Tikchik Narrows Lodge, Day Four: The Char Hop

Written by: Phil Monahan

Our ride for the day was a 1952 de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, the workhorse of the Alaskan bush.
Photos by Charles Hildick-Smith

Day Four at Tikchik Narrows Lodge featured no fog, but reports of plenty of wind in other locations came over the radio. Our plan was to engage in a “Char Hop,” in which we would fly around to different drainages to see how many char were stacked at creek mouths. Our enemy would be high water, which would make it difficult to park the de Havilland Beaver float plane and make wading dangerous in the very cold water.

The author launches a Dolly Lama at one of several creek mouths fished that day.

We hopped in the Beaver, piloted by Charlie Later, along with guide John Smolko and fellow guest John Rucker. As has been the case every time we’ve taken to the air, the flight was spectacular. The mountains to the north and west rise sharply from the lakes, and there’s still quite a bit of snow on them. The clouds hung just below the peaks, lending an air of heaviness to the landscape.

Our pilot, Charlie, showed us the wonders of western Bristol Bay.

The first spot that Smolko wanted to check was up a stunning fjord on an arm of Lake Nerka, and as soon as we turned the corner, the wind hit us head-on, making the plane bounce a little bit. When we flew over the creek mouth, however, the water was clearly too high, with the river running through the willows on both banks. Charlie executed a cool U-turn between two mountains, and we were off to spot number two.

Guide John Smolko holds one of several cookie-cutter char at our third stop.

We passed on that one, as well, and finally put down on the northern shore of the lake, where we fished three different creeks, using  the airplane like a boat, taxiing from spot to spot. At the first location, I swung my Dolly Lama through the current as it entered the lake and caught the first char of the day. We would ultimately stop at five different locations, all very high, and caught char at three of them.

Everywhere we stopped to fish offered stunning views.

The rest of the time was spent flying through some of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever experienced, from passes between mountains, to wide open valleys, and over stunning rivers, featuring waterfalls, gorges, and rapids. I haven’t been to this part of Alaska before, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite region of The Last Frontier.

A spectacular river valley at the western end of Chikuminuk Lake.

On our way back to the lodge, I spotted a large bull moose among the trees below, which was a nice cap to a great day.

Tomorrow, we are hiking, in search of big rainbows.

Places where glacial silt enters clear water produce cool seams and swirls of color.
Our path over the course of the day crossed six lakes and several mountain passes.

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