Peninsula Fly Fishers
  

Alaska Steel (Part 2)

Situk Fish Stories

Because we caught so many fish, I won't give a fish-by-fish narrative. However, there were a number of memorable catches. Naturally, the first fish of the trip is always significant. Ron guided Mike's casts onto the first one like an artillery forward observer. Ron's narrative went like this: "A little bit longer, a little bit up river, wait, wait, set the hook!!!" (Interestingly, at the mention of hook setting, Mike looked at Ron and asked, "Why?") I actually filmed the end of the fight using my digital camera's video mode. I'm not sure who was having more fun, Mike or the rest of us whooping it up watching the ensuing chaos.

Mike with first fish of the trip.
First fish. (And the reason why you should set the hook.)

My own personal memorable fish was the one I landed with the help of everyone in our little party. On day two, we walked upstream from the 9-Mile bridge and fished some beautiful runs in the morning. After a few hours, Ron lead us through a rugged stretch, which was completely clogged with downed Sitka spruce trees. We picked our way through the mess, periodically spooking fish holding under logs. Ahead of us, Ron had cautiously crossed a fallen horizontal tree trunk which formed the downstream leg of an open area about the size of a two car garage. Windfall and root wads formed natural walls, and smack in the middle was a pod of steelhead. "Go ahead, try it," said Ron with an impish grin. Naturally, being single-minded, I started lobbing my snelled yarn egg up-current from the fish. The first few casts were woefully short. After some coaching from Ron-on-high, I finally got a decent cast off and immediately felt the electric shake of a mad steelhead. That's when it dawned on me – there's absolutely no room to fight this fish in here. I've been had!

Group effort fish
Author with tag team fish. The snags in the background extended into the river.

Ron immediately told me to run out into the middle of the opening and fight the fish from there. I clamped my hand down on the spool and refused to let the fish out of the open space. I figured that it would be better to break it off than to have it run my line through a million branches. By moving laterally around the edge of the space and by using liberal side pressure, I managed to keep it across from me in clear water. At least that's how it went until it made a dash towards Kelly and Mike (who were laughing at me I might add). Right at their feet, the fish wrapped the line around a number of snags. At this, Mike lifted up the branch and Kelly untangled the line. Miraculously the fish was still on, and I was eventually able to bring it to hand. This was the closest thing to tag-team fishing I've ever experienced.

Of course, no trip would be complete without the biggest fish story. Because the Situk is so short, the steelhead have an easy time making the run up the river to spawn and then returning to sea. As a result, there are some senior fish in the river who have probably made this trip many, many times. The largest males are easily pushing 40 inches and 25 pounds. On our last full day on the river, we had ventured well above the 9-mile bridge and discovered a beautiful stretch that was littered with waist-deep hollows and runs. At the bottom of each deeper section were pods of fish so thick that the bottom was mottled with splotches of blue-grey. We spread out and were soon landing fish up and down the river. Kelly was in the habit of giving the play-by-play. "There's the egg, wait for it, wait for it. OK eat the egg. Did you see the size of that chromer?" Well, after all the hyperbole, of course, one tends to discount the announcer. So, Kelly hooked a fish and in anticipation of at least a 15 minute battle, I continued casting.

Kelly's monster fish
The rod-killer steelie poses with his most recent victim.

In hindsight, I should have stopped and watched Kelly's emerging fight. What actually transpired was I hooked into a fish a few casts later and fought it well downstream. As I washed off my hands after releasing my fish, I looked up and saw Kelly walking towards me, elated but with two rods in his hand. "This is not good," I recall mumbling to myself. The final score – huge steelhead: 1, St. Croix Legend Elite: 0. With big, hot fish, the most dangerous part of the battle is always when it is right next to you. In Kelly's ensuing end-game, the rod snapped right in the middle. Luckily, he pounced on the leader and was able to hand-line the fish in. Working alone, he took the picture shown here. We scrutinized this photo and measured his (broken) rod. We are convinced that this amazing monster was at least 40-inches.

What's In the Cards?

Long or short, bright or dark, the Situk steelhead are some of the most powerful fish I have ever fought. Being rainbow trout at heart, they leap, tailwalk, and shake their heads. And they run so fast that you emerge from a day on river with knuckles bruised from the whirling reel handle. With action like this, probably the biggest threat to the Situk is its own popularity. With daily Alaska Air jet service, anglers from Anchorage to Seattle can get to Yakutat for a long weekend as easily as a drive from the Peninsula to Redding. While weekends during the spring steelhead season are social affairs, thankfully they have not yet reached Hat Creek angler densities. The guides tell me that if you want to see a real crowd, come back for the Situk salmon season.

Simms ad
Situk steelhead in the morning sun

The second biggest danger is natural. The outlet of the Russell Fiord is periodically blocked off by the Hubbard Glacier, whose progress out of the mountains waxes and wanes. The last full closure occurred in 2002. In the event that the Hubbard seals off the waterway's current outlet to the sea permanently, the next lowest outlet for the fiord is down the Old Situk River, the main tributary of the Situk. This would undoubtedly change the river forever since a large portion of it would then become filled with glacial meltwater. It is possible that the salmon fishing would improve at the expense of the steelheading. But by anyone's estimate this will probably not occur soon. So, while I still can, I intend to keep busting my knuckles on the Situk.

Tight Lines!
– Rodney Chun

More Information

Accommodations

Glacier Bear Lodge
Sharesse Edwards, General Manager
P.O. Box 303
Yakutat, AK 99689
Website: www.glacierbearlodge.com
Phone (toll free): (888) 425-6343

Yakutat Steelhead Inn
Ron Pelissier, Proprietor
PO Box 496
Yakutat, AK 99689
Website: www.alaskandream.com
Phone (AK): (907) 784-3545
Phone (CA): (831) 633-3888

Guides

Ron Pelissier
Yakutat Steelhead Inn
Phone (AK): (907) 784-3545
Phone (CA): (831) 633-3888

Frank Deveraux
Yakutat Bay and River Charters
Phone (AK): (907) 784-3415

Bob Fraker
Yakutat Outfitters
Phone (AK): (907) 784-3659

References and Links

Flyfisher's Guide To Alaska by Scott Haugen. Belgrade, MT: Wilderness Adventures Press, 2003.

Web article on Yakutat steelheading: "Situk River, Steelhead, and Angling Opportunities." Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

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