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Normally Melissa and I go to BC to chase steelhead every fall but with the chance that the border would not open this year (yes I saw Trudeau’s recent announcement) so back in January we decided to plan a trip to Alaska. We typically are more the DIY type who just do our own thing at our own pace but we decided to try a lodge this time around.


The first week of our trip we flew into Anchorage, rented a car and hit the road system. We mostly planned to do some hiking and did a bit of small stream fishing up around Denali. We saw tons of wildlife (bears, lots of moose, caribou, fox, etc) and even got a partial view of Denali while in the park. As we worked our way south to Willow we got a full view of Denali. The ~24 hours of daylight was pretty cool, we were out hiking at 9p and it looked like mid-day.


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We then flew over to King Salmon for a week at Naknek River Camp (NRC). After we (and everyone else) waited 45 minutes for our bags to come off the plane [guess the AlaskaAir 20-min bag rule doesn’t apply here. lol ] we met our lodge host and jumped in the truck for a ride to the camp. When we pulled in they said ‘Welcome to Katmai Trophy Lodge!’ both us and the other 2 guys in the truck said ‘Wait, we’re supposed to be at NRC.’ To our surprise Jim decided to upgrade us and moved us down to KTL instead of staying at the river camp. Saaaweeet! I never get upgrades.

We unpack and I string up our rods and was hoping to go out and do a bit of catch-n-release in front of the lodge. However, KTL sits back in a cove without any current so not really good fishing all the sockeye stay out on the other side of the island. Oh well, we have a week of fishing so not like I’m not going to get my fill.

First morning we run up the river and check a few spots. Not seeing much of a sockeye run we decide to chase Kings till the tide changes. Glad we did because DANG do those fish put up a fight. Between the two of us we landed 4 adults and 12+ jacks in like 4 hours of fishing. I lost count, we were just hammering them in every run we drifted. I love catching fish on a swung fly but that strip set for kings is pretty exciting. Nothing like pulling tight and feeling the rod load up with a big fish. Even the jacks put up a good fight most were in the 18-20” range but a few were in the 20-25” range. The creek we were fishing is all C&R but we would have released them anyway. I came to keep sockeye and let the kings swim on up to spawn.


Melissa’s biggest king of the week was this blushed up fish about 33”.

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My biggest was this brite fish that taped at 36.5”.

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Sage was our guide this week and I have to tell you, she's one fishy lady and works hard. She got us on kings consistently every day and not just one or two, we hit double digit kings almost every day but when we were at camp and talking to other guys they'd say we got three or four. So I'd hold back and say 'yeah we got some too.' I didn't need them crowding in on our water. lol. But we were often the first boat out and always last back. She said some guys won't fish with her, but I have to say that is their loss. She's a fun person and knows how to find fish.

In the afternoon we decided to chase some sockeye. The run wasn’t in full swing but there were fish and after a few missed hook sets, I was still in “King strip set mode” lol we started hooking fish. It's hard to switch gears when you've been putting the beatdown on chinook all morning.

* If you are a fly fishing purist stop reading cause you aren’t going to be happy about sockeye flipping. *

For those who haven’t done it, think pencil lead on a sliding swivel down to a barrel swivel and a 3-4’ leader with your fly. You are basically ticking along the bottom and anytime you feel something you set the hook towards shore. Then you flip it back upstream and repeat. Not really flyfishing but once you hook up the fight is a lot of fun. I never had more than 12’ of flyline out of the rod. Usually less as they run so close to shore. I tied all my sockeye flies on size 2 hooks. I noticed several guides at the camp were all using #6 hooks. I figure why go so small when I know I can set the hook deep in the corner of their mouth and not likely have them pop free. The first couple sockeye put up an ok fight but nothing to write home about. Then I had a one who thought he was a steelie. This fish took off to the center of the river then decided to head downstream. The first run it made was so hard and fast that when it paused long enough for me to grab the reel and start to fight it back I realized I was into the backing. My guide hollered to start going downstream after it. Took me 300yds downstream and several minutes before I managed to land this big one. We actually landed several more in the 8-10# range but most of our fish were in the 5-7# range.

The sockeye who thought he was a steelhead...
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After we got our limits (5/person) our guide started filleting them so we switched to C&R on the sockeye. When we'd hook up Sage would drop in below and scoop them up with the net before we really got to fight them. Which was fine while filling the grocery cart but now I wanted to see what kind of ‘stand & fight’ I could put on these fish. Turns out you can put quite a lot of pressure on these fish and it won’t come out of their mouths. I of course lost several fish to this method as did Melissa but with thousands of fish swimming past it isn’t like we wouldn’t get another shot at one. We had several doubles where I had to drop my fish so I could net Melissa's or she'd drop hers. Sometimes you’d loose them when they rocketed out of the water on the hookset. Other times we’d play the fish a bit and when it would get near the net it would come off. We didn’t really care we were having a good time and getting into fish one after the next. At one point our guide looked up and she yells “Hey, why didn’t you guys tell me you had a fish on.” I net it, and say, 'I got it covered, besides that’s the third fish we’ve released while you’ve been cleaning the fish.'


