Swedish version

Dan Fallon's World of Fly fishing

Column nr.5 2000  

Monster Kings

Alex , me and John Wilson. 33 pound King taken on 2X tippet,
6 weight Bamboo


Those who have followed my outdoor writing career are aware of my inclination toward the extreme. That is the extreme in understanding and implementing common sense and trying passionately to seek the most challenging fly fishing experiences. The sport of fly fishing for King Salmon in areas still wild in Alaska is one of the top new challenges period. In a fit of sublime inspiration, it dawned on me the idea light weight Bamboo fly rods in the 4/6 weight category, equipped with 2x tippet and a lot of very good fortune. One might stumble upon an almost impossible opportunity to revel in the strength and grace under fire Bamboo fly rods are famous for. I first contacted the top 10 Bamboo rod makers in the world. My query was a simple FAX "Heading to King Salmon streams in Alaska - seeking possible world records for light Bamboo and 2x tippets? If you are interested I need three or four 4/6 weight Bamboo rods for this field test". I sent along my humble credentials and waited. Only one company stood up for Bamboo and that was Winston Rods. I soon secured in my possession seven fine rods which included the six-weight Bamboo I chose to fish with exclusively 7/9 hours a day for five days. After spending time carefully researching exactly where the most recent world records for fly fisherman exist. It came at me from several directions at once. Lake Marie Lodge located 90 miles East of Anchorage Alaska was home to many existing fly records taking King Salmon in excess of fifty pounds. This lodge is run like a fine watch by two of the most amazingly talented young men I have met in sometime. The Wilson Brothers Dave & John have literally hand carved a jewel in the middle of their Land Grant. The lodge sits deep in the woods within walking distance to perhaps one of the finest King Salmon hunting grounds in Alaska. Now the challenge was clearly defined and I was off from San Francisco to Anchorage Alaska flight time about four and a half hours of perfect flying on United Non-stop. (United still has the best looking flight attendants)

View from plane


When the majestic Alaskan coastline came into view it was a sight I would not soon forget. This incredulous wonder hit me as powerfully as Yosemite or Niagara Falls can body slam ones rational everyday self into another dimension. The jagged mountaintops still lightly dusted looked like upside down chocolate ice cream cones covered with shiny vanilla ice cream. The vastness is impossible to describe in any language. One becomes humbled, numbed and momentarily unaware of the other natural Alaskan phenomena of almost twenty -four hour a day Sunlight! It's an odd sensation to wake up at three in the morning and discover you can clearly see well enough to fly fish or do whatever you wish. The bigness of this place is perhaps the key to its allure and for hard-core fly fishers this is Mecca, Shangrila. At first sight of Alaska it was clear to me an ability to visualize as a poet is crucial. Baudelaire could have been looking at the great Alaskan expanse when he said "Everything there is simply order an beauty, luxury, peace and sensual indulgence!"


The city of Anchorage has a reputation rich in history, gold, pioneers, oil and almost any kind of fishing dream you might care to conjure up can be easily accomplished. The story of the native people’s long survival pales the plundering done by settlers in the last 100 years. This historical over view of this great natural wonder of a place is important. To this day many see Alaska as only a giant repository of natural resources. In fact it is truly a great repository of what’s left of wild almost untouched vastness men have yet to violate. Yes the pipeline has etched scars here and there that will never heal. Yes areas will always host scars left by gold mining and oil spills. The healing process for these effected areas may be much shorter in this atmosphere of often severe weather and endless real estate. It always seems to come back to the overwhelming fact of the immense vastness of this place. It fills ones soul to experience the wildness of these last vast expanses. Man has been here it is clear and often sad to witness. But, once you escape for ten minutes by small plane, its as if your seeing vast vacant land mass as the first ancient hunters & gatherers first saw it. Flying for hundreds of miles and seeing nothing but occasional Moose is to be experienced by all nature lovers.

I had the good fortune of finding a grand luxurious place to settle into before my hour flight by small plane to Lake Marie about 90 air miles east. A world class B&B, "Aurora Lights Bed & Breakfast". This high class luxury B&B was a fun way to be introduced to Alaska. My hostess Ms. Nina Greek, very kind and helpful in my getting acclimatized. Aurora Lights phone (907) 277-7172 or nina@arctic.net. I took the time to sample a truly excellent local favorite the Marx Brothers Restaurant. Anchorage is spread out over a lot of square miles, its 250,000 residents have all the elbow room they need. The city has a great deal to offer travelers fly fishers or not. Anchorage has many very upscale restaurants, hotels and outstanding cruise deals to a variety of glacial photo ops.


