By Kent Danjanovich
The staff at Sportsman’s News spends a lot of days each year, May through September, visiting fishing and hunting lodges throughout Alaska. This beautiful state, referred to as ‘The Last Frontier’, offers so much beauty and intrigue that its visitors just can’t seem to get enough of it. Really, no matter the area, Alaska offers both the traveler and sportsman plenty to do and see.
And believe me, when I give my Pro-staffers a call to see if one of them are available to join me on a new adventure, rarely is the opportunity turned away, no matter how busy their schedules may be.
Now as I have mentioned many times before, one of my favorite species of fish to go after is Coho, commonly referred to as silver salmon. They offer the latest run of all of the Pacific salmon, entering freshwater streams and rivers throughout the state in early August and continue their spawning runs well into the first part of October. In most areas, the silver run is divided into two runs, with the fish in the second run entering the systems in early to mid-September, having added a few extra pounds before they leave the sea on their final journey in the cycle of life.
Silver salmon can be caught in many ways and in almost every area of Alaska, but there is something special about fishing for them close to the ocean, as they enter chrome bright and full of vigor. Now, I mean no disrespect to the many other great areas of Alaska, but one area to me stands a little bit taller than the rest when you bring up the topic of silvers.
The Tsiu River (pronounced sigh-you) is located approximately 250 miles east of Anchorage. Access is only by plane from either Cordova of Yakutat, both about 40 minutes away by air. Although this short river has runs of other species of salmon as well as Dolly Varden and steelhead, it’s their run of aggressive silvers that make it a must on every fisherman’s list.
The headwaters of the Tsiu are small creeks that merge in the heart of the Yakataga State Game Refuge beneath the Wrangell Mountains to the north. It’s part of an extensive, gravelly drainage that includes the Tsivat River and about two dozen tributaries. The result is perfect spawning habitat for silver salmon. While there are many fishable areas in the drainage, the focus is concentrated on the five miles of river closest to the ocean and the Gulf of Alaska.
About three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Dierick at the Denver ISE Show. At that time, I had yet to visit his area of Alaska and to be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the Tsiu River. After spending a few minutes with Greg as he filled me in on everything that Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge had to offer, plans were soon made for our first visit. Well, that first visit was so outstanding that we immediately made plans for our next visit, one that would be included in our Writer’s Contest for the first half of 2014. The lucky winner would accompany me on a trip of a lifetime to the Tsiu in the middle of September, considered the absolute ultimate time for “Catching” big numbers of high-flying silvers.
The contest winner, John Farmer from Russell, Kansas, was chosen on July 1st, 2014 and plans were quickly made for him to join me on the adventure. Now I don’t really know who was more excited, as of course John was beaming ear to ear after finding of his good fortune, but I myself knowing that I would have the chance to again visit the best silver salmon fishing waters in the world.
We converged in Seattle as John and his buddies Marty Patterson and Vic Lyczak met for dinner with myself and my brother, Bruce ‘Silver’ Danjanovich. The next morning we found ourselves boarding our flight to Yakutat, AK at 7am. Once there, we were met by a representative from Yakutat Coastal Airlines and our bags were quickly carted to their building just a short walk away from the Yakutat terminal.
Thirty minutes later we were boarding our chartered flight and soon found ourselves looking out the planes’ windows in wonder as we found ourselves flying over some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Rugged mountain, glaciers, greenery and wildlife in every direction and of course the vast Gulf of Alaska and its coastline – WOW!!!
Soon we found ourselves circling the camp and before we could say ‘Tsiu’ we were on the ground and shaking hands with Greg Dierick and his staff. Our luggage then quickly made its way to our cabins as we all headed for the main lodge for lunch before meeting our guide and heading to the river.
After the first of our many great meals, we could all hardly contain ourselves as we briskly walked to our cabins, grabbed our gear and headed for the awaiting four-wheelers and custom trailers that would transport us to the river.
Now from the air, I could tell that the area looked a little different than I had remembered it from my earlier trip. The river was not really a river anymore as the vast sandy flats had been inundated with water from endless days of rain throughout the summer months. The usual river that channels from the mountains to the north and works its way through grassy flats and then to dunes before emptying into the ocean had spread itself literally throughout the area. Fishermen could be seen dotted in the distance as we approached our destination for the afternoon along grassy knobs sticking out of the shallow waters of the Tsiu.
