It started out as a family fly fishing trip during which footage would be shot for an upcoming episode of the “Fly Rod Chronicles with Curtis Fleming.”
Those aspirations were multiplied as the Fleming family – Curtis and wife Shelly and daughters Laken and Autumn – returned home from the Anchorage, Alaska area with a handful of International Game Fish Association world record catches and enough great video to create a handful of episodes.
It’s perhaps ironic that it happened on the heels of Laken Fleming’s IGFA World Record common carp, caught in early-June at Stonewall Jackson Lake. But Curtis said he prefers to think of it as more of a “God thing.” The family was celebrating several milestones and it was pretty cool to see all of his girls accomplish something so notable while in each other’s company.
“Shelly and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, Laken turned 21 and we were celebrating Autumn moving on to college,” Curtis said.
It was Autumn, a 2016 graduate of Bridgeport High School and West Virginia University freshman, who made the first notable catch on the very first day of the fishing trip. She said she was inspired by her sister’s world record catch at the beginning of the summer and, of course, her dad.
“I was so proud of her. I truly admire her passion for fly fishing and my father’s fishing amazes me,” she said. “After a few catches and several break-offs, I would have never dreamed that I had a world record king at the end of my line. I was literally walking on water when we learned that it was an IGFA world record.”
Autumn’s massive king salmon fired everyone up to reel in a big one.
Along with some friends and members of the FRC crew, the Flemings fished virgin waterways that featured wildlife and picturesque scenery that seemingly stepped out of the pages of “National Geographic.”
“The main river system was the Bristol Bay area. We caught huge rainbow trout in the Naknek River and then, of course, there were a gazillion tributaries that come off those glaciers,” Curtis said. “The girls did a couple of fly-out adventures and in one place they saw hundreds of walruses right behind them on the beach. They also flew out to Brooks Camp waterfall where there were brown bear eating salmon right out of the falls.”
The Flemings and company stayed at Katmai Trophy Lodge, guides which hosted the family’s daily fishing excursions. Depending on which species of salmon, members wanted to target, those excursions took place in various areas.
“They know where the different species group and when they’re going to hit,” Curtis said.
“The salmon all come out of the ocean and swim into the rivers to spawn,” Curtis said. “The king salmon are the first to come in and then the sockeye and the chum. Then the pinks and silvers are the last ones to come in.”
Depending upon the species targeted, the fly fish enthusiasts – each with proper gear and plenty of determination – were taken by either boat or plane to ideal areas, which were “loaded with fish,” Curtis said.
After Autumn landed a massive king salmon, it was Shelly who broke the next IGFA world record when she caught a pink salmon. She had chosen the pink variety because of the color’s symbolism of cancer. She wanted to honor her sister Pam Bibey.
“Pam fought cancer so hard for three to four years and lost her battle in 2014,” Shelly said. “While fighting this large pink salmon – with each tug and jerk – it reminded me of how hard my sister fought for her life. The irony of this catch was I released the fish back into its beautiful waters to be free – just like Jesus freed Pam into heave to be free. It being a world record only signifies my strong belief in our creator.”
Curtis said the pinks only run on even years, making it all even more ironic. Had the trip been in 2015 or 2017, there wouldn’t be any pink salmon to be caught.
The next outstanding catch was once again Autumn; this time a sockeye salmon. After catching her prized king salmon, Curtis and the Flemings’ guide, James Johnson, took Autumn to a different area where she hooked into a large sockeye salmon.
“After a few measurements and weighing the sockeye, I as informed that I set my second IGFA world record on this dream trip,” Autumn said.
Laken also caught a world-record sockeye salmon, but hers was in a different line class. Though not her first world record, she said she was just as excited.
“Catching different species of fish holds a different experience; each in a beautiful and interesting way,” she said. “This was my first experience fishing the salmon run and my first time fishing in Alaska.”
Getting out on the river each morning held its own excitement as she caught king salmon, sockeye, pink and silver salmon varieties.
“When I found out that the sockeye that I had caught was a world record, I was amazed at my ability to fly fish in Alaska,” she said. “I thought I was going to have more trouble but the guides made it an extremely smooth process.”
“I broke a record on a chum salmon – also called dog salmon because they say they’re not worthy of eating. They feed them to the dogs. They’re very toothy and ugly,” he said. “It’s very ironic that the girls all caught pretty fish and I caught that one.”
All five catches are pending certification from the IGFA.
The icing on the cake is that it’s quite likely that the family effort at Katmia Trophy Lodge will break a Guinness Book of World Records.
The Flemings traveled with Bridgeport’s Mark and Pam Carder.
“Pam caught her first salmon on a fly rod and Mark caught a beautiful 46-inch northern pike and several different types of salmon,” Curtis said.
Others sharing the trip included Dan Berger, a Washington, DC-based lobbyist who serves as CEO/president of the National Federal Credit Union.
“This trip was on his bucket list,” Curtis said.
Dave Zieg, medical director for Lockheed Martin out of Denver, Colorado, as well as Brady Hanson, a representative of Eagle Claw Hooks.
The Flemings and the Carders spent two days in Anchorage before meeting up with the others for a six-day stay at the wilderness camp. It was Curtis’s first time to fish that particular river system, but he had fished the Alagnak and Zodiac river systems.
The episode featuring the fly fishing and “epic” scenery of the Bristol Bay area will air on the Fly Rod Chronicles with Curtis Fleming on the Outdoor Channel during the first quarter of 2017.
“Katmia Trophy Lodge is an amazing destination and the trip alone with my family was priceless, but to know that I set two world records has still not set in,” Autumn said.