Wednesday we decide to take the boat over to Brooks to check out the bears at the falls. We hop in the Tundra and they drive us up to NRC where they have 2 boats to haul you over to see the bears and fish. After we get there and the ranger gives us ‘bear orientation’ we string up our rods. Our guide says to us ‘It is up to you all but the walk from here to the platform is about 20 minutes plus any time you have to wait to get onto the upper platform to see the bears. Also it is 10:00 but we can’t take food out there so we’ll have to come back for lunch. Or if you guys want to eat a quick snack now, we can have lunch on the boat ride back and go spend time fishing.’ We opted to snacks & fishing. We get up to the platform and the ranger says it is 1.5 hour wait for the upper deck. We say, never mind lets go up river and fish and we’ll check out the bears later. Our guide is pretty excited, I get the feeling most people want to spend the day with the bears so he was pretty excited we wanted to hike up river and fish. Also that we could actually hike, wade and cast. I’m sure he gets some folks who struggle with one or all three. We went 1/2 mile upstream and started fishing. Right off the bat Melissa catches a nice 12” rainbow. Then she missed one, then lost one. I finally got on the board with a 12” bow. We continue working downstream fishing streamers. I have a grab that at first feels like another 12” fish, but then he turned and decided to run downstream. My 5wt bends over big time, good thing I’m fishing 10# maxima. I couldn’t turn the fish and finally had to start walking downstream to keep it from going into the log jams. After taking my fish for a 200 yard walk I’m able to get him out of the deep water and our guide nets him. Wow! That’s a big rainbow.

Click here to see the rainbow so I don't violate iFish 'fish out of water policy'.

At the next run Melissa hooks up with a big fish right under the edge of a logjam. The guide and I are standing up stream and both say ‘oh man, she’s not going to get him out of there.’ But she managed to coax the fish out and worked it down stream away from the logs but just as she was getting it into the shallow water it came off. From the couple of rolls it made, it looked like a fish at least as big as the one I caught. After a few more fish we finally reach the ‘no fishing’ sign as the falls are just below us. We climb out and go put our names on the list to see the bears.



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The bears are really cool. There were about a dozen bears around the falls that day. But the real entertainment was watching the guys below the falls try to fish. Every time they’d get out there a bear would come through and push them out. At one point they had 3 bears one from each side and one from below converging on them. I don’t think they got more than one or two casts in before the bears would push them out. Also I had no idea bears were so fast in the water. There were two younger bears that started fighting over a spot. The one left and went up the bank but then came sprinting back down the bank and through the river to chase the other bear out. Holy cow are they fast! The water was 2-3’ deep too.

Finally our guide said we had to go as it was getting late and it is a 20 minute hike back to the boat. As we hike out we see two young bears, probably 2 year olds, sprinting down the trail a head of us and out of sight. Figured we startled them and they took off, but no that was not the case. A couple minutes later those two young bears turned and came sprinting back up the trail at full speed. We didn’t see them until they rounded the corner and were only 30yds from us and closing. We yelled ‘hey Bear! Ho Bear’ but they just kept on running at a full sprint. Melissa and Austin stepped to one side, I stepped to the other and the bears...well the bears just sprinted right through the middle and kept on going up the trail. Teenagers out for a fun game of ‘make the tourists sh--it themselves’. Seriously, I know they say don’t run but when you have 2 bears running full speed straight at you with no warning, that is a lot harder to do than you think. It happed so quickly none of us even had time to get a picture or video. We kind of stood there for a moment like 'did that just happen?' then hiked it back out to the boat. Only to have a ranger make us double back around as two big adults were sleeping on the beach on top of a float plane's tiedown rope. The pilot's clients did not look happy to just be sitting there waiting for the bears to wake up and move but the bears control the rules unless they are threatening people the rangers let them do their thing.



Thursday and Friday were repeats of earlier in the week...Put a beatdown on the Kings in the creek in the morning and Sockeye fun after lunch.

We had hoped to also do a fly out to a remote small stream by a bush/float plane but the weather didn’t work out with a really windy rain front that pushed in on Friday so we’ll have to do that next time. I’m glad we splurged and did a guided lodge trip this time, it was definitely worth the money. I do like running my own boat and working to find fish at my own pace/schedule but sometimes it’s just really nice to have someone else worry about rowing, anchoring and netting the fish. At the end of the week we ended up with a 50# box of sockeye and releasing more kings and sockeye than I can recall. Definitely a good time.



For more trip pictures check out Alaska2021
 

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Great report Shane. Thank you for sharing. I spent a summer guiding out of Illiamna and I have to say the fishing was ridiculous. I'm so glad you guys had a great time. I really like reading your reports. Thanks again, CopperMan.
 
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Great trip & write-up!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
[mention]CopperMan [/mention] which lodge did you guide at? I was looking at some places over that way.
 

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Shane,

Great report and pictures. That bear encounter on the trail must have got the adrenaline flowing
 

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Thanks for the pics
 

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Shane, thanks again for the report. A couple of questions if you don't mind. What did you guys use for trout fishing, and how bad were the bugs?
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
[mention]Chinook Angler [/mention] We fished big weighted streamers over in Brooks in black, olive and purple. Guide said in a few weeks flesh flies would be good too as the sockeye started to die. Over on the road system we used small leeches, nymphs and some dry flies. Thanks again for the use of the book. It helped me find some good access spots and know which side roads to drive up.
 
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Judging by the photo, you had a wonderful time. I would not mind going to Alaska. True, in winter I would not want to go there - I am too unaccustomed to severe cold weather.
 
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