Skip to main content

Silver Riches of the Tsiu River

Silver Riches of the Tsiu River
(Lynn Burkhead photo)

The staccato pelting of wind-driven rain was impossible to ignore and wild storms like this one offered no mute buttons.

"So this is Alaska," I mused against the storm's noise while stripping a section of floating fly line from the reel attached to my Orvis eight-weight rod.

With the early morning monsoon pounding down upon our position on the Tsiu (Sigh-you) River, I burrowed deep into my rain jacket and Simms waders and put the fly line into the air.

Storm or no storm, I was here to fish.



Click image to view the photo gallery
Silver Riches of the Tsiu River



Thankfully, it wouldn’t take long before I was hooked up with my first fish of the day, one of Alaska’s famed late summer and early autumn migrators, the silver salmon.

After the fish – a seven-pound female hen heading for last rites and the specie's mysterious spawning grounds – was brought to hand, I wondered out loud about getting a picture.

After all, this was my first ever Alaskan silver – or Coho, as some call them - caught on the fly.

“Nope,” said Chris De Los Santos, a Houston fly shop operator and the annual salmon season head fishing guide for Charles Allen’s superb Alaska Expedition Company (www.alaskaexpedition.com).


“Trust me,” he added. “That’s not really a big one. This is Alaska my friend. Even with this rain, you’ll have plenty more opportunities at even bigger fish.”

Choosing to obey rule number one of a successful outdoors adventure – always listening to your guide’s sage advice – I let the fish slip from my fingers back into the dark, cool water.

With a slap of its tail, the silver departed upstream and I stood up to get the fly line airborne again.


A double-haul later, my next search for a wild salmon coming back home to Alaska was underway. And as before, it wouldn’t take long before the gaudy fly found resistance out in the current.

True to De Los Santos’ prediction, the second one was bigger. Bigger to the tune of 10 pounds of hard fighting muscle fresh from the Pacific Ocean, a salmon that against the odds, had made its way back to its ancestral spawning grounds to complete the specie’s unique life cycle.

With this Coho at hand, my new found friend and guide finally relented and allowed me to dig the Nikon out of the recesses of the dry-box for a photo.

As it turns out, that would be the first of numerous “grip-and-grin” shots, the cheesy kind where yours truly sported a goofy grin after landing yet another big Alaskan-size fish on the fly.

Despite the unrelenting rain that continued to beat against us – thanks to a pesky Gulf of Alaska low-pressure system crawling through the region – I couldn't help but smile.

While thinking of my dad, who more than four decades earlier had enjoyed parts of the Alaskan wild thanks to Uncle Sam stationing him in Fairbanks for a military tour of duty.

Dad didn't get to do much fishing while he was stationed at the Army barracks of Fort Wainwright in the early 1960s, but he did get outdoors enough to fall in love with the nation's 49th state.

Years later, hearing his tales of Army life and of the Alaskan terrain was all that was necessary to cause big dreams to be born within the heart of a young son. Wild dreams that grew, or so it seemed, with the arrival of each outdoor magazine that appeared in our mailbox.

As I flipped wide-eyed through the pages of the latest outdoor rag, numerous pictures of giant rainbow trout, migrating salmon and moose, caribou and other big critters worked to fuel my youthful dreams.

And somehow put myself within those pictures. Finally, as a forty-something dad of my own, here I was, living out my childhood dreams.

Except that so far, there was very little sun, midnight or otherwise, in this wild spot situated a couple of airborne hours to the east of Cordova.

At least the salmon didn’t seem to mind. How could they; they were already wet.

As the week progressed, rain or shine, windy gales or flat calm, the Tsiu River slowly churned on its journey toward the nearby Gulf of Alaska.

All the while as consistent migratory runs of silver salmon – 8-pounders, 10-pounders, 12-pounders, and even a few in the 15-pound or better range – all pushed upstream against the current. Past a wall of waiting seals positioned just beyond the pounding, chilly surf lying at the mouth of the river. And past the form of a damp Texas angler all smiles as he lived out the angling adventure of a lifetime.