View from small plane on way to Lake Marie Lodge
Waiting at the bustling Merrill Air field, my seasoned bush pilot Jayhawk Air Director of operations Tim Karlovich. Jim has the experience and the right planes to put clients at ease. We took off and spent about 40 minutes around 2500 feet surveying and drinking in the vastness, endless vista’s and occasionally Moose or flocks of birds. Time spent cruising Alaska in small planes is a wonderful experience for nature lovers. This place can only really be understood by the sight of it by air!

One fact of life for Alaskan small plane jockeys is if they cannot master landing on a tiny bumpy undeveloped gravel bar in between a forest of trees. Then call the moving van your out of here! Jim dropped into the Lake Marie gravel bar landing area like a sparrow in light wind. The totality of the Alaskan wilderness adventure begins when that little plane takes off without you and heads back across the vast expanse. Then it becomes clear your at the total mercy of the elements and your hosts. This ain’t getting out of the old camper and throwing salmon eggs at road side planters as do millions of poor anglers each year! This is an authentic Alaskan wilderness experience that includes big everything including Bears and king Salmon Jim was considerate not to let too many standard type "I got you boys, your mine for an hour of thrills- wish I had enough time to really fix that engine oil leak?" or "Would you guys mine giving me a hand holding the stick this morning - I’m still recovering from that little accident two weeks ago!" Bush pilots are rather notorious for their black humor. Jim had a little of that mischievousness. The whole of Alaska is very much run by the small plane pilots. They have their own code of ethics in respect to not letting anyone land on or near fishing grounds that are known to be developed by private parties or especially fishing/hunting guides.


We did have one unpleasant incident occur when a helicopter owned or leased by ERA Aviation landed right on a stream the Wilsons have been developing for many years. It seems the company had been hired to take clients to the coveted secret stream for one day only. Then the very next day a copter from ERA lands where it had been the day before? In the world of sportsmen one lives by a code of ethics and respect for the livelihood of others. If this return flight was just an isolated mistake by an inexperienced pilot, those things happen. In the minds of the Wilson brothers this return trip without permission was very disturbing. I felt like one of the Louis & Clark party out in the middle of nowhere on this perfect stream. When over the rise I could see dust clouds of a million wagons heading straight at me. This incident did underline how few exclusive fishing waters really exist. the Wilson’s have a saying, "If it can be accessed by air easily - its no longer exclusive or prime- Access is everything and choppers have done as much damage to us wilderness homesteaders as they have saved lives!", a contemporary soliloquy on encroaching civilization stated quite well...


I was prepared for almost any suitable accommodations in such a remote area 90 miles East of Anchorage and 50 miles from Mt. McKinley. This is big bear country and the land of too many Bald Eagles to count. It is almost completely untouched if not for the scattered homsteads over many hundred square miles. The brothers Wilson have rapidly become very famous in this remote part of the top of this little blue marble we live on. The Lodge sits on one of the tallest peaks in the area and the view of Mt. McKinley is extraordinary and unbelievable. The main lodge is still under construction on the top floors. The accommodations and the meals are superb. Dave and John Wilson have pulled off quite a magical feat. Large picture windows and perfectly finished wood framing highlight the main cabin dining/living room. Scattered around the lodge are bearskins, bear skulls, fly tying table and all the comforts of home. The meals were so tasty thanks to Amanda.

Amanda our sweet chef


In the middle of nowhere a world class serious King Salmon, Rainbow, Dolly Varden, Arctic Char fly fishing Lodge facility with everything laid out quite nicely. The inside of the main room/dining / view area is amazing. The view and the fine hand built cabin capture the visitor quickly. The Wilson’s have isolated the very best streams and river areas where the monster king Salmon dwell on their annual run. This fact alone makes this place solid gold for fly fishers. I can attest to the fact these Alaskan guides know precisely where and when the biggest kings you have ever imagined are resting in gangs of up to several hundred in relatively small streams. It’s hard to explain the thrill of seeing, casting, hooking and playing these monsters on regular 8/10 weight fly rods and 20 pound leaders. When I first caught a glimpse of these mammoth fish. I felt like I had flown to the top of the world to capture polar Bears with a fly swatter. The Wilson boys looked at me with good sportsmen humor when I approached them with the idea of wrestling 40 pound Kings on light Bamboo. John Wilson my personal guide never hesitated when he said "No problem Dan, we'll put ya right in their laps and you can sort out the ones you want- we also may be able to pull off a grandslam of all available species in one day!" We did that on the third day when I caught a Dolly Varden, several Rainbow, and the King. The lack of an arctic char was close enough to get the thrill of playing all game species in a day. The record attempt at landing big kings with light Bamboo would not have been within possible reach without the expert guiding of my personal guide John Wilson. The remoteness of Lake Marie Lodge and the first class accommodations afforded guests by the Wilson Brothers and their assistants Patrick also known as "The Man who Speaks to Bears" and Andy "The Zen Guide". Kitchen duties and all related activities are perfectly executed by Amanda, niece to the Wilson brothers.

