Boy was I excited about this trip! This was our first year of offering “Trout Weeks” at Lava Creek Lodge. We had set aside four weeks after Chinook season and before Coho season to specifically concentrate on and fully vet the trout fishing on the home-water the Cinder River and its major tributary Lava Creek. We were limiting these weeks to four anglers only for maximum flexibility in the fishing program, while at the same time allowing guests private accommodations. The year before we tested the fisheries and were pleasantly surprised to find a healthy population of wild and beautifully colored rainbow trout and hordes of hungry Dolly Varden. And best of all, we had the entire system to ourselves, we would not be sharing the fisheries with another living soul – an experience impossible to find in Alaska these days. I was pumped! Accompanying me on the trip was my wife Lisa, and good friends Steve and Kathy and Tim.
Here is how our week went down.
July 30, 2022 – Saturday:
But first, my dear friend Rich Owens, who owns the Tastee Freeze in Anchorage was able to secure tickets to Arctic Thunder, the Air show at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage (JBER). It was going to be a full day as Rich, my wife Lisa and I would be serving 540 ice cream sundaes to the 176th Wing of the National Guard – the Arctic Guardians. It was their 70th anniversary and we were honored and humbled to be part of the celebration.
We were up early in the morning, we had a big day at the air show. We blew through the sundaes in less than three hours. Rich handled the ice cream, chocolate or caramel while Lisa and I asked if they wanted sprinkles or nuts. This was a family event with lots of families, super nice and appreciative folks. They catered a full on lunch with all you can eat hamburgers, hot dogs, salad, and sides, including drinks. After dishing out the sundaes the rest of the day was spent checking out demonstrations of C-17’s, F-18 Hornets and my favorite F-22’s. They even had a mock take over of the airport by an enemy force with flash grenades, smoke, Blackhawk helicopters and humvs – only in Alaska! It was an amazing experience and a thrill.
Later that night, I received a text from Phil Byrd explaining that our charter flight departure time to Pilot Point will be an hour earlier due to flight restrictions because of the air show – be at Alaska Air Transit at 9:00 AM, take off at 10:00 AM.
July 31, 2022 – Sunday:
Make it to Merrill Field Alaska Air Transit (AAT), check in and weigh in, the other three guests are already here, ready to go. There are only five of us, so lots of room for freight and groceries. The flight departs on time, Pilatus PC12, beautiful aircraft, we fly at 28,000 feet. A 1 hour and 45 minute flight to Pilot Point. Phil takes Lisa, Kathy and Steve with some luggage first while Tim and I hang at the strip. 15 minute flight to camp at 900 feet. Phil’s plane (Cessna 182) is fast, and has a new engine. We are assigned cabin IV, and head to the lodge for a bowl of soup. Back to our cabin to get unpacked and chill the rest of the day. Sam, Zach, Jake and I played two rounds of tundra golf, very fun and light, well done Justin Miller for setting up this course! Wind is up now, partly cloudy, but nice temperature.
Well we have a good blow going tonight from the southwest gusting to 40 mph. Phil has been forced to move his planes twice to adjust for the wind. Dinner was a nice fresh salad, chicken parmigiana with pasta and a delicious dessert. Carafes of white and red wine are served with dinner. We will see what tomorrow brings in weather and fishing.
