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The month of August got underway with hordes of bright chrome chum salmon arriving on the tides daily still with some silver salmon in the mix right on schedule but definitely not a lot of them in our first week. Many rods were broken while fighting these huge chrome Calico salmon on the fly and conditions were setting up to be perfect with very normal or average temperatures for a nice change. At the end of our 6th week, it was becoming very apparent that we might be on the verge of a great silver salmon run. On the last day of our 6th week, I had a 12 year old and his father down in the lowest portion of the river we fish. Both were novice fly anglers at the start of the week but by weeks end, they were literally doubling up on silvers and just having the time of their lives. With rain and wind in the forecast to start our 7th week, I knew we might experience what we call a “silver tsunami”. Well, yes, we sure did get that tsunami, and with all the silvers that were coming in the river, were even more bright chum salmon, although it was apparent that they were finally starting to slow down. The silvers were everywhere and fishing drift boat style was just a blast! We were having days on the fly for silvers that were as good as this river ever gets! The silvers continued to come through in hordes through our 9th week and even into our 10th week with double digit silvers per rod in the lower river. The only slower days during August was when we had bright sun and a brief warm up to the river temp, but even on these days, catching silvers was still not a problem. Our first week of September did show a little bit of a slow down, but in my opinion, was just right with silvers being caught during the whole day both by wading and drifting.
Our Braids fishing in August was just incredible. We were fishing the braids 6 out of 7 days a week drifting and wading for the ever powerful Alagnak River leopard bows. The trout cycle in the braids is just incredible right now. Our incredible chum and king salmon run in July was fueling these beasts with salmon eggs for their winter holdover as salmon were spawning in mass and the “egg drop” was on for weeks, and is still going on as I type this report in mid September! Our guests were averaging close to 100 rainbows per trip and several were in the high teens to low 20″ range, just an incredible month!
Fly-outs to Morain Creek and Brooks later in the month of August and early September had our guests coming off the plane with perm grins. I was getting quotes like: “this is the most amazing trout fishing I have ever experienced” and “can trout fishing possibly get any better than this?”
Yes, we literally caught 100’s of rainbows spread out over 5 fly-outs and all were amazingly strong. Even a smaller 16″ rainbow would break off 2X tippet immediately if it were not able to run on the drag alone. It was hard for some of the guests to break the habit of setting the hook like would in the lower 48 with a tight line under the stripping finger. These rainbows are just so strong for their size, and as one guest put it, “you have to feel their power to believe it”. Words cannot describe the hook ups on these trout as they immediately went airborne and ran off the fly line into the backing some times in seconds flat! Just an awesome month for sure!
Spey fishing has really grown in the past several years to become a much more “normal” way of fishing in the US. It is even being used anywhere there is a current and swinging flies is a key. We encourage our guests to take a break from traditional fly fishing and give spey fishing for salmon a try…and one of my guides even targets snook in Florida near bridges and jetties on the spey rod!
The spey rod has grown so much in the US, well, because it works! It works with a lot less effort, and if swinging flies is the best method for your targeted species, then spey fishing is just the ticket. The line technology has evolved a lot in the past as well. This is also a huge contributing factor to its popularity. The newer “compact Skagit’s” are really making a huge difference in the fly-fishing industry. These large, short heads attached to the running line make roll casting much easier and more powerful. Yes, power! You can actually spey cast and shoot line even further from a roll cast than one can do with a tradition single hand rod utilizing a double haul method.
Spey casting is basically utilizing different types of roll casts. The types of spey casts are dictated by wind and river flow. I could go into the major types of casts like the “snap T”, “snake roll”, etc., but the other named casts all achieve the same thing. The spey casts all form an “anchor” where the line is on the water and the rod is up high at about 1:00 ish if you will, with the letter “D” being made by the belly of line coming from the rod tip to the water surface. Just like a traditional roll cast, the spey cast has to be anchored to the water to achieve a good cast. Currents flowing from right to left, or left to right, with winds on shoulder or off shoulder make the big difference in what cast to utilize. It is always about keeping the line from rolling over on itself and keeping the fly away from your face on the cast. Pretty simple, and teaching a novice fly angler on the water is as easy or easier than teaching a single hand cast.