This little group separated at different times running boats full of guests in one direction, while packing other guests in opposite directions. They never missed a beat navigating many miles of waterways and walking through isolated streams, which we forded in chest waders for several miles on two of the five days.

Lake Marie Lodge and the experts on hand was a no fail as far as taking a shot at the impossible. On the way to the lodge on the first morning we got into fish before taking the boat ride and quad runner trek up to higher ground where the lodge came into view. We changed into our gear on the fly and off we went to an area where the faster river waters intersected smaller tributaries which eventually ran much clearer without the heavy grey silt that dominates and completely colors much of the waters that run off or near glaciers.


The next morning we hit the trail about 5:30 am. perched atop the nimble quad runners which ferried us back and forth from the Lodge to the river where the big boats were anchored. The water quality comes in two main flavors: silty grey or crystal clear. This morning was listen and learn time. We only had a few days to wrestle with these big fish unmolested in concert with other more orthodox King Salmon Lure fishers. The taking of these beasts on fly rods is still relatively new to the sport. The usual method is throwing only lures and streamers in the part of the lure/fly only season. The use of salmon eggs is forbidden in the early period.

Fish caught by member of our party
The two fishermen with me in my party were Alex and Jim from Wyoming. These guys were both seasoned pro’s who knew how to handle fly rods and big fish. They were armed with fine quality 7/8/9 weight graphite rods and a unique spey outfit Jim had mastered. I duly noted what excellent company I was in for this memorable trip. We were quickly brought to the first day river/stream junction where all three species: King Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and possibly Arctic Char thrived. In only minutes all three of us were in the water up to chest high throwing various "Blood Sucking Leech" Combo color patterns featuring black and red heads or green heads. The little leeches were weighted and often tied by John Wilson a master fly tier of the first rank. We then threw up to seventy foot casts and let the leech often weighted with small split shot if needed dead drift and find as much bottom as possible. Then any of the many kinds of standard retrieves were used. I favor the slow/fast/jerky/twitchy/dying bug retrieve of various speeds and depths. I quickly caught a good Rainbow of about three pounds on the excellent Winston Bamboo 6 weight. The other guys were into many Rainbows and then Jim Hit on the first King and it got away soon after. Then the action was on and in about an hour or so I had my first king encounter. It was more like an explosion on a hairpin turn if you blew a tire at 100 mile an hour in your new Porsche.
I had no control, SLAM fish, tippet, fly gone! Lesson one set the hook soundly without breaking the light eight-pound test 2x tippet. I wondered exactly how strong 2x was?

Me hooked up to 33 pound King
A hard lesson to learn and sustain in the face of big odds. These fish were big and serious about staying alive in adverse conditions. I had figured on serious fights and was not let down. Everyone in the party lost fish everyday. The guides were used to it, said only a small percentage understands how to do it with regular equipment. Those looking for thrills and world records with expensive light weight Bamboo, that’s another story...


Ahh, this sturdy little rod. One wonderful Winston action characteristic was revealed to me. The rod was far more sensitive then any glass/graphite you can buy. Then a pleasant surprise comes upon the wrist of the Bamboo fly thrower. A feeling of having much remaining strength left over if needed. Many times in the coming days I would bend this little wonder rod almost in half, but never quite all the way in half. The reserve power was there every time, all day, day after day! It was this reserve power that kept me believing the rod would under almost any condition land a strong fish of any reasonable size. The rod is pretty and perfectly balanced like a fine racehorse or a brand new Ferrari. The wrappings are perfect as is the finish and guides. It must be said the unique ferrule system Winston has developed translates into a solid feeling fly rod under big fish fighting loads.


35 pound King caught by our party
When one catches a first water contained glimpse of these majestic fish beasts moving like submarines up and down narrow streams, often no more then 50 feet across. A thrill charges through a fly fishers heart. For me the realization after watching the others finally learn like I had how hard it is setting the hook on first strike. These fish are serious dedicated natural survivor fighters who have been battling the elements, bad tides, global pollution and now you are about to remove him peacefully from the perfect waters in which he has fought so hard to dwell?
The sheer audacity to imagine subduing these mighty beasts with six weight hand made Bamboo many fly fishers would only hang on the wall as a piece of art. I missed two good fish the first day each time not setting the hook deep enough or quick enough. There were lessons to learn in catching these fish for fly fishers using regular 7/9 weight graphite. The lessons for those holding twenty-five hundred dollar Bamboo were quick and unforgiving. I had to first deeply set that first strike because these fish have hard jaws. Then let the fish dictate what happens next. If he decides to run, then we run. If he decides to run and do aerial acrobatics which almost all the kings I hooked did, so be it..
30 pound King Salmon
These lessons had to be handled by letting the line go slack just for a split second or he would snap it off with a whip of his forty-pound tail. Many of the kings hooked made several sensational 50-65 foot runs full out and making a wake as they fled the small stream. Jim an ex-College Professor had his hands full by himself after John our guide and I headed for deeper wilder waters. Jim a most able world class fly fisher wielding the big stick two handed Spey rod hooked into at least a 45 pounder that took him all the way uptown, then back to the other end in several big runs. The fish eventually barely got off when exhausted still fighting was wrestled to the ground by the expert ex- professor from Wyoming. One other member of our party Alex was as solid as rock with his fly rod. Alex hooked and landed several good fish in the 30/40 pound class. Joe a fellow who was expert in lure presentation played, landed several very big Kings! In fact our most able hostess Amanda (see photo) hooked and landed several good Rainbows one afternoon. I was most impressed with her cooking/fishing/putting up with a gang of wild fly fishermen skills. After three days of hooking and playing/fighting six good fish in the 28/45 pound class. I had learned many hard lessons and my moment arrived.


