Thursday, May 23, 2013

And then there were two...Second Float

Wednesday evenings dinner was a celebration of sorts.  We had managed to tune a few insanely large steelhead all the while getting drenched yet again to the core.  The Steaks were just that much better on the heels of an epic day.  Over dinner and drinks the conversation naturally turned to what was in order for Day 5 or Thursday.  I certainly wanted to float the river but there was a mood of apprehensiveness in the air…some reluctance if you will and for good reason.  It had now been raining continuously for some 48 hrs  with no end in sight. 
The weatherman threatened yet another couple of days of 50+mm or 2+” each day.  The river was now literally rising right before our eyes.  After Tuesdays inaugural ass whooping in the drift boat Red was quite verbal that he could not pull off another 11 hour float.  He could do it but was in no shape to offer any assistance and still reluctant at that.  He was smashed and still sore from the long float and the incident where he almost went ass over tea kettle into the river.  I had only gotten a taste of the river on Tuesday and the little I had gotten left me longing to fish the lower river hard. 
The pods of fish and sexy water we blew by in pursuit of the pull out late in the day on Tuesday left me feeling short changed.  This coupled with the fact that we had gotten a bump in the flow had me dreaming about a gigantic push of epic proportion.  My logic had no effect on Red.  Actually it had the opposite.  Tuesday seemed to have taken its toll on Old Man Maxfield and put the fear of God into him.  Red wasn’t about to roll the dice on a quickly rising Situk after what he had witnessed and experienced a few days prior.  I was open for suggestions and wasn’t about to dismiss the possibility of another unguided float now having seen the river first hand. 
I was game to pull it off again but I was certainly in no position to row three of us in a giant 16’ tin can some 14 miles or so down river.  After all I was on vacation too and  physically it would have killed me to repeat Tuesdays float without any one spelling me off on the oars.   I was open to suggestions.  One of the options the boys came up with was to hire a guide for the day to float three of us down.  It was an interesting proposition so we talked to the head guide and found out that there was an opening for the day.  Naturally the conversation reached the fee structure and our end of day cost. 
We were taken aback when we learned it would be $300 per person plus tip.  I was the first one out only beating Scotty by a half a second and quickly followed by Red.  A thousand dollar day was no where on my radar especially not knowing  exactly what impact the last 4-6” of rain would have instore for us down low.  With this option abruptly ruled out we were left with only two choices.  The first was to run the river ourselves as we had travelled to Yakutat to do or wade fish up by 9 mile bridge again.  Scotty was quick to proclaim that he didn’t come to Alaska to fish under a bridge and I shared his sentiments exactly. 
Red stated he was more than happy to fish up at 9-mile solo so we devised a plan that saw Red fish the bridge and pick us up at the take out later in the evening.  It was finalized and we informed the lodge staff that we would require a drift boat for two of us in the morning.
Later that evening, after a few drinks it was becoming apparent that Red was somewhat concerned for our well being.  He made no bones about it and stated he thought we were going to have our hands full with the rising river conditions and we were crazy for even thinking about it.  We laughed it off and changed the topic back to the days successes and the crazy amount of giant steelies we tricked. 
I could tell Red was really looking forward to hitting that big run up by the bridge again.  He ran the switch rod all day trying to mimic what is done best with a centerpin and was really looking forward to another crack at her with his float rod.
We awoke Thursday morning to the sound of heavy rain on the metal roof of the cabin.  It was relentless and becoming the norm.  We arrived for breakfast to an empty lodge.  The guides were  long gone and only the kitchen staff remained.  We ordered breakfast and  notified our server that we would require pack lunches for the day and our driftboat hooked up to the van as soon as possible. 
She had a puzzled look on her face followed by a warm smile before disappearing to the kitchen.  A while later she came back with our orders and notified us that the staff were across the way working on remodelling the old barracks accommodations and that I would have to find one of the guys over there to get the drift boat.  Red was getting antsy and started to caution us on proceeding with our intended float.  While I searched for some help in the pouring rain Red was verbally putting the fear of God into poor Scotty back at the van.  In my absence he had totally convinced Scotty our proposed float was a dire mistake. 
Luckily for me I found our buddy Ben and together we hooked up a sweet little 14’ drift boat complete with super light Carlisle oars.  It was now nearing 8:30 and I made my way back to the van to tell Scotty we were good to go and was greeted by silence.  Reluctantly Scotty asked me what the game plan was and I looked him in the eye and sternly proclaimed…”We’re goin Fishin Brother!”  I must have instilled some sense of confidence in my demeanor because a look of relief came across his face accompanied by a giant smile. 
Red fell back into his seat and proclaimed we were crazy or something to that sort.  I am certain Red thought we were going to die in our endeavours.  His concern was genuine and nice to know someone cared but we didn't let hime know that.   We joked about what lay before us as we made the 9 mile drive out to the launch.  I told the boys I had made peace with all of the people important in my life the night prior via wifi so I was good to give her hell today.  Along the way Red suggested we take his lunch with us on the float in the event we run into some trouble.  Once again he was certain no good was to come of our efforts.  We finally reached the launch and dropped the boat in.  The river was up at least 3 feet since our arrival on Sunday and flowing proud.  We revisited the meeting time and details, bid our farewells, and set out on another adventure into the unknown.