The bottom line to all the spey cast popularity is that if you wish to swing a fly, there is simply no better way than to spey cast. You will keep your fly in the water longer over the course of the day and with less effort. There you have it, simple 101 spey fishing.
The king run this July was definitely above average. We had strong king salmon fishing through the entire month with some kings still being caught while targeting chums on the fly from the sand bars! The only slow periods occurred during warm spells that brought the river temperature up into the mid 60 degree range. This is normal, but with the river being so low, it did not take long for a few warm days to really spike the river up to high levels. Chum salmon fishing and braids fishing were great while this was happening and we were able to keep going day in and day out with bent rods a common sight. The mighty chums kept us going with plenty of rod breaking action and amazing runs.
The silvers normally start like clock work for us on the first of August. They were here but in very small numbers in Late July and early August, but by our 6th week, they really started to show up. Our last few days here saw numbers on the fly in the 50 plus per boat category and at times were almost every cast! We lost track of the double headers and just had a blast while chrome silvers were streaking out from the banks to demolish a hard stripped fly! The weather has been perfect with cooler days and on and off rain. South West winds have really helped with some big pushes of silvers on the tides.
Fishing in the Alagnak River Braids for rainbows has been amazing with salmon in the full spawn mode. The largest of the season so far was taped out at 29″s, and several have been landed in the 24″ – 27″ range. The numbers are in the rainbows that are more in the high teens, but that is just fine when you are catching rainbows all day long up there! This is really shaping out to be a banner season on the Alagnak River, and as long as the weather holds out, we may just have one of our best for 2017. Fingers are crossed that we will continue to have normal weather patterns and keep the river temperature in the 50’s for the rest of the season.
Alaska has hundreds of rivers that have king salmon runs. There are only a few that experience consistent runs with strong enough numbers that allow anglers a great chance to catch them on a daily basis throughout the season. When you mention king salmon fishing to most people, the Kenai River comes to the forefront of conversation. The Kenai River at its prime was no doubt the best king salmon river in the world. It had not only the largest run of king salmon in the modern era, but also yielded the largest kings on the planet every year. Those fortunate enough to fish this river in its hay-day had a legitimate chance at landing kings on a daily basis over 60 lbs and some over 80 lbs!
Unfortunately, this river has gone through a major down swing in its fishing cycle to the point that they even closed it to sport fishing in past seasons trying to get its numbers back up to support sport fishing again.
The Nushagak River is by far the top river in the state of Alaska for king salmon. There is even a small commercial fleet that has permits to target kings with large mesh size gill nets. The “Nush” as the locals refer to it, will boast over 100,000 kings on average annually up its river system. This is an incredible amount of kings and what makes it such a special river to target them. There are many lodges that line the banks of the river but there are still plenty of fish to go around. This river is located on the West side of Bristol Bay and is accessible only by plane from the port town of Dillingham. This remoteness is one factor that has kept this river system well managed and full of kings every year. It peaks in late June and is over by mid July. The kings average a bit smaller on this river than most, but with the sheer numbers that can enter the system on a tide, this makes 50 plus days of fishing a norm every year. Fishing in the tidewater is usually done by trolling, but there are a few areas that fly anglers can wet a fly in hopes of catching a king in this big river.
This is another strong king salmon river that lies even further West of Bristol Bay. It boasts a strong king run and is a smaller river than most premier king salmon rivers. With it’s smaller size, it is a good river to target kings on the fly, and there are only a handful of lodges on the river that fish them. This is one of the better rivers for sure to “swing for kings”. Overall it is a great river, but can be a little more sensitive to timing than others.
