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Fly Fishing Alaska - Tips & Advice From a Lifelong Alaskan & Fly-Fishing Expert

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Posted by Mike Brown on

Learning from experienced anglers is important to make the most of any Alaska fishing trip - regardless of whether you've been to Alaska several times or you're planning for a bucket list fishing trip. Here, we get some thoughts on fly-fishing Alaska from Mike Brown of Mossy's Fly Shop located in Anchorage, Alaska. He gives you some info to consider on specific species, regions, and the general approach you might take.

The following may answer a question you have, but you can always submit your question here if something isn't covered.

Alaska Fly-Fishing Basics

What makes fly fishing Alaska such a special experience?

To me it is the majestic views that make it the most special, the mountains are on top of you, the trees, the wildlife, and the breathtaking waters we have are just so special. The amount of fish and the vast options of where and what to fish for in Alaska is very special as well.

Do you need to be an experienced fly-fishermen to enjoy fly fishing Alaska?

No, there are plenty of guides to book with that will help you figure things out. Fishing in Alaska, while it is very similar to fishing anywhere, does tend to lean itself to be easier than a lot of places due to the fish are more cooperative. Often times I say that we are fisherman who use fly rods far more than we are fly fishermen. What I mean by that is that we do have a tendency to fish much heavier and we don't always have a ton of casting room, so the art of casting a fly rod is not always necessity here and I think that casting part is one of the most challenging aspects for anglers that are new to fly fishing.

We get a lot of questions for people looking to do a self-guided fly fishing trip. Is this something you recommend and what do they need to keep in mind?

Research. Find a region you are interested in and do the research on the rivers. Reach out to the local shops for intel and reach out to the logistic outfitters in the region for info. Alaska is a big and dangerous place, so you really want to be sure you have a good idea of what you are getting into in a remote flyout float fishing trip. Alaskan's love to share the states beauty and no one wants to see people get hurt or lost in the outdoors, we are all willing to help with info and knowledge.

On the flip side - Why would you recommend someone use a guide for at least part of the time on their Alaska fly-fishing trip?

Getting an experienced Alaska fishing guide in a new area can really help cut any learning curve as to what is going on and what is working. If you have limited time or this is a once in a lifetime opportunity then you don't want to waste time trying to figure stuff out.

Alaska Fly-Fishing Regions - Where Should I Go?

What are the main 3-5 regions in Alaska for Fly Fishing and what are the differences between each?

You basically have four regions – South Central, Western Alaska, South East Alaska and Interior Alaska.

  • South Central Alaska - Located on on the road system and allows for easy access to most of it. This region offers fly-fishing for every species we have; Salmon, Trout, Grayling and Dolly Varden. Plenty of options for fishing guides & lodges in this area of Alaska - Kenai River Fishing Guides & Lodges
    Primary Destinations: Kenai Peninsula, Kenai River, Russian River, Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Willow
  • Western Alaska (Bristol Bay Watershed) - Fly-Fishing for every species but access is more challenging than South Central Alaska. No road system so requires flying, lodging, and guides for the most part.
    Primary Destinations: Alagnak River, Nushagak River, Lake Iliamna Area, Kvichak River, Naknek River, Goodnews River, Kanektok River
  • South East Alaska - Fly-Fishing for Salmon, Cut Throats and Steelhead primarily. Requires flying in, and depending on where you are a boat as well.
    Primary Destinations: Tsiu River, Prince of Wales Island, Ketchikan Fly-Out Fishing
  • Interior Alaska - Fly-Fishing for Grayling, Sheefish and Arctic Char primarily. This region has some access via the road system but most of it would require flying to access.
    Primary Destinations: Alaska Parks Highway, Denali Area, Fairbanks Area

What do you consider the best area for remote fly-in or helicopter-in fly fishing in Alaska?

Western Alaska in the Iliamna area because it offers stunning views, tons of salmon, and world class fishing for trout and dolly/char.

