I always look for a fishing outing as we plan our trips to Alaska. I am not so much of a fisherman that I look specifically to fish, but if an opportunity is available I’ll take it. I knew there were fishing opportunities at the lodge and campsite but I didn’t buy a license right away. I thought I would wait and see how the trip evolved.
As we were preparing to leave the lodge for the camp site, we met the other camp guests. Ted and Chase are father and son from the Salt Lake City area. Their trip to the camp was specifically to fish. They regularly fly fish in the mountains of the western US and came with all of their own gear; waders, fly rods, fly, and other tackle. Oliver, lodge owner, took us to the campsite by boat. Upon arrival at the camp on the banks of Shelter Creek, we met our camp host, Matt. He had just caught a silver salmon from the creek. He fried the filets on the cast iron skillet over the camp stove. What a lunch! Oh, and a bear came by the camp site to check out our lunch. After lunch, Oliver headed back to the lodge, he said he’d be back later in the day to check on us. He would make daily trips to the campsite to bring supplies and check in. Ted and Chase immediately broke out their gear and started to fish.
Shelter Creek is drainage flowing from Mount Iliamna into Cook Inlet. Our campsite was around a bend near the mouth of the creek. The approximate coordinates of our campsite are latitude 59.887733° and longitude of -152.809546°. If you plot these coordinates into Google Earth you’ll get a decent view the area. Mount Iliamna looms in the distance. It is a little over 14 miles away to the NNW of our campsite. Mount Iliamna is a 10,000 foot glacier-covered volcano in the Chigmit Mountain subrange of the Aleutian Range. Mount Iliamna has not erupted since Europeans settled Alaska. However, there are fumaroles at about 8,990 feet which produce constant plumes of condensate and minor amounts of sulfurous gases. These plumes have been mistaken in the past for eruptions.
The silver salmon, also known as coho, were running in Shelter Creek during our stay. There are five species of salmon that return to the streams of Alaska to spawn. In addition to the silver, king (Chinook), chum (dog), pink (humpy) and sockeye (red) are also present. The fish return to their home streams at different times throughout the summer. The size of the run varies from year to year as well. You never know what you’ll get.
Ted and Chase were catching fish right and left. The fishing was so convenient. The creek was only yards from the campsite. When Oliver returned that evening, I asked him for a fishing license and he returned with the paperwork the next day. I got the paperwork filled out and started fishing straight away. A beat up spin cast rod was already at the camp. The rod was rigged with a Mepps #5 blade with a treble hook and pink eggs. Since I didn’t bring any gear or plan to fish, that rod would do. Besides, Matt had caught our lunch the previous day with that gear.
The fishing was great. Oliver estimated only a couple other fisherman besides us may have worked the creek this year. There were two large bends in the creek heading into the bay where the water had carved out deep pockets. The salmon would congregate in these pools before running up the more shallow areas of the creek. I found a spot with a gravel jetty into the water where I faced the volcano. I would cast downstream into the second pool and slowly reel the lure back to me. I would catch a fish every few casts. I don’t think I ever cast more than five times without catching a fish. We didn’t have a dip net so I would have to play the fish until it was tired and walk it up onto the shore where I could remove the hook. As we did not have any refrigeration, it was all catch and release. I would fish for a half hour, catch several fish and then return to the campsite to sit a while. When I felt like it, I’d go back and fish for another half hour. Due to the extreme tides of Alaska, once the tide started to roll in we were pushed off the gravel bar and back to the camp site to wait for low tide. I caught one sculpin along with several silvers. Ted and Chase spent hours fishing catching mostly silvers. But they also caught chum salmon, pink salmon, and a Dolly Varden which is a trout species.
It can be a little unnerving to fish in bear country. Our defenses against the bears were just common sense and bear spray. They do not quite know what to make of us and will keep their distance if given the opportunity. There are essentially two rules to safe encounters with bears – keep food away from them and don’t scare them. As they wander through the landscape toward our camp, they become aware of our presence long before they get close, especially since we were fishing on the open gravel bars. You cannot feed bears or let them begin to associate people with food. Since the bears do eat salmon, catching fish in bear country can cause problems. Any hooked fish needs to be brought to shore as quickly as possible. The splashing will attract the attention of any nearby bear who may look to steal a meal from you. You always need to be aware of your surroundings because the bears are quiet and can appear out of nowhere. If a bear approaches, you have to cut the line and back away. Do not run. The bears often wander along the streams looking for food. If you see a bear approaching, stop fishing. You can watch the bear but you do not want to fish while a bear is in the area.
The whole experience was fantastic! We had great scenery, great weather, great fishing, and enough bears came by to keep things interesting. We had a very comfortable camp with several meals that included extremely fresh salmon.