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Fly Fishing for Trophy Rainbow Trout on Alaska's Copper River

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Posted by David S on

Jump To: Where to Stay on the Copper River?

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+ 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.
  • Rated by Trout Unlimited as one of the 100 Best Trout Streams in the World.
  • Easy fishing for veterans and beginners. 
  • Catch and Release for active monster fish management. 

Why Choose the smaller Copper River?

Alaska is a vast wilderness that offers some of the world's highest caliber fishing. The size of the state is immense and as such it should come as no surprise that Alaska has two rivers that are both called the Copper River. The larger of the two is located in the Southern Central part of the state and empties into the Gulf of Alaska near Cordova. The smaller Copper River is the focus of this article. In fact, it is best if we just consider the area around Lake Iliamna as the subject of this article. The waters here are prime for fishing. This is a phenomenal area for trophy-sized rainbow trout. The lake and rivers in the area are also home to many other species of fish, most of which are excellent game fish. There is a decadent run of salmon each year including Sockeye Salmon, King Salmon and Silver Salmon. Lake Iliamna is home to some of the best fighting fish, Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and Northern Pike. It is the trophy rainbow trout that are most impressive. 

Species you will likely encounter on your Copper River Alaska fishing trip include: Trophy Rainbow Trout (18 plus pounds,) Arctic Grayling, Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, King Salmon (50-100 lbs,) Silver Salmon (unbelievable fighters), Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon, Pink Salmon, Northern Pike (monsters)

Fly Fishing For Rainbow Trout

Another Nice Rainbow
Beautiful Rainbow Trout caught on the Copper River - © Scott Cindrich

The small Copper River is an ideal location for fly fishing for rainbow trout and other salmonids such as Dolly Varden. The river is small in breadth which makes for the perfect habitat to grow monster size trout.

When to fish the Copper River

While trophy rainbow trout are impressive the smaller Copper River is home to some of the best fighting fish in the world. This is a river that is home to one of the largest Sockeye Salmon migrations.

  • The month of July the river is swarming with sockeye.
  • If your target is trophy rainbow trout then the best months to fish are June, August and September.
  • The season for rainbows begins in June and ends in September.
  • In July the focus is Sockeye salmon. There are just millions of sockeye in the river. In some spots you can catch them with your hands they are so thick. 

Other Species of fish you will likely encounter

Fly fisherman can also target the Arctic Grayling and Arctic Char. Both fish make excellent sportsmen targets, though they are not as large as the trophy rainbows that you will find here. Dolly Varden on the other hand can be large and their fight is amazing. The monster of all river fish is the king salmon. They make an appearance here in early June. Their season peaks through mid July. They are an awesome fish to catch on a fly. They can weigh over 100 pounds. The best part about the Kings is that the rainbows follow them. They dynamics of the river ecology is built around the salmon. 

Why the smaller Copper River is a trout haven

The Copper River
The clear waters of the Copper River easy to wade and perfect for dry fly fishing - © Scott Cindrich

The food here makes the difference. The largest and easiest food cycle to follow here is the cycle of the salmon. Regardless of the salmon species, the salmon are born in the rivers, head to the sea, return to the rivers to spawn and die. That life cycle supports a number of other species. In terms of the Rainbow Trout, the spawning of the salmon is important. When the salmon are in the rivers, the rainbow trout follow them. They are there to eat as many of the salmon eggs as possible. When the salmon are not in the rivers to spawn then the life cycles that are most important to the rainbow trout are those of the aquatic insects. The rivers and lakes around the Lake Iliamna area are prime habitats for aquatic insects. What this means for sports fisherman is that the rainbow trout in the area have a rich and full diet that keeps them sustained all year long. The result of all this food is trophy rainbow trout. 

The Rivers and Waters

What makes the small Copper River such a haven for fishing is the water. The entire area is made up of rivers that swell due to snow-melt and glacial melt. However, this is not an area where the glacial melt is so severe as to create muddy waterways that occlude the prey/predator relationship. This is just the opposite of that. The rivers here are crystal clear. There river geology is prime for fishing. There are deep channels where the fish like to lounge and riffles where they love to feed. There are quiet pools and lakes where they grow fat. All of this comes together to make the perfect habitat for rainbow trout to become trophy fish. This is not an area that will disappoint veteran or beginner fishermen. The smaller size of the river makes this an outstanding place to fish with an Alaska fishing guide or to brave it alone. The waters are friendly, clear, and easily forded. The natural habitat is rich in riparian fauna and that makes fishing here calmer and enjoyable since the trees block the cold Alaska wind. A river is a composition of the surrounding landscape. The smaller Copper River is set in such a remarkable location that it was one of the first rivers in Alaska to be deemed a catch-and-release only river. That fact has made this one of the best rainbow fisheries in the world.  

The Geology of Great fly fishing

River Geology plays a huge role in fly fishing and fish selection. If you want to catch trophy sized rainbows then paying attention to the geology around you is important. The smaller Copper River is a haven for massive trout because in many places the river corridor is narrow and the water depth is shallow. Those two features make this an ideal set up for flying fishing, even for beginning fly fishermen. The shallow water is easily forded by wading putting the fisherman in the best spots for fishing.  

