Tikchik Narrows Lodge, Day Five: Creek Walking

Written by: Phil Monahan

Will and John celebrate landing a very big rainbow trout after working hard for it.
Photos by Charles Hildick-Smith

For our fifth day at Alaska’s Tikchik Narrows Lodge, guide Will Paul planned a cool adventure: “creek walking” in Tikchik State Park. Our targets were migratory rainbows, which should be just coming into the small river in anticipation of the sockeye-salmon run.

Pilot Steve Larsen landed the Beaver float plane on a remote lake, and we geared up for a short hike through muskeg and forest to get to the river. Joining us again was fellow guest John Rucker. If you’ve never walked on muskeg, it can be an interesting experience. The ground feels strangely soft, and there’s a slight suction effect with each step. Luckily for us, the ground wasn’t particularly wet, which made things a little easier.

The crew hikes across a muskeg field on the way to the river.

After hiking across two fields and a stand of trees, we came to a bluff overlooking the river, which was a trout angler’s dream. Perhaps 50 feet across at its widest, the river was an endless series of riffles, pools, and runs with plenty of what biologists call IWD, in-stream woody debris. Will decided that we’d hit ’em high and low: I would fish a mouse pattern on top, and John would strip a streamer below the surface.

Frequent cries of “Hey bear!” could be heard from the front of the line.

For the next six hours, we walked downstream, casting mice and streamers at likely looking spots and shouting “Hey Bear!” before rounding every corner. There wasn’t too much bear sign, but the occasional paw print on a sandbar was enough to keep us on alert.

Will races with the net to land my first mouse-eater, which nearly beached itself.

Out first fish attacked the mouse pattern just as it came to the end of the swing, right next to the near bank. I was just about to pick up the fly to recast, when a rainbow blew up on the fly. It was so close to the bank, that its first jump partially beached it before it wriggled back into the water. After a short fight, Will had it in the net. I have not caught that many trout on mice in my career, so it was a special fish even if it wasn’t a trophy. Over the course of the day, I landed one more on the mouse, but also had several trout follow, slash at, and nose the pattern without eating it, which was also cool to see.

This trout REALLY wanted that mouse and chased it almost to the bank.

The trout of the day was a big rainbow that John and Will worked for about 15 minutes before they could get it to strike. We only saw the big trout when it chased a smaller on that John briefly hooked, and all of us said, “Whoa!” at the appearance of the bigger one. We put packs on the ground, spent a few minutes observing, and then Will and John got to work.

John’s streamer generated a little interest at first, but the trout didn’t seem inclined to eat it. They tried a different streamer to little effect and then an egg pattern was similarly ignored. Will said, “Sometimes a second look at the original fly works,” so he put the first streamer back on. John changed his casting position to offer a slightly different presentation, and the trout absolutely devoured the streamer. Because there was so much wood in the water, the fight had to be tough and short, and Will got the net under the trout as soon as possible.

 For the size of the river, it was a remarkable trout, and the way they’d had to work the fish made it even more special. As Will said, “That was the trout we were looking for.”

It took several tries, but John finally got this stud rainbow to eat a streamer.

When we reached the bottom of the river, tired and in good spirits. Guide Brendan Heselten, who was manning an out camp nearby, picked us up in a boat and ferried us to Steve’s waiting float plane. As I sat in the front on the flight back to the lodge, the thrum of the engine and the day’s exertions almost put me to sleep, but I couldn’t resist staring at the gorgeous landscape and looking for moose and bears below.

Tomorrow, our last day, will be spent on the lake in search of big char, trout, and pike.

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