Peters Creek Float Trip, Alaska
My recent trip to Alaska was a working trip. My friends scratch their heads and ask, "How can a trip to Alaska be working, when it comes to fishing?" Well, when you help guide a group of eight clients on a four-day, three-night float trip down a remote river, that's work -- albeit the most fulfilling kind for me!
I was invited to the Denali foothills by a good friend, Peter Mathiesen. Peter and I met one day in 1984 in front of my office here at the resort. He drove up, got out of his Toyota Four-Runner and introduced himself as a writer, and representative of a magazine called "Hunting and Fishing Journal." He wanted to know if I wanted to buy advertising. My reaction was, "I have no money!"
Peter and I talked fishing . . . yes, we hit it off. And, yes, Peter could talk -- and still can. He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know in the field of hunting and fishing gear. And his resume proves that out. He has worked as Field and Stream and Outdoor Life's editorial staff, F & S's gear editor, radio producer and still writes actively for many publications. And he just finished his first book, "Tales of the Alaskan State Trooper," due out next February.
Five years ago Peter and his wife, Sandy, picked up from St. Louis and moved to Talkeetna, Alaska. They've never looked back. He still writes while Sandy teaches as a professor at the business school at University of Alaska in Anchorage. Peter has also teamed up with a local bed and breakfast owner and operator, Tom Redmon, to take visitors fishing on the many rivers and creeks in the Talkeetna area.
Tom and Renae Redmon own Talkeetna/Denali View Bed & Breakfast outside of Talkeetna. As a bush pilot, Tom flies people in his wheel plane to see the mountains and glaciers in the area. He also drops anglers with professional guides like Peter near small rivers and creeks to fish.
When Tom booked the group of men on a four-day, three-night float trip which admittedly was a big venture for them. They had not had a group this large before, especially taking them on a big float trip like this. They needed help, and Peter called me.
Preparation for this float trip started weeks before. Tom ordered and received hundreds of dollars worth of camping equipment including big dry bags, sleeping bags, air sleeping mats, filtered water bottles, waders and fly rods and reels to add to his already large inventory of outdoor equipment.
Days before, he planned all the meals, started packing dry goods, cooking utensils, cook ware and cook stoves. Propane, tents, chain saw (which came in handy), camping shovel, two stand-alone canopy covers and camp tables were also packed. And all that gear all had to fit into four rafts and a Soar (inflatable canoe) for the trip down the Peters.
I don't think Tom knows how to pack light when it comes to food. And good food it was! We ate well -- rib eyes, salmon, pork steaks, eggs, bacon and hash browns every morning. And we needed it as hard as we worked getting down the river!!
Peters Creek is in a gold-rich, famous area, best known for its gold rush back in the late 1800's into the early 1900's. The Petersville Road, which we drove out on to get to the river, was started in 1917 to give miners access to the mines in Dutch Hills, the foothills of Denali.
We started Tuesday morning by shuttling a vehicle, with trailer, to our takeout. It was a private access, "off the map." Peter's all-terrain Yamaha made the rough,two-tire lane road look easy, although I don't know how it climbed out of some of the holes we drove through on the two-mile off-road trip. Peter and I hiked back out, past a couple of side paths to cabins and a small air strip hidden back in the woods. Peter said he found this place on Google Earth.
We made the trip back up to the headwaters and the public access there. It was close to a man's gold mine claim -- and he came down to see us off. Peter said back when they started using the access, the old miner would come down and give them the "evil eye." But once he found out Peter wasn't interested in his gold, or gold prospecting, he warmed up to his visits, even showing Peter his operation. I wish we would have had time to engage him on this trip for an interesting tour.
The rafts were already inflated as we packed them full of equipment and provisions. Some pushed off and headed out. My raft and two clients stayed and fished the area at the access. Dan and Rod both hooked and landed their first grayling. Then Dan landed a small rainbow. I had tied on an Elk Hair Caddis for Dan, and the trout were taking it in the fast chute we were fishing. After wearing those fish out, we started our float down the Peters.
