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.
King Salmon are usually the first salmon that enter the river systems in early summer. They are the largest salmon and are probably the most popular salmon in all of Alaska due to their size, fight, and table quality. Kings can grow up to nearly 100 pounds in some rivers but average somewhere in the mid 20’s on most rivers. Hooking into a king salmon could be best described as having your cast hook into a bumper of a semi truck at first without a chance of stopping it on the first run! The Kings come back to spawn at 2 – 5 years, so there is a big difference in size among the returning fish, but usually the little ones are done after the first week of the run and all that is left are the bigger 3 to 5 year fish. Don’t get me wrong, you can still land a huge king at the start of the run too.
King salmon are targeted using a variety of tactics. With conventional gear, kings love spinner blades and big bright lures imitating herring, which make up a large portion of their diet. Kings are also egg eaters, meaning they have a pre-programmed desire to eat other salmon eggs. With this natural born instinct to eat other kings eggs, drifting eggs where it is legal, and egg imitations where it is not, is also a very popular method when targeting kings.
Fly patterns for kings goes right in hand with what is so successful on conventional tackle. Fly imitations in herring colors, mainly blue and chartreuse and egg fly patterns are very successful year in and year out. My favorite fly is an intruder style fly with Green, blue, and some purple in there for added contrast and color. Swinging this fly on the tides for fresh chrome bright kings is one of my favorite things to do in Alaska!
Sockeye salmon are the next salmon to enter the rivers. They unfortunately do not strike flies or lures but are great sport once hooked in the mouth. Sockeye salmon are plankton eaters and do not possess a desire to strike flies and lures like the rest of the salmon. When traveling up river from the salt, sockeye salmon like to run the shoreline and are “lined” in the mouth on their journey. They fight like steelhead and are almost always jumping immediately after being hooked. The best tool for this is a fly rod with some weight on the leader and or a weighted fly. Once the right “weight” system is figured out, and the right depth is achieved; several sockeye can be hooked in the mouth! Sockeye salmon are by far the best salmon to harvest for not only their table fare but also their sheer numbers as they run in the millions annually. The past two seasons have had the limit of 5 per day double to 10 per day on the Alagnak River with such a healthy return!
The next salmon to enter the rivers are the Calico or “Chum” salmon. Unfortunately chum salmon get a bad wrap from the local Alaskans since their oil content is low and they do not smoke well for means of preserving fish. Chum salmon on the other hand do “cold smoke” well and are delicious when grilled fresh or beer battered for appetizers! Yes, chum salmon are incredible fighters and if they got as big as a king salmon would probably break even more rods and lines than they already do. Chum salmon hit pink flies on the swing, strip, and even on top! Yep, chum salmon are one of the three species that can be targeted on surface patterns. These salmon are one of the best for sport anglers if they can be targeted in or near the tidewater of Bristol Bay.
Pink salmon enter the rivers in droves every year in most Alaska Rivers but only en mass on the even years for the rivers of Bristol Bay. These fish are very aggressive on the fly and also very acrobatic. They hit sub surface patterns as well as top water flies so are a thrill to catch! They are the smallest of the salmon but do not be fooled by their size. These mighty fish will bend an 8 wt. in half before coming to hand.
Lastly, we have the silver salmon or Coho salmon. These salmon are the last to enter the rivers of Alaska and are probably the most sought after salmon species by the fly fisher. These fish love a very rapid strip retrieve and almost always get airborne once hooked! They expend most of their fight in the first few seconds, and if you are lucky enough to still have them hooked, you can still expect some incredible runs where you might even see your backing on a 9 wt. fly rod! My favorite fly for silver salmon is anything pink with a weighted head so it gets down quick. Flash is another great addition to the fly but not necessary all the time. And one more addition to the silver fly box, they love top water so pink poppers are a must to have in your arsenal!
Salmon fishing with Angler's Alibi
Fishing on the Alagnak River with Angler’s Alibi is one of the best locations to experience all 5 species of Pacific salmon on one river. There is a window of time where the Alagnak grand slam week can be achieved and that is usually the end of July where all 5 species overlap. Yes, we have had several guests over the years achieve the Pacific salmon grand slam!
Angler’s Alibi has added a new camp in the tidewater section of the Nushagak River which boats some of the best king salmon fishing in Alsaka. This will be our second year on the Nushagak in 2020. We really wanted to take advantage of the best king salmon run in the world. Yes, at least 100,000 kings on average run this river in about a 3-week period. Angler’s Alibi had the opportunity to take over a land lease that was in a perfect location, above the busy part of the river so the spectacular fishing is coupled with a peaceful nights rest and wildlife viewing. Angler’s Alibi on the Nushagak is a perfect combination for the angler seeking specifically king salmon on both fly and gear.
The main lodge is located on the lower Alagnak River. This location is a perfect place to wade fish for salmon. There is no better way of targeting salmon than while wading. Having the freedom to comfortably wade firm sandy bottoms without a worry of slipping is an anglers dream. Dime bright salmon come in on the tides daily numbering in the millions over the course of a few months! We at Angler’s Alibi have been fortunate to be exceeding guest expectations for over 25 years now, and look forward to making many more anglers dreams come true!
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.