Jul 11th, 2014
I just returned from a great two weeks of fishing the early season in Alaska. It was an eye opening experience, seeing just what June has to offer the willing angler. The number of anglers are fewer, the fish eager and the techniques more diverse. Taking quality rainbows on tight line swings or dry flies is a big draw to early season veterans. Add the numerous species available, especially the king salmon, and you have the components for a great adventure.
The above image is the first fish I landed while visiting Iguigug Lodge at the mouth of the Kvichak river. It sure looked like my beloved steelhead of coastal OR. The June time-frame in AK is a “swingers paradise”. As out-migrating smolt or fry pass by, hungry rainbows are waiting. The scene is a cross between striped bass busting bait and swinging for steelhead on western rivers. What it all boiled down to was the most productive and fun trout fishing I had ever experienced.
Stop 1 – Rainbow King Lodge:
Rainbow King is under new ownership as of three years ago. I had the pleasure to meet and fish with two of the three partners, Rodger and Jim. They are longtime friends and clients of Rainbow King who took over with the idea of improving on the long history of quality service the lodge is known for. The fishing program here is second to none, with several private leases on some of the regions finest waters. There have been several improvements to the facility including but not limited to new beds(which were quite comfortable), aesthetically pleasing landscaping, new tile/carpet, renovated showers and in general things that make you feel at home and comfortable. Along with these, they have refurbished and re-powered their Otter, making it the likely the nicest float plane in the state.
Rainbow King goes the extra miles to find the best fishing. The above image is Harry showing how to “buzz the tower” while “pulling some G’s” in search of rainbows. It’s amazing what keen eyes and an experienced pilot can figure out without ever touching down. This small stream lacked the numbers we were looking for, so on to the next. It was a good choice, as the next system was choked with willing rainbows.
My first day with Rainbow King we visited one of their leased properties on a trophy rainbow river. Here is Rodger with guide Matt holding a fine early season specimen caught on a fry pattern. Fishing fry patterns is a fun early season tactic. Slow swings on a tight line led to many great takes. The fish were visibly chasing these micro salmon, many times leaving quite a boil on the water’s surface.
Mid way through the day we took a break from the action and our guide made us salmon burgers over an open fire. It’s a nice feeling knowing so many fish are waiting for you to finish eating. After lunch I headed back out and lost count of how many I hooked, but I can say it was crazy good fishing for 16 to 22 inch rainbows. While the on river dining was superb, back at the lodge the meals were thoughtfully decadent and truly satisfying. With all the new happenings here, Rainbow King is primed to serve up a luxury fishing experience for years to come.
Stop 2: Bristol Bay Sportfishing:
Bristol Bay Sportfishing is another lodge with new ownership. Jerry Jacques, a long time outfitter in Alaska, has taken on the task of establishing Bristol bay Sportfishing as a go to lodge and fishing destination. The crew here is friendly and eager to help design a custom trip for you. The lodge is located on a wonderful peninsula surrounded by Lake Iliamna. It is an easy to reach venue, with regular charters into the Iliamna airport.
Travel in AK is all about the float planes. There is a freedom to fish hard to reach venues with an ease and comfort not readily available anywhere else. With several planes at their disposal, including a Beaver on floats, super cub and Cessna 185 on tundra tires, Bristol Bay Sportfishing can access many arenas. From clam digging on the coast to the rainbows of the Iliamna drainage, they will show you all they can in your week.
One of my days with Jerry we walked a small stream where I tossed a Morrish Sculpin in every nook and cranny I could find. Short casts and quick strikes yielded a good number of feisty fish.
I even landed a couple lake trout while walking near the outlet of this small stream. The “food conveyor belt” was flushing fry from the stream into the lake where the fish were waiting to attack.
Grayling are present in many AK waters with some reaching upwards of 20″. They are so eager to take, it’s almost too easy. I had fun betting my guide how many seconds it would take for a strike to occur on each cast.
Stop 3: Igiugig Lodge:
Igiugug Lodge is a high value family operation with excellent home waters, fly outs, and unbeatable home-style service located on a prime piece of real estate along the shore of Lake Iliamna. Just out your front door is the beginning of the mighty Kvichak river which drains all of the legendary Lake Iliamna rivers. The vast number of migrating salmon that pass by here is almost incomprehensible. Brad and Brenda Waitman have been taking care of anglers in Alaska their entire adult lives. For the past half a dozen years they have been hosting small groups at their own operation, Igiugig Lodge. Their willingness to share knowledge is comforting and will truly go the extra distance to show you a quality AK experience.
It was a treat to get up early before breakfast and get into some great action with no others around. If you found the birds working, you found the smolt, if you found the smolt, you found the rainbows eating them. So cool to see the cycle of life working right in front of you. These fish were hot, often taking near shore in shallow waters. No need to “match the hatch” here, my trusty tube fly held strong accounting for many fish before being retired.
After some early morning rainbow action and a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Nushagak for a short half hour flight. Brad leases property that houses his boat and allows him to park his plane close to the fishy water. The Nushagak produced good numbers of kings and chums. For the two handed, tight line angler this just might seem like heaven. While the wind and rain were a bit challenging, the fish were there this day. I earned a bruised palm on the first run by the first fish hooked. I wasn’t quit ready for that power, but quickly learned to keep my hands free of the rapidly turning reel handle.
While the kings of the Nushagak are not overly large on average, the numbers made up for it. Even a “small” king will put a bend in the big rods. Add a few chum in the mix and it made for a great day. The funny thing was I did not see another fly angler on this visit. I sure did get some curiously long looks from the many anglers trolling by.
All in all it was a great trip. Seeing the potential of the early season was truly satisfying. The variety June offers was perfectly suited to my tastes. Rainbows on swung flies, even dry flies, along with fresh king salmon was amazing. Add eager grayling, the best pike fishing of the year, chum, early sockeye salmon, a few char species and you have the makings of a great trip. In June many lodges are not at capacity. Typically the groups are smaller and having the focused attention of the staff is comforting. This makes for a more intimate experience and you come away feeling more like a friend than a client. All are eager and excited about the start of their season and the freshness of their attitudes is a nice perk. I will not hesitate to return in June and in fact will likely seek more destinations to visit during this time frame.
For more information please feel free to call me at any time at 800.552.2729