Tom set camp up about four miles downstream on a gravel bar. We worked our way through small water, dodging sweepers and rocks, stopping and fishing places where fish would be holding up. One fly the rainbows seemed to like was a Dolly Lama, a streamer tied with rabbit strips with a cone head. Peter had shown me how to work the fly by simply casting it close to a cut bank or brush then pulling it out while shaking the rod tip. It really worked well, especially fished out of the boat by my clients as we maneuvered around structures.
I hadn't camped out in years. The smell of the campfire smoke brought back good memories of our family camping in Colorado as a kid. So did the frigid air as the sun dropped behind the mountains, dipping down into the 40's. Nothing like my family was experiencing at the time in the lower 48 . . . humid and 95!
These were big chunks of coal that dotted the shore of the river. Tom told me some of their past clients had not believed it was real coal. He would light the rock to prove it, and most times it would burn all night long.
After a fairly good night sleep and a great breakfast, we set out for day number two. I guided Tyler and Macrum. Tyler is from the Chicago area and is in sales. Macrum is a retired engineer and lives near Washington D.C.. It was still mostly cloudy with a little rain. The fish were not as agreeable about taking flies as the day before.
This section of Peters isn't floated by many people. In fact, I think we were the only ones who have floated it this summer. We saw no signs of humans. Matt, one of the young men who guided with Peter and myself, had floated the whole 26 miles just two weeks prior exclusively to cut out any blockages on the river so we wouldn't have to portage our boats. But on the second and third day, Matt cleared seven new blockages. That's why we carried a chain saw -- with extra gas, oil and chains!
The group caught rainbows and grayling, measuring between 12 and 16 inches, fairly regularly, on a variety of flies and styles of presentation. Dry flies were doing pretty well, using Stimulators and Elk Hair Caddis. The Dolly Lamas caught mostly rainbows in the runs and breaks behind rocks and logs. Behind what salmon spawning beds we saw, we were ran beads and egg flies.
Tom and James set up shore lunches for us each day, rowing ahead of us and picking a nice gravel bar to pull up on. I know we guides were always ready for lunch after rowing all morning.
At the end of another day, a new campsite was welcomed. Rowing three men and gear through the obstacles on the small river was a challenge for me. I hadn't rowed in years, although it all came back quickly. The physical part I enjoyed (thanks to years of continued gym workouts.) The campfire, dinner and soft air mattress in my tent completed a restful ending of a wonderful day.
After we floated by the biggest log jam we encountered, the river was jam-free. The river's characteristics changed a bit, too, opening up to be a wider river with more boulders to dodge. Another emerging creek added more water which was nice, too. But navigating the "boulder fields" was challenging, to say the least.
Both apprehension and anticipation were expressed in the group concerning the possibility of bear sightings -- or confrontations! But to my surprise, we didn't see any animals on the river. Only occasional prints appeared in the sand -- which were often times very fresh -- but no sightings.
These wolf prints were as big as my hand -- and very fresh!
The only salmon we saw in Peters Creek was an occasional pink salmon or king salmon. Most of the kings had already spawned and died.
The last day of floating was a little tough on catching. I guided Chris and Zach, a father and son from San Diego. They hooked both grayling and rainbows on eggs and dries but not in good numbers. I did work on their fly casting technique and hope that the improvement I saw will encourage them to pursue more fly fishing together in the future.
We finished the trip at the takeout, thankful that the all-terrain vehicle Peter and I had stashed in the woods was still there. We started tearing down the rafts and hauled them up the two-mile trail to the road.
All in all, our anglers were happy with the float trip. The weather was typical Alaskna weather with a mix of cloudiness, little wind, light rain at times and moderate temperatures in the 50's and 60's. The comraderie was unmatched. Friendships were forged and stories written that will be told over and over -- about the fish that got away, about who caught the biggest rainbow, the bear and wolf prints in the sand and the refreshing quiet of the remote stream away from the hustle and bustle of our "real" lives back in the lower 48. It was a blessed trip.
From right to left: Dan, Zach, James, Macrum, Tyler, Peter, Rod, Joe, Chris and Tom. Tom Redmon not in attendance.