By William Sisson
Rodger Glaspey has traveled from Patagonia to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula chasing big rainbows before finally hanging up his waders on the shores of Iliamna Lake in southwest Alaska.
“There is just no place in the world where you can find rainbows that are as electric as the Alaska rainbows,” says Glaspey, 66, a cotton merchant from California who began fishing Alaska in the late 1970s. “I’ve never seen the line sing through the water like it does with those rainbows in the fall. There’s nothing like it.”
In Alaska a trophy rainbow is one 30 inches or larger. In fall, those big scrappers might weigh 10 to 12 pounds, depending on their girth.
Driven to pack on as much weight as possible, they are sometimes referred to as Alaskan footballs for the ample girth they acquire in late summer and early fall.
“When the salmon come into these streams, the rainbows begin to feed on pure protein and they really bulk up,” says Glaspey, a lifelong rainbow aficionado and one of the owners of Rainbow King Lodge (rainbowking.com) on Iliamna Lake. “They go for the big meals, the ham and eggs. It’s pure protein … just like going on steroids. I’ve never seen fish get such a girth on such a relatively short frame.”
The largest rainbow Glaspey has brought to the net measured between 32 and 33 inches. “And I’ve got a story just like everybody else who’s been up here any number of times,” he says. “I hooked what I believe was the 15-pound-plus rainbow, which was a healthy 35 inches or better. I hooked the hen, which was a 29, out of the Upper Talarik. Landed that fish. I went right back into the same heavy run and hooked the buck, the male.”
The big ’bow porpoised once and shot off. “And I started chasing him because he was bigger than a salmon,” Glaspey recalls. “I knew I had to chase him because he was big and strong. He went straight upstream and out of the riffle where I’d hooked him, over to the deep bank and ultimately up around the next bend, where he took me into a big root wad and broke me off.”
That was three years ago. “So I go up there every year, still hunting that same 35-inch rainbow. I laugh at myself,” says Glaspey with a chuckle. “I know I had a 15-pound rainbow, and I’m going to keep going back until I land that son of a gun.”
The ones that get away never really leave you.
I was a guest at the lodge last September, when the big rainbows move out of sprawling Iliamna Lake and into the streams to fatten up. Look for the full story in the Spring issue of Anglers Journal.
Click through the gallery below for more of Pat Ford’s stunning photography.