Elke Kirk Has Made a Living Out of Salmonfly Fishing, But He’s Made a Life Out of Helping Others
By Will Jukes
For the average person, the salmonfly must be a nightmare. Massive, winged and hairy, with what looks like a pair of stingers coming out the back (don’t worry, they’re not) the salmonfly packs everything people find revolting about roaches, flies, and wasps. For fly fishermen, though, they’re a gift. These meaty bugs provide a filling meal for salmon and trout. Often they’re the best non-fish energy source in a river system, and much easier to catch. The salmonfly draws anglers from across the country for the hatch in Montana, Washington and Idaho, for some of the most decadent dry fly fishing to be had anywhere. It’s become an institution.
And for Elke Littleleaf Kirk, it’s become a way of life.
The fishing looks excellent this year,” said Elke, when we got a chance to speak last week. It’s just in advance of the fall steelhead run and the salmonfly season, so Elke is busy. Not just with fishing; the bulk of his day was taken up testing gear and taking video for his website. “They’re really coming up. Already we’ve seen three hundred thousand come over the dam. We haven’t even seen the big ones yet. They start coming about a month from now.”
Elke and his wife Alysia are the owners and operators of Littleleaf Guides, operating on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which borders dozens of miles of the Deschutes River. Elke has lived there almost his whole life, fishing the reservation side of the river. “I pretty much know every single rock, know where all the fish holes are, I know where all the animals live. I’ve learned some neat tricks, like seeing where the otters are feeding and fishing there,” said Elke. Littleleaf has become famous for guiding trips during the peak salmonfly season. In fact, you may already know the Kirks and Littleleaf Guides, especially if you’re a fan of Curtis Fleming’s Fly Rod Chronicles.
“He [Curtis] filmed in May of 2014. The first seven days we had him on the river going all over, and then the last three days we had him out of the water. When he came down, he liked it so much that he wanted to invite his wife and his two daughters. They ended up filming two episodes: the regular episode, and then a special with his family, which he’d never done before,” said Elke.
Any fly fisherman would want to get on Curtis’ show—it’s the top of the heap as far as fly fishing media goes, equivalent to landing a spot on Colbert or Jimmy Fallon. But Elke also hoped the exposure would help attract people to the reservation’s resort. Dwindling interest from vacationers had driven unemployment on the reservation to 70 percent.
“I actually e-mailed him and let him know what I thought he could do for us. The resort here is one of the biggest employers in Warm Springs, but we’ve seen fewer visitors the last few years, and it’s been tough. Having Curtis come out would help us, but we also hoped bringing more people to the reservation would help get more business going for the resort.”