That's a wrap

The 2019 guiding season has come to a close and it was one to remember. The season kicked off with a torrential downpour over Memorial Day weekend that drove us north toward Talkeenta to find early season trout. What I thought would be a sign of things to come turned out to be the only significant rainfall for over two months. Parks Highway creeks ran at a fifth of their normal water flows this summer, making for slow floats down the creeks but pretty good fishing.

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Early season rainbow trout caught while swinging a streamer.

Early season rainbow trout caught while swinging a streamer.

We caught a lot of beautiful Susitna River leopard trout, with their gorgeous spots and a vibrant red stripe, including several in the 23-24” range. Trout shot out of log jams and wood debris (and there was a lot of it!) providing us with some great grabs and the top water action was exciting through the end of July. I can’t wait to get back chasing our resident trout again in the spring.

One of many fish this H3A client caught over two days of floating and fishing.

One of many fish this H3A client caught over two days of floating and fishing.

Pink salmon, or humpies, entered the creeks in early July in massive numbers. While we don’t have an official number on the size of the run, pinks entered the creek for at least six weeks, schooling up in every hole and run as they made their way to spawning grounds. Fishing for pinks was fantastic and a lot of fun. It’s hard to beat watching a salmon follow a fly from one side of the creek to the other before grabbing it and making a run. And while the chum salmon, or dog salmon, run wasn’t as big, it provided great action on the fly and some of the best fights you can have with a fresh water fish in a small creek.

Chum salmon on the fly are a lot of fun to fight in small Susitna River tributaries.

Chum salmon on the fly are a lot of fun to fight in small Susitna River tributaries.

August 18th was a very windy day on the creek, so much so that the raft was blown back up river in some spots. Another local guide alerted me that Willow Creek Parkway, the road leading from the boat takeout at the end of Willow Creek back to the Parks Highway, was closed to due to a wildfire. This fire turned out to be 5 acres in size and contained rather quickly. The road opened just an hour later, allowing me to get back to the Parks Highway. 

As I entered the highway, emergency vehicles were speeding north to what turned out to be the McKinley Fire. This fire, starting north of Willow in the community of Caswell, burned ferociously on both sides of the highway, moving south toward Willow, and fueled by very strong winds, and hot dry temperatures. The Parks Highway closed for a few days, leading me to cancel a few fishing trips. But that was a mere inconvenience compared to the devastation in the small community of Caswell. Over 50 homes and 80 outbuildings were lost to the fire in a matter of hours. Later that evening, a third fire, the Deshka Fire, ignited south of Willow and while it burned significant acreage, no buildings were lost. Highway 3 Angler is thankful for the amazing work done by our local fire fighters and the hotshot crews who came in from out of state. 

McKinley Fire from the Parks Highway. Photo: Robert Sheldon

McKinley Fire from the Parks Highway. Photo: Robert Sheldon

Significant amounts of rain finally fell again in mid September, helping contain fires burning around the state, and raising water levels again. Eggs and rotten salmon flesh were abundant and rainbow trout were eating well. We caught heavy, football shaped trout, which we often confused for a snag after setting the hook. I heard “Oh, that’s a fish!” from clients quite a few times. 

“Matching the hatch” with a bead to mimic salmon eggs led to this nice rainbow trout being brought to the net.

“Matching the hatch” with a bead to mimic salmon eggs led to this nice rainbow trout being brought to the net.

The hot dry temperatures of summer led to an early turning of the leaves, and our floats became even more scenic with the brilliant tones of autumn. 

We wrapped up the season hosting screenings of the International Fly Fishing Film Festival in Palmer and Anchorage. These are always fun nights for me, as I get to catch up with friends I haven’t seen all summer, all while enjoying some exciting fly fishing films. Thanks to Mossy’s Fly Shop, FisheWear, 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle, South Central Alaska Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Cache Camper for their continued support of this fun event. I hope you can join us next year!

I have a few personal trips planned before freeze up that I’ve been looking forward to all summer. The first is to float the Upper Kenai River with my wife and boys, followed by a trip to the upper Susitna Valley to target trout with my two-hand rod. To cap off the season, I’m traveling to Colorado to fish with one of my oldest friends. 

Late in the summer, my six year old boy asked me to teach him how to “whip that thing back and forth like you do, Dad.” He caught a pink salmon on his first cast.

Late in the summer, my six year old boy asked me to teach him how to “whip that thing back and forth like you do, Dad.” He caught a pink salmon on his first cast.

Over the winter, I’ll spend a lot of time at my fly tying desk, filling the fly box for next season. I plan on doing more blog posts for this this website and have four stories in the queue for Fish Alaska Magazine’s blog. A trip to Hawaii is in the works for sometime after the New Year. I’ll bring my rod and will hopefully sneak away for a few hours to chase some bonefish. 

Thank you to all my friends, new and old, who booked fishing trips with Highway 3 Angler this year. I am grateful you chose to spend your day with me and appreciate your business. I hope we can get back out on the water again next year. In the meantime, I wish you all good health and good fishing.


-Ben Rowell

For The People’s Paper: Keep ’em Wet to Conserve Mat-Su’s Resident Fish

For The People’s Paper: Keep ’em Wet to Conserve Mat-Su’s Resident Fish

March is my favorite winter month. The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising and it’s prime time for most outdoor winter activities. But March also means our long winter will soon be over, and for many Alaskans like me, that means one thing – fishing season.

Guest Post: Small changes equal big rewards by Ryan McCormick

Guest Post: Small changes equal big rewards by Ryan McCormick

If you fish Mat-Su Valley streams, chances are you’ve had some tough days —days when you can’t do anything right and it seems there isn’t a trout in any beat you have covered. We’ve all been there. Those days are frustrating, to say the least, but I’ve learned more from those tough days then I ever have when it has been lights out fishing. Fishing is a lot like anything: the more you practice, the better you become. Here are a couple tips to help get you into fish faster.