The Alagnak is still very close to my heart, not only because I have called it home for over 20 summers, but because it is one of the most consistent king salmon rivers in the state. The famous Kenai and the fabled Nushagak Rivers have actually closed in the past to even sport fishing due to poor returns. This has never happened on the Alagnak River and hopefully never will. We are extremely fortunate to have continued success both on fly and conventional gear on this river every July. Even in the slowest of weeks, it still is much better than the Kenai has been for many years for their average! We do our best to protect this system and only harvest male king salmon and try to keep them under 30lbs if at all possible. Yes, we release all female king salmon, and might rub some wrong, but we feel that it is our duty to protect this amazing fishery for generations to come. As stewards to the river, we want to keep this river special amongst the big name rivers in Alaska.
Whatever river one chooses to target king salmon, the best are those that are reached by plane, not by car. I hope that this short list of king salmon rivers helps one decide on where to go in the future.
Dolly Varden must be considered one of the most beautiful fish in Alaska. They look like a close cousin to the Brook trout in the lower 48. Like the Brook trout, they appear to be hand painted by someone and at times take on the look of a circus clown with all their bright colors. The Dolly Varden are also quite numerous in many streams in Alaska, making them a top species to target while on a fishing trip to this amazing state.
We target these magnificent sport fish is a few streams where catching under 40 of them in a day would be considered an off day. They tend to school up in huge numbers when the salmon are spawning and can be such a blast to catch. They fight much like a trout, and will jump, run, and twist their way off your hook as hard as they can. When fishing behind spawning salmon, the Dolly Varden can really be a blast and not too picky with the presentation or egg imitation you choose.
One thing that many anglers do not know about this great fish is their desire to hit a swing fly called a gurgler. Alaska signature flies ties some great foam over flies in orange and red that are just perfect for these Char. The amount of fish you catch on top-water patterns will not be as high as fishing sub surface patterns, but the sight of a 26” chasing down a skated fly is really hard to beat!
If you are in an area that allows you to harvest one, they make a great shore lunch too! All it takes is some butter, foil, salt and pepper. Simply gut the fish, spread butter in the cavity, and add some salt and pepper. Wrap up in the foil and put in the coals of a small fire. In a short while, the fish is ready and the meat will fall off the bones. A true delight for a shore lunch!
These fish hold a special place in my heart. They are beautiful, good fighters, and more than willing to take a fly. How could you not put these fish on a top list for fish in Alaska?
Our first week was nothing more than amazing as usual, that is if you like sockeye salmon so thick that limits were taken daily on the fly while king salmon were in full force pushing the scales at over 40#’s per day…YES, our guides boated an average of 1 king per day over 40#’s! This is going to be a great run for sure.
The sockeye run has been really strong this season despite being a little late. They really started pouring in on the 2nd of July and did not have a stop until the 7th of July when there was a slow down. BUT, on the 8th, they kicked right back up and were really thick, creating wakes along the banks of the lower river for miles on end.
The kings started showing up with the huge push of sockeye salmon and have really been strong. The average size is up from years past with not near as many jack king salmon returning. These “jack” king salmon are males that return after only 1 year at sea. These were being caught but not near as many than in the past few years.
The famous Alagnak River Braids fished extremely well this year with an increase in average size up there too. There were rainbows in excess of the 20″ mark on every trip and some that pushed the over 24″ tape, but still have not broken the 30″ mark this season. There is plenty of time for that though, and we have spotted a few that can break that mark. The mousing has been strong throughout the sockeye run and so have the leeches. We have kept some spots free of pressure for the entire season and just yesterday that spot produced over 20 rainbows in a small back channel. The largest was 22″s, but the average was in the high teens. Not bad for wild Alaska trout!
All our guests from our first week left with full coolers of salmon, smiles on their faces, and thoughts about when they can come back to this very special river we call home for the summer.
Fly-fishing in Alaska is definitely a bucket list item for most the are both new and seasoned to the sport. From my early beginnings in the sport, it was always at the pinnacle of my fishing dream trips, and I think I am not alone.
