As a fly angler, there has always been one location at the top of my bucket list, the ultimate fly fishing destination – Alaska – and the incredible Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge (ATA lodge) situated on the banks of the pristine Alagnak river within the Katmai national park. When my fishing addiction started as a young lad the thought of traveling to foreign shores in search of all manners of incredible species used to send me into a constant daydream, 20 years later it still does. The problem is social media literally puts a new destination or fish in front of your face every single day and personally, I now have a bucket list the size of a medieval scroll. I suppose it’s not really a bad problem to have but the options seem endless.
There aren’t many places left in the world that are as wild and untouched that offer such a variety of species in great numbers as the Alagnak river, Alaska. The runs of salmon are truly mind-blowing and consist of 5 separate Pacific species that all run in a relatively short period of time in their millions. The rivers are full of wild rainbow trout, grayling and Arctic char that give anglers another species to target and the chance of a great mixed bag. Due to our trip being early September it meant we would be there for prime silver (coho) time with the possibility of pinks and chums giving us the chance of an Alaskan Pacific salmon “grand-slam”. The residential fish gorge on salmon eggs due to the mass spawning process in the river system giving us another non-salmon “grand-slam” option.
Having a fascination with salmon meant that they should have been at the top of my hit list, but for a change, it was one that resembled Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat – A male Arctic char in his full spawning colours. The males this season on the Alganak had been quite elusive, so when I managed to catch one on my first day (1 of only 2 male’s the whole week) I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Fishing tactics consisted of what I can only compare to Czech nymphing but with a bead (replica of a salmon egg) about an inch up from the hook instead of a fly, this means that when the fish takes the egg it’s never taken deeply and hooked on the outside of the mouth. Due to the millions of spawning fish in the river their appetite switches to protein-rich eggs, early season fish can be targeted and caught using small streamers, leeches, terrestrials, and even mouse fly patterns.
Rainbow Trout And Arctic grayling
I’ve caught thousands of rainbows in this country predominantly all in stocked lakes and reservoirs and a few escapees in my local rivers. These have always fought well but nothing prepares you for the fight of Alagnak river fish. Due to the nature of the river and environment, they live in they are absolutely solid and fully finned. They fight harder pound-for-pound than the majority of other freshwater fish I’ve ever caught before. We even managed numerous double hook-ups of fish up to 25 inches on the boats – hectic but great fun! The prime method would be bead fishing on seam lines and behind shoals of spawning fish, but to change it up I also had some phenomenal success with flesh flies and light leech patterns swung across the current. These replicated pieces of decaying salmon drifting downstream, another great source of protein for these incredible fish. Early season fish can always be caught on naturals and dry flies but for those that enjoy something more dramatic you can try fishing mouse patterns across the surface which trigger explosive takes often sending the fish totally air-born. We also targeted grayling with the egg method in the same areas as the salmon, trout, and char. Although they didn’t fight as hard or erratic as the rainbows they were truly stunning fish and the biggest species of grayling I’ve managed to catch to date. The biggest actually falling to a flesh fly during an incredible double hook-up between Marina Gibson and myself (mine was obviously bigger!).
The numbers of salmon that run the Alagnak river system fall into the millions between the months of June to September and depending on the month you go dictates what your main target species are. There are chances mid-season to actually bag all 5 Pacific’s, which is mind-blowing and one hell of an achievement for any angler. Our prime target, however, was the silver salmon. My expectations were to be fishing similar water as we do here for Atlantic’s but it turned out to be the total opposite. We actually targeted slack backwaters and channels with minimal water movement – these locations were stacked with a mixture of both chrome and scarlet-red fish. The majority of anglers tend to fish with 7 or 8 weights but I couldn’t resist taking my small switch rod teamed with a short head Scandi line. At the business end the guides favourite flies were a mix of streamers and intruders mainly in pink, orange and purple. The flies were stripped through the pool with a good pause in between (often when the fish would take), as always the fish get used to seeing the same flies in the pool so a constant change of colour and profile is always advised. One day when the bite was a little bit slow I decided to downsize and try something totally different, there was obviously only going to be one fly of choice – the Stokoe shrimp! Within minutes it was working its magic on the Alagnak river on a day when others struggled!