Bristol Bay Rivers
Native Trout & Salmon
If developed, the Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in North America. The problem - it's located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay. Because of its size, geochemistry and location, Pebble runs a high risk of polluting Bristol Bay, one of the world's great wild salmon strongholds. It's up to our generation to keep this piece of heaven from going to hell.
Fishing a Backcountry Creek in Alaska's Bristol Bay
Getting to this glacier fed creek wasn't easy. Take a plane into Dillingham Alaska, van from the airport to the lake, jet-sled across to the upper end of said lake, and finally hike to the desired water. For me, that's the definition of remote. For Alaskans in Bristol Bay that's the definition of routine.
But for me, it's exactly this remote quality that brought me back two days later. And it's the same quality that keeps a brillant web of life spinning in full technicolor.
Hiking up from the shore of Lake Alenagik, my boots sink into the small pools of water and mud as we cross-country over the tundra meadows. As we climb the grade of wet, bouncy tundra, a line of dense willows and stands of spruce trees darken the northern horizon. The terrain changes under-foot stepping into the willow thicket--it's solid.
Big John points to the ripe blue-berries spreading out at the feet of the willow trees. I pick as many as I can stuff into my mouth. We don't stand here long. The presence of others is told by the scarred trees and piles of berry-rich scat. Brown bears stopped here to get their fill. But, not more than a quarter mile away, a bigger and maybe tastier meal would be arriving.
Within weeks of the ripening blue-berries, crimson red sockeye would be pushing into the upper reaches of our destination. The same creek hosting any number of berry-fattened bears would also hold a variety of predators and scavengers. Each present to feast off the bounty of spawning salmon. The list of guests would include: bear, dolly varden, fox, rainbow trout, raven, gull, and even a porcupine.
The number of fish carasses littered up and down the creek resembled a bone-yard. And the gulls had been on scene - not an eyeball to be found in any of the departed sockeye.
Following the bear trail to the creek, I too was ready for the protein portion of the day's meal. This wouldn't be a "meat-trip" per say, but definitely satisfied an unexplainable need to hook fish.
To bring down the kingpins in a drug cartel, the DEA follows the money trail (at least in the movies). To bring down a large rainbow or dolly in a Bristol Bay stream, you need to follow the spawning sockeye. It's that simple.
Without a doubt the sockeye salmon are the most plentiful and ecologically important species to Bristol Bay. If the rivers and lakes are the arteries and organs of this region, the sockeye are their blood. In fact, when the sockeye take on their scarlet-red spawning color, thickly grouped schools of these salmon change the glow of the stream to blood red. For a simple angler like me, their abundance in these streams is a clear sign - you got an ecosystem pumping at full force and two feet long rainbow trout willing to charge at a pink glowing bead at the end of a fly-line.