Gary Lewis is the host of Adventure Journal and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, Black Bear Hunting, Hunting Oregon and other titles. This time he shares his insight on traveling to Yakutat, Alaska, for prehistoric pike.
The last time I was here it was with no gun, no GPS, no map and no DEET. Last year’s poor planning resulted in a three-hour slog through devil’s club, muskeg and black water.
This time I carried heat in an Alaska Sportsman holster and an aerial photo. Dad had his GPS unit. Photographer Sam Pyke was our witness should a bear eat us or a troop of prehistoric mosquitoes take us hostage.
Two brown bears had crossed the road on the way here. Now we were in their backyard.
Unchanged in 8,000 years, this valley, surrounded by humped-up mountains, bordered by trackless forest, was a geologic refugia. When glaciers covered the land, it remained free of ice, and a chain of still waters was preserved that holds pike biologically distinct in North America.
A trail led into the ooze through tall grass and hip-deep channels. We aimed toward a stand of trees north by northeast, then crossed a patch of skunk cabbage, over a bear trail and through a creek. Soon, a meadow was visible beyond the trees and then dark water with the mountain behind it.
Nothing moved on the surface. Lily pads ringed the lake and the banks were carpeted in moss and waist high grass. Our rods were rigged with floating lines, steel leaders and streamers. I pointed dad toward a channel that emptied into the lake with a patch of open water where no lily pads grew.
On the third cast, a fish boiled. After more than two dozen casts, dad connected. By the time I reached him, he had a pike to hand, a fish that measured 30 inches and sported the grizzly hackled streamer that had teased him out of the lilies.
Dad worked the streamer side-to-side to make the fly behave like a wayward frog. His next fish was a two-footer with razor teeth.
I cast my streamer into voids in the lilies and teased it from pad to pad. A pike streaked out and missed the fly. Moments later, another charged, its mouth gaping at the surface. I missed, but the electric current that passed between us almost stopped my heart.
On the downwind side, Dad cast a Gibbs spoon with a lazy zigzag retrieve and caught two more. I missed another. Dad handed me the spinning rod.
Concerned now, I waded in and fan-cast out from the weeds. I hooked and lost one. Down to last cast time. Twenty more ‘last casts’, the spoon stopped, the line knifed through the water, a wedge of tail broke the surface.
Through the maze of lily pads, I brought the beast to hand and admired my first pike, my quest fulfilled.
Note: Anytime you’re fishing in bear country, bring a survival kit to include the following.
1. A map
2. A compass
3. Waterproof matches or a lighter
4. Extra clothes or a space blanket
5. A knife
6. Mosquito repellent
7. A little food and water
8. A first aid kit
9. A shotgun, a revolver or bear spray
10. A flashlight with extra batteries