What makes Alaska trout fishing different than trout fishing in the lower 48? Despite the fact that these fish are all native and seem to be just like a steelhead, the Alaska trout are more like sharks at times than your typical lower 48 trout. Imagine having several thousand pounds of salmon flesh as part of your annual diet source. Imagine having thousands of protein-rich salmon eggs in the river system for months, which makes up the majority of the trout ‘s nutrition during Summer, Fall, and Winter. This super protein rich diet is like taking steroids for this amazingly healthy and strong species.
Come Spring, the salmon source is all but dried up so they are redirected to more “normal” trout foods like sculpins, leeches, aquatic insects, and mice. Yes, mouse patterns are a favorite way of enticing Alaska trout into a vicious surface strike—no doubt an angler’s favorite method.
Trout season begins on June 8th every Summer in Bristol Bay. This helps protect the trout during their Spring spawning period. Trout have been a catch and release species in Bristol Bay for some time now, and it helps keep the species thriving.
There are three types of rainbow trout in this region: resident, migratory, and highly migratory rainbows. The resident trout are dark in color and exhibit that “leopard” bow print and keep them camouflaged in most stream environments. They tend to live in the river all year long and take advantage of the area for the majority of their life.
The migratory trout go from lake to river and back to the lakes and tributaries. Migratories have much less spots than a resident fish and are more chrome in overall color. While migratory has ability to get larger with their propensity to follow the food source more, I have seen both resident and migratory fish that top the magical 30” mark.
The last of the trout are the highly migratory trout. These trout can swim from one river system to another, going from fresh through salt water. We have caught highly migratory trout in our tidewater section with sea lice present. One notable catch hit a blue and chartreuse fly and measured at just over 30”. It looked like a typical steelhead with a light check patch and nothing at all like a resident fish.
Trophy trout in Alaska are not a dime a dozen, but ‘trophy’ is a relative term for many. Many guests share photos of trout caught in Georgia or Colorado on small private streams where the fish feed on trout pellets (dog food) in order to reach such sizes. Though fun to catch, these fish do not count on a trophy trout scale, no matter how big they get. An Alaskan trout half the size of one of the trout pellet fish would destroy it in a tug of war contest. It is not uncommon to catch trout in the 24” – 28” size range on a weeklong trip to Alaska, but in order to break the 30” barrier, one must fish a few select rivers. To most, a wild trout of 28” will classify as a trophy, but for others, it does not get to that classification unless it is 30” or more.
Fishing for trout in Alaska is not all that difficult once you find them. Alaska trout are not usually “picky” like some of the trout in the lower 48 that get pressured daily with all kinds of patterns. From opening day of the season until the salmon arrive, trout in Alaska are mostly opportunistic feeders. They can be swung up on streamers, and fished for on attractor patterns, or our favorite method, on mouse patterns. This part of the season is fun with temperatures usually pretty mild, and the fish are more spread out.
We look for deeper parts of the river, or any structure, much like you would do while fishing trout in the lower 48. Once the salmon arrive, especially the sockeyes, the trout seem to split up. Some get on the sockeye migration train, following them up to spawning grounds. The resident fish will hide out of the way of the sockeye migration route and start feeding immediately behind the bears who have set up feeding locations. Nothing will get a big trout more fired up during this time period than a flesh-colored fly tied of fresh salmon color! The resident fish will also still hit sculpin and mouse patterns. Once the salmon start to spawn, it is almost all about the egg. Although it is frowned upon in the lower 48, fishing an egg pattern on a bead is definitely the best way to catch trout in Alaska, once the spawn is underway. One can still fish the flesh-colored fly during this time period, often catching larger trout going for the bigger meal.
When considering fly rods, you need to size up a bit while fishing in Alaska. For the most part, a 16” trout will more than double up a 7wt. rod with ease. The larger trout on some of the bigger rivers are best paired with an 8 wt. rod. We do not like to fish 6wt. rods in Alaska, as we feel they are a little under equipped for the task at hand. Pound for pound, Alaska trout are nothing like a trout in the lower 48.
Flies are not as critical when fishing for trout in Alaska. We basically use a small selection of flies for the season depending on whether or not salmon are in the river system. Our favorite streamers are Graboid Leeches by Midnight Sun Custom Flies, Dolly Llamas, and general sculpin patterns in dark olive/white combos. Our favorite flesh flies are lighter and represent older flesh in tan and off-white combos. Our favorite mouse patterns are Mr. Hanky and Moorish Mouse patterns. During the salmon spawn, most of our fishing is done with egg patterns, and we prefer to use beads pegged not more than 2” above the hook, representing the size and color of the naturals. In rivers with less pressure, we size up our beads.
Now that you are up to speed on the Alaska trout and what to use to catch them, read more about fly fishing with Angler's Alibi and why the Alagnak River is a fly fishing paradise.
Fly Fishing with Angler's Alibi
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.