Fly Fishing the Bristol Bay Watershed

Posted by John Perry on to Fly Fishing Bristol Bay Watershed

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

The trout season starts on June 8th and runs through late fall when ice up occurs. The trout will be fished with streamer patterns, dead flesh patterns, mouse patterns, and of course the typical "trout bugs" like caddis, mayfly, and stonefly imitations both above and below the surface. Grayling love to hit top-water fly patterns all season long and are most attracted to darker flies like darker caddis and adams patterns. They will also hit a mouse pattern while you are swinging for trout. More than a few times last season we caught some very large grayling while trying to catch rainbows on mouse patterns. They can be very aggressive, and love bead- headed nymphs as well.

The char and dolly's love to hit "trout" bugs too. My favorite top-water pattern for these fish is what is called a gurgler. The pattern is basically a half back foam attractor tied in bright orange or red. Alaska Signature Flies ties the pattern and it is so fun to catch char on while waking the fly. The takes are subtle but the follows are very long adding to the antiquation of the strike!

There are 6 major river systems that make up the Bristol Bay Watershed

Starting from the West, here is the list. To view a map of the Bristol Bay Watershed and these rivers scroll to the bottom of this article or click here to view the map.

  • Wood River Drainage - smaller trout, but very numerous, all 5 species of salmon, not many kings
  • Nushagak/Mulchatna River Drainage- largest king runs in the world in numbers but smaller average size than the Alagnak River drainage, good trout fishing system although not many in the 30" range for some reason compared to the East side of the Bay.
  • Kvichak River Drainage - Great trophy rainbow river and huge sockeye runs, not noted for other species of salmon although it does get all 5 species. Strong grayling fishing in this river as well.
  • Alagnak River Drainage - Great trophy rainbow river system as well as huge runs of all 5 species of salmon. Probably the best in the area for pure salmon fishing with its strong numbers of all species.
  • Naknek River Drainage - Great trophy trout river system, especially the river itself. Good salmon fishing as well on the river for other salmon species.
  • Egegik River Drainage - Strong salmon system with some good trout fishing as well. It has some of the best char and dolly rivers in its system.

There are plenty more areas and rivers, but this list covers most of the major ones. With respect to the salmon, the trout, char, grayling and dollies are available all season long from the start of the trout opener to the bitter cold end. The peak time to fish this region is entirely based on what species you would like to catch, methods to catch them, and possibly the trophy quality of trout at their peak.

List of peak times for Salmon

Note: This is a general guide the peak can vary from year to year.

If I was asked I'd say, honestly, my favorite time of year is truly any time of the season. I love catching king salmon on flies in July and silvers in August/ September. I love catching trout too, more so earlier in the season when the mouse patterns are still a viable means of catching big trout in the area. I hope that this brief overview will help you out when deciding when to come to this area.

Map Showing the Major Rivers Systems that make up Bristol Bay Watershed

Bristol Bay Watershed Map

Bristol Bay Watershed
About the Author: John Perry

Owner: Angler's Alibi Lodge - Alaska

John Perry, originally from Michigan, began his guiding career in Colorado in the early 90's. It was here that he met fellow guide and now lodge manager/head guide TR Rafferty. TR left Colorado to guide in Bristol Bay Alaska, and came back with a summer worth of pictures and stories that that John could not imagine living. Two summers later after teaching fly fishing classes and guiding all over Colorado for trout, a guiding job opened up for John to come up and guide at a new small lodge called Angler's Alibi. It is here that John met the original owner Karl Storath. John worked for Karl through the year 2000. After life had it's changes with marriage and the need for a more year round career, John left Alaska but told Karl that he would love the opportunity to buy it when he was ready to retire. In 2007, John came back to Angler's and the change of leadership began as well. Today John is the owner of Angler's Alibi, and lives in Colorado in the off-season raising 2 boys Grey and River Perry with his wife Holly.

To learn more about Angler's Alibi Lodge visit www.anglersalibi.com or email John at John@AnglersAlibi.com.

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