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.

Leopard Rainbow Trout caught with Angler's Alibi
Beautiful Alaska Leopard Rainbow Trout caught on the Alagnak River with Angler's Alibi Lodge

Fly Fishing the Alagnak River

Posted by John Perry on September 09, 2017 to Fly Fishing

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.

Fly Fishing the Alagnak River
Fly Fishing the Alagnak River

Widely known as the birthplace of the "Russian River Fly" or "Coho Fly," The Russian River in Cooper Landing, boasts some of the most unique fly fishing opportunities on the Kenai Peninsula.

Most visitors to the Russian River are primarily targeting the two runs of Sockeye Salmon that make their annual migration run to the Russian Lakes in early and late summer. Beginning around the 11th of June when the Kenai and Russian Rivers open, tens of thousands of "Reds" as they are commonly known, stuff this small tributary to the Kenai River.

Putting the boat in on the Russian River
Putting the boat in on the Russian River

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.

Rebekka Redd fighting a Silver Salmon caught in the Bristol Bay Watershed with Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska
Rebekka Redd fighting a Silver Salmon caught in the Bristol Bay Watershed with Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alagnak River, Alaska

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.

They come kicking and screaming to this "fly fishing thing." (well, sort of)...

  • "I've never tried fly fishing."
  • "I'm no good at it"
  • "I'm a beginner, will I spend all day struggling?"
Fishing the World Famous Kenai River
Fishing the World Famous Kenai River

Fishing Guide - Part Guide, Part Therapist & Part Educator

Generally, this is what we try to work people through as guides on the Kenai River. We're part fishing guide, part therapist, part knot-detangler but mostly, we are educators.

One of the many Silver Salmon we caught in 2016
One of the many Silver Salmon we caught in 2016

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.

Moraine Creek Float Trip
Moraine Creek Float Trip - © Urs Wehrli

We talked with Urs Wehrli of www.floaters.ch to get his advice and thoughts on float trip fishing. Urs has been organizing his own Alaska float trips for the past 8 years. Despite living in Switzerland he has managed to do 9 Alaska Float Fishing Trips over the past 8 years and he shares his experiences and advice on his website. He also makes some fantastic videos of his Alaska Float Trips and even had his 2011 Karluk River Float Trip Video shown at the Kodiak Film Festival. We asked him about some of his best tips & experiences below.

When should I hire a guide, what should I expect to pay, and how much should I tip them?

Many people are hesitant to spend the money to hire a guide because

  • They don't know what to expect
  • They're not sure what they should be paying
  • They believe they should be able to take care of themselves on the water

For these and other reasons they can miss out on some great opportunities.

  • Looking for recommendations on the best locations to target Grayling and Rainbows on dry flies in Alaska this summer (June or July). Would fly into Anchorage, rent a car and find some places to stay near the streams/rivers I want to try.

    Would this be realistic to do with a car?

    Are there places to park & hike into streams & rivers with good fishing?

    Any species other than Rainbows & Grayling you would suggest for dry flies that time of year?

    I'm willing to drive up to 8 hours from Anchorage if needed to find great fly fishing without the crowds. Prefer fishing dry flies but of course I will fish whatever flies work best if needed.

    - Trevor, Vermont

Summer Storm Rolling In

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.

Fly Fishing the Kenai River
Fly Fishing the Kenai River

The absolute magical thing about Cooper Landing, Alaska is that it is so perfectly located. As a town of about 300 locals, Cooper Landing offers fishermen an amazing set of fishing opportunities. In fact, the fishing opportunities are so good that during Salmon season, the population of fishermen crests the 1000 person mark. Fishermen aside, this is the upper stretch of the Kenai River and the Russian River is right here too. The Kenai River is world famous and likely the spot where the term "Combat Fishing" became an action verb. That little tidbit is not surprising considering the amount of Salmon that use the Kenai and Russian Rivers as spawning grounds. Also, with only 300 residents there are only so many guides here as compared to larger cities. They book incredibly fast. In this Kenai Peninsula fishing article, we explore why Cooper Landing helps you maximize your Alaskan fishing adventure.

  • Fly-fishing is something that brings to mind a beautiful stream with plenty of trees and amazing fishing. These destinations should top every fly-fisherman's bucket list. It is hard to name a favorite because each is like another world. Go. Fish; and fall in love with these outstanding fly- fishing destinations.

  • Argentina - Patagonia River Ranch

    The Patagonia River Ranch Ranch is located near San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina and sits right along the world-famous Chimehuin River, but also within easy access of many of the Patagonia areas best rivers. Guests lodge in the luxury offered by the Patagonia River Ranch, which is five-star to say the least. Vaulted ceilings and rustic wood finishes make the lodging a place you'll long to get back to after a day on the water. The most valuable experience here for fishermen are the guides, which are native Argentinians but who also speak fluent English and are top fly-fishing instructors too. This is a fly fishing vacation that is suitable for beginners and veteran fishermen alike. The fishing here is for German Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout. The rivers are crystal clear with a beautiful blue "glow". They meander slowly through oxbows and offer a lot of opportunities to target trophy Trout.