In the last fishing hours of the third day several truths had hit me head on. I had lost six big fish, which under normal operating conditions one or two would be mine. The idea of pushing this little rod and reel to its very maximum time after time and not really mastering the touch needed to take fish. Had I gone too far with this extreme dream and lost several fish I could have barbecued all summer? Then SLAM, followed by all line gone in seconds into the backing and we are toe to toe. I let him run out the reel three times in twenty minutes. He takes three or four serious leaps complete with back or side/tail flips. He runs me out to the backing on the last run. I slowly keep him moving in between leaps or runs. I have him almost beached three times. We go at it for a final short twenty-foot run and I turn him hard into the beach. This time he goes sideways just as tippet breaks. My guide John Wilson is there with net when he snaps off and nets him. It was more like a draw then a win! He was everything I expected a serious king to be at 42 inches long, 23 wide 33 Pounds. Not the biggest king I hooked into on the trip. Yet, it may possibly be one of the largest witnessed King Salmon caught on a six weight Bamboo 2x tippet? If anyone who reads this has photos and story of bigger kings caught on six-weight Bamboo. Please drop this column an E-mail. This fish would not have been possible without the help of many people mentioned: Winston Rods, World Waters outfitters, Galvan Fly Reels and last but not least the Wilson brothers and their perfect King Salmon - large bear habitat deep in Alaskan woods. (Please see end of story for address/E-mail for these experts)

Possible world record. My 33 pound King, 6 weight Winston Bamboo


My fellow fly fisher travelers will shake their heads together in the affirmative when I say trips are won or lost because of a guides general competence and knowledge of the local waters. I can say without hesitation the whole team at Lake Marie Lodge, are top-drawer pros with great stories to tell of huge Bears and monster kings. My guide John Wilson and I will be working as a team in regard to guiding anyone especially the ladies or older fly fishers anywhere in the world fish take flies. Please E-mail this column in regard to trips to places like Mongolia /outer China/ Amazon/Australia or anywhere you can dream of. The Wilson brothers and I have established relationships with many of the more exotic fly fishing destinations around the world. If your looking for high quality expert guiding in exotic waters, we can put you on fish in places few fly fishers can imagine. Contact John & Dave Wilson at (907)333-3477 or www.lakemarie.com or contact me at (415) 332-3803 Those interested in possibly the strongest action Bamboo fly rods in the world contact Winston Fly Rods (406) 684-5674 or www.winstonrods.com. Those looking for outfitters can call my favorite local and international fly fishing outfitter whose assistance was invaluable and kind enough to loan me two fine GALVAN reels, World Waters Outfitters (415) 331-4034 or daveh@worldwaters.com. Those seeking precision hand made fly reels that can really take the heat contact GALVAN Fly Reels (209) 586-1112 or www.galvanflyreels.com. If the idea of learning about and finding out who makes and sells the finest Bamboo Fly Rods interests you, contact Bamboo Fly Rod Magazine at www.THEBAMBOOFLYROD.com. Editor Mark Metcalf is "very knowledgeable" and a good guy.

" Patrick " The guide who speaks with bears " The door remodeled by local Bears wishing to
speak with Patrick.
The ambience of the lodge and the caliber of the story telling and monster kings! The second night I heard yelling and cussing coming from Patrick’s little shed where he sleeps. It was one of many Bear residents wanting to snuggle up. (see photo Patrick and Bear ravaged door). I highly recommend Lake Marie Lodge and the expert Wilson brothers. If you are ready for a true Alaskan wilderness experience and the biggest of the monster King Salmon. If you don’t mind catching three to five pound Rainbows one after another all day while waiting for the monsters to explode.
If you are ready for a real wilderness experience with all that goes with such an adventure. Then pick up the phone and call the Wilson brothers John & Dave Lake Marie Alaska.

Bear Paw print inside window



 Written by Dan Fallon, July. 2000 ©
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For Dan Fallon's earlier and later columns; visit the table of contents




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