SAFARI Camp Season Summary, 2018
2018 was a solid season of fishing interrupted by opposite bouts of Mother Nature – wet weather in mid August, dry/warm weather in September. Overall, the chum salmon and silver salmon numbers were strong, but the pink salmon numbers light. The Dolly Varden fishing was excellent throughout the river. The bay fishing for halibut was the best we’ve seen in 5 or 6 years, and that was sure nice to see again!
Despite a strong headcount, the silvers had periods of lockjaw in mid/late September on our tidal flat, where late August and early September offered very good silver (and chum) fishing. The extended warm/dry/sunny September weather, plus low water levels due to lack of rain, put a hamper on the silver bite from time to time… I remember a couple of days when we were literally surrounded by fish on the tidal flat but refusals were far more common than takes. I’ve only seen this prolonged silver salmon behavior one or two other seasons that I can remember; the silvers are notoriously lockjaw-prone in low water and bright sun. Fortunately we could still tease silvers with decent to good success up the river valley. And our usual helicopter fly-out rivers, which are larger drainages, were unaffected by the bright sun/low water challenges in our home bay – we pretty much pounded silvers during the heli-fishing days in late August and throughout September.
The chum salmon fishing doesn’t need much discussion – it was very good in August and early September.
I might dare say this year was the lightest pink salmon run I can ever remember at SAFARI camp. Next year the pink salmon hoards will certainly return – odd years, instead of even years like in Bristol Bay, support the larger pink run on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula. Thinking back several years, in the 2000’s there was far less difference in the pink numbers between odd and even years runs, but sometime around 2010 we witnessed a divergence. (This is likely due to natural cycles dictated by Mother Nature, but we did notice a big increase in commercial fishing for pinks on the Pacific side in 2008. No, we are definitely not pointing any fingers at the commercial folks, just making observations.)
The Dolly Varden fishing was excellent overall and probably slightly better than a typical season. Streamers were killer, along with egg imitations.
The bears were thick this year up the river valley… in fact, it was without question the beariest season I’ve ever seen at this camp. Along with several single bears, sows with cubs were everywhere. Plus one very large boar we named Brutus regularly worked the river valley. It’s unusual to see boars of the XL size stick around in our bay for an extended period, but we had absolutely no problems with him – because we gave him an extra wide berth. Theories? Low water in September certainly drove bears towards the larger drainages with good flows, as some smaller creeks completely dried up. But this theory falls apart in August when water levels were high and healthy, and bears were still everywhere.
Although no wolves or caribou were spotted this year, the moose were very active. We had a few sightings in August, but more than normal sightings in September, both around camp and on the helicopter fly-outs.
Whale sightings were overall lighter directly within our bay system, but WAY higher than average in waters 6 to 10 miles offshore. While halibut fishing, we witnessed multiple days with multiple simultaneous pods scattered on the horizon. Some of these pods must of contained 20 or 30 animals. It was like whale spout fireworks.
Multiple species of sea birds were seen throughout the season from the boat, as usual, but horned puffins were extra thick again this year. Migrating geese sightings were heavier than average, and the sightings started earlier than normal – I thought for sure it was a sign of an early, cold fall (but I was wrong).
The weather was great in early August, crappy and wet in mid August, and you guessed it, the nicest/warmest/driest September we’ve ever seen. (Ironically, after a wet and cold July at the OUTPOST camp, we incorrectly predicted an early fall and a cold September.) And I must mention the guys from New Hampshire, who experienced perhaps the worst, stormiest day of fishing I can remember during the third week of August. Hopefully we have a good photo or two to convey the madness of that day we will all soon not forget…
The takeaway is you never know what Mother Nature will bring you in Alaska, weather-wise (and bear-wise). Our most common recommendation, for any fly fishing trip in Alaska… buy good rain gear. Remember, though, good rain gear is no substitution for being mentally prepared and having a good attitude (aka, making the best of your fishing adventure even when you’re soaked to the bone).
The 2018 SAFARI camp photo gallery is mostly ready, but more killer photos coming soon…
(By the way, Happy Turkey Day to all.)