We’re flying out of our home drainage today to a smaller creek, at least if you measure it by Alaskan standards. It’s remote and only a handful of fly fishers mess with it. It’s known among those few for large and insanely abundant arctic char, lots of bears and what the locals call leopard rainbow trout.
The leopard rainbows are not plentiful, but we’ll fish mouse patterns all day long in hopes of enticing just one or two of them to take the fly on the surface. . There is no way we’ll get skunked in terms of our overall fishing because the char will not allow it. But the rainbows are the prize.
It’s a perfect clear day and after Jon lands his Cessna 180 near the creek we suit up and hike more or less in an upstream direction for a mile or so over flat, open country. We’ll cut back through the willows to the water once we get to where we want to start fishing our way back downstream to the plane. This makes for considerably easier walking and lessens the chance we’ll surprise a snoozing grizzly. I’ve fished this creek before and I know fishing back to the plane will take most of the day.
There’s bear tracks everywhere and we do manage to get the attention of a young boar when we cross through the willows. It takes him a bit to figure out what we are, but after hollering “Hey, Bear… Hey, Bear…..” he decides he doesn’t want anything to do with us. He was about 20 yards away which is close enough for me.
Anyway, we work our way down to the creek and start fishing. We immediately catch “warm-up” char with our first casts. These are tough fish and the larger hens in particular take a while to land. Each of us takes a break now and then just to rest our arms.
The good news is that the rainbows occupy different habitat than the char. The char tend to be most plentiful at the tails of the pools and runs. The rainbows prefer the deep, dark holes or the dark water of undercut banks.
A friend of mine once said that he didn’t have to go to Alaska to catch rainbows because he could catch them at home in Colorado. To put it delicately he’s obviously never caught a leopard rainbow trout. The leopard rainbows are 100 percent native and indigenous to this drainage. They have nothing to do with the “synthetic” rainbow trout that are grown in hatcheries and stocked in streams and rivers around the world. Believe me, these fish are pure predators. A char may snap, bobble, and follow the mouse pattern at which time it either takes the fly or not. The leopard rainbow attacks the mouse pattern and as Jon says, “The rainbows don’t miss the fly.” They are a whole different fish than the rainbows back home even if those rainbows naturally reproduce and are “wild.” They don’t even look like our rainbow trout.
I managed to catch on leopard rainbow today. Length and weight don’t really matter. It was a large fish, but the quality of the take and the fight was what counted.
So why do the locals call it a leopard rainbow trout? Look at the snout of trout and the large dark spots that cover it all the way to the tip. That’s a leopard. And they’ll make you a believer when you hook up.