Author: John Perry
The Nushagak River in Southwest Alaska has one of the most prolific King Salmon runs in the state. The numbers of King Salmon that run up this river system to spawn are measured to be at over 100,000 fish almost annually, with some years capping out at a whopping 165,000 kings! This total makes the river system the strongest king salmon run in the world. The Nushagak River is one of the largest rivers that flow into Bristol Bay. From it's origins way up in the Alaska Range, it flows southwest for some 280 miles to Nushagak Bay, which then turns into Bristol Bay. Along its path, there are several tributaries and lakes that these salmon navigate to where they will spawn.
The Alaska trout are by far the real deal when it comes to size of the fish in comparison to it's fight. If you have ever seen Tie Domi fight back in his NHL days, you would understand the comparison. He was short, but strong enough to take on anyone in the league regardless of their size. A 16" Alaska rainbow trout can pull around a 20" trout from the lower 48 with ease. They are just stronger, and it comes from pure genetics and diet.
The Alaska trout have the opportunity to live off of an extremely rich protein diet for several months a year. They also have the a long cold winter where they shut down and are able to make it through with minimal food almost like the brown bears of the coast. They both rely on salmon as the major food source to get them through the winter by storing so much fat from the summer, and grow in size naturally more than trout in the lower 48 with this huge protein rich food source.
The Alagnak River is one of the major rivers in the Bristol Bay Watershed. It is actually a tributary to the massive Kvichak (Kwee-jack) river that flows from Lake Illiamna. The Alagnak River is way down the system and flows into Kvichak Bay right before it turns into Bristol Bay. What separates this river from the rest is it's equally massive runs of all salmon species. Most of the other rivers have huge runs of just Sockeye, or Chum, but the Alagnak River actually has a solid run of all 5 species of salmon. The other thing is that it is wadeable from the near the mouth all the way up to it's source, the Nonvianuk and Kukaklek lakes.
All 5 species run the river starting in late June with sockeye and kings, followed by chum, silver, and pink salmon. This happens from late June through early September. Rainbow Trout live throughout the entire system as well with the largest concentration located in the famous Alagnak River Braids. There are also Dolly Varden and Grayling in the system, and most numerous in the braided sections as well where the salmon spawn and provide nutrients for a rich aquatic life. It is the salmon though that are the basis for all this incredible life that the Alagnak has.
The Bristol Bay Area encompasses such a large area that it is actually hard to comprehend. It is approximately 40,000 square miles. This is about the size of the entire state of Ohio! This region also has hundreds of streams, lakes, and rivers that all empty into Bristol Bay. It runs from the Togiak River system to the West all the way around to the Ugashik River System to the South. This area has the largest wild salmon population in the world! The sockeye salmon are the most numerous of the salmon species and number in the millions. Some years they have returns in the 50 plus million range!
Anglers from all over the world descend onto this amazing area to target all 5 species of Pacific salmon as well as rainbows, grayling, char, and dolly varden. The salmon run during specific times depending on their species. Starting in mid June with kings and sockeyes and finishing up in September with the silver salmon. The mighty chum ( also known as calico or chum salmon ) and pink salmon run mid summer with the pink salmon only running on the even years.
There are so many lodges and do it yourself areas in Alaska that boast about catching "Trophy Alaska Rainbows".
So...What constitutes a "Trophy Alaska Rainbow"
Truth is, just like the lower 48, they are not a dime a dozen. The next question is, what is a true trophy for Alaska standards? Most guides, lodge owners, and die hard locals would agree that a 30" or larger rainbow trout is the trophy size for Alaska and for that matter, the globe. Sure, there are a lot of places that hold these fish in the lower 48, but most are on private tracts of land or have just been released from a hatchery because they will no longer produce eggs. These large "brood stock" rainbows and browns can be caught in tail-waters where there is enough food to sustain such a large fish. A true 30" fish in the lower 48 that is wild and not associated with a tailwater will live in a river or lake that has a ton of biomass to produce such a beast of a trout. There are not many places where this happens naturally. In Alaska, there are few river systems that can hold and routinely yield fish of this size. Yes, even in Alaska, the amount of true 30" plus trout water is not a common place.
The Silver Salmon run of 2016 was pretty interesting due to the high water. The silver salmon pretty much stack up in the same spots or areas every season on the Alagnak River, almost like clockwork. They will use the same holding water and travel corridors year in and year out, but we always manage to find some new ones with the river in a constant change from erosion or movement of sandbars and drop offs.
Summer storms and fishing are very critical to our fishing program in Alaska. Just like Steelhead, the new rain seems to boost the Salmons' desire to come into the river on the tide. There are some theories out there that say it could be the added scent that enters the rivers helping the salmon hone in on their breeding grounds, or maybe just that with rising water levels, salmon and steelhead know that they will have a much easier job navigating a river that is more deep than shallow, and therefore take advantage of the new storm waters to make a push for the river.
We asked John Perry of Anglers Alibi for an overview of the 2015 Silver Salmon fishing season on the Alagnak River. Below, he offers a quick overview of why the season started a little later than usual and what flies were working. Contact us if you would like to submit a review of your fishing experience, or your lodges season.
The Chum salmon might just as well go down in history as, by far, the most underrated salmon species on the planet. The Chum salmon, or Calico salmon, has had a tough battle with both name recognition and table-fare respect from Alaskans since before the first non-native settlers came into the picture up north. The native Alaskans even considered the salmon species as only worthy for feeding their sled dogs. Just the word "chum" alone draws up pictures of crushed fish parts to many that, having fished the saltwater, used solely to draw the attention of prime eating fish to catch. So yes, an uphill battle for sure with both the name and history of this salmon
The Bristol Bay watershed is the last stronghold of wild Pacific salmon in the world. It has by far the largest runs of salmon that return every year to it's streams than any other region on the planet. The many rivers that flow into Bristol Bay, most notably the Nushagak, Kvichak, Alagnak, and Naknek rivers, are supported by this huge biomass of life giving nutrients every summer. These huge runs of salmon are the basis of the food chain that supports every living thing in the region. These salmon travel far into the mountainous regions to spawn, even further impacting the total area that the salmon nourish. The life cycle of spawn and die of the Pacific salmon is such a critical aspect to how the rivers in such a raw area flourish with life both above and below the water, supporting all kinds of living things.