Katmai Lodge on the banks of the Alagnak River
Katmai Lodge on the banks of the Alagnak River

The Katmai Lodge is one of the most outstanding fishing lodges that Alaska has to offer. That is a bold statement because Alaska has a lot to offer fishermen. A great lodge is comprised of its location, the fishing selection and season, comfort, opportunity, and value. The Katmai Lodge does an outstanding job of providing all of those features and more to its guest.

The Chum Salmon, also known as Tiger or Calico Salmon
The Chum Salmon, also known as Tiger or Calico Salmon

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

Google Map of Bristol Bay Watershed
Bristol Bay on the lower left corner of the map surrounded by the the Bristol Bay Watershed.

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.

Beautiful new lodge built in 2014 situated on the shores of Lake Iliamna
Beautiful new lodge built in 2014 situated on the shores of Lake Iliamna

Intricate Bay Lodge sits along the shores of Lake Iliamna in the Bristol Bay Water Shed. There are many fishing lodges scattered throughout Alaska. Few, if any, sit in such a pivotal location. Though the lodge sits on the shores of the lake, it is located in Copper Bay. The location is at the heart of Alaska's most prominent rainbow trout fishery and offers guests a nearly endless opportunity to fish for trophy rainbows.

Sunrise over Angler's Alibi on the Alagnak River
Sunrise over Angler's Alibi on the Alagnak River

Early on an Alaskan morning, the cirrus clouds catch the first rays of sunlight as it bleeds across the sky in a kaleidoscope of pinks and oranges. On a slow morning breeze there is a hint of coffee, muffins, and breakfast. The murmur of the river and the activity around camp single the start of the day. The Alagnak area is prime fishing country, and today we fish. The tidal waters of the Alagnak River are a gateway. It is here that the Chinook, or King Salmon enter the river in search of their spawning ground. It is here that both their journey, and yours begins.

Breakfast is no small affair at the Angler's Alibi. Chef Ben knows how to feed a crew of hungry guides and fishermen. Roll out the Eggs Benedict or the Breakfast Burrito's loaded with smoked salmon, eggs and cream cheese. Chef Ben has your back. This is lip smacking, rib-sticking food that will power your morning. Six out of Five star food is what you get from Chef Ben, and he performs on this level all day every day. Your only jobs of the morning are to eat and fish.

Scott Haugen, Dan Busch, and Will Rice's book: Flyfisher's Guide to Alaska: Includes Light Tackle is an outstanding resource for all fly fishermen, especially the DIY local fisherman or those who are visiting Alaska for a short period. The books strongest feature is the description of the rivers. I am not sure another set of river descriptions of this magnitude exists. Alaska is a huge territory, and there are so many rivers that you could visit each one and never experience all that Alaska has to offer fly fishermen. Explore water bodies with names like Lost Lake, Salmon Creek, Hidden Lake, Engineer Lake and Moose River. The authors make it easy to fall in love with fishing in Alaska. 

The book is rich in details and while written for the DIY fisherman every fisherman who visits Alaska should have a copy of this book. The book is available in paperback for Under $35 via Amazon, and it is also available for $9.99 for your Kindle. The 455 pages are filled with helpful advice and adventure that make this an ideal book for all levels of fishermen. The helpful sections that novice fishermen will enjoy are those about flies and line setup. The authors are patient and explain their methods well. The book includes maps, fish guides, and information about rivers, highways, where to stay and everything else you would ever need to know to make a successful fishing trip in Alaska. 

Fly Fishing the Copper River
Fly Fishing the Copper River - © Scott Cindrich

The smaller Copper River is home to monster Rainbow Trout. The river is designated as a catch and release river which adds to the monster fish population within the fishery. The river structure is ideal for fly fishermen of all skill levels. Beginners and veterans will find the thrill and action of trophy rainbows along these crystal clear waters. The best time to fish for trophy rainbows is June through September with the exception of July when the Sockeye Salmon invade the river by the millions. The Benefits of the smaller Copper River include:

  • 18 plus pound trophy rainbow trout
  • Fly fishing haven for all levels of fishermen.
  • River geology that increases active fly time.
  • Huge population of massive, monster rainbows.
  • Large selection of food choices so the trophy fish will strike many types of lures and flies.
  • Easy fishing for veterans and beginners. 
  • Rated a best river to fish by Trout International.
  • Catch and Release for active monster fish management. 
Alaska Rainbow Trout

Alaska is known for some amazing fish from King Salmon to Halibut, but Alaska Rainbow trout are perhaps one of the most sought after fish that Alaska has to offer. There are a huge number of people who visit Alaska each year simply for the challenge and sport that Alaska Rainbow Trout offer.

The basic territory of the Alaska Rainbow Trout is the South Eastern portion of Alaska, but they spill into South Central Alaska and Southwestern Alaska. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the Rainbow Trout range as far East as the Kuskokwim River and as far west as the Kuskokwim Bay. The Kenai river is an excellent location for Rainbow Trout fishing. The best locations to find Alaska Rainbow Trout are in the lakes, and tributaries of major rivers. In Spring, they spawn in the shallow waters and gravel riffles. Spawning can extend into early summer in years when the winter has been hard. Understanding the river is a key to successful fishing.

The following is an overview of the Alaska Rainbow Trout, their habitat and the food that they eat.

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