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In the October issue we told you about the new lodge Rod Schuh has created on the Hoodoo River on the Alaska Peninsula of Alaska. In that report, we asked for reader feedback on the lodge, specifically on the late-season steelhead season. Well, subscriber John Baskin – 84 and still fishing hard – checked in near press time with this assessment. Anyone else have a different view?

With reference to your request for information about Hoodoo Lodge, I fished there this past October 10-17. Here is my account of the experience:

On arriving at Cold Bay, I met the party that had been there the previous week. I recognized a former acquaintance that I had fished with in South America and BC. I asked him how he had fared and he replied ‘caught one steelhead and lost two.’ This man is an excellent fly fisher, and if that was all he got, the fishing could not be good.

As it happened, I did not fare well either. I am not a good steelheader and I got just one strike on my last day. I think that I was not getting my fly deep enough. Other fishermen did somewhat better, some getting a couple of fish a day. I have no idea how many each caught in total. My fishing partner did well, averaging a couple of fish a day. The fish that I saw were in photos. They looked to be about 30 to 33 inches (10 to 12 pounds): good fish but not record-breakers. It is a long way to go to catch this size of steelhead. I can catch larger fish on the Columbia and its tributaries.

Hoodoo Lodge’s Rod Schuh actually has two lodges – one at Cold Bay and the other on the Hoodoo River. He has done an outstanding job in building both lodges. They are really first class. Great accommodations and great food. Excellent staff. Rod is heavily into hunting, which is very good, as there are monstrous grizzly bears there, as well as wolverines and other predators such as lynx and wolves. Rod is trying to put a second string to his bow by adding fishing. I liked Rod. He is a straight-shooter and the hardest-working man that I have ever met.

There were about nine fishermen at the lodge and that was a bit of a problem the day Rod flew us in to an assigned beat for the day. As he had limited seats on his plane, some anglers had to wait for him to return to be flown out. Once my partner and I were caught on the Hoodoo when a windstorm came up. We had just passed a small cabin (we were drifting in a rubber boat with no motor) and the guides decided it would be safer to spend the night on shore. With no shelter, I don’t think that I would have fared so well. At 84, I am not as hardy as I used to be. Fortunately, Hoodoo Lodge has permission to use the hut in an emergency (it belongs to some hunters), with the usual proviso that it be kept clean and all food, etc. be replaced. I wore two of everything: socks, pants, shirts, sweaters, and I still never felt comfortable. It wasn’t cold, in the 40s, but I think that the humidity was high.

The cabin had two bunks. The clients got the bunks and the guides slept on the floor between them. Cramped quarters. On getting out of bed during the night to pee, I accidentally stepped on a guide’s head. I am sure that was not appreciated. The cabin is surrounded by an electric fence to keep out grizzlies. We were warned not to piss on it or risk being electrocuted. There was no prescribed area to defecate. Just take the shovel provided, walk a reasonable distance away, dig a hole, do your thing and cover the hole. Shit, shovel and shut up. I thought that a crapper placed over a hole in the ground would have been better.

One day we fished the David River. It’s a nice little stream. Might be classified as a creek in Washington. I put away my 15-foot Spey rod and got out my 9-foot, four-piece Sage rod. Just right for this small river. Things were the same there as on the Hoodoo – lots of spawning coho but no steelhead. The coho males were continually fighting and disturbing the steelhead. During my trips all the rivers were at least a foot too high. This may have contributed to the poor fishing. High water allows fish to scatter throughout a river and makes them harder to find.

Will I go back? Don’t know. There are other places to go where I can catch fish. This season was exploratory. Next year, I believe the cost will go up considerably. In all, there were about nine clients at the lodge. Some were seasoned steel- headers; at least one was not. He had never caught a steelhead before. On tying into one, he dropped his rod and grabbed the reel with both hands. Not an approved method of playing a fish. Still hasn’t caught one. Probably never will unless he drastically changes his method of playing a frisky fish.

The guides carried handguns they called 44s. Supposedly capable of taking care of a grizzly at close quarters. It might be a good idea for a client to ask for a demonstration before venturing out. If the guide should perform in an emergency the way the novice steelheader did on his first fish, things could get interesting! – John Baskin.

(Postscript: Given the nature of Baskin’s comments, we thought it only fair to give The Fly Shop a chance to weigh in. Here is what the shop’s Ryan Peterson had to say:

“Thanks for forwarding us John Baskin’s report on his steelhead trip to Hoodoo Lodge. John’s humble old world charm is, well, charming. He’s been a customer and friend of ours on many trips over the years and is a much hardier and a more broadly experienced steelhead flyfisher than he allows. After having spoken to nearly every other angler who visited Hoodoo during the 2008 steelhead season, and having spent a week there myself (the week preceding John’s), I feel as though his report could describe any other steelhead angler’s experience this year. It is spot on. I’d like to comment on a couple of technical points, though, and then lay out plans for the 2009 steelhead season, which take into account the experiences of John and other anglers this past fall.

“Firstly, where John notes other anglers during his week ‘averaged a couple fish per day,’ this should be corrected to ‘averaged one fish per week…if that.’ The numbers are now in, and there was not a single week when more than eight steelhead were landed by a group.

“Second, John notes there were ‘about nine fishermen at the lodge.’ The maximum capacity of Hoodoo Lodge is eight during king season, nine during silver salmon season and six during steelhead season.

“Third, while John’s description of the hunter’s hut that he was marooned in for a night is accurate to a tee, I hope readers recognize (as John does) that they were only in this hut because of an unexpected extreme weather event. In fact, the night John spent in that hut was the only night anyone spent in it all year. The normal accommodations, at either the lodge or the (optional) upriver spike-camp, are decidedly more deluxe.

“Finally, other than the two day/one night upper-river float that involves a floatplane put-in shuttle, and impromptu free fly-outs to the David River which Rod added to the weekly beat system this year, the bulk of the beats are accessed via jet boat from Hoodoo Lodge.

“As John notes in his report, ‘This season was exploratory.’ Despite the low numbers of hookups on steelhead in 2008, we will host continued steelhead exploration in 2009. The rationale is that our data points were inconclusive this season given the enormous silver salmon run. This affected our steelhead fishing in that you couldn’t keep the salmon off the hook. Consequently, a real sense of steelhead numbers may have been obscured. For instance, one day while floating the upper river, I had very good spotting light from the boat and saw an estimated 30 steelhead in a two-mile stretch, and most of them were in the middle of a hoard of silver salmon.

“In sum, we don’t know if this year was typical, or a fluke. What we plan to do is extend the silver salmon season by two weeks in 2009, and we will offer just two weeks (instead of five) of steelhead exploratories, October 2-16. Contrary to Mr. Baskin’s projection of a price increase, the price for that trip will go down significantly in recognition of the fact that this season did not turn up as many steelhead as anyone would have liked. A full week exploratory will cost $3,950.

“In order to better accommodate anglers on the choice water that was discovered in the upper Hoodoo River, Rod Schuh has decided that he will put in a second outpost camp there in 2009 and offer optional three-day/two-night float trips. This will shorten daily float time and increase daily fishing time on this fantastic stretch of water. Additionally, fly-out explorations of the David River and of one other new river will be exciting, optional side trips for those who are interested.

“Thanks again for the opportunity to respond to Mr. Baskin’s trip report. I hope at age 84 I am still traveling the world, as John is, casting into the wind and snow, mouth watering at the prospect of a wild steelhead on my next cast.

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