Monday, June 18, 2012

Guide's Night Out... The First Char Derby of 2012!

Setting up a lodge in Alaska is no small task. We show up three weeks ahead of time because it takes a full three weeks to get the job done. Starting with a just handful of crew, each week we have more and more manpower. We're now on the home-stretch with a full crew of over 30 staff members, all the camps set up, and lots of time to hit the water.

Gearing up
I picked up our first big load of freight a few days ago. While throwing boxes into the boats down at the landing, I got to thinking about how much food it takes to run an operation like this. I think our first big order was close to 6,000 lbs! My wife is the hostess here at BBL and the one responsible for all food ordering, inventory management, etc. She has had a lot of fun this year with doing some baking of her own, with a breakfast quiche the other morning and a batch of lemon bars that were to die for. I'm serious, we almost had our first guide's wrestling match over the last one.

If only she did this at home!
Last night we got out for our first Char derby and it was nothing shy of epic. Unfortunately, my camera crapped out with a dead battery after photographing the first fish of the night. I'll try and score some pics off the other cameras for posting later today. The mouth of our local river was a powerful and unforgiving scene, with stiff west wind blowing a steady 15-20 creating big caps where the river's heavy current meets the lake. The low sunlight was shining through towering snow-capped peaks, lighting up wind-blown spray like glistening diamonds. The scene was dramatic, almost indescribable with words.

Upon arrival to the river-mouth, we cut engine in the heavy current and started our first drift. Big Joe jumped on the oars, coaching new apprentice-guide, Bobby on casting a heavy sink-tip in the wind. The conditions were challenging- flogging away with big sink tips while trying to not fall out of the boat as it rolled and pitched up and down, side to side. Like always, it took a bit to get into the rhythm, but within a few minutes we had our first big flock of Arctic Terns dive-bombing into crashing waves gorging themselves on a fresh ball of salmon smolts. Like a scene from striper-fishing off Montauk, birds mean bait-balls, and bait-balls equal Char.

Big Joe coaching on Char setups
About three-quarters of the way down our first drift I punched another long cast into the wind. After two or three big mends and feeding it a bunch of slack, I tightened up on the swing and began the retrieve with long hard strips and the occasional pause. About half-way through my retrieve my smolt pattern suffered a crushing blow, and I hooked our first Char of the 2012 season. We hooped and hollered, and another hook-up in one of our other boats resulted in more laughter, screaming and fist-pumping- "Doubuuuuuuul!" My fish stayed deep with hard head-shakes, a good sign of a big Char. Within a couple minutes, we had the fish on the surface and in the net, a solid 9 or 10 pound buck. The fish was chrome-bright, typical for spring-time, and fat with a belly full of smolts. A few quick pictures and we released him to the black water, free to swim and gorge once again.

For the next couple hours, the situation repeated itself. Doubles, triples, yelling, laughing, fist-pumping, and picture-taking. A successful Char-derby is a beautiful thing. Last night's episode was one for the books.

The first Char of the 2012 season!

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