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!