PUBLISHED: 2:05 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Sarkar Lake and Portage Trail

Photo by Rich Culver
  Spey casting to estuary king salmon under a setting sun.
Sarkar Lake is located on the western side of Prince of Wales Island, not far from the community of Naukati. A short stream connects it with saltwater very close to Naukati, but this is too steep for boats to get up.

Where the road comes to the lakeshore, there is a great parking area and small dock. The Forest Service has a rental cabin on the other end of the lake. A skiff is tied at the dock for cabin users. (They have to bring their own gas and motor, or else row.)

The Forest Service has a pamphlet describing a canoe trail that winds about 12 miles from lake to lake beginning at the far end of Sarkar Lake.

Another appealing attraction at Sarkar Lake, when the timing is right, is the sockeye salmon.

They pool at the foot of waterfalls near the head of the lake. With a dip-netting permit, that translates into frozen or canned fish for the next year.

My husband, Kim, and I enjoyed a July trip there a few years ago with our friend from Ketchikan, Pete Fama, and his family. We started our trip a day ahead of them. Sarkar Lake is a small enough place that we would be able to get together. The lake is only about three miles long and a half-mile wide.

Photo by Barbara Turley
  The portages are all boardwalks, making them wonderfully easy to use.
However, it curves around a winding shoreline with numerous inlets and is full of islands. Without paying attention to a map, it isn't easy to go from one end of the lake to the other.

We stopped for a look at the Forest Service cabin on the far side of the lake. It is a small, but very clean cabin with a wood stove and bunk space for six. It has a very large covered porch.

The most unique thing about the cabin is the outhouse. It has a beautiful view of the lake through a big glass window in the outhouse door.

There is no lock on the door. It isn't necessary since it would be easy to see if it was occupied.

Another unusual thing about this outhouse is that it has two places to sit. Two people can use the facility at the same time and chat about the beautiful scenery if so inclined.

We set up camp by the second creek. This is a superb campsite for a group. Flat space is open under towering trees. Tent sites are very easy to find.

A big rock-walled fireplace shows that lots of camping takes place there.

Photo by Barbara Turley
  At the Sarkar Lake Forest Service Cabin, there is an outhouse with a view.
People have even constructed two plywood tables that make a great place to spread out food and cooking gear.

Years ago, there was a Forest Service public cabin there. The outhouse still remains. Backcountry camping spots don't get much more luxurious than that.

We met the Famas back at the launch site in the early afternoon. The boys shared a canoe, carrying most of their camping gear. Pete and Ann each had sleek kayaks.

We stopped at the bay where the first creek enters the lake. Numerous sockeye salmon were jumping there. It didn't take long for Nick to hook one.

Good - now we had something for dinner. Our menu for this evening called for salmon. I'd been a little worried about that.

I learned later that Famas had a few cans of beans with them, just in case. We had some extra cheese and pasta.

One sockeye would do for dinner, if it had to, but two of these small salmon would do better for the six of us. After dumping off the gear at the campsite Jake and Nick canoed back to the other creek. As dinnertime drew closer the boys returned with 28 salmon in the canoe. They'd found a good spot to dip net. In addition to the potatoes and corn we cooked, we gobbled down four sockeye for dinner. The next day, we all kept busy filling our three dip-netting permits.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Turley
  Sarkar Lake, located near Naukati on Prince of Wales Island, is a beautiful place to canoe.
The next April, we once again visited Sarkar Lake, this time to explore the Portage Trail, one of only two such trails that the Forest Service has established on Prince of Wales Island. Our son, John, his wife, Denise, and their 6- and 8-year-old daughters were with us this time. We set out across the lake in the middle of the afternoon. There wasn't much rain and the trip was very pleasant. Since the spot where we camped with Pete's family the previous summer was at the portage trail's beginning, we knew just where to go.

Because Kim and I had looked at the first two sections of the portage the previous summer, on this trip we'd brought along an unusual canoeing tool - a hammer. Before dark, Kim and Denise spent some time pounding down nails that had started to work up in some of the boards on the wooden walkway that covers the trail. These raised nail heads would have made bad scratches if we dragged the canoes over them.

Not knowing how long the 12-mile route would take us, we got off to an early start the next morning. Early is 7:30 a.m. The portage that started very close to camp was about a third of a mile long. We found wolf scat on it that hadn't been there when Denise had walked across it the previous evening. This portage took us to Upper Sarkar Lake. Sunlight from the clear blue sky sparkled on the water. The next portage, a bit shorter than the first, connected Upper Sarkar Lake to Red Bone Lake. The boardwalk made it easy for John to drag one lightly loaded canoe and Kim and I to drag the other as Denise and the kids went ahead pounding nails wherever necessary. Two short portages, connected by a short section of stream, got us to Laughing Water Lake. Crossing Laughing Water Lake took us to the portage to Finger Lake. The lengths of time we'd spend paddling or portaging seemed just right to prevent getting tired doing either one.

Photo by Rich Culver
  Schools of pink salmon fill a local stream mouth in Southeast Alaska.
We ate lunch at the far end of Finger Lake. There appeared to be a wolf den in active use right by our lunch stop. From Finger Lake we went to Raven, then Long Lakes. In the calm water, there were outstanding reflections of the old growth forest on one side and of our fellow canoers on the other. Somehow, the slightly darker exposure in the water made the reflection superior to the actual blue sky, green trees, or orange canoes. Paddling down a creek from Long Lake took us back to Laughing Water Lake. As we repeated our morning portages, Denise no long needed to look for nails. The drifting clouds were pouring rain on us by the time we re-crossed Red Bone and Upper Sarkar Lakes. The drops bounced off the flat water like little marbles. We got back to camp about eight hours after we'd started. It had been a very pleasant trip.

The rain stopped soon after we returned. We spent another fun evening sitting around our bonfire. After leisurely packing up the next morning, we canoed back to the truck. It's hard to imagine a more enjoyable area to visit than the incredibly beautiful Sarkar Lake area on the west side of Prince of Wales Island.

Without debate, however, they do tend to show a strong preference in fly coloration. Generally speaking, the fly color most associated with pink salmon in Southeast is the color "pink."

I almost exclusively tie my pink salmon flies whether they are poppers on top or sub-surface flies for swinging to the theme of pink.

Pink salmon are a small and abundant salmon that fill our local watersheds of Southeast Alaska each July.

They are extremely fly-fisher-friendly, which makes them an ideal target for recreational sport fishers.

The next several in Southeast should be an exciting time, as we enthusiastically await the arrival of these wonderful little sport fish I refer to as "tutors" yet most refer to as "humpies."