August 1, 2022 – Monday:
We were going to fish Lava Creek but it’s blowing 20 – 25 mph with rain and a relatively low ceiling. We end up driving up river with Zach, while Tim, Steve and Kathy fly up in the Cub with tundra wheels to skiffs already stationed upstream, about 4 or 5 miles from the mouth of Lava Creek. It’s about an hour drive, see one bear that runs off and some waterfowl. We pass the other three on our way upstream. We start off fishing streamers on floating lines in a nice inside run, Lisa is fishing a single handed six weight and I am fishing an eleven foot five weight spey rod. Lisa gets some nice rainbows and a few Dollies. I got a couple grabs, plucks only. We continue to move upstream and fish some beautiful runs, Lisa is killing it, landing some nice rainbows, each fish bigger than the other and worthy of a picture. The wind is still howling, with intermittent rain squalls, mid fifties for temperature at best. We have a quick lunch and continue working upstream with Lisa connecting, me, not so much; she is pumped. We start to head down stream and fish an epic run (Tim and guide Mike fished in the morning, when we passed them) and it is full of spawning pinks and chums, along with Dollies and rainbows. If there was ever a place to hold steelhead, this is the run…about two hundreds yards long, walking speed with boulders and rocks intermixed, wonderful… Lisa lands a fat and beautiful 25 inch rainbow, the biggest trout she has ever landed. She is out front of me and, getting lots of grabs, a few Dollie’s, one Chum. I roll a big fish, which I think is a Dolly, in the 25 inch class or better, but it gets off. We work downstream, hitting a couple of runs and then hit the take out spot, hitching a ride back to the lodge with Phil in the Cub. We see one caribou on our way, it crosses the river in front of us and hightails downstream and eventually in the bush. That’s kind of it for the day, Lisa crushed, the others caught some Dollies but the rainbows are a bit scarce. The weather is cool and according to the guides the trout fishing is best when it is a bit warmer. Appetizers were chicken and waffles, dinner of salmon, quinoa and carrots followed by dessert, Toll House cookie pie. Still blowing and cloudy, rain seems to be holding off, we are supposed to get the same tomorrow.
August 2, 2022 – Tuesday:
Still blowing out of the southwest and chilly, low 50’s. Steve, Kathy and Lisa decide to take the day off, so it is just Tim and I with Floyd. We fish a run with no luck then another at a beaver hut and I land a hot rainbow about 24 inches and hook another that I lose on a jump, both good fish and hot. We continue to work upstream fishing streamers but not much luck. Finally make it to red rock about four or five river miles from Lava Creek and only get some Dollies and a few incidental salmon. We have lunch at Red Rock and I check the water temperature, 48 degrees – yikes! The fish are very lethargic and not moving, not even the Dollies, fishing is off. Start heading downstream and fish a few other runs and get a few plucks but no trout. Head back to the boat landing and see five bull caribou, one double shovel bull in their midst, very cool. We saw only one bear on our way up the river in the morning. Floyd is a nice guy, good guide. Dinner is a nice salad, followed by tri-tip and Brussels sprouts with a chocolate espresso pie for dessert, yum! Appetizers were sushi, well done and presented, Betty is awesome! Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be better, the wind is dying down. We need the water temperature to rise 2 to 4 degrees to get the trout active, moving and aggressive.
August 3, 2022 – Wednesday:
Sun is coming up in the east, but we have rain here this morning. We could use a couple days of nice weather to get the fishing going. Tim wants to fish a half day down at the moon pool for fresh chums and then finish with rainbows at a run called Disneyland.
Lisa and I along with Steve and Kathy fly in the Cub, two loads with Mike and Zach. Zach takes one of the boats up and meets us. Zach is fishing with Steve and Kathy and we are with Mike. We start off in Red Rock Run, loaded with spawning pinks. Lisa fished the majority of the day out of the boat, cleopatra style, while I waded. We picked up a few nice Dollies on streamers, then Lisa switched to a bead (no indicator) and got a few more, no rainbows. We moved down toward where Phil lands the Cub on a gravel beach and one or two boats are stationed, and fished some other beats with a few grabs here and there. We move further down and start hitting some soft inside cut banks outside off the main current. Immediately we start to hit rainbows, inches from the bank in less than a foot of water and continue on with at least a dozen rainbows, and a few Dollies, all nice fish. The bows are nothing less than 20 inches and some up to 23-24, measured. We are fishing a small marabou minnow, tied by Russ Kegler, one of our Guides at The Fly Shop® – blue, white, tan with painted eyes. (RK’S 20-20 MINNOW #4).