  • Eager Fish: First your fly is highly prized by the fish because the water volume is smaller.
  • More Active Fly Zones?: The fly spends more time in an active fish zone which improves the chances of it attracting a hungry rainbow trout. An excellent point for veteran and beginning fisher folk alike.
  • Greater Selection of Flies and Lures: The small food-rich Copper River is a host to many different types of food for the massive trout here. Trout are voracious eaters and as such these narrow steam corridors allow the fish to feed constantly. All that food means a wide variety of flies and lures will be successful.
  • Huge Trophy Trout: Great food means excellent size and weight of the fish you catch. Here in these clear waters the rainbow trout easily reach 18 pounds or more. An 18 pound trophy trout is a monster to fight. That is why the smaller Copper River is so highly prized by fly fishermen of all levels and abilities. 
  • Easy to Reach Fishing Spots: Another benefit of the smaller Copper River is that fishermen have few problems reaching the best casting location.

The Geology of the river makes this all possible. One of the keys to maintaining such an impressive fisheries is the active catch and release program. That is why this is a river that is famous for its trophy sized rainbows. It was named one of the top 100 best trout streams by Trout Unlimited.

The Copper River and Surrounding Areas

Lake Iliamna is a remote area. The remoteness is part of what makes this area such an excellent spot to fish. The lodges here are the best bet for fishing in the area. Most offer fly-out fishing to the remote rivers and lakes. For most fishermen, a fly-out expedition means better odds of landing a record rainbow trout. An alternative fishing spot in the area is the Gibraltar River, which is just south of Iliamna lake and feeds into Gibraltar Lake. 

Where to Stay:

A couple beautiful Rainbow Trout caught at Rainbow River Lodge on the Copper River
A couple beautiful Rainbow Trout caught at Rainbow River Lodge on the Copper River

The Rainbow River Lodge sits along the Copper River deep in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness. The area, known as the Bristol Bay watershed abuts the incredible Katmai Wilderness and Lake Iliamna. This is the home to the best Rainbow Trout fishing in the world, and possibly all of Alaska. The guides at Rainbow River Lodge are seasoned and have perfected the art of fishing in Alaska. The lodge offers fly-in fishing to select locations and drift fishing down the Copper River. In the Katmai National Park and Preserve is Kukaklek Lake and the Moraine creek. This is a quiet location that offers some of the best fly fishing in the area. This is a fly-out location only, but it is well worth the half hour flight. That is the advantage of the local lodges. Their guides know where these magical fishing spots are, and they have the means to get you to them. It is in these spots that you will enjoy the best of the best. These are the places where Fishing in Alaska becomes an addiction. The best part is that you don't have to embellish the stories. The fishing stories you will live here are true, but you may find it hard to convince others of that fact.  Nature and this remote area seem to have created the perfect place to grow the best Rainbow Trout.

Trophy Rainbow Trout caught at Copper River Lodge
Trophy Rainbow Trout caught at Copper River Lodge

The Copper River Lodge is an outstanding lodge on the banks of the Copper River. The lodge is near the town of Iliamna. Guided fishing works on a 3:1 ratio guests: guides. The Copper River Lodge features fly-out trips to tributaries of the Copper River and Lake Iliamna. The Lodge holds only six guests at one time, so the personal attention is high caliber. This is a lodge that focuses on your fishing time. What guests love about the Copper River Lodge is the option to explore the river for fishing spots or to return to the spot you previously fished. They leave those choices up to you, and that enhancement makes fishing here that much better.

The home waters of Intricate Bay Lodge include two world-class rivers: the Copper and the Gibraltar
The home waters of Intricate Bay Lodge include two world-class rivers: the Copper and the Gibraltar

Intricate Bay Lodge focuses on the feeling of home. This is a place where you return to when you can. The lodge hosts up to eight guests at a time. Bristol bay offers a vast amount of native fish species and spots in which to fish for them. Trophy rainbow trout abounds here. Intricate Bay Lodge fishes along the Copper River, Gibraltar River, Kamishack River, Battle River, in Funnel Creek and Moraine Creek. Guests play an important role in choosing fishing locations. Fly-outs and local spots offer outstanding fishing opportunities. You may come here to fish, and you will, but you will leave here as part of the fishing family.

Living the good life on the Copper River

The Copper River provides a beautiful setting and the summer weather is perfect for your Alaska fly fishing trips.
The Copper River provides a beautiful setting and the summer weather is perfect for your Alaska fly fishing trips.

Alaska Rafting Adventures offers fishermen something amazing. Guided and unguided rafting float trips down the Copper River. A float trip allows you to see the best of Alaska. You get to fish in places that few people ever get to fish. You get the opportunity to be up-close and personal with nature. The Copper River is a class 2 rafting river, which means that its fairly calm. No towering waterfalls just trophy sized rainbow trout.

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