Our game plan was pretty simple.  We were going to blow through the first 4-6 miles of river without even wetting a line. 
This would afford us the luxury of fishing all the sweet water on the lower river that we had passed up on Tuesday in lieu of making the launch before dark.  With the increased river level and flow we were making great time.  The smaller drift boat and decreased cargo weight had us manipulating the river like downtown.  The first 2 miles  remained crystal clear but as we proceeded further we started to pick up some stain and colour.  We come around a big bend in the river to a gathering of 4 or so drift boats.  We had reached  the “forks”.  The guides were positioned here with their clients fishing the clear water line from the incoming flow.  There was a well-defined interface  of clear water and partially stained water running three to four hundred yards down stream. 
Upon our Approach Tommy from the lodge turned around and cautioned us to be super careful from this point forward.  He went on to tell us that he had packed his chainsaw in the event safe passage needed to be cut.  We told him our plan of fishing the lower river and he laughed at the suggestion stating that it wouldn’t even be recognizable from our previous drift.   This got me concerned so we positioned the boat just below the grouping and fished the seam coming off of a small point of land jutting out into the main flow.  The anchor was barely holding our position when my float dropped and I was into the first fish of the morning. 
It was a hot fish and pulled the boat further down river until the anchor reset.  Scotty manned the net.  We went over the boat netting technique in the fast water and agreed upon our strategy.  I have to admit I really didn’t see the entire ordeal ending well but Scotty came through and made an amazing scoop.  It was another great moment and cheers erupted from our boat.  After a few pics we sent the pretty lady on her way.  The boat was a good hundred feet from where we had hit that fish so I pulled anchor and attempted to row up against the flow.  It quickly became apparent that I would not be revisiting that line and any upstream momentum was not  in the cards.  We floated another hundred feet or so down river until I set us up in front of a smaller feeder creek emptying into the main flow. 
Once again after a few drifts I was into another hot fish.  It certainly was looking promising and after another stellar battle and amazing net job we had our second large hen in the boat.  Visions of a giant push of fresh fish entered my head and once again we found ourselves floating down stream in search of another fishy looking locale.  The further we floated the dirtier the water became and soon we found ourselves in 12-16” of visibility.  We rounded a bend and arrived at the forest service cabins.  We now knew we were a mile or two from the midway point and it was looking like we would be at the takeout a lot earlier than we had initially anticipated.   We were making crazy time and blasting through the obstacles like professionals in the 14 footer.  We tried all of the slack high water hideout vantage points but the rising flow and muddied waters made our efforts somewhat futile. 
We made the best of it enjoying the scenery, cracking a few beers, eating our lunches and laughing at all the crazy things Red had said or done on the trip so far.  The better part of the day was spent with some good old fashioned Tom Foolery in the middle of nowhere Alaska.  We stopped periodically for a few drifts but it was pretty much pointless.  One repeated theme of the day was a discussion on what we would order that night for dinner back at the lodge. 
We must have analyzed every option and combination on the menu until we were firm and set on Double Cheeseburgers with fries and sides of onion rings.  It was a genius soul food selection for two wet and cold river rats that would certainly recharge our engines.  If for nothing more than to pick up our spirits we had prize at the end of the road. 
We rounded the last bend and the smell of salt and the crash of the ocean waves became apparent to our olfactory.  We were very close and it was only 5pm.  Tommy the lodge guide had been on our heels for the past mile or so and I wasn’t about to let him overtake me so I stayed on the oars hard right to the pull out. 
We shared a laugh about it once he pulled in behind us with his two clients.  He offered to shuttle us back to the lodge but we feared we would miss Red in passing so we opted to let Tommy relay the message to him that we were at the pullout early if they should cross paths.  We had 4 beers left.  We killed some time walking out into the estuary beach combing and exploring.  We also checked out some old dilapidated fishing camps that had been left for ruin long ago.  This is an extreme and harsh environment and it was obvious that Mother Nature wastes no time here reclaiming what once belonged to her.  We met a few fellows that had flown in from Anchorage that morning and planned on hiking up river to fish.  We made small talk passing time while we nursed our last beer.  It was now nearing 7pm and we noticed the headlights of what appeared to be a white Ford Econoline van making its way through the minefield of potholes along the Lost River Road.  We were certain it had to be Red and I joked to Scotty that he better have brought us some cold Beers for the ride back.  It was indeed Red and he made the turn around and started to back the trailer down towards the river to the boat. 

