When working out an itinerary for mom’s retirement trip to Fairbanks and surrounding areas, I had to fit in a float on the Chena River for Arctic grayling. Naturally, a very late ice break up and torrential rains had the Chena swollen to the point the guide called to say the float was in serious jeopardy. I had never fished the area I had no clue what I’d do if the float didn’t happen. If the Chena was blown out, then everything else might be unfishable too.
A guy at Sportsman’s Warehouse casually suggested a creek but it too was swollen and muddy. I was armed with a few dark nymphs, hi-vis Adams, caddis and a stimulator just for fun. The creek was right off the highway and looked like little more than a glorified irrigation ditch. The thick birch forest stopped abruptly at the edge of the bank which was had been cut by the current and fell into the creek large chunks earlier in the season.
Mom stayed in the car, rolled down the window, read her new book and waited for the hooked-fish spasm she’s seen from me since I was catching catfish from muddied Kansas lakes at age 4. I went with a bead-headed nymph and an indicator. Not five minutes in I hooked up and stripped in my first ever Arctic grayling.
I picked it up and stared at the enormous, iridescent dorsal fin. It wasn’t a huge fish (grayling aren’t) but it was unique and beautiful. I removed the hook, slid it into the water and it swam off. I caught a few more and we returned to Fairbanks. That night, the guide called and officially canceled the float. I’d have to manufacture my own grayling adventure.
Over the next three days mom and I put 714 miles on a little Kia rental car driving southwest through Nenana to Anderson, southeast to the end of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction and even visited Santa’s Workshop in North Pole. Wherever we parked, the little Kia was the smallest in the lot and as a true indicator of being operated by a non-local, it lacked the plug sticking out of the grill. Since Fairbanks frequently dips below minus 50 degrees during winter, you have to plug in your truck or it will not start. Many people just leave them running.
Anyway, Saturday we drove up to Chena Hot Springs and I got to fish the Chena. Water sat stagnant in pools and flooded low spots. Two signs still marked where the road had flooded days before. Mom encouraged me to fish as long as I wanted while she watched from the car or read, but I didn’t stay on the water for much longer than about 20 minutes at any given spot.
On the way back from the hot springs, still 40 miles from Fairbanks, I stopped at a spot where the water had given back a gravel bar, but I still had to cross some water to get to it. I tried the slow inner edge of a fast channel and had no luck. It wasn’t until the sky opened up into a down-pour that I hooked up and lost the biggest grayling of the trip. It was a strange rain. It wasn’t stormy or malicious. There was no wind, thunder or lightening, just heavy rain on a high river.
I took a few moments to look around. I was 198 highway miles from the Arctic Circle, up to my shins in grayling water soaking up an afternoon shower and my mom was 200 yards up river reading. What more could I want?
Then I hooked up again. Perfect.
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