Alaska fly fishing can range from “as good as it gets” in the sport to “almost as hard as it can be”. Targeting some species can be a huge test of patience and will. For example, there are times when the king salmon may not be in a river system in great numbers, but you are there at an off period and trying to catch that needle in a haystack. Kings tend to hold and run in the deepest portions of the river, and therefore demand a sink tip line to get a fly swung in front of their face. This short window of presentation coupled with low numbers to begin with has been the hardest species we target at times. BUT, this article is about the easiest and, lucky for you, there are plenty.
With all fishing in Alaska, timing is everything coupled with location. By far, I would have to put pink salmon on the list for the easiest fish to target for the novice angler. Pink salmon run into rivers with a tenacious desire to strike flies. They also hit top water flies, which adds to the fun if one tires of catching salmon in the 3 – 5 pound range every cast. Yes; EVERY cast. There are times that these salmon run wall to wall in the river, coming in on the tides by the thousands! Pinks are definitely a great species to target for the novice.
The second species on the list would have to be the arctic grayling. These little fish have an amazing propensity to hit top-water flies. Fishing dry flies is about as good as it gets in the sport so why not target these resident fish? They are very fun to catch, and will even hit mouse patterns on the swing while targeting trout. I have been fooled many times with a hard-hitting grayling destroying a mouse pattern in the past, thinking it was a trophy class rainbow! These fish are special to Alaska and should be fished for on any trip you take.
The third species to target for the novice angler are dolly varden, or char. There is a big dispute over which one is which but in Bristol Bay, we call them all char…some call them dollies…point is, they are basically the same fish with subtle differences. These fish, like the grayling, will hit top-water patterns as well as leeches and nymph patterns. When you hit a stream right that is loaded with char during the salmon spawn, they will literally go nuts over egg patterns. Luckily, presentation is not as critical for these char as much as it is for the smarter rainbows that inhabit the Bristol Bay watershed. The char will even prefer at times to hit a swung egg pattern over a perfect dead drifted one. This makes them a great species to target as a novice or expert! They get pretty big too, pushing the 30” mark at times in some rivers.
I hope that as a novice, you will get to spend some time chasing some of these species on your trip to Alaska!
The opening of Angler’s Alibi went pretty smooth this month. We arrived at camp to find that the only damages over the winter were done by a bear in the fall.
The bear tore off our plywood door cover in the back of our kitchen and went through the storm door, pushing in the glass and tearing through the screen.
The bear went through the freezers and fridges, then decided it would be nice to take the BBQ grill out the other entrance that was shut tight with plywood. It looked as if the BBQ was jammed through the plywood like the old Cool Aid commercials where the Cool Aid man busts through the wall.
Needless to say, a destroyed grill was not all that bad. We were able to repair the back storm door which was pretty amazing since a brown bear went through it!
The generator fired right up and we were able to get the place up and running pretty quickly and had hot showers that evening after dinner. The biggest hurdle we had was making sure we got our barge in on time before we ran out of diesel fuel for our generator. Thankfully, even though it was a week later than expected, the barge came in and we were able to get all our fuel for the season and all our major dry goods too. We added another 1,000 gallon double wall tank and that will make a mid season fuel delivery a non issue as well, one of those upgrades to the camp that will go under the radar with the guests.
OK, enough of the boring stuff, now let’s talk about how the June 8th trout opener was. With lower water, fish seemed to be stacked in areas and the fishing was the best I have ever seen it! Trout were more than willing to crush mouse patterns on top with reckless abandon! If the first strike did not work, they were more than willing to come back again and again until they got the hook! It was a most memorable trout opener, and one for the books. We landed well over a dozen fish in the 20″ range and several more in the high teens. This was really a great trip for such an early date. Next season I will try and book in a small group of trout fisherman looking for that special daytime mouse bite…we sure have it!
We are now poised and ready to get our first big push of sockeye salmon into the system. We have been picking up some small jack king salmon and that has kept the lower river guide training program strong with some action. We are still looking for that first big king push of jumbos that will tear out drag and test the knots of our 20# test line!
More to come!