A few days later, lost somewhere in my train of thought about all that I was experiencing here in God’s wildest North American playground, I felt a sudden and fierce jolt at the end of the fly line.

The gaudy Pacific Rim salmon fly – tied by my East Texas fly fishing guide friend Rob Woodruff – had proven to be too tempting a sight for a big hook-jawed male moving upriver.

When I strip-set the hook into the maw of this aquatic journeyman, there was instant heavy resistance at the other end, strength unlike any that I had experienced thus far on the Tsiu.

The big silver, which would later push the Boga Grip scale past the 12-pound mark, began stripping line off my reel at an alarming rate, causing me to wonder if this was a winnable fight.

For the better part of 20 minutes, a seesaw battle occurred on the Alaskan river as the Coho tried to see just how deep into the fly reel's backing that he could go.

All the while as I tried to see how steadily I could gain that lost line back onto the big reel without putting too much pressure on a tippet that was already being strained in the direction of its breaking point.

Finally, after one of the longest and most memorable fishing battles of my lifetime, most of the lime-green fly line had begrudgingly made its way back onto the reel.

With most of the line in hand and the leader almost within reach, I finally began to believe that this fight would be won. And that’s when I saw the big fish swirl, an angling sight that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

As De Los Santos grabbed the fish's tail and scooped up the heavy buck with his other hand, the sight of this huge silver responding to the DNA urges swimming within its piscatorial genes brought an even bigger smile to my face.

Not to mention giving me another reason to pause. Because my guide had indeed been right, that there would be plenty more fish during this memorable week. And plenty more big fish too.

Along with a few tackle-busters that would do their best to test the limits of my angling skills, some through battles that I would win and others that the fish – a handful weighing into the mid and upper teens – would eventually win.

Because this was wild Alaska, a place where the fishing dreams of a lifetime can – and usually do – come true.

Especially those dreams planted deep within the heart of a youngster sitting next to his dad, listening to tales spun about a wild and mysterious land that seemed far, far away.

Until now, that is.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021 are several hunter-defined products, such as the Excalibur TwinStrike Crossbow, BowTech Solution and Solution SS Bows, TightSpot Pivot 2.5 Quiver, Ripcord Cage and Code Red X arrowrests, and Black Gold Pro FX and Pro Hunter HD sights.

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Simplify breakfast or brunch for a crowd by making this savory venison chorizo quiche recipe.Southwestern Venison Chorizo Quiche Recipe Wild Game

Southwestern Venison Chorizo Quiche Recipe

Allie Doran - October 30, 2020

Simplify breakfast or brunch for a crowd by making this savory venison chorizo quiche recipe.

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

Fast and accurate: Crossbows from this year's ATA Show.10 Great New Crossbows for 2021 ATA Show

10 Great New Crossbows for 2021

Game and Fish Staff - January 15, 2021

Fast and accurate: Crossbows from this year's ATA Show.

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

All sides must have something to offer to make it work.Fishing Buddies: It Has to Be Give-and-Take Stories

Fishing Buddies: It Has to Be Give-and-Take

Jeff Johnston - June 18, 2020

All sides must have something to offer to make it work.

An hour here, 30 minutes there, 10 casts after work; sometimes that's all it takes.Perspective: Satisfy Fishing Passion When You Can Stories

Perspective: Satisfy Fishing Passion When You Can

Adam Heggenstaller - June 24, 2020

An hour here, 30 minutes there, 10 casts after work; sometimes that's all it takes.

Ugly Stik's Santa Claus Bass Tournament featured 298 Santa-suit-wearing anglers at Lake Norman, N.C.Good Deeds: Bass-Fishing Santas Raise $15K in Toys for Kids News

Good Deeds: Bass-Fishing Santas Raise $15K in Toys for Kids

Game and Fish Staff - December 21, 2020

Ugly Stik's Santa Claus Bass Tournament featured 298 Santa-suit-wearing anglers at Lake...

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against the pandemic with special giveaway.Outdoors Industry Honoring Healthcare Heroes: COVID-19 News

Outdoors Industry Honoring Healthcare Heroes: COVID-19

April 27, 2020

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now