There are some places that one never tires of. And no matter how many times I fish Alaska’s Tangle Lakes area, I am struck by just how perfect a place it really is. Anglers are, naturally, always looking for fish, and Tangle Lakes has them in abundance. It is famous for having the most grayling of any place in Alaska that one can drive to. But there is much more to savor here than just the gorgeous fish with the fuscia and aqua colors on dorsal and caudal fin and the florescent green tail.
Glaciers, mountain ranges, high plateau lakes, meandering creeks, cut banks dotted by the nests of mud swallows, and hills with constantly shifting shadow patterns make Tangle Lakes a feast for the eyes and the soul. And another panorama unfolds at the anglers feet. Wildflowers of every color and size lie hidden among the willows or sprout along the creek banks. Some are so tiny that they remain virtually invisible until we’re relaxing on the tundra. Others are massed in lush clumps of deep purple or yellow blossoms waving in the breeze.
This year two groups of women had the pleasure of experiencing all that Tangle Lakes has to offer. Like always, we began by fishing the very cooperative little grayling on the Tangle River right outside our tents. Faye, Cameale, and Jackie had attended last year’s fly fishing school, and were already adept at handling the 5-wt rods. They quickly mastered the techniques of dry fly presentation and were into fish almost immediately. Pam had caught grayling on the ’97 Smorgasbord trip and simply had to review what she hadn’t done in a year to get her started. Toni quickly caught up with the others once she tied on a yellow humpy with a white calf-tail post to help her see the fly against the glare on the water.
The lower river and two other creeks proved to be even more productive when the group traveled there. Even when we switched to nymph fishing, the hook-ups came fast and furious. Pam was especially successful with an orange soft hackle fly. Resting for awhile in the moss beside the river we had a discussion about strike indicators and why it was important to learn to nymph fish without them so as to develop a “feel” for the take. This group certainly didn’t need an indicator to tell them a grayling had taken their nymph.
The women in the second group were just as successful. Glenda seemed to hold the magic rod during a couple of our sessions and always shared her spot and her secrets with the others. Christine and her son, Alexi came from New York to enjoy this special place with us and they, too, caught an unbelievable number of fish. We could hardly move Christine from one short run where she completely lost count of all the fish that took her caddis. Alexi and Glenda took the honors for large fish from one stretch of river we especially love.
Jeannie got the first fish on a difficult stretch of fast water that we fished along the way to one of my favorite runs. Mastering the art of placing the fly in quiet water with three or four fast currents in between that are ready to drag your fly line down river requires skillful line mending. But Jeannie did it perfectly and was rewarded with one of the largest fish of the trip.
And it was in what I call the “aqua water” on one of the creeks that Ellen got her first fish on a nymph. She’d learned to feel the touch of a fish that she couldn’t see, and finally landed a beauty. She was off to the women’s school just a week later, and said she felt more than ready for the next challenge on the big rods.
Just because grayling are small fish, averaging 10-14 inches, (an eighteen inch fish is trophy size) doesn’t mean that they can’t put a real bend in a four or five weight rod. Their eagerness to take a properly presented fly and their plucky spirit when hooked make them a favored sport fish, as all of this year’s women discovered. And, I’ll bet that those of them that are Alaskans will make their way back to Tangle Lakes again and again, just as I’ve done for all these years. You’re invited to go along next year.
(Originally published in the April 2003 issue of Fish Alaska magazine)