Gray Skies, Lime Green Flies and Silvers—Yes, Plenty of Silvers

So this was a first: A long awaited trip to Alaska and its remote shore to fly fish for silver salmon. Yes, I fished for these anadromous fish that some call coho, but that was in Lake Michigan and that was with spinning gear. This was a new challenge: Landing these fish fresh from a few years in the ocean on small streams and with fly-fishing gear. Would Alaska be worth the trip? I had recently fished for a week in Labrador for nine-pound brook trout and on New Zealand’s South Island for browns and rainbows. Would Alaska compare favorably to these two memorable trips?

Our final destination was the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage. Yes, they appropriately included in the name "adventure" in the lodge. In five days we were scheduled to fly into an isolated island on the Gulf of Alaska and fish for silvers on two small 30-foot wide streams; land on a cobblestone "runway" next to another highly productive stream; take a float trip and a hike on two separate days on the Eyak River; and fish for dolly vardens on another day. The trip to a sizable island in the Gulf of Alaska on the last day of our visit proved to be the most spectacular. Scattered along the bank of this 30-foot wide stream were dozens of half eaten carcasses of silvers. About an hour after we started fishing this wild water we encountered two back bear cubs. They dashed into the stream just 30 feet from us. Suddenly, behind them, the mother appeared and stared intently at us. When she saw us she stood up and growled. Our guide, Bob told us that some black bears in Alaska are highly aggressive because they compete with brown bears. . This mother, with two cubs to beat, was very confrontational. She finally turned around and ran away.

The flight with the highly capable bush pilots was the zenith of the trip. Our two pilots were Gayle and Steve Ranney, owners of the lodge. They were two of the safest, most skilled pilots I have ever flown with. The flights in and out of these remote streams were worth the price of the trip. Gayle is featured in a Smithsonian book entitled "Women in Flight."

On the first day we arrived at the lodge we fished for dollies on a glacial stream. Here a fine leader was critical. These dollies took an orange Glo Bug on almost every drift.

But, our ultimate goal was catching silvers on flies. Did we catch fish? Stan Schroeder, from Ludington, Michigan: Dave Tongue(man wearing the white hat in the one photo) and Terry Shoemaker, from Grand Rapids, Michigan; my brother, Jerry Meck from Massillon, Ohio; and my son, Bryan Meck (holding silvers in both photos), from Macedon, New York, accompanied me on the trip. We estimate that we caught nearly 400 salmon in the six-day trip on a series of lime green or bright pink chenille marabou streamer patterns.. Dave Tongue is the definitive organizer and planner. He did it for years on his job in the gas industry. He can’t stop now that he’s retired. Dave planned the trip and each evening before we went to bed Dave would confront all of us with "Here’s the plan for tomorrow." We ran a pool for the largest fish each day and silvers in the 35 to 36 inch category won each day.

Silvers strike differently. Suddenly, as you retrieved the fly, it stops and you feel weight. Once these behemoths felt the hook, the battle was on. Some fought for 15 to 20 minutes before we were able to beach them. Some came out of the water two and three times as you fought them.

Cordova is a 2500-people community. That population swells in the summer with an influx of fishermen and tourists. The town is truly isolated—the only way to reach it is by ferry or plane. There is an effort on the part of some to connect Cordova with Valdez by road, but the locals want no part of that. You’ll find a few roads around the town and the main road goes to the Childs Glacier about 30 miles east of town. There is one gas station in Cordova. Scenery is awe inspiring, spectacular and any other descriptive adjective you can use with snow capped peaks in all directions. You’ll see moose, bears, and mountain goats near town.

And Steve Ranney and the staff at the lodge are friendly, knowledgeable and they go out of their way to help make your trip a successful one. All of them attempt to assure that you will have a memorable trip. Remember, you are hundreds of miles away from the next town and all the provisions have to be shipped or flown into Cordova. With that in mind the food at the lodge was top notch. The lodge even packed you a lunch to take with you if you planned to fish all day then

Three things you got to consider if you travel to Alaska—and especially to the Cordova area. First is the weather. We fished from September 18 to 25 and it rained almost every day. Gray skies were the order of the day. So take some good raingear like Gore-Tex with you. Second, take bug repellent. Although the area had already experienced a frost, bugs—and biting ones—still did a number on me. Finally, consider the trip. It took us three days to return home. Our luggage was held over in Cordova, so we wore the same clothing for three days. Our flight from Anchorage to Minneapolis—St. Paul was delayed for three hours, we missed our flight and had to stay over a second night.

How did the trip compare to the Labrador or New Zealand trips? There is no comparison. The trip to Cordova was by far the greatest trip I’ve ever taken. It will forever spoil me when I fish for 12-inch brown trout. How can I honestly enjoy those small fish when there are thousands of 15-pound salmon to catch? I will always remember those great flights to isolated streams and that float trip and hike into the Eyak River. And the lodge and the employees—I will always remember all of these things!

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