The state of Alaska had the hottest summer ever recorded and those warm temperatures combined with lower than average stream flows – certainly made for a challenging year! The hottest day we recorded at camp was a sweltering 89 degrees on July 4th. Fortunately, our amazing rainbow trout fishery was impacted less by these warmer river temperatures and we also had another strong sockeye run during the peak of this record heat. The king salmon run never really got going this year with fish going into survival mode and not feeding as aggressively as they normally do. Nevertheless, we did manage to catch kings throughout July - just not at the levels we were accustomed to.
Let’s start from the beginning. Early June brought the rainbow trout opener and those 2 weeks were a huge success! The mouse fishing could not have been any better as the lower water levels meant more water to wade fish “the braids” area of our fishery. These strong, aggressive rainbows averaged 22” and we got many in the 25” – 27” range!
2109 also brought the opening of our brand-new king salmon camp on the Nushagak River! We were pleasantly surprised that this new camp proved to be located in quite an amazing location with some of the best fishing right off our bank! Our own Chef, Jackson, would often go out and fish during his breaks and catch kings by pitching drift rigs right in front of camp! He actually named the hole “Merk Hole”, derived from the slang word “Merking”. This slang was all new to me – look it up! Our guests on the Nushagak started the season consistently catching really nice, fresh kings and this continued for the first 3 weeks. Unfortunately, by the time we hit week 4, the fishing really got difficult as the river temperature on the Nushagak soared to the 70-degree mark. It was not uncommon to see dead sockeye salmon floating down the river due to cardiac arrest from the shock of transitioning from the cold waters of Bristol Bay to the warm waters of the Nushagak. Obviously, not all the sockeye died, but it was very difficult to see them floating downriver belly up. Thankfully, we never saw any king salmon dying and all of the Bristol Bay “escapement goals” for king and sockeye salmon were met. This bodes really well for future fishing!
The best memory I have from this summer is from “the one that got away”. While guiding on the Alagnak River, one of our clients was determined to catch a king by “swinging up” a king salmon on a spey rod. Luckily, he had the patience for it being a seasoned steelhead fisherman from the lower 48. We were working a wade spot swinging flies when he finally got the “grab” he was waiting for. He played it perfectly as this 25-pound king salmon ran, jumped and overall gave one hell of a fight. We finally managed to get the king up to the net but alas it took off on another long run. A few minutes later it was just about up to the net again when the hook pulled and we both sank to our knees. The good news is we high-fived, laughed, and knew that we did everything we could to try and land it for some quick photos. I guess not all of the best memories are meant to be captured on film!
The sockeye finally started to hit the Alagnak River on the 9th of July. I thought 2018 was late at July 5th - but this now sets a new record as the latest I have ever seen the sockeye salmon run arrive. Like most years, once they started to come up the river - it seemed like they would never end! Limits were not hard to catch and before the sockeye run was completed, the Alaska Fish and Game Department actually raised the limit from 5 to 10 fish. Clients took advantage of this and the sockeye run was overall a great success!
By the third week of the salmon season - things began to pick up a bit as air and water temperatures came down enough to get the salmon on the bite again. The sockeye and chum salmon continued to come into the river in masses! It seemed every tide was just as good as the last one and all the guests were grinning from ear to ear. Even some of our new clients from Iceland marveled at the quality of our salmon fishery.
As July faded into August, we had a that late push of sockeye salmon and a strong chum run that kept our guests very happy! We even had some surprise early arriving silver salmon that kept every cast exciting – as the possibility of popping these early-run silvers was always in play.
August also came in with some decent rainstorms that seemed to ignite the bite on the river even more. We caught limits of silvers for those that wanted to take them home and many more for those who just wanted to practice catch and release. Although it was not quite at the level of some of our best silver salmon years, we still had a really solid August. It seems to me like we have hit the bottom of a 5-year trend this season with the silver salmon - and yet even at the bottom, it was still amazing. We caught silvers every single day in August and September. Right up to the last day we were on the river September 9th - we were still swinging and stripping up silvers. One of the benefits of having the river lower than normal was there were some new areas we could wade fish that further enhanced our silver fishing.
As usual, our 10th week was an amazing week for big rainbow trout in the middle portion of the river. This really adds to and compliments our strong salmon fishery and makes for some memorable days. There were many epic days on the river in September with big trout slamming flesh flies that “made the trip” for many of our guests!
As usual, we did “fly-outs” all season long – and most of them were spectacular! With over 25 years of fly-outs under our belt, we feel we have really cracked the code and have managed to really dial in the “where and when” of these trips. We had a success at every destination with grins on all the customers when they returned to the dock. From char to rainbows almost ever cast, we had an amazing season of fly-outs!
Finally, sitting on the doorstep to a world class fishery is one thing; but having a world class staff and guide team is what really brings it all together. I cannot thank my team enough for all they do from late May all the way through mid-September. Whether it is chasing rainbows’ in the braids with John Landry; swinging a streamer with Scotty for a big king; stripping a streamer with “Thermo” for an acrobatic silver; learning about nuances of Alaskan Wildlife with Russ or simply sitting in the dining room enjoying Jackson’s cuisine - I am always grateful for their willingness to keep our clients “first” in every way possible to ensure great trips for all.
Hope to see everyone on the river in 2020!
- John Perry
About the Author
The primary contributor, John Perry, is the owner and manager of the lodge. He'll offer fishing summaries and tips too...check back or sign up for the email news to get updates when posted.