We might have a pattern here and start hitting similar water and consistently move and hook fish. Although we cover a lot of water and move fast, if you find a fish it will eat and eat big. Sometimes the fly touched the water and was taken immediately, super fun. Not super crazy fishing, but enough to keep your interest up and your head in the game and fun. Between Lisa and I we landed over a dozen rainbows, nothing under 20 inches, all fat and sassy fish, both males and females. Some fish were hot and others a bit lethargic. We probably lost or missed another dozen. Water temperature was up two degrees to 50 degrees. I land a nice fish behind Lisa, she is taking a break, and there are still 30 yards of run left and I hand the rod to Mike and he catches the last fish of the day, a leaper when hooked, easily jumps 4 feet out of the water and I net it. Beautiful and fat hen. Sammy fished with Tim at the Moon Pool and then moved upstream to fish Disneyland and Tim hooked and landed 11 rainbows on a mouse, confirmed. This is real trout fishing, “trout hunting” and not necessarily a numbers game, but the fish are willing, and will eat when you find them and there is no one else around, The Big Lonely. It’s nothing like Katmai but so special and there are big rewards for those willing to cover water and fish. Mike is a soft spoken, confident guide, outdoorsman and waterman and handled the boat like he was one with it, not fighting it, well done!
August 4, 2022 – Thursday:
Breakfast is pancakes, reindeer sausage and cantaloupe. Phil flies Lisa, Betty and I to the Bering Sea beach this morning, and Lisa finds two Japanese glass balls, a very happy lady. Phil picks us up after two hours and flies us around, showing us the Moon Pool, old Cinder River channel and general lay of the land. We see a herd of caribou and lots of waterfowl in the lakes and ponds. We come back to the lodge, have a quick lunch and then Phil and I wader up and fly to Lava Creek to fish for about an hour or so. We land on a cinder blow, rig up and head to the river, Phil with a bead rig, me with a streamer. In no time, Phil is into half a dozen dollies, all sizable, 18 inches and up with a few in the 4 to 5 pound range, or larger. I hook a monster maybe 6 – 7 pounds and lose it. It could have been bigger. I thought it was a sockeye and was straight lining it. The river is loaded with spawning sockeye and Dollies, no rainbows hooked. Beautiful creek, about the size of Funnel or Gibraltar but with a lower gradient. Super easy to fish, walk and wade, some rocks, mostly gravel and small pebbles with buckets, runs, cut banks, trout-looking water. Lots of bear signs, but none spotted. It would be a great river to walk, wade and fish for able bodied anglers (nothing extreme) or easy to float with a small raft (NRS 9.5) like they use at Royal Wolf, used as transportation not to fish from. Beautiful clear water creek! I saw some giant mayflies coming off and the underneath of rocks had caddis larvae on them. We walked back to the cub and flew up the Cinder a ways, lots of spawning kings, sockeye, chum and pinks. Phil said we were only three miles or so from the Pacific side of the peninsula. Flew back down the river to checkout the layout of the Moon Pool and how it connects, the river is carving its way through the tundra, it needs some big water to establish more fishing water. See a bear close to the 182. I super appreciated Phil taking the time and burning the fuel in his Cub to give an aerial view of the country and waterway the lodge accesses, it really helped put everything into perspective.
August 5, 2022 – Friday:
Wind and rain this morning with overcast skies. Today we are going to fish Lava Creek, Tim, Lisa and I with Floyd. It’s about a 15 minute flight in the Cub to the upper cinder where Phil lands. He has to make two loads, three passengers and him as pilot. Phil, Betty and Mike are going to fish the lower beat for a bit. We walk a short distance to the river, then down a steep bank. What a beautiful creek! We start off with streamers and don’t have much luck at first. We fish downstream, a really nice variety of water from bumpy soft runs, to lots of buckets, redds, sweeping corner cut banks with deep runs, a little of everything… Our first Dollies are hooked in soft, shallow water close to the bank. Fishing behind Tim and I, Lisa and Floyd rig up a bead and start to clean up, although he had to change the size and color of the eggs to get it to work. I start off with a white moal leech, swung and dead drifted with no luck. Tim is fishing his pink char fly and gets some action, outside of incidental sockeye that are hooked, there are a TON of them. I switch to a King Smolt and take a few fish. Water is gin clear and 44 degrees, you can feel the cold in your feet. As the day continues on, the fishing gets better and better as we move and fish downstream. A few patches of blue sky, but generally speaking it’s a blustery day, cool with brief rain squalls moving through. Interestingly, I do see some big mayflies on the water surface, size 12 or bigger, brown or gray and the swallows that nest in the high banks are working on them. Fishing with beads or Tim’s streamer gets better and better and we lose count of how many fish are landed but it is a lot and for the most part they are all nice size, some bright and blue, some dark and beautifully colored, 18-22 inches, fat and belching up sockeye eggs. Quick lunch and we continue working downstream, consistently hitting fish, no rainbows. Tim fishes in front and hooks some pigs, one I saw him role was bright and big, in the 6 – 7 pound range. In a straight line we don’t fish a mile and a half or so, but the creek meanders back and forth and there is plenty of water to fish for two anglers. A float trip on this creek would be fun and perfect. Weather doesn’t change all day, overcast, windy and squalls. Lots and lots of bear sign with fish carcasses up in the grass, but we don’t see any. Lava Creek offers simple and easy wading, nothing too serious, a couple deep and swift crossings but with the guide’s help, not out of the question for just about anyone.
