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.
Our season started out actually very strong on the Nushagak with a few days in the 30 fish count range per boat. Some kings actually hit over the 30 pound mark, and a few were knocking on the 40 pound mark, quality kings for sure! These kings are well above average for the Nushagak, with most kings in the 20 pound range. The sun came out though and as it continued to warm the waters, the numbers of kings caught went down in corresponding fashion. Sure, we were catching kings on drift rigs, trolling rigs, and even on the swing! By far, the trolling and drift fishing with eggs was just the ticket for such extreme conditions. Guests that wanted to take home a full cooler of king salmon for their stay were not disappointed. We never had a guest leave with a light cooler, all with full legal limits of kings!
Fly-fishing the Nushagak is not a common site on the banks of the river by any means. The fact is, there are some very good seams, bars, and banks in which one can intercept kings on their way up river fresh on the tides. One of the best locations was right in front of our camp location, which proved to be very accommodating for our fly anglers early on in the season. We could set our watch to the tide table and expect some action 2 hours after high tide at the mouth right on our own run. On our first evening out on our camp run, I was able to hook into 3 kings in an hour on the fly! This is an incredible rate for fresh king especially since the run was just starting and not at a peak rate yet.
All in all, despite the toughest conditions Alaska has ever witnessed, we all agreed that the Nushagak River would live up to it’s reputation as one of the best if not best river on the planet for king salmon with “average” conditions. We can only hope that we will have a more “normal” season in 2020 in regards to the weather. Cutting our teeth with such extreme conditions in 2019 made our team of guides hungry for more in 2020.
Angler’s Alibi set out to establish ourselves as the only camp on the Nushagak River with a 2 to 1 guests to guide ratio. Going into the 2020 season, we are thrilled to announce that we will still be the only camp with such a ratio!
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.