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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

By Troutnut on June 22nd, 2016
Last month I realized it had been too long since I did something ridiculous to catch some trout. So I recruited my friend and summer fieldwork crew member Josh to go chase big rainbows in a well-known spot on the Gulkana River. However, this well-known spot is really accessible only to people doing the 4- to 5-day float trip from Paxson Lake to Sourdough Landing, and we only had time for an overnight trip and no boat.

Various government brochures speak of a six-mile trail, the Haggard Creek Trail, leading from the Richardson Highway to this spot on the river, Canyon Rapids, a half-mile of raging Class III-IV whitewater that most floaters have to portage, or at least portage their gear and run with empty boats. One online source warned that the trail can be "a bit swampy," so I warned Josh with that caveat -- "It might be a bit swampy."

This video of the trip shows what they meant by that (and the fishing afterward):



Yeah, just a bit swampy.



To be fair, the lakes were actually to the side of the trail. This was the actual trail:



This, too:



The mosquitoes were as bad as I've ever seen them anywhere in Alaska except the North Slope. This was typical:



Most of the trail was hard to even find, let alone follow. It's really a winter trail. In the summer it's mostly untracked bog, with the "trail" frequently opening up into larger boggy meadows in which the trail's exit is unclear and no walkable route is apparent. I relied on coarse aerial imagery on my GPS to let me know when we'd wandered too far from the supposed trail in one direction or another. It reminded me of the scene below, but with trout at the end instead of Mordor. And my guide kept quiet instead of coughing out, "Garmin! Garmin!"



After five hours in the swamp, the sound of running water was a great relief, followed by this view:



We set up camp at one of the nice campsites used by the heavy raft traffic ("heavy" means at least a few parties per day here):



Then got to fishing the whitewater:





When we began fishing mid-evening, fishing nymphs under indicators, we mostly just caught small 10-15" grayling. Dozens of them. Fish on every cast at times. But there was little sign of the big rainbows we came for. The nymphs just picked up some little ones, like this:



There were a lot of seagulls around, and I watched them as I fished, curious about why they were here. There were salmon in the river, both reds and kings, but we didn't see many, and no dead ones yet for the seagulls to peck at. What drew them to this spot?



After a while I figured out the gulls, and with them, the rainbows. Finger-length sockeye salmon smolts were outmigrating from Paxson Lake upstream. When they hit the roiling whitewater of the canyon, some of them got momentarily disoriented and boiled up to the surface. That's when the gulls would swoop down and grab them. I figured the rainbows, which had been largely ignoring our nymphs, might be doing something similar. So I put on a silvery streamer and the real fun began.







We fished until close to midnight. But the action was only getting started -- see Part II.

Photos by Troutnut from the Gulkana River in Alaska

The Gulkana River in Alaska
The Gulkana River in Alaska
Small lake seen along the boggy hike into the river

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
Typical mosquito coverage on my hat during the hike in

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
Another nice rainbow around 16 inches
Seagulls were perched on the rocks watching for outmigrating juvenile sockeye salmon to get disoriented in the whitewater and bubble up to the surface where they can be grabbed. I caught one of them that hit my fly in mid-air and got hooked in the wing, but didn't get any pictures because I was too focused on releasing it. It was fine.

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
The "trail" often disappeared completely into large swaths of muddy marsh grass or peat bogs

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
Josh fishing a good hole

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
First view of the Canyon Rapids

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
The Gulkana River in Alaska
The Gulkana River in Alaska
A 17-inch rainbow I caught Thursday evening
Canyon Rapids

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
And another
The Gulkana River in Alaska
A very typical section of the six miles of "trail"

From the Gulkana River in Alaska
The Gulkana River in Alaska
Josh's first Gulkana rainbow, small but colorful

Comments / replies

Troutnut
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Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Jul 21, 2016July 21st, 2016, 2:32 pm EDT
Just posted this trip. Commenting to bump it up on the forum.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Martinlf
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Moderator
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jul 22, 2016July 22nd, 2016, 6:03 pm EDT
Definitely "nutty" and wonderful. Looking forward to Part II.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Oldredbarn
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Novi, MI

Posts: 2600
Oldredbarn on Jul 23, 2016July 23rd, 2016, 7:42 am EDT
Nice vid!!! With all those rocks out there it was a miracle that fish didn't shred your leader.

Spence
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Steps25
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Connecticut

Posts: 31
Steps25 on Jul 25, 2016July 25th, 2016, 8:21 am EDT
Good post, vid & pics!
Troutnut
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Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Jul 25, 2016July 25th, 2016, 10:32 am EDT
With all those rocks out there it was a miracle that fish didn't shred your leader.


Well, one of them did! And some of the other big ones that took off downstream probably would have, if they hadn't spit the hook first.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Oldredbarn
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Novi, MI

Posts: 2600
Oldredbarn on Jul 26, 2016July 26th, 2016, 8:46 am EDT
Jason,

Just re-reading Charlie Fox's short story, "Dawn of a New Day"...It's about a guy who found the biggest trout in the stream and would hook it, only to have it rip downstream into a holding area lined with jagged limestone...He would shred his line every time.

There was only one way to cast to the fish in its feeding lie.

His solution to this problem was to not attach his fly line to any backing...He hooked the fish and he spooled him and he came back the next day and retrieved the dangling fly line, hanging downstream, and played the fish...At least I think he does, I haven't finished the story.

Craig Mathews has a vid out where he's fishing Tenkara on the Madison...He hooks a big fish. There is a set amount of line on those rods...He tosses the rod into the river and lets the fish swim around with it for awhile.

The fish "wants" to return to it lie, and eventually it does. He then steps into the river and picks up the rod and lands a tired trout!

Were there is a will...

I guess this speaks to the bow-&-arrow cast thread elsewhere...:)

I had a friend that couldn't handle my obsession with one fish...The harder the situation the more it seemed I use to become obsessed. After some time he would yell at me to just leave that one alone and find another in an easier spot...I think this puzzle solving is part of the attraction to our angling pleasure.

Spence
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
KIngoThings
Posts: 3
KIngoThings on Apr 1, 2017April 1st, 2017, 3:28 am EDT
HELLO! I couldn't find another way to do this, sorry.
~
I want to comment/ask a question on another photo elsewhere but it's only forcing me to Facebook even though that is supposedly an option. I don't want to go there.
How can I communicate with the person who took the photo please?
Thank you.
PaulRoberts
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Colorado

Posts: 1776
PaulRoberts on Apr 1, 2017April 1st, 2017, 5:59 am EDT
Very nice. Wonderful adventure.
Troutnut
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Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Apr 1, 2017April 1st, 2017, 3:47 pm EDT
KIngoThings, post a link to the specific photo you wanted to ask about, or email it to jason@troutnut.com.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist

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