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answers to your quests
Posted by stevesch on Apr 26 2004
I have fished this river and stayed at the upper cabin:

1. Timing - very hard to judge, I've been there ~10 days earlier than you, and caught some silvers, was told I should have been there the week before, but then - - - more fish seemed to come in when it rained. 9/3 seems reasonable.

2. Hiking up river - well, a couple things about this.  First, the river is separated into three sections;  the "flats", which includes the distance between both cabins, is tidal and spans about 2 miles from duncan canal to the "rocks", which is a wadeable, riffle section which goes a short distance, maybe 1/2 mile upstream, then it becomes this pretty deep "upper river", almost chest high at low water for about 3 miles until it splits into a couple forks.  The castle is a pretty significant river, you are talking 150 feet or so across in the tidal section, and 50-75 feet in the upper river below the forks.  You can wade across the rocks at all tides, the flatter section at the lower tides, and you can't wade across the upper river really, but you wouldn't drown or get swept away unless it is raining in which case you shouldn't even try.

The problem with hiking/fishing, is that there is no trail much above the upper cabin (it goes up to the boat) and alot of downed timber and tough going beyond that.  In the river, the current and depth is such that it is also very tough wading.  It is tough to really cast into the structure from the bank - no place to backcast.  Also, the times that fishing is best is after rains, so the current is higher - - then, you can't wade at all. Make noise if you hike, there are bears.  Much better in upper section by boat.

What I did was pack in a motor and haul it up to the boat that comes with the upper cabin (the boat is kept at the downstream end of the upper river, where it is all flat).  This was a real good move - other than the fact that five people couldn't use one boat.  I was able to motor up to the forks, and drift down and sometimes catch good numbers of silvers holding against cut banks and by large wood structure.  Like you, I'd intended to maybe use the boat at the lower cabin to try the duncan canal, but the motor turned out to be very tricky to start and I didn't want to risk it for that.  People at the cabins sometimes trade boats, whatever, you have to ask I guess.  

Now, above the forks, there is a section of river that splits in two and it has (or did when I was there) a lot of downed timber.  impossible to get boat thru or wade.

2. Strategy on tides -  ya know, I found the fish in the tidal section of the river didn't really have a tidal bite...they bit in the morning and evening, but who knows?  If you are going out in the duncan canal, you need a navigation strategy, like coming back on an incoming tide (I looked at the tide tables and your dates are actually good for this).  At lower tides, the tidal portion of the river not only is shallower, but develops a significant current.  Its much less of a problem with the small skiff than it would be with a large boat, which must approach at high tide.

As far as what you would get? hard to say....I would say, maybe rockfish.  the people I saw in boats (and there are other people who fish the castle besides those at the cabins, a few, not crowds), bypassed the canal with the exception of crabbing.  If you are adventurous, you can cross the canal and try out Mitchell Slough, which I was tipped had really good silver returns....whether they hold somewhere you can fish them is another matter.

3.  Tidal flat walking - its some miles to the canal proper from the cabin.  I walked it once and it seemed pretty firm, none of that quiksand stuff.

4.  middle creek?  isn't that the creek that's across from the upper cabin?  if so, it has some silvers too.  But you do have alot of river to mess with as it is, the tidal section is good all the way between the two cabins; the rocky section has alot of good holding areas, and the upper river is great (when conditions are right).  You are going to be able to fish literally 30 seconds from the cabin.

5.  gear - both spoons and flies work.  spoons - typical pink pixies, and others - Mepps #5 etc.  flies - these fish were some of the pickiest silvers I have ever encountered. bring a variety of patterns  (bunnies, comets, esl's, zonkers, spankers, flashflies) and colors (fuchsia, chartreuse, purple, white - no I'm not kidding, and orange).  bring smaller esl's and glo-bugs for dollies.  Cutthroats are caught on these patterns as well, but you do see them going after surface flies - I got strikes, but didn't catch any, on dries.  For silvers, use fast (type 6), short (max 15 feet), sinktip, 8-weight rod, with about 4-6 feet of 8-12# ultragreen or clear maxima as the leader/tippet - maxima is essential - the typical flyrod brands (rio, orvis, umpqua) do not turn over the flies and tips properly.

6.  other - issues with both cabin boats....leaks in the one at the upper cabin, bad oarlocks on the one at the lower cabin.  Either verify condition with the forest service, or bring some duct tape, screws, and screwdriver.  Make sure your motor works if you bring one - and a frame backpack (which is one of my pieces of luggage) - is really useful for transporting the motor to the upper boat.  The boats don't have anchors.  We made one out of rope and a big rock, mainly to fish the first large tidal hole just below the "rocks".  

If you are "late", you will find silvers that are darkened, but I'd still look for fresh fish between the cabins, and there are also lots of cutthroat trout, and some dollies and rainbow trout.  Both of the cabins are really nice and big...the flats cabin isn't rented all that much newly painted, and has new fancy wood stove in it and a panoramic view of the flats.

Besides that, be sure to lock in a reservation and time for your bushplane charter there (assuming that's what you are doing)....it is a limited tide window, and to match these up reasonably with your commercial flights.  I actually saw more people use boats (20-24 footers) to go to these rivers, mainly alaskans, and they all made it safe, but I was spooked by the navigation books,cautions of the close quarters of the Wrangell Narrows - - - especially with cruise ships go to and fro, and my lessor experience.

7.  Overall, good to fair fishing for me.  1-11 silvers/day (average maybe 3-5 fish), and that is with pretty experienced anglers.  Beautiful setting, tannic stained water reflects like a mirror.  looks like it should produce a heluvalot more fish than I caught.

Previous: Fly-fishing Castle River (Petersburg) in Sept… adv AK Rookie Apr 24 2004

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