One Arctic summer, pike with great incisors, vole-inhaling grayling, and the mysterious sheefish brought Brent Flack-Davison and his mates to Alaska for an eight-day float through the wilderness.
All of us have that one fish, that one mysterious fish in a faraway place that just calls to you. Sheefish was that fish for me. I had heard about it while living in Alaska for a summer. Tarpon of the North, they called it. I mean, how could you not?
It took a few years after that summer but, finally, I had persuaded a few other guys who were interested and willing enough to fly about as far north as you can go to chase a fish we did not know very much about.
From our research, we knew that sheefish are the largest members of the whitefish family, reaching up to 60lb. They are only found in a few drainages mostly north of the Arctic Circle in North America and Russia. They spawn in fresh water but spend their lives in the salt. When they return to the rivers to spawn, they like holding in deep pools and can be taken on big baitfish patterns fished deep. They also taste delicious. That was almost the sum total of our research (done online), and that made them even more intriguing.After about nine months of planning and five consecutive flights later, our group (Travis, Cliffy, Joe, Jason, and I) touched down on a high alpine lake a few degrees north of the Arctic Circle in a 1956 Otter float plane. Our plan was to float for 90 miles over eight days, starting off on a relatively high headwater and then reaching our takeout at the first of five native villages on the lower river close to the Arctic Ocean. The 90 miles of river was in pristine Arctic tundra – no civilisation, no roads, just the occasional bush plane.
On the fourth day, we were floating through a deep, boulder-strewn pool. A long bar of silver followed a fly up to our raft from deep down but turned away before we could get a good look. A few minutes later, Jason went tight. SHEEFISH! Once we’d stopped hollering enough to think straight, we beached the rafts to finish fighting the fish from shore. After some big runs, strong headshakes, and dogged fighting, we landed it. And there it was… Sheefish! We’d come a long way for this and here it was finally – relief! And then excitement to catch our own kicked in.
Read the rest of Brent’s story in issue 40. It’s free!