By Kent Danjanovich
As you already know from the number of Alaskan destinations that I cover each year, I just can’t get enough of America’s 49th state. Every part of Alaska has a uniqueness all its own and each time I visit a new area, I just can’t get over the beauty and excitement each of them offer. Maybe it is just because it was my last trip of 2011, but looking back, my trip to Yakutat Lodge in September just may have been my very best of the year!
Fishing is in my blood and when I have the opportunity to visit a new water, the juices really start to flow. And when you throw in the words silver or coho, well let’s just say, I’M IN! Well, that was the name of the game when Ken Fanning, owner of the Yakutat Lodge gave me a call to work out the details for my trip. September 18-22, 2011 would be the dates and fellow Sportsman’s News Pro-Staffer, Rick Rosenberg would be my fishing partner (Rick is a veteran of the Yakutat area and didn’t have to be asked twice to accompany me on the trip). After an overnight stay in Anchorage at the Puffin Inn, we boarded our Alaskan Airlines flight and arrived in Yakutat at noon (Now you know that a destination is worth its salt when a major airline offers two flights a day to a destination as remote and tiny as Yakutat).
The Yakutat Lodge offers three different packages:
Basically Non-Guided – Includes (1) Guide Day and is available in 4 days/3 nights, 5 day/4 nights, or 7 days/6 nights with 2 to 4 people per room.
Includes: All food, lodging, rental vehicle, boats for floating the river each day, plus one day halibut charter or fly-out fishing.
Deluxe Fully Guided Fishing Trip in 5 days/4 nights or 7 days/6 nights with a 2 person minimum.
Includes: All food, lodging, boats for floating the river each day, guided fishing (Halibut charter, river fishing or fly-out fishing), fishing license, cleaning and packaging of your catch for the trip home.
And finally, the Exclusive Fully Guided Fishing Trip with 5 days/4 nights or 7 days/6 nights with a 2 person minimum.
Includes: Private chef for all meals, “Main Cabin ON The Beach” lodging, boats for floating the river each day, guided fishing (Halibut charter, river fishing or fly-out fishing), fishing license, cleaning and packaging of your catch for the trip home.
Now when you talk about all inclusive, well it just doesn’t get any more inclusive than a trip with the Yakutat Lodge. After you grab your bags, you literally walk out the door of the airport and into the covered “runway” to the lodge/restaurant/bar. Ken, Kip or one of their staff grab your file and talk you through everything and your schedule for the week is quickly mapped out. You can then order lunch in the restaurant and when you are done, pick up your rental car, settle into your room either across the parking lot, at the new cabins “On the Beach” or if you want to live in luxury at the main cabin. You then hook-up with your guide for the day (if you choose the fully guided options) and then head out for your first of many great days on the water.
Lucky for Rick and I, the Shrum group, regulars at the lodge over the past 15 years, had a couple of openings on their halibut boat that afternoon. We met them along with our guide, Ken, at Yakutat Lodge’s private dock and we quickly headed out to halibut waters. After a short ride through the calm waters of the bay, Captain Ken quickly set each of us up with our halibut rods, tipped with herring and we sent our lines to the bottom, in only about 140 feet of depth, I may add!
Rick was the first to hook-up, hauling in a nice 30 pounder, the first of a nice stringer of tasty keepers ranging from 20 to 70 pounds caught our first afternoon along with a beautiful lingcod for good measure. During all of the fishing excitement, we were each in awe over the amazing scenery all around us. Mt. Elias was towering in the distance and the Hubbard and Malaspina Glaciers were literally at our fingertips. The Hubbard Glacier is one of the over 110,000 glaciers in Alaska and North America’s largest tidewater glacier. The Hubbard Glacier was named in 1890 for Gardiner G. Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic Society. This massive Alaska glacier is a staggering 76 miles long, 6.5 miles wide and 1200 feet deep and still growing. The Malaspina is a piedmont glacier, meaning it has formed and spread over flat ground, an unusual site but very fascinating, indeed.
