Story last updated at 11/2/2011 - 6:07 pm
The morning unfolds quietly while I carefully wade through frost-nipped weed beds that line the shallow edge of the lake. Masked by an angelic mist, silhouettes from across the lake struggle to take shape and form. Their faint figures, however, gradually develop into alders and spruce trees as the first bands of morning light crest the eastern horizon of Thunder Mountain now dusted with fresh November snow.
Suddenly, there's a thunderous splash off in the distance. Startled, I stop my wading and hastily begin surveying the water, my body now flushed with goose bumps. To the calming sight of a beaver, I exhale a sigh of relief then proceed with a short false cast towards the outlet of the lake.
My fingers are cold and wet, but I continue to cast. Each cast seems more laborious than the previous one. My fingers, now pink and almost numb, continue to burn as I slowly retrieve my marabou leech, crawling it through the water.
Then, without warning, there's a soft tap followed by a heavy thump at the end of my line. Instinctively, I strip and set quickly with my fly rod and suddenly there's a splash followed by a cartwheel of silver that erupts on the surface as a beautiful, speckled, fall-run cutthroat trout shatters the morning calm.
As the month of November slowly unfolds, fresh water sport fishing opportunities in Southeast Alaska become much more limiting. With the exception of a few select systems that receive late-season runs, river and stream fishing for silver salmon, once the primary quarry of sport fishers throughout Southeast Alaska for the past month and a half, is now an angling memory. Even Dolly Varden once ubiquitous in the summer seem to have vanished from their shadowed pools.
However, even during this seasonal lean period in Southeast, adventuresome sport anglers can still find and enjoy plenty of opportunities for late season angling relief in the form of still water fishing for fall-run cutthroat trout and hold over Dolly Varden in our numerous lakes and salt chucks.
Fly-fishing for still water cutthroat trout is a pleasant reprieve to river salmon fishing. The rods and general tackle are much lighter and most of the fishing takes place from canoes, prams, float tubes or gentle wading. The rods I choose when chasing fall-run cuttys or lake Dolly Varden are nine to ten foot six-weights. I prefer six-weight fly rods because they are light enough to still enjoy the tussle of a 12-inch fish, yet strong enough to push a tight loop through bitter fall winds mixed with rain and sometimes snow.
I also prefer a longer rod (9-1/2 to 10 feet) when fishing from a float tube or while sitting when fishing
from a canoe. This added length of the fly rod provides the angler a mechanical advantage when you're low in the water as it facilitates lifting large amounts of fly line off the water during extended casts.
As for fly lines, the ideal line for still water conditions is one that sinks slowly and places the fly one to three feet below the surface. I prefer a type 1, intermediate sink fly line, and I fish it slowly with deliberate two-to-three inch strips while pausing briefly in between each strip.
The flies I use are predominantly small, size 8, marabou Monroe-style leeches. The natural marabou moves freely in the soft water, undulating and pulsating, when slowly retrieved which I find crucial to enticing fall-run cuttys in cold, late-season conditions.
Sill water fishing in my opinion is the most under rated and least exploited segment of recreational sport fishing available in Southeast Alaska. Fishing lakes and salt-chucks offers an excellent alternative to early and late-season angling opportunities when local rivers and coastal streams are either void of salmon or when rivers are blown out of shape from heavy late-season rains.
In spite of these positive features, however, local fisheries management continue to ignore this vast potential and balk at community requests of reviving many of our still water systems into reliable recreational fisheries, particularly those that are readily accessible along our roadsides.
Fortunately, there are a few local organizations and chapters working cooperatively with community volunteer groups with an objective to change this. It is through their commitment and arduous work that recreational sport fishing enthusiasts in Southeast Alaska can enjoy peaceful solitude on many of our still water systems and many times encounter hot action for fall-run cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden. Good luck fishing and tight lines.
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.