Conversely, what is the best option for easy access road fly fishing in Alaska?

Flying into Anchorage, renting a car or RV and hitting the road. You can go North on the Alaska Parks Highway or South on the Seward Highway and find plenty of accessible waters to fish.

Fly Fishing for Salmon, Trout & More - Recommended Gear, Flies & Rivers

What would you consider the top 3 rivers/streams for Rainbow Trout fly fishing?

Tough one, there are so many. #1 Copper River in Iliamna, #2 Kvichak River and #3 Moraine Creek would be my top 3 favorites.

And what are your favorite flies for Rainbow Trout, Grayling, and Dolly?

Sculpin patterns, Leech patterns, mouse patterns, common nymphs and dries. Our fish can be selective but more often they are pretty easy on us. When it comes to colors, say in streamers, go with black, olive, browns and whites. If fishing with dry flies, look to Stimulator, Parachute Adams, Para X, BWO, Mosquitos, and Elk Hair Caddis. For nymphs, good ones are Copper John, Prince, Hares Ear, Pheasant tail and some sort of stonefly nymph.

What would you consider the top 3 rivers for silver salmon fly-fishing?

Good News, Kanektok and Tsiu rivers

Any flies that you lean to for Silver Salmon?

Streamers and popper/wogs in pinks and purples. I would mix in some black and some chartreuse streams as well. You want to have good hooks, some flashy and some not so flashy patterns.

When is the best time of year to fly-fish Silver Salmon?

It varies on where you go but generally August through September.

Obviously, king salmon is another popular species to target fly-fishing. What would you list as the 3 top rivers for King Salmon Fly-Fishing?

Kanektok makes the list again, plus the Sandy and Hoodoo Rivers. These 3 are the best for a fly fisherman and these 3 cater to the fly fisher.

What are your favorite flies for King Salmon?

Intruders in chartreuse/blue, chartreuse/white, black/blue and chartreuse/green. Pinks, purples, and oranges work as well, but chartreuse is my go-to base color.

When would you say the best time of year is to fly-fish for King Salmon?

June and July. King Salmon season closes by the end of July across the state, closure times in July varies on the region. We have had a lot of King return issues over the last several years, so whether rivers are going to be open or closed is something that can change on a moments notice at times.

What about fly fishing for other salmon species (Sockeye, Pink & Chum)? Can you give us a brief overview of fishing for them and which is your favorite to target?

Sockeye Salmon is a harvest fish and, in my opinion, is the best table fair of the five but the method to catching them is not always a favorite for a fly fisher due to the common lining technique. Pinks will give a person a ton of action and are very willing to eat a fly. Chums are the second biggest salmon and in some aspects get over looked, but for a person who wants to swing flies and get big smashing grabs and hard runs, this is a fish to target as close to salt as possible.

What equipment (rod length, line, reel, etc) would you recommend for someone visiting for a fly fishing trip?

This is really going to depend on what you are targeting and where you are fishing. In general, a 3-4wt with floating line for Grayling, 9-10wt for Kings, 8-9wt for Silvers & Sockeyes, 9wt for Chums, and 6-7wt for Pinks. All salmon sticks would be good to have a floating and sinking line option. Trout/Dolly/Char 6-7wt with floating and sinking lines. Some of our river systems 8wts are the play for big trout.

Anything else someone who is an experienced fly-fishermen coming to Alaska for the first time should know that could help them maximize their Alaska fly fishing experience?

Research, look into where you want to go and start researching the river and area you are interested in. The more info and knowledge you have before you get here, all the better. Prepare yourself for all kinds of weather conditions and scenarios, our weather can be awesome one minute but change on a dime to downright nasty.

Ask the Pros - Your Alaska Fly Fishing Questions Answered

Mike is one of several experienced anglers that My Alaskan Fishing Trip looks to for answers to your Alaska fishing questions for our Ask the Pros section. If you have any additional questions as you prepare for an Alaska fishing trip, then submit your question here and we'll get you some info.

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