Once we loaded her up Red  notified us he had taken the liberty to order us both Steaks with Baked potatoes to go and they were awaiting us in the van.  Poor Scotty’s heart stopped beating for a few minutes while he was deciding whether he should choke poor Red and throw him in the river now or kill him later back at the cabin. LOL!  Our dreams of Double Cheese Burgers and Onion Rings were crushed by a very thoughtful and generous act of human kindness.  A long damp and cold day on the river will test a man’s reasoning and  patience and what may have been the nicest thing anyone had ever done to us was taken in the opposite regard.   Red didn’t waste any time notifying us he brought along two full cases of cold Rainier as well so his status instantly returned from Zero to Hero in a matter of seconds.  I will admit the steaks certainly smelled amazing and one can never really have a bad Rib steak but the thought of those homemade cheese burgers with the Onion Rings haunted us all evening.  Poor Scotty was devastated.  
The ride back was filled with stories from the day and the periodic verbal jabs about the Steaks.  We laughed and rested our smashed and tired bodies as the van pounded the potholes on the way out.  Red notified us he had a successful morning and managed to turn 8 fish up at the bridge in the half day he fished.  He spent the remainder of the day taking a nap at the cabin, getting beer, filling the van with Gas, and having a relaxing solo meal back at the warm and dry lodge prior to Tommy finally remembering to tell him we were down at the launch early waiting for him.  We were certain Red had eaten Cheese Burgers and Onion rings for his dinner but he wasn’t going to admit it at any cost.  That decision probably saved his life…LOL!  We made it back to the cabin around 8pm, hung our damp gear to dry,  and settled in for some laughs over beers for the remainder of the evening.  All the while the rains kept falling…


Steeliemax said...

I didn't have the heart to tell Scotty how good his onion rings were lol

lambton said...

Scotty didn't have the heart to tell u he brushed his taint with your tooth brush that night.

Gil said...

Brilliant entry Brian.

( fock you guys are hilarious!!!)