I’ve just recently returned from another incredible Alaskan adventure and I have to say, the novelty and excitement of this untamed wilderness, never ceases to thrill me. Amy and Dan Herrig, owners of Rapids Camp Fishing Lodge, were our hosts for the third year in a row. They are special people and have a very special lodge.
To begin, they’re the only certified tenkara lodge and outfitter in all of Alaska. They embrace tenkara and their guides are experts at not only getting you into fish, but setting up unconventional tenkara rigs and coaching you on playing and landing bigger fish. They have Zen equipment so if you don’t have your own tenkara rod, or don’t have one that’s designed for bigger fish, they’ve got you covered.
It’s also a top-notch lodge and it’s easy to get to. In fact, all you need to do is fly to Anchorage. They’ll meet you curb-side then transfer you to their private jet, and off you go to King Salmon. It’s about an hour flight on a swanky jet. Upon landing, you’re met by either Dan and Amy or the lodge managers Liz Finch and Max Pushak. From there, it’s about a 10 -15 minute van ride to the lodge which is just enough time to meet the other guests and find out where everyone’s from.
When you arrive, staff are there to say hello and get you situated in your room. You’re given some time to freshen up then meet in the greatroom to have a cocktail, get a full rundown and set your “individual goals” for the week. This is one of two things that really set Rapids Camp Lodge apart from all other lodges. You’re actually asked, “What’s your goal for the week and for each day? What do you really want to do and how do you want to do it? What’s your target species?” Then, they work their butts off to make it happen.
The second thing that really sets RCL apart is their daily fly-outs (weather permitting). Some lodges offer 1 or 2 fly-outs during a week-long stay. You’re charged extra for this service. At RCL each morning after breakfast you gear up and meet at the dock ready to be flown to a different pristine location. The pilot and lead guide even surveyed the water from the air to make sure we were in the money and finding honey holes. Unencumbers by crowds, other lodges, other guides services – other people. It’s just you, your pilot, your guides, the fish, and maybe a few bears. During our trip we fished 7 different rivers and only saw another party momentarily in the distance. If the weather didn’t permit us to fly, we had the spectacular Naknek river, where the lodge is located, at our disposal.
Lady luck was on our side and the weather allowed us to take off each morning and head out to a new destination and new adventure. The first day we fished Contact Creek where bears are numerous and always have the right-of-way. Chums and kings had already come in and would eventually make way for silvers who hadn’t quite arrived yet – the Alaskan cycle. But Contact is like a nursery. At this point in the season, its narrow water is filled with kings and chums busy laying eggs, while hungry rainbows and char position themselves behind them to feast on pink orange balls of nutrition. They can be ferocious when protecting their egg nests. They fend off predators by chasing, smashing and even biting the chars and rainbows. Big splashes would suddenly occur around you and you’d spot chars and rainbows darting away fast being pursued by a king or chum. We landed several who had obvious battle wounds and definitely pissed someone off.
The Zen Sagi was the rod of choice for these waters and it performed perfectly, set up with about 12ft to 15ft of line, plus 7ft or 8ft of 15lb test leaders. We threw egg patterns and streamers and landed too many fish to count. Several chunky rainbows and chars that fought really hard and went arieal several times, turned me into a human drag system. In an attempt to keep my rod in its power curve, each time they tried to run down stream, I’d have to take several steps to keep up with them. In those few moments when every movement counts, and your biggest challenge is to stay in that curve, everything is extremely tactile and you respond to touch and feel more than anything else.
It becomes even more exciting when in that same moment someone yells out, “BEAR!” On one particular occasion I was hooked into this bucking bronco with fins. Letting it go wasn’t as simple or easy as it sounds….even if I wanted to. That hook was set and I had no line to feed it. I rapidly looked around to see where the bear was and finally caught sight of him about 8ft below me, walking towards me, as I stood in the middle of a 25ft wide creek. Did he want my fish? The only thing I could do besides drop my rod, was start walking the dog farther down stream, not running mind you, but walking quickly and carefully managing the fish on the line, and hope the fish would either throw the hook, or I could land and release it quickly downstream.
I held on and finally put enough distance between me and the bear . With the guide sticking close to my side, we had our chance. I raised the rod tip in the last moment, lifting the fish’s head and he scooped that bad boy into the net. That’s Alaskan excitement through and through. The bear moved on, we landed the fish and it was another day on the water in Alaska. High fives and fist bumps continued for the next several minutes as we caught our breath and our heart and blood pressure settled back down. All that in just the first day!
Each day after that had it’s own special moments. We hiked into Gertrude Creek and caught char, rainbows and graylings almost without trying. It became comical as we yelled out in a non-stop, continuous pace, “Fish” and “Another Fish” and ” I’m on Again!” The guide busted it that day working so hard. but we were all having a blast. Another day we cast long lines on the Nushagak targeting silvers that were just beginning to show up. They weren’t yet as plentiful as the chars and rainbows had been the previous day so we did a lot of casting. The wind was howling against us and the flies were big, heavy, and very pink. But when we did get a hit, the fight was mighty on the Kyojin Spey tenkara rod with 8ft of 20lb test on 20ft of roughly 10wt line. It was a turbo ride of excitement and a day that left me hungry and tired.
We floated twice. Once on the Kvichack for chum and rainbows using an engine to get us around this rather large river. Then again on the exquisite Kulik where we floated and wet waded on the most beautiful river yet, filled with massive rainbows that almost bent the Taka Zoom Rod and Kyojin Spey rod in half. Our guides were gaining experience too, so while they cast tenkara rods, I played a little with my Winston Boron Plus 8wt and Hatch 7 Fanatic reel. Twice fish put me into my backing almost instantly. It was then, using my rod and reel set up, that I really appreciated what our Zen rods could do. Reel or tenkara, almost all the fish I hooked I landed. The 2 monsters that got away simply threw hooks. But while they were on, and they were on for some time, they tested every essense of my being – my will, my endurance, my strength, my wit, my skills and my gear. For me, it was magical. I live for those moments that force me to be completely present, that yell in my face, “YOU ARE ALIVE.” And with tenkara it’s so pure, so raw, so beautifully rewarding.