Alaska Rainbow Bend Lodge August 3-8, 2016 Trip Summary: Sometimes timing is everything and this happened to be the case when Tom Baumgartner, owner of Rainbow Bend Lodge sent out a mass email to his past clients advertising a special deal for a border week between king salmon and silver salmon season. The attraction: Pink salmon only return to Alaskan rivers on even numbered years and the week in question would be at the peak of the bi-annual run. Many people don’t value fishing for pink salmon instead coveting their more famous cousins, but for kids, they are fantastic fish and I have to admit, I have never met an adult that didn’t secretly like catching them too. The fish we would be pursuing were “super pinks” minted right from the ocean and freakishly large for their size in the Naknek River. Because decades ago I used to be a fishing guide in this area of Alaska, I decided, this was the perfect opportunity to take our kids Ryan and Kate, my wife Diane, and Father in law Frank Mason to experience the area I guided in the late 90's. My goal was to give them the whole Alaska experience complete with salmon, trout, float planes, bears and inclement weather. Maybe not the last part, but they got to experience that too. True to prediction, the week in question ended up being off the charts for pink salmon fishing. We had doubles, triples and the kids caught dozens by themselves. I think one day we fished in two boats with Tom and his brother Don and the kids kept track, 30, 40, 50 . . . I can’t remember, but it was a pink-o-rama every single day - pinks with humps, pinks with spots, pinks with sea lice, pinks with bites, pinks with teeth, pinks that were chrome, pinks that were green. It was a constant menu of pinks right out of the movie Forest Gump. Beyond the pinks came a bizarre late season chrome bright sockeye that decided to eat a pink jig, a nice brace of silvers that fed us like hungry bears, and a lottery of char, and trout that kept everybody guessing. The Naknek River was the highest it has been in 40 years according to the National Park Service at Brooks. When we arrived, the water was way up in the grass and the lakes feeding the rivers were filled to the brim. The way I designed our trip was 3 days of river fishing for pinks, and 2 days of fly outs to remote rivers in the area. I wanted the kids to experience seeing bears in their natural environment, and have that feeling of being dropped off by a float plane in the middle of pure and pristine wilderness. We ended up doing two fly outs, both of which were diverted to unplanned locations compliments of Alaska’s unpredictable and oftentimes severe weather. Fly out #1 was headed towards a location called Featherly creek, but was instead diverted to one of the most beautiful locations I have ever visited in Alaska called Ugashik Narrows. There the kids caught char and grayling hemmed in by snowcapped mountains and colorful grassy flats painted in bright pink fireweed flowers. Ironically while it stormed angrily with blackened skies all around us, there was a glorious bubble of golden light over us all day which kept us warm and dry except for Kate who decided to go swimming intentionally in the river since her waders had developed a leak anyways. Because I wanted the kids to see bears and there are generally none at Ugashik Narrows, fly out #2 was planned for a creek called Margot Creek. However, once again Alaska had other plans and severe weather resulted in us being diverted to the iconic Brooks River where bears stand atop a magnificent waterfall catching salmon with their gaping jaws. At Brooks, we all went to bear school and then got to watch three bears from the viewing platform catch sockeye as they played Russian Roulette jumping up the falls amid the ravenous bears. Next we climbed down the emergency steps past the warning signs and walked out under the viewing platform though tall, green spooky bear grass to fish in the first legal fishing spot below the famous falls. This is a popular spot that guides like to fish because it has easy wading and the bears are up close and personal . The fishing is great too and we all caught trout and grayling. Both kids got the experience of their lives fishing across from bears as they fished for sockeye and pink salmon in their natural habitat. Sometimes Kate’s eyes looked like she had just seen a bear! On the final day of fishing the Naknek, I borrowed a boat from Tom and took Ryan out on a special fly-fishing mission to try out a new Orvis 7 weight fly rod I had given him for the trip. The water was too high in most places to wade and no one was fishing the river from shore, but I remembered a place where I had caught fish before when I guided one season on the Naknek River. At this special spot in the river, on Ryan’s first cast with his new fly rod, he hooked and landed the trout of a lifetime on a Popsicle fly. I personally have only caught one trout of this quality in Alaska and I told him how special this moment was. Without a net, we managed to subdue the monster near the edge of the flooded grass. We are guessing the trout was in the 28-30 inch range. It had never been caught as evidenced by a lack of hook scarring on its mouth which is common on Alaskan trout. It was a migratory lake rainbow which most likely came down from Naknek Lake to feed in the lower river. Ryan proceeded to catch a silver salmon and 4 more rainbows before the light started to wane and we headed back to the lodge to eat a luxury fresh salmon dinner and play 5 Card Texas Holdem with the kids.

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