August 6, 2022 – Saturday:
It rained and blew all night, and still continues this morning. Blowing 20 to 25 out of the Southwest with intermittent showers and cool. We are fishing the Cinder today with Zach and fly in the cub to where the boats are stashed about 10 minutes upstream. Tim is fishing with Mike. We start off in a very long run downstream of the drop off, beautiful water with intermittent rocks and boulders. We picked up a few nice Dollies and some pinks, no rainbows. We are still fishing floating lines with streamers. We move downstream to a run named “Stretched” that is epic, a day’s worth of fishing if you move slow and methodically. We break fishing the run with lunch, still blowing and gusting with rain squalls. I hook a big rainbow that is hot and takes me twice into my backing and it comes off in the end. Lisa lands a nice rainbow in the 24-25 inch class.
I hook and land two more rainbows, nice fish in the 18-20 inch range. We are running out of time and run down to fish a run with a beaver hut and I hook what I am 99% sure is a Coho, slightly colored but hot and it comes unbuttoned in the end, but it was definitely a Coho. Phil flies up at 4:30 PM to pick us up and Mike and Zach run the boats back to camp. Dinner is salad, scampi with homemade pasta and spinach followed by Baked Alaska, delicious…Betty rocks!
August 7, 2022 – Sunday:
42 degrees this morning, blowing from the southwest about 20 mph and supposed to go up to 50 tonight. The flight from Anchorage is going to be delayed, so we have to change our departure out of Anchorage to a later time. Phil makes two flights with guests and luggage from the lodge to Pilot Point, a short 10-15 minute flight. Alaska Air Transit arrives late morning with the family of five from Hawaii. We all load up in the Pilatus and head toward Anchorage, a little over an hour flight. From Merrill Field Rich meets us and we taxi Steve and Kathy to the LakeFront Hotel where they will stay overnight and fly out early the next morning. Tim, grabs a cab to the airport and hopes to get on an earlier flight back home. We tool around Anchorage for a bit, had a bite to eat and then headed to the airport about 9:00 PM to catch our Alaska Airlines flight out, departing at 11:30 PM. Door to door 30 hours of travel, a long two days…
I feel we have a legitimate and proven rainbow trout and Dolly Varden fishery at Lava Creek Lodge. It is nothing like Katmai, but if you are willing to fish hard, cover water and hunt trout, you will find them. Both rivers are easy to wade, easy to read and best of all there is NO ONE else on them. It’s impossible to find that in Alaska these days, so unique and special.
Lava Creek is uber remote, comfortable, but not fancy. The new heaters in the cabins are awesome, very efficient and heat the rooms in minutes, and are easy to use. The bathrooms are quite spacious and there is plenty of hot water delivered on demand. Bar soap is supplied, but you should bring your own shampoo. All linens are supplied and changed once during the week. The beds are super comfortable!
The food Betty serves is delicious, and prepared with a bunch of love. She kills it!
The staff is super solid. All of the guides are fun to spend time with, know their craft and work hard. We should be very proud of Sammy and Zach, they are doing a great job and excellent ambassadors of The Fly Shop®. Floyd is a very hard worker and always immediately on-hand to assist.