After a short photo session at the dock, we made our way back to our rooms and then headed to the main lodge for dinner. Ken and Kip gave us our instructions for the following morning and our guide, Tom, met up with us at dinner and told us to meet him after breakfast at about 6:30 am for the short drive to the put-in on the Situk River. Since this was my first visit to Yakutat, I could only go by the rave reviews that Rick and about every other Alaska fishing regular had poured out about the Situk. It boasts a smaller run of king salmon, along with massive runs of sockeyes and pinks. The silver run is world class also, with coho’s starting to enter the river in August and running well into October. The Situk also is revered by most as the premier steelhead river in the world.
We arrived at the Situk at light and quickly eased our drift boat into the lightly tea-stained water. Rick decided to use his baitcaster and I quickly set up my Redington flyrod and reel, a 9-weight loaded with floating line/20 foot sink-tip and 15 pound tippet. After a quick stop at the local fly shop, I chose a chartreuse articulating leach with a weighted head and then placed a split-shot in front of it for some extra get down power. Tom pushed our boat away from the shore and we were off.
The Situk River is not one of those big, spread out rivers that most envision when fishing in Alaska. It is quite to the contrary. It is about as wide as a two-lane highway and when the water is lower, offers a lot of sandbars and grassy low areas to get out and fish through. When the water is high, those bars are covered and all of your fishing will be done from the drift boat. Now, this is not a bad thing because silver salmon are what you would call, “Lazy Swimmers” and like to take the easier routes up river through slower moving water, stopping along the way in pools and eddy’s and also behind trees that slip into the river to slow down the flow of the water.
Because of high volumes of rain and quite a bit of wind, trees tipping over into the river are a regular happening on the Situk, but on this day only added to the mystique and splendor of our drift (Our last day would prove to be a little different). Now there are not a ton of boats on the river most days, but it is nice to get on the water as early as possible to try and make it through some of the most popular spots along the way. Tommy knew the river well and had us on fish all day long. Rick hammered them with a bullet-headed, yarn jig for most of the day and my articulating leaches got real workouts as each of us landed well over 50 solid balls of acrobatic muscle during our drift. By 4:30 pm, we were loading the drift boat onto the trailer and heading back to the lodge.
Our third day found us loading onto a floatplane at 7 am and heading over to the Italio River. Now this is another well known coho river and offers a completely different type of fishing experience. The water is a little more spread out and you are wading through the shallower runs and throwing flies or spinners along the overhanging banks where the fish are making their way up to their spawning grounds. This proved to be right down my ally. I love to cast a flyrod and allow the current to slowly mend your line through the run, while offering quick stripping movement to attract the aggressive silvers. Although the wind howled all day and the rain was relentless, Rick and I managed to catch plenty of fish and unwilling made our way back to the floatplane pick-up point by 2 pm.
Our last day found us again with Tommy on the Situk, but with very different conditions. Because of the heavy rains the day before, the river rose nearly two feet. By the time we had drifted the first two miles, we had come across many downed trees, with a massive pine tree draped across the entire width of the river. Two other boats from the lodge joined us in making a path for the boats to pass through and we were soon casting our rods to awaiting silvers once again. Although the river definitely had a different look to it and required a little more effort and work, the water clarity was actually very good and fish seemed to be visible at every turn. Our day again resulted in big numbers of hook-ups and landings and a few of those unbelievable runs that you hope you captured on film for everyone to see in an upcoming episode of Sportsman’s News Television!
Believe me, it didn’t take long for me to secure our dates for our next visit to the Yakutat Lodge, both in the spring for steelhead and again in the fall for what may just be an annual affair for the Sportsman’s News Team. We are happy to have Ken and Kip Fanning’s Yakutat Lodge as part of our Platinum Approved Outfitter family and if I were you, I would get on the phone right now and secure your dates for this fall. The silvers will be thick and just waiting for your line to hit the water. Alaska’s Yakutat Lodge, 1-800-Yakutat (925-8828) or visit them on our website or at www.yakutatlodge.com.