Fly Fishing Alaska’s Arolik River by Troy Buzalsky
The fly fishing planning was fierce, nine days and nine nights floating Alaska’s Arolik River, in pursuit of Arctic Grayling, Leopard Rainbows, Dolly Varden, and potentially all five Salmon species. Getting there was the easy part, thanks to Papa Bear Adventures, whom orchestrated our fly in, fly out, and necessary gear which included raft, cooler, kitchen, and tent…the big stuff!
We needed to travel as light and practical as possible, but on a trip-of-a-lifetime, shortchanging ourselves on fly fishing gear was not an option. We chose to be prepared for every fly fishing opportunity available taking a 4 weight bamboo, 6 weight trout rod, and 8 weight steelhead rods. These rods would allow us to fish dries, swing streamers and flesh patters, run TroutBeads, and strip gaudy pink clumps of marabou when we found fresh Silvers. We also packed a special rod for Mousing, an eight and a half foot seven weight Mike Brooks bamboo. We love our bamboo!
To balance the rods we needed reels, and to be honest, fly reels have always been a place to store line. In fact, growing up fly fishing Oregon’s McKenzie River, I have always utilized the iconic Pfleuger Medalist. Lets face it, they hold line fine, and they still look great, especially on classic cane. This year’s trip would be different. It was a trip of a lifetime, so our reels needed to match our adventure. After visiting a few area fly shops I was not sold on any particular brand of reel. It wasn’t until I seen the advertisement, or shall I say advertisements that I digested the name Solitude Reels; a new name to me. They looked nice. I liked their advertisement profile. I thought, hey, why not, and placed an order for two reels, a pewter Solitude 2 for the six weight trout rods, and a classic black Solitude 3 for the Brooks Bamboo. These reels needed to function well, but also needed to look good…they would be focal photographic elements throughout our journey.
The reels arrived almost overnight, and I ran them to my local fly shop to have them equipped with backing and line. From there they we packed away until we arrived on Arolik Lake, the headwaters to the Arolik River.
The upper river system we fished primarily with our 4 weight Steven Kiley bamboo rods, both equipped with classic Vom Hofe style reels and floating line. There’s something about the feel of a bamboo rod and the sound of a classic reel that screams “I’m fly fishing”. As we entered bigger water we were spotting bigger fish… it was time to pull out the big guns, the six weight Sage XP competition fly rods. The rods and reels met for the first time and the first casts were made. Hey, these reels are quiet. Whether stripping line or reeling in, not a sound came from the Solitude. For the first time ever fly fishing, the sound of the reel was replaced by the splashing of fish. Silent fly fishing, no wonder they’re named Solitude.
The next surprise was the drag. Never having used a quality reel, I had never fought a fish on the reel’s drag system; what a riot. The sealed drag performed flawlessly, fish after fish, and these were not small fish, Grayling topping the 19″ mark, Rainbows in the 22″ range, and Dolly’s eclipsing 24″.
They say fly fishing is more about fishing, then catching, but on our last night on the Arolik the sun was fading into a glorious sunset when a nice size fish rolled. A few minutes later he rolled again. It was too tempting, so I reassembled the mousing bamboo rod, dawned the classic black Solitude 3 reel, and floated a Morrish Mouse near the last boil. You could see the fish, as in slow motion, approaching the mouse from the rear as he stealthy ambushed his prey. Another 20 plus inch Dolly, battled to submission on classic cane and a Solitude reel.
The Arolik River offered us nine days and nine nights of fishing utopia, in the solitude of Alaska’s Great Land, but it was our Solitude Reels that helped keep the Solitude…no longer do I yearn for the sound of a clicker telegraphing my cast, and no longer do I consider a fly reel a place to store fly line.
Until the next cast… Troy A Buzalsky