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Journal of Dan T. Cook - Fly Fishing the Globe

Traveling 75,000 miles around the world in search of fish and friendship.
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June 25-30 - The Yukon Flats

Photos at bottom!

The Yukon Flats. As someone traveling on the river, there isn't very much positive one can say about this section of the river. At the very least it is confusing and time consuming, at the very most it is dangerous. A quick peek at the following GPS map illustrates the puzzle that is the Flats. As the water is distributed throughout the channels, the main route channel loses volume and speed. That is….if you can even identify the "main" channel. If the rower is not prepared, he/she can be unintentionally pulled into a side channel, where the results range from simply rejoining the main channel later to running aground on a gravel bar to having the channel completely blocked by a log jam. Needless-to-say, making your way through the Flats is exhausting. This year I had the added pleasantries of rain and a headwind to make the experience "oh so nice!"


This map shows you the chaotic nature of the river through the Yukon Flats.
Each of the numbered waypoints identifies where I checked my location.
CLICK HERE to see a larger version.

June 25 (camp 14)

Outside of Ft. Yukon
N 66 35.45'
W 145 40.04'

The first day was actually pretty good notwithstanding the half-day of rain that greeted me as I set off from Circle. The current in the main channel moved along at a steady pace and I didn't run into any intersections where I made the wrong decision. Around 2 pm it cleared up and I began to think that the Flats weren't going to pose such a problem after all. I crossed the Arctic Circle and with that, the first and northernmost village on the Yukon came into view. Fort Yukon is much like Eagle and Circle, except it doesn't have the colorful history of being part of the gold rush to off-set its rather dismal appearance. I decided not to stop. I rowed on for a couple of more hours before setting up the tent amid increasingly stormy conditions.

June 26 (camp 15)

Middle of the Yukon Flats
N 66 14.06'
W 148 05.56'

Day two was a different story. Not more than an hour after getting underway, the river splits into two primary channels. I was in the lesser of those channels. At one point the river fanned out and became very slow. Suddenly my oars scrapped along the gravel bottom. I was in about 15 inches of water. I scanned for surface currents that would indicate a deeper channel but it was too late. Sccrrreach!!!! I came to a complete halt. In danger of being pushed up on the bar to the point that I wouldn't be able to pull it off, I quickly pulled off my boots and socks, carefully pulled my pant legs up over my knees and jumped over the side. The water came up to my waist. How these things happen to me I'll never fully understand. After taking a brief moment to contemplate how the boat can be stuck in 6 inches of water while can I jump into water 3 feet deep, I hauled the boat back upriver and 40 feet to the left. Once clear of the gravel bar and securely in the grasp of a good current, I hopped back on board and was wisked past the troublesome area. That was a close call! The rest of the day was spent fighting 20 mph headwinds and consulting the GPS map (The GPS plugged into the laptop allowed me to check my exact location on the USGS maps) every 3 miles in order to position myself for the next 20 minutes on the river.

June 27 (camp 16)

Dalton Highway Bridge
N 65 52.44'
W 149 43.17'

Day 3 distinguished itself only in being worse than day two, which I didn't really think was possible. Every cloud in the sky looked threatening. The winds were a constant 20 mph with gusts around 30. Rowing as hard as I could, I could only average 5 mph. The goal today was just to get OUT of the Flats. Although I only had 53 miles left, there were times where I seriously doubted whether I could do it. The final miles of the Yukon Flats are marked by switchbacks. The frustration of traveling 15 river miles to only progress 6 linear miles is hard to put into words that are suitable for the general public. These last 3 days have taught me much in the way of being a more patient person. In my previous life I was continually planning, calculating, scheduling and multi-tasking. When traveling in a wooden oar boat down a river, those things become futile. I can plan and calculate all I want, but the river and winds will ultimately determine when I reach my next objective. As I cannot control these things, ultimately I am not in control of my progress. Letting go of the need to be in control has been a good learning experience. (Plus….there is no one to complain to about the lack of advancement when you are by yourself).

I finally passed Stevens Village, which marks the end of the Flats. 26 miles later, as I approached my evening's camp at the Dalton Highway Bridge, I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate making it through the toughest section of my journey. When I poured the last of the bottle into the cup, I placed it aside to savor after I put the tent up and could relax. When setting up the tent, I sat down and knocked the cup over. As I sat in the pool of champagne, I noted my luck and looked forward to all the blessings that would befall me as a result of not going into a fit of anger. This is because I'm a much more patient and understanding person now and whatnot.

June 28 (camp 17)

Near Rampart, Alaska
N 65 29.28'
W 150 22.35'

The fact that I no longer have to decide which river channel to take is about the only positive development over yesterday. The winds are howling!!!! At one point I just had to get off the river for safety's sake. Rowing in 12 inches of "chop" (choppy water") is one thing. Rowing in 2 feet of chop with 3 foot "rollers" coming at you is entirely different. It was tricky even getting to the bank as I had to row at an angle so that the boat was not hit squarely from the side by the waves. Once securely anchored, I decided to take a nap and try rowing at night when the winds died down a bit (hopefully). I started around 5 pm and rowed until 2 am.

During the night the winds became ferocious again and I woke up after 3 hours of sleep to find the boat had been blown off its anchorage and was drifting down the river. Thus began another day of fighting the wind. A rather miserable experience, and after 4 days of constant pushing and pulling against the gusts, a rather painful one as well. My hands, forearms, elbows, shoulders and back are all sore. My fingers swell up at night as a result of gripping the oars for 12+ hours a day. When my next rest stop comes into view, I am almost too exhausted to be relieved.

June 29 (camp 18)

Tanana, Alaska
N 65 10.13'
W 152 04.56'

Tanana, Alaska marks the end of the "rowing" part of the trip and the beginning (hopefully!) of the true "fishing" part of this trip. I know a few people were beginning to wonder if this was even a fishing trip at all (myself included)! I am now at the epicenter of the Alaskan salmon run! The fish (bless their little hearts) delayed it two weeks this year because of the late thaw up here, which works out perfectly for this trip. The Kings are just beginning to arrive here in Tanana. Next the Silver salmon will arrive and finally the "dog" or Chum salmon will pass through. The Kings are the trophies, but I'd settle for any of them. I will spend a couple of days here in Tanana before beginning the final 700 miles of the journey where I will methodically fish every river and creek that the salmon inhabit at this time of the year.

FISHING TIME HAS ARRIVED!!!!

 


The sun "straddle" in Circle, Alaska. The sun just straddles the horizon briefly before beginning to rise again.


The maze-like nature of the Yukon Flats (during a brief sunny period!).
Each of the breaks in the trees is a river channel.


In the "kitchen" cooking up dinner


Relaxing in the "bedroom"


An evening view of distant mountains


A serene river and the Dalton Highway bridge


The downriver view from the bridge.


An ominous sight; very choppy conditions and dark clouds


Dan at the thought of another day with headwinds and chop


An "industrial-size" fishwheel

 

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