There is a certain finality you feel when staring directly at a waterfall. Not a termination or an abrupt end, but rather the distinct end of one thing and the beginning of another. This feeling is compounded when you’re over 1,000 miles away from home and starting a new job two days later. Reflection comes naturally when one is observing this phenomenon. Being in the Great North is similar to living in the pacific northwest, but at the same time completely different. Everything feels bigger and more intimidating.
I consider myself a strong wader and as sure footed as they come, but trying to keep up with the locals here is shameful. The fish are bigger too, and there are more of them. Sight casting to pink salmon that are staging up for their run up river is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Any type of salmonid strikes a soft spot with me, so fishing for them in 4-8 feet of water on tidal flats was something special.
Pink salmon are not highly thought of in some parts of the Great North. Not that the locals have anything against them, they just have spent so much of their life catching pinks that they could stand to try something else. These fish average 3-6 pounds and pull about as hard as your average steelhead of that size, however, so when we found ourselves catching dozens of these fish in a day, it was difficult to complain convincingly.
The crown jewel of these rivers to many Alaskan fly fishers though, are big Dolly Varden. Dollies are a sea-run char that average somewhere between 10-16 inches depending on where you are fishing for them. Make no mistake they are fine fish, but at first I had a difficult time understanding the enthusiasm for these fish. They are easy to catch (even by Alaskan standards) and a big one is pushing 20 inches. They fight hard but all species of salmon fight harder and are generally more responsive to the swung fly.
It took several trips over the course of two years to really get it. Like anything in life, it is difficult to truly understand something until it has become a part of your daily life. Something you experience day in and day out. Catching a big dolly on the fly is something extraordinary that can happen by luck or by skill, but to understand the significance of it you had to catch one hundred smaller dollies.
There’s a lesson there, it isn’t immediately obvious to me what that lesson is yet, but over time these things tend to reveal themselves; like the big dolly you only see after watching a school of pink salmon on their redds.