We had been told that black leaches had been the ticket, so just about everybody quickly tied one on their 8-wt. fly rods. Of course, I had to be a little bit stubborn as I decided to go with my standard lead-eyed pink bunny leach. It didn’t take long for the first silver ball of muscle to explode from the water as I quickly found myself in the middle of a battle with a fresh 15-pounder. Our guide, Joe Anderson was soon at my side, gently easing the net under my first fish of the trip.
Surprisingly, our first afternoon was a little on the slow side. Another big front was moving into the area and the system had all of the sudden had an effect on the fish. We did manage to catch a fair number of fish, but not the numbers that I had been throwing out to those that had accompanied me on the trip. With heads huge a little low, we headed back to the camp for dinner, wondering what the next five days were going to be like.
At dinner that night, I sat next to an older gentleman that seemed to sense my feelings of dismay. He struck up a conversation and soon was assuring me that everything would change the next morning. Once the storm hit, which was to carry strong winds and big rains, the fishing would go nuts. He said, “No matter how bad the weather gets, stay out there because the fishing will just get better and better”. And boy was he right!
As we gathered for breakfast the next morning at 6:30am, strong winds and rain were battering the area. An extra layer seemed in order under our waders and rain jackets as we quickly grabbed our gear and headed for the river. Joe soon had us spacing ourselves out along a channel on the north edge of the flats. We were standing in about two feet of water with a slightly deeper channel ahead of us. With the wind howling and the rain pounding, I backhanded my St. Croix Imperial fly rod, spooled with intermediate sink tip line into the seam of the slow current and to my amazement, two strips later, my line felt resistance and the hook was set. My line streaked across the water as a big silver flew into the air, catching everyone’s attention as hoots and hollers soon followed. As I continued to fight my fish, first John, then Marty and soon Vic and Bruce all had fish on. For the next five hours, I kid you not, this scene just kept playing itself over and over again. Poor Joe found himself struggling to keep up with his netting duties as all of us hooked into fish after fish.
As lunchtime approached, Joe asked us if we wanted to go in for a hot lunch or stay out and keep fishing while he ran back to the lodge to retrieve sack lunches for us. I am not sure if anyone actually even looked his way, but all could be heard saying, “Just go and get ‘em. We’re going to keep fishing”!
While our guide was gone to grab our lunches, I decided to take a break and grabbed the net to help out the rest of the group. For the next 30 minutes, all I did was wade from fisherman to fisherman, netting and releasing big, bright silvers, many that had entered the system literally just a matter of minutes earlier. As Joe returned, unwillingly, each of us slowly made our way to the small trailer as we quickly downed our turkey sandwiches and a soda as we kept our view of the rest of the group, still under siege from the seemingly endless waves of silver salmon making their way upstream.
As the storm continued to pound us, some of the group traded their fly rods for spincasters. And you know what – it didn’t matter what technique we used or what lure or fly we threw on, hookup after hookup continued all afternoon. Five-o-clock soon arrived and we loaded into the trailer and headed back for dinner. After hanging our waders and jackets in the drying room and washing up a little, we headed to the main lodge for the first of Chef Mike’s awesome dinner presentations. Fresh salmon, halibut, scallops and shrimp adorned the buffet line, along with fresh salad fixin’s and of course, scrumptious deserts.
Sorry Mike, but as good as the food was and it was very good, none of us could hardly wait to finish and jump up from the table and head back to the dry room and throw our gear back on as we headed back to the river for another hour or so of non-stop action. Yes, our beds felt good that second night as tired arms and sore muscles got some needed rest and a little extra help from a double dose of Aleve.
Our third day was a repeat of the first two, with continued tough weather, but spectacular fishing. Our last day and a half started a clearing trend, as the fishing continued at a torrid pace ( Next time I visit, I am going to take a click counter with me to try and get a true count of my fish caught, guesstimated at over 100 per day). Needless to say, everyone at the lodge experienced unbelievable fishing along with wonderful service and all of the amenities that you would expect from a destination of this magnitude.
Well as you might be able to tell from this article, our stay with Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge was again nothing short of FANTASTIC and I guarantee that it won’t be our last one either. Not only was the fishing unbelievable, but everything else during our stay was first class in every way. Greg and his staff have built a great reputation with their guests and it is easy to see why they have a very high rate of returning clients. So what are you waiting for? Get on the phone right now and see if they have any dates left for next fall at Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge. I can just about guarantee that you will catch more fish than you have ever dreamed of and your family and friends will love you forever when you bring home a box or two of the most beautiful salmon fillets you have ever seen. Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge, 907-784-3625 and visit them on the web under Platinum Approved Outfitters on our website or at www.tsiuriverlodge.com