Fly Fishing the Bristol Bay Watershed
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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.
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.
- King Salmon - Late June through August 1
- Silver Salmon - Late July through September
- Sockeye Salmon - Late June through Late July
- Chum Salmon - Late June through Mid August
- Pink Salmon - (even years only) Mid July through mid August
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.