GAFA Day 4: Silvers on the Kustatan
After yesterday’s fly-out rain-out, today’s afternoon flight to fish for Silver Salmon (aka Coho) on the Kustatan River was much anticipated. And, as adventures go, today didn’t disappoint. as we added several tales to our store of stories with which we’ll regale friends and family left behind.
Our float plane taxied across the small pond at the Alaska West Air home base and into the clear air several minutes early as both John and I and the five-member Henderson-family party from Texas were anxious to get lines in the water and start hooking these fantastic fighting salmon. The short flight across Cook Inlet under mostly clear blue skies gave us a great view of the soaring snow-covered volcanic mountains on the Inlet’s western flank.
When we landed on the Kustatan 20 minutes later, we met our guide for the day–Danny V, a high school science teacher in the City of Kenai and the head guide for Alaska West Air fishing charters. We loaded our gear into the AWA-owned boat and headed down river to join other anglers on the banks, in boats and in the water.
Danny V picked a spot that allowed us to fish from the banks, and within 15 minutes one of the Hendersons had landed the first salmon of the day.
John and I fished from the back of the moored boat to begin with. John scored first, landing a nice silver after about 30 minutes. About 15 minutes later I had one in the net and the day looked promising. When strikes from the waters behind the boat slowed down, I walked down the bank to where the others had stationed themselves and were hooking salmon about every 10 minutes and started fishing. Soon, I hooked a nice fish and started the exciting process of reeling it in as twisted and sliced through the water trying to escape. And then it was gone. I thought it had flipped off, but when I finished reeling in I discovered my hook and leader were missing–the line had broken. So I headed back to the boat so Danny could repair my tackle and I could resume my quest. And then the first day’s adventure began.
The shore is pocked with holes of various depths and widths caused by the water’s ebb and flow. I knew there were several that had to be navigated, and in attempting to cross the biggest one, I landed on the edge and fell backwards into the hole and into the water. Although I had waders on, when you land on your back in the water, they fill quickly, as mine did. I scrambled out as quickly as I could but my clothes were soaked. And so was my new small camera purchased for this trip. At present it appears to be non-functioning, though I’ll try it again tomorrow. All the rest of the pictures I got today were taken with my cell phone that was damp, but not soaked and is in working order.
I made it to the boat, removed my waders so my clothes could begin to dry and fished for a while from there. When my shirts and pants were mostly dry–about 30 minutes–, I put the waders back on and resumed fishing from the shore, but the silvers had begun to go, as the guides say, “lockjaw,” meaning they’ve quit biting. I did hook into one nice fish and reeled it all the way to the shore but after two tries at netting it, it flipped itself off and I missed what would have been my limit at the end of the day. By then, Mike, the patriarch of the Henderson clan, had already caught his three-fish limit and each of the others in their party had one or two fish.
Danny V decided to move us to another place in the river, but the new location proved to be a bust. Thirty minutes of fishing passed and no one got a strike. So we moved again, this time up river where we had another 30 minute dry spell before heading back down river to near where we had been before and where others were catching fish earlier. After only about 10 minutes, one of the Hendersons landed another fish and John followed suit a few minutes later. Then I hooked into and landed my second salmon for the day and it looked like we might all catch our limit, even though we only had about an hour left to fish before the plane returned to ferry us back across Cook Inlet.
With only an hour remaining in the fishing day, Danny V had to start cleaning and filleting today’s catch, which by then amounted to about 17 or 18 salmon for the group. We off loaded his filleting board and the cooler full of salmon. He told us to keep fishing and he was about to start the cleaning process when . . .
Across the small slough near the river’s main channel–about 25-30 yards from where we were fishing a mature Grizzly (aka Brown) bear, emerged from the brush and walked along the bank and into the water directly across from us. Grizzlies are a serious threat and Danny V started to hustle everyone and all the gear into the boat, all the while huffing loudly at the bear to try to convince it to stay on the other side.
I took a moment, though, to get a picture with today’s catch before Danny sliced and diced it and then joined the others in the boat.
About that time, the bear swam across the river away from the slough where we fishing and moved further downstream. So we unloaded the boat again and started fishing while Danny started working.
“Bear’s coming back across,” John warned everyone as he quickly reeled in, and once again we bugged out and loaded the boat. This time, knowing the bear was on our side of the river but not where he was, Danny backed the craft into the channel and headed a good distance downriver to a mid-river sandbar so he could finish the fish cleaning he already started twice.
Several of us tried to fish for the remaining time while today’s catch was being finished off but then, once again, “BEAR.” The same bear had moved the same distance we had though we’re not sure if it was intentional or coincidental. But this time he never got as close to us as he had been earlier and Jennifer Henderson (mom) kept a wary eye on the unwelcome visitor while Danny finally finished his work, bagged the fillets and we loaded the gear and returned to the plane’s landing site on the river to meet our ride home at 6 p.m.
About 10 minutes after we arrived, the plane’s drone could be heard and a few minutes later the pilot touched down. We loaded all the gear and fish into the plane and covered the return distance across the Inlet in about 20 minutes.
Back at the AWA home base, we bid our guide and some of the Henderson clan adieu, but tomorrow we will fish again with Brian (father) and Travis (son) when we meet Captain Wally at Anchor Point and head to sea in search of tasty Halibut. Adventures tomorrow? Probably, but I wouldn’t even try to guess what kind.
I don’t think it was ever clear enough to see the mountains when we were there in 2016! Hoping your waders are all dried out for today. Only the best for halibut today and smooth seas!!!!
What an amazing day you had!
What an adventure! … and Yes! … the bear was eyeballing your fish. As an educator, I find it fascinating that teachers have part-time jobs in all states. Even in Alaska! Please tell the high-school science teacher / Alaskan fishing guide that he has one of the most unique, special and beautiful of all the side teacher hustles. As always, I love reading your blog each day, Uncle Dennis. Your detailed writing really takes my mind and senses to a new location. It’s the best work break ever.
Grizzly up close is much different than I expected. Fishing rod is not an adequate defense mechanism. Breathtaking country.