Who would have thought back in March, April, and even May that Anglers Alibi would even open for business this year?! Thanks to some fortuitous last-minute decisions by the State of Alaska and some very patient clients – we had an epic 2020 season! We ran at 90% occupancy, and those who made the trip were rewarded with a fantastic fishery this year. Our staff and guides could have very easily bailed on this season as things were looking very dubious in mid-May, but instead took a leap of faith with me and to them I owe a huge debt of gratitude. (More on that later.) Let’s talk fishing…
Early July saw our first guests and a huge run of sockeye salmon. Clients who tired of sockeye fishing or king fishing often audibled and fished rainbow trout on mouse fly patterns. If you have not experienced seeing a big rainbow whack a mouse pattern on the surface – that alone should inspire you to return. Guests who came later in the summer had great silver salmon fishing and the best big, TROPHY rainbow trout that we have ever seen at Angler's Alibi! This season will go down in the books as one to remember for sure!
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.
One of the fabled and enigmatic rivers in Bristol Bay. Few have ever mastered it completely. It takes dedication and love for the river itself. Some guides that work there never leave it. Other guides that do leave, always find a way to come back. The Branch River (known on maps as the Alagnak River) could be clinically diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. To fish it successfully, you must understand its nature and what makes it so fickle.
The origin of the Branch (Alagnak) River is debatable depending on which map you look at. Some maps show the origin as the outlet of Kukaklek Lake. Other maps designate the origin as the confluence of the Kukaklek River and Nonvianuk River. Either way, both rivers are outlets of two very large and deep, natural fresh water lakes with many tributaries feeding them. The vast capacities of booth these lakes give the Branch its almost always clean, clear waters desired by all five species of Pacific Salmon, leopard rainbow trout, arctic char and arctic grayling.
Given its agreed upon origin being the outlets of two elephantine sized lakes, these lakes freeze in winter. When the ice begins breaking apart in spring, its descent down river causes catastrophic results. Trees are wiped from the river banks, river banks are sloughed off into the river, temporary ice dams are formed. All this chaos creates new passage ways for the flowing water. New branches of flowing water every year; thus giving the Branch River its local namesake. To operate jet boats in the most heavily braided section of the river is not for the weak or simple minded. It takes constant focus and an ability to read water that doesn’t apply to any other river in the region. In other words, if you don’t know what good water looks like on the Branch, it looks like there is no where to safely go. Rookies crash boats every year. Fact.
The king salmon fishing on the Alagnak River is at times just about as good as any river in Alaska. The Alagnak River does not have an accurate way of counting king salmon so just how many kings come up and spawn in the river annually is a guess. I can tell you that we have weeks and days in most years where every customer is catching double digit numbers of kings daily, and for a 4 week period in July our king salmon fishing is amazingly consistent.
The Alagnak is one of the five major rivers of Bristol Bay Watershed. It has one of the most diverse runs for all 5 species of Pacific salmon. King fishing is still very strong there and despite all the negativity of king runs and the declines in Southeast Alaska and the famous Kenai River, we seem to be staying very steady with our runs on the Alagnak and we are doing all we can to keep it this way as sport anglers. We at Angler’s Alibi have not allowed a guest to keep a hen king salmon ever, and now do not let any guest keep any kings other than small jack kings. (Jack kings are 1-year return kings that are 20” in length or less) We now release all males as well in hopes of preserving the runs we are so fortunate to have. We do however harvest sockeye salmon during the king run in order to keep fish coolers full for a return flight home.
Alaska is the last place on the planet where one can catch all 5 species of Pacific salmon in abundance. The fishing is still stellar compared to other areas of the Pacific that once had amazing runs of salmon. Fortunately, Alaska is well managed and has been able to keep away from Dams that are and were one of the major reasons for the declines of salmon in the lower 48. Sure, there are other environmental issues that are in battle right now as I type that could possibly upset the last great runs of salmon but that is a whole other topic.
Alaska salmon coming from the Bering Sea side of the Peninsula are still pristine. The fact is that there are no hatcheries here to enhance the runs, just a pure biomass of salmon rearing rivers, estuaries, and of course the Bering Sea. King, Sockeye, Calico, Pink, and Coho salmon roam the rivers and are still in abundance supporting not only a thriving commercial fishery in July for sockeye salmon, but also an incredible sport fishing industry for all 5 species of salmon. The salmon supports all bonus species of Trout, Arctic Grayling, Arctic Char, and Dolly Varden as well.
The fishing show season is officially underway for the 2020 season. These shows are a great way to not only meet new customers but to also spend time with past and present customers from years past. This is also a great way for anglers to participate in several different courses on casting, fly selection, and trip planning for that dream fishing tip of a lifetime.
The Denver fly show has come and gone already with a flash. The Denver show was a huge success and is now the largest one of its kind in the Fly Fishing Show circuit! We were able to stay engaged with current or past guests the whole show while answering a lot of questions for possible new guests. My voice is finally recovering from all the talking I did over the course of the 3-day show.
Spey fishing has really taken off in the fly fishing world as of late. It has to be the latest revenue maker for the industry as far as gear goes, but why? Trout spey, single spey, double spey…it’s all spey fishing but why is it gaining more popularity every year?
Spey fishing originated in the British Isles, Scotland to be exact; back in the mid 1800’s on the river Spey. The main concept of spey fishing that makes it so different than conventional single hand fly-casting is that it requires no back cast. This lack of a back cast makes it much more efficient to fish rivers near the bank without hanging up in the foliage on a routine basis that all honest fly anglers can relate to. The other main difference with spey fishing is that if the swing is the chosen presentation for the fly, then a spey rod is the tool. It makes even more sense when a sink tip is involved in the formula. It does not take long for a single hand angler casting a 400 to 500 grain sink tip to ask for a break to give his arm a rest, but put this same scenario into a spey rod angler and casting that sink tip all day long is a non-issue.
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.
To put it mildly, Mother Nature could not have been any tougher on us for our inaugural season on the Nushagak River. Alaska experienced the hottest summer in recorded history. With low water conditions to start the season, this was a recipe for one hell of a tough start. Warm water and salmon do not mix. Pacific salmon are coming out of the ocean on every tide to start their migration up river to spawn. When the salmon go from low 40-degree ocean temps to warm 60 to even 70-degree water, they kind of go into a survival mode and a lot of the king salmon will not bite anything. Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to find willing king salmon on a daily basis despite the less than desirable conditions throughout the entire season.
The Alaska trout opener has become an amazing way to kick-start the Alaskan fishing season on the Alagnak. Just imagine hungry, eager, trout that have not seen an angler of fly in over 8 months! These trout are more than willing to strike both top water and sub surface patterns on June 8th - and four fortunate guests of Anglers Alibi were ready and willing to present a fly as the clock struck midnight. We had set up a small camp for just the night and enjoyed a nice dinner at an extremely remote area of the Bristol Bay Watershed. With a nice campfire and some spirits, the guests were more than amped up for a trout opener that they would never forget.
Trout, lake trout and Arctic Grayling were slurping dry flies as we all waited on baited breath, constantly checking our watches to see just how many minutes were left on the day until it was legal time to make that first cast. Bets were placed on who would have the first trout on the fly and, sure enough, the first trout was stripping line off a reel that all could hear in seconds from the opening yell of “go time”. Yes, one of the guests had hooked up on a trout on their first midnight cast!
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.