Why you need to fish for slivers on your next Alaska fishing trip!
Calendar wise - silver salmon are the last species of salmon to migrate into their spawning rivers in Alaska and begin to arrive in late summer and keep right on pushing into the rivers well into early fall. They are no doubt the most sought-after species by anglers seeking a superior fight by an aggressive acrobatic fish that will crush both top-water flies, lures and other sub-surface patterns with reckless abandonment! There is no doubt that silver salmon will strike a rapidly retrieved fly or lure faster than any other species in the Alaskan fisheries!
Silver salmon return to their rivers to spawn after 3 years in the ocean and average 6 –15 pounds in our river system (and eat great!). There are some rivers in Alaska where silver salmon return to their rivers up to the 20-pound range, and while these silver salmon are pretty rare in Alaska - some anglers stay on the hunt for these “silver of a lifetime” every year!
The best time to fish for Silver Salmon in Alaska
The best times to catch Silver salmon starts in early August in most river systems in Alaska - and our Alagnak River is no different. We start to see silvers as early as the last week of July - and by the end of the first week of August, we are typically limiting out daily (with most of these being released back to the river to spawn). While they can be fished for in the open ocean in Alaska as they head back to their native spawning river using lures and flies in estuaries and near the coastline - this experience pales in comparison to targeting fresh silvers on the incoming tide moving in shallow water as they make their way into the rivers!
Targeting Silvers on the Fly
Fly-fishing for silvers is no doubt our favorite way to catch silver salmon. While they definitely are easier to catch on traditional spin fishing gear – it is an unreal experience to see a silver salmon strike a fly and immediately run and jump as they cartwheel down the river! This is no doubt the reason why they are the most sought-after salmon species on a fly. You simply cannot “out strip” a fly past a silver salmon - even while using both hands and tucking the rod under your arm. Clients repeatedly tell us about this phenomenon and how the silver “came out of nowhere” to ambush their fly.
We usually target silvers on 9’ or 9’6” eight or nine weight fly rods. Saltwater rods tend to hold up better to the fight than most and seem to be built stronger to battle these explosive fish. On spey rods, we use 7 or 8 weight rods in lengths of 12 – 13 feet. Both spey and single hand rods are best lined with either a floating line or an intermediate sinking tip line. Remember, these silvers DO hit top-water fly patterns so a floating line is a must for a “waking and chugging” poppers.
We tend to find silvers on the edges of sandbars on the Alagnak river and in water that is deep and slow off these edges in “lagoon” type waters. The Alaskan term for the lagoon water is “frog water”, and I cannot think of a better word to describe this type of holding water that they tend to hold in. While fishing this type of water, it is best done drift boat style. This allows the anglers to cover a lot of water and also creates a more downstream retrieve from the bank that seems to elicit more strikes. Wade fishing is certainly the most fun way to fish silvers and fortunately, the Alagnak River has miles of wade friendly waters. The lower river has long sandbars that can fish extremely well on the right tide. The key is to get to the outer edges in the sun and fish the upstream cast with a down river utilizing the strip retrieve or the “swing”.
Fly Fishing for Silver Salmon with Angler's Alibi
A memorable day few years back was fishing the incoming tide below our camp when a huge “push” of fresh silvers was heading upstream. Clients were just hammering these fish literally on every cast. When the tide finally eased up we were at the point in the river where the current stopped and the river became almost like a lake and you could SEE a huge school of circling silvers near the surface! I encouraged our clients to use only top-water pink poppers to try and create memories for a lifetime. It worked! We boated and released over 50 silvers that day and a most were on the top water popper! A day I will never forget!
If you are looking for incredible silver fishing (remember that big rainbow trout are on the prowl then too!), the Alagnak River is hard to beat! We experience a solid silver run every year! That, coupled with the chum and pink salmon (pink salmon on even years only) create a smorgasbord of opportunities! This mix of salmon and huge trophy rainbow trout make the Alagnak River one of the best options for an Alaskan fishing trip of a lifetime!
About the Author
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 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.