Trip Report: Lake Creek
Trip Report: Lake Creek, Alaska
Submitted by Bob Smejkal
About five years ago I told Nate about this river I’d heard of in Alaska that is supposed to have rapids and be a great fishery. Class IV rapids mixed with all five types salmon species and trophy rainbow trout, it sounded too good to be true. I had heard about it from a guy I worked with in Alaska and over the years I talked to more people about it realizing there is little information about this trip…very little. A three page write up one Alaska Rivers guide book that left a lot to be desired. A few blog posts and the odd article that described how amazing it is, but very little solid information on the rapids and camps. Nate said "let’s go" from the first time I mentioned it, so when we got no permits and my wife had vacation time in August… we finally pulled the trigger and started planning. First we had to secure the gear we would rent and most importantly the float plane reservations. We were very lucky and got an opening for the exact dates we needed. So it was set, Nate Soukesian, Renee Sather, Shannon Smejkal and I were going to float the almost famous…Lake Creek River.
A Lake Creek trip starts by flying 80 miles north of Anchorage, landing on Chelatna Lake and unpacking all the gear. Then assembling your boats, packing all your gear and getting your rods ready. We rented our gear from a place in Anchorage and had no idea how that would turn out. We rented two fourteen foot round boats with breakdown NRS frames and split shaft oars that would fit in the float planes. We also rented cots, paco pads, chairs, tents, stove, blaster, a kitchen box and coolers. A small note here, if you rent a stove and blaster don’t you think it’s obvious you are going to need propane? Remember to ask this question, we had to do it while loading a plane. The rest of our crap we lugged from home! A cooler with preplanned meals, gun case and rods, all our PFDs and all the other things that you need for a multiday. All four of us had two checked bags each, all at the 50 lb. limit and a few carry ons. Back to the trip.
You row out of the south end of the lake and start your 54 mile trip to the Yentna River where you get picked up by a float plane on a prearranged date. Day one is slow and a whole lot of work. You start by first packing all the gear into the float plane and weighing every bit of it hoping you didn’t bring too much beer. Then unpacking and building your boats, then packing, then floating and unpacking to set up camp. It’s a lot. But you are happy to do so as you take in the back drop of three impressive Alaskan mountain ranges, Alder chocked banks and fish you can see by the thousands. Its nine miles or so to first camp called sunflower or the camp we stayed at that we called “just missed sunflower camp”.
Day two and it was “fish on” we already had caught Coho and rainbows the first day and it was continuing on the second. Nate and Renee found a hole the fish were sitting in and we caught nine Coho, huge Rainbows and Artic Graylings. One great hole and we were at our limit and catch and release the rest of the day. It was a short day, maybe 5-8 miles and we were feasting on fresh salmon!
Day three was another good fishing day and what was amazing was all the spawned out King Salmon we began to see. These giants were red as could be and sitting silently over the spawning grounds. Then we came to the start of the rapids which were boulder gardens at best. People have asked, so I’m going to be honest. The first class IV rapid was demanding and had several “must make moves” to get through unscathed. What made it more difficult was the mile above and miles below of rock gardens that kept you constantly on the sticks. It felt at times that if you took your hands off to get a drink you were immediately on a rock. The reward was the most amazing camp, Shannon said it best “It looks like something out of Field and Stream” or “something out of a brochure”. It was the only night we had sand in our toes. Of course salmon for dinner…Have I mentioned our lunches? Every day was salmon spread on French bread, my personal favorite!
Day four was challenging to stay off the rocks and even more challenging to fish. We came to the second class IV of the run and this was, as a friend says, “super technical”. It was exhausting to navigate this stretch and the ever present rock gardens continued for another mile. We began to see the pink salmon everywhere, and I mean everywhere! I want to say by the thousands but it might be understating it. Pink Salmon are also called Humpies and if you haven’t seen one trust me they are an odd looking fish by time they are spawning. It was our last night and we camped near the mouth so we wouldn’t miss our plane the next day on the Yentna River. We were now back in civilization so to speak. Motor boats with people staying at the lodges down river were up in this stretch. Our last night was on an island that I don’t think we would stay at again, far too many brown bear tracks and scat for comfort. I have to mention a highlight at this camp was the homemade smoked salmon by Nate. He brought his own brine from home and mixed it up the day before with fresh Coho and let it sit in the cooler for 24 hours. Then at camp built a rock fire pit with a section to put the fish on with indirect heat and we kept it going and smoking most of the afternoon….maybe 8 hours. It came out awesome!
The last day we floated through a foggy fern forest to the mouth and stopped at the lodge were we unloaded and broke down all our gear and waited for our planes. Had a bloody Mary at the lodge and then loaded planes and said good bye. I really didn’t want to leave.
In short I hope to do this trip again but I warn folks that want to look into this trip that is not for the faint of heart. Nate and Renee, Shannon and myself worked hard every day and had to really work as a team in this remote area to be sure that things progressed smoothly and safely. I felt like our group was focused and dealt with adversity well and always found the bright side. I am proud to call them my friends. y
Photos by Renee Sather and Shannon Smejkal