legs and a tail. This pattern, and some big stimulators produce well.

It is hard work, we have to wade down the middle of the river and work the banks and pocket water… but in my view, there is nothing more satisfying in fly fishing that drawing strike with such a presentation.

In one small run I hook a sockeye. It is nine pounds of saltwater muscle. In a few seconds all my line and most of my backing is off the reel. The fish is 150 yards down the river. John Streeter is trying to get a hold of my fly line (before I lose the whole thing), and the fish is now thrashing just a few feet from Robby, who now tails it.

The fish turns out to be dinner – salmon fritters – just a couple of hours later.

The river opens up as it approaches the lake; the terrain is marshy, the river now 200 feet wide with a surface like glass. Robby dabbles again with a parachute Adams, and lands the biggest rainbow of the trip, a 25 Incher.

One might be surprised that 25 inches is the measure of our biggest rainbow, but keep in mind that we deliberately scheduled our trip to avoid the salmon run. The benefit is that we got to use all fly fishing techniques – using dries, streamers, terrestrials and nymphs. Once the salmon are in, the rainbows grow much larger as they gorge on eggs and salmon flesh – but the fly fishing then is pretty well restricted to one type of presentation – nymphing with egg patterns and flesh flies.

Now its time for the plane to pick us up and fly us back to civilization. The trip of a lifetime!

We arranged our trip through Rainbow River Lodge, which is owned and operated by Chad Hewitt. I now have a lot of appreciation for the outfitter of such a trip who must provide, bush plane, food, raft, tents and equipment, and of-course a great guide and oarsman – our guy Jon Streeter.

Words By John Hogg Photos By Robby Hogg

2013 Summer Recap: The Sex Pig

The last weekend in September marks the last days of water on the Middle Fork American River. Due to the agreement form the Hydro Electric re-license process, they are only required to release fish flow (204cfs) after Oct. 1st. I spent many days out here this summer, and out of necessity, we got time to work on our fly selection as well. Mainly fishing with large Woolly Buggers, and several of Kelly Gallop’s designs, including the Sex Dungeons. I found bigger the better, and the faster you striped, the harder they hit. No matter where you fish, the debate has always been over what Color you’re fishing?

I stick with black so I only have to buy one color of fly material. However, olive and white patterns produce as well.

On one of our commercial trips, the client pulled out a fly called the Ditch Pig. Its was big, and moved some big fish.

The Sex Pig(show above) is what I came up with. A cross between the Sex Dungeon and the Ditch Pig is one of the many patterns that the boys like to eat! Produced several 25″+ brownies.

Raft Flips at Ruck-A-Chucky Falls

Ruck-A-Chucky Falls is the portage on the Middle Fork of the American river. Located about 15 miles downstream of Oxbow Dam. Running this waterfall, ideally, you try to stay left at the bottom of the drop. Due to the heavy fishing frame I went straight in and pushed right, leaving me not quite enough room to fit through. Watch as my raft squeezes through the birthing canal and flips.

Fly Fishing: Chili Bar: September, 2011

On Friday, 9/23/11, we brought Greg A. and Dick H. on our Chili Bar fishing trip. We had a great day with both guys hooking into several very nice fish. We were on the river by 8:00am, and the action started instantly. At put in, I noticed some fish working on the surface on the other side of the eddy. Our main focus of the day was going to be fishing big streamers on type six sinking lines, sometimes using split shot. However, I rigged Dick’s rod with a small foam body dry fly to start, and he hooked up a nice little rainbow on his first cast of the day! At this point, I knew it was going to be a good day. Within the first mile, Greg slams a big brown. For the rest of the day, we fished hard, and both guys hooked into several nice fish.

Fish on at The nugget

This nice rainbow trout was caught in the run just below 2nd Threat