Everybody seems to have a story of some kind when it comes to fishing. I am sure you have heard the lines, “This one is big, but you should have seen the one that got away” or “The fishing is OK, but you should have been here yesterday”! It doesn’t seem to matter who it is or where they fish, fishermen have always got a story to tell.
Well, here at Sportsman’s News, we have taken the storytelling to the next level by implementing great opportunities through our Pro Membership Sweepstakes and our annual Writer’s Contest. Through both of these programs, lucky winners have a chance to experience some of the best hunting and fishing trips imaginable, in many cases giving them a chance to fulfill lifelong dreams. And in the case of our Writer’s Contest, an annual event since Sportsman’s News was born 14 years ago, a little “storytelling” just might land you a trip of a lifetime.
Each month, at least one story is plucked out of our stash of entries to be published and then have a chance to become our Grand Prize Winner. And yes, this is a true drawing, as we are not necessarily looking for the best written or sensational one, but a story that is special in its own way to the writer and also has a couple of good photos as well to help tell their story.
Because we receive a pretty even split on hunting and fishing stories, we try to alternate the winning trip each year. For 2017, the Yakutat Lodge teamed up with us to offer the winner a trip for spring steelhead and for those of you that know anything about steelhead fishing, the Situk River in Yakutat, Alaska, is one of the best in the world. In fact, one of the entries that was published talked of many of the great rivers of the world and of course, the Situk was included in his story!
With the trip taking place April 17-21, 2018, the contest closed with the November 2017 issue, to give the winner a chance to make plans and secure fights. It was my pleasure to contact the lucky winner, Jesse Riding from Logan, Utah and to say he was a little excited would be an understatement. Although Jesse is well traveled in the fishing world, he had not had much experience with steelhead and had never been to Alaska in search of them. We talked for an hour, as I tried to answer all of his questions and further fuel his expectations of the great trip he had just won.
April couldn’t come soon enough and finally, Jesse and I were loading the Alaska Airlines plane in Salt Lake City for our trip through Seattle, then on to Anchorage, Cordova and finally landing in Yakutat. Fellow Sportsman’s News Pro-Staffer, Brooks Hansen, would also be joining us on this trip to help film for our SNTV DVD line-up.
When we landed in Yakutat, we were greeted by Amanda, guest coordinator/manager for the lodge in the airport terminal and she gave us our room keys to drop off our gear before we headed to the main lodge to fill out a few forms and then sit down for a great meal, while taking in the NBA playoffs on the big screen.
Our guides, Aaron and Kraig dropped by before we headed to our rooms to fill us in on our next day’s schedule. We would be meeting at 4:30am to head out to the launch at Nine Mile Bridge. It would be a little bit earlier than we were used too, but they assured us that the early bird would definitely catch the worm – so to speak in this case!
When we arrived at the put-in, a few other drift boats were already in the water preparing to start their day. We all grabbed our rods and reels and our guides set them up for a little jig action to start with. Although we were all avid fly fishermen, the Situk River is a little more favorable to spin casting techniques, that usually produce a little more accuracy in the cast and don’t need as much room for those back-casts, especially on the willow-lined banks of much of the Situk. Aaron and Kraig assured us that once we had a few fish under our belts, we could try our luck with our fly rods if we wished.
Like most places in Alaska, you always need to be prepared for wet conditions. Unfortunately, the spring of 2018 was a little lean on moisture, as evidence of the low water conditions. The river was running at only 97cfs on this day and would have the fish staging in certain sections of the river, with every fisherman chasing many of the same fish. This was again why we were hitting the water early in hopes of finding them first, before the sun got high in the sky, sending the fish to more protected areas beneath those before mentioned willows.
Jesse and Brooks would be in the boat with Kraig on this day and I would be drifting with Aaron Shook, probably the most talented guide on the Situk, with over 20 years of experience chasing steelhead and salmon. We would be blowing through the upper half of the river, since most of the fish they had been seeing had not quite made it out of the lower section yet and the fall fish had not really started moving back into the river out of Situk Lake.
As on most rivers, guides name many on the best holes and the Situk definitely falls into this category. Soon we were rounding a bend in the river and Aaron whispered to me, “I hope the Cadillac Hole is open” and to his amazement, it was. Aaron quickly maneuvered our boat into filming position and Kraig anchored his drift boat at the top of the run. Jesse and Brooks then dropped their jigs into the water and anxiously watched their strike indicators float down the seam in the current. Now it was just a matter of time.
On Jesses’ third pass, his indicator went down and the circus began. Line could be heard zinging from his reel as our first steelhead of the trip darted up and down the river. Aerial acrobatics then ensued as guide and fisherman did their best to get the ‘Spring Cromer’ in the net. Finally, after a great battle, Kraig eased the net under a beautiful 12-pound Situk steelhead as Jesse beamed with pride from ear to ear! Four more gorgeous fish would be landed before we left the hole, as Jesse ran his total to three and Brooks finally broke the ice as well with the first steelhead of his career.
By midday, the sun had given way to rain clouds and a constant drizzle soon followed. Four o’clock found us at the take-out, loading the drift boat for the short drive back to the lodge. A total of 12 fish had been landed by our group for the day and yes, I was even able to get into the action with two great fish as we reached the last mile or two of our drift. Fresh fish were coming in on the high tide, letting us know that more great days on the water were ahead of us.
Another great steak dinner was awaiting us when we arrived back at the lodge. Over dinner, we talked it over and since big rains were forecasted for that night and the next day, a little ocean fishing for halibut sounded pretty good to all of us. Even though pretty good winds accompanied those rain showers the next morning, we were able to land three nice halibut on our ocean adventure. We even did a little trolling for kings, but it was still a little early in the season, but still a great part of the overall experience at the Yakutat Lodge.
Day three again found us drifting down the Situk. Jesse and I would be together on this day and boy did we have a day! A dozen big steelhead came to the net, with at least that many more eluding us. Many different techniques were use by our guides, Kody Kunas and Kraig Holdren, on this day including jigs, spinners, rubber worms, aero puffs and yarn balls. We even let Brooks hook into a couple, in between manning the camera to catch the action for the future show. The rain continued to show itself, but in this case, it was actually helping out our cause, as the river now was running at about 200cfs and counting.
Our last day on the river again didn’t disappoint. Thirteen more beautiful steelhead made it to our nets, ranging in length from 28- to 39-inches. Brooks had the hot had on this day, but Jesse wasn’t far behind. Unfortunately, our day had to come to an end a little early, as we had to head back to the lodge to pack and catch our 6:20pm flight back to Seattle. But what a trip it had been, especially for our lucky Writer’s Contest Winner, Jesse Riding, a trip I know he will remember for the rest of his life.
Well, there you have it – another great adventure courtesy of the Sportsman’s News team and in this case, one of our long-standing Platinum Approved Outfitters, the Yakutat Lodge. And if you are looking for a great Alaskan adventure of your own, you will find no better place to quench your thirst anywhere in Alaska in my opinion. New ownership took over in the fall of 2016 and many upgrades have taken place along the way. And, oh did I mention that the fishing isn’t too bad either! Give them a call today at 800-925-8828 and check them out on the web at www.yakutatlodge.com. Our next Writer’s Contest Winner will be joining me for a five-star upland bird hunt to the Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota this December, so get your stories in and who knows, you may just be our next lucky winner.