King Salmon Alaska July 7-14, Alagnek River.
We all set off from different locations in America as far away as Florida and New York State to assemble in the small fishing town of King Salmon Alaska. Christian Elwell owner of “Borealis Outdoor Adventures” my good friend and outfitter for our adventure was there waiting when we got off the plane.
After some introductions and the customary Alaska BAR time we retired to our perspective cabins at Diamond Lodge.
Diamond Lodge is owned and operated by a German lady named Heidi that also has a salmon smoking operation on the premises, her motto is “Sustainably Harvested and Handled with Pride” she has the awards to go with it, and is the finest cold smoked salmon I have ever tasted.
We set off from a float plane dock with plenty of help loading planes and not to much organization, off to the shores of Nonvionek Lake and the beginning of the float. The flight out was breathtaking, a calm clear day not a bump in the sky, nearly worth the price of admission.
As you can expect anticipation was the emotion for the day and soon we were into Rainbows and Lake trout, and Sockeye running up the edges. Of coarse the Sockeye were not in a biting mood. The great day gave way to steady wind and soon we were casting from an ocean beach with treacherous waves, only swamped two of us but the Lakers kept eating the swung fly if you could get it done.
Next day we set forth with the rafts loaded and I had three anglers onboard flailing away in an attempt to catch these damn bows on the move, “we had gotten reports from two weeks earlier that fishing on the move was next to futile” naturally we need to prove that one wrong. Yea,,, should of believed that one as on the move was brutal considering we were floating the wilds of Alaska. Our first day netted 2 dozen bows and a dozen Lakers, we did get some rising trout but for the most part it was NOT on.
Fortunately the campsite was the bomb and the best fishing stop of the first floating day, there we padded the numbers and seeing Matt and Ringo each hook up twice on fat bows made my day. Dinner was served after smoked salmon appetizers from Heidi that melted in our mouth. Main course grilled Lakers, fettuccini with clams and mussels. The preparation was exquisite and not at all what is expected for camping. The food on this trip was top shelf, nothing short of amazing.
Day three started out with more of the same with tough angling on the move four to the boat on streamers right away did get us all jazzed. By 3 we had traveled ten river miles that looked as if the Madison’s Cameron flats had been relocated to Alaska. When we reached the Kucinich River things all changed!
As we reached the confluence it was evident that the Sockeye Salmon run had arrived in big numbers, Bears everywhere we looked, wads of schooling Sockeye in the rivers currents, it was the beginning of the most awesome wildlife spectacle I have ever seen.
I had seen Brown Bears before on many occasions into Alaska and BC but these where different; they seemed uninterested in anything but the swimmers in the water.
As we floated down river we lost all idea of angling just floating amongst the living, operating, biomass had us awestruck. We floated past twenty some brown bear in thirty minutes heading for our next campsite none of us mentioning that now we are here and now we camp with them. This is where Christian and Jason’s knowledge of Alaska’s Wilderness came through, the first camp spot was taken by rafters that had been there for four days, we had seen them when we flew in. Christian took us down a ways and stopped on a bar and it was our turn to take a meal of Sockeye. Within thirty Minutes we had figured out what they would EAT, thanks to Bill Hart and his lake box that had made its way up to Alaska, a water boatman size 6, every third drift he would hook up the rest of us about every twenty. We kept dinner and off to the camp spot, as where we were standing there was way to much bear activity.
A mile downstream and four lefts and three rights through narrow channels and there it is a perfect swing and a perfect camping spot. By the time we got camp up and dinner cooked all of had caught and released ten –twenty Sockeye each on the Boatman or similar.
The next morning found Ringo with his mini fly tying kit out and cranking away with a cup of fresh coffee at his side, we tied them on as they came off the vice every one like camp GOLD.
After some morning angling to warm up, with Larry and Jess both swinging the honey hole and pulling on fish nearly every drift, we headed for the King hole just down river. Here we proceeded to catch every species in the system including Kings that pretty much used the heavy currents to take complete advantage. These were chrome bright 15-20 pounders that did what Kings do when there is not a jet boat two steps away, break gear!
By the end of day four it was obvious the rainbows had migrated else ware and the Sockeye where our game fish of the trip. Armed with the Ringo rendition of a water boatman (tung bead, heavy scud hook, olive dubbing, a pair of rubber legs and a tail of crystal flash and a flash back) we proceeded to float mile after mile watching Bears and stopping on pods of Sockeye staged up running riffles, it was nothing to hook a dozen from one spot in 30 minutes, ah that is a dozen per angler. Poppa Mac and Bill totally crushing them nymphing but Joey, Ringo and Matt used a light tip or even a dry line and long leader it would slide right over the pods and get the biter to come up. When we wanted we tossed dries to grayling and still caught the occasional good sized Rainbow on the swing.
Day five on the Alagnek found us in the famed BRAIDS region and that name fits, we hit a couple so narrow and fast the paddles where useless and we steered with Bill hanging out the back grabbing bottom with his legs snow sled style, thankfully it was only one wrong turn and a short one at that. Banking on the Sockeye fishing we tried to target Bows again but found only a few. The Braids did offer some interesting close encounters with Bears battling in the middle of narrow channels and some very Mousy looking water, maybe next time. We were now seeing huge Bears 8-9 footers staged along strategic points and riffles, I never stopped being amazed at the variety of there fishing technique, the jump inners, the chase to the beach and pounce, the head first biter and then the snorkelers all seemed to work as they were fat and happy. Again our choice camp spot was taken but by then we were ready for relaxation and another fine riverside dinner, besides the guys on the spot where constantly on guard with a twelve gauge.
Day six found us all rather rummy, could have been the reduction in alcohol weight we attempted the night before but who’s saying. We had great Sockeye angling most of the day even started catching them on the move with a two fly nymph rig, that was interesting with fast water and a ton of lumber in the river and three anglers aboard, we found the mother load this last day, a 100 sq yard bucket below a shallow riffle teaming with sea lice laden Sockeye, I was beginning to love these fish, there battle was vicious and the bite was rather light so it kept us on our toes. We stayed there as long as possible all of us knowing it would be the last stop on the last day, the fishing part was over. We just floated straight out to the pick up, we were all quite ready to be back in a real bed and mostly a good shower, and we silently reminisced about the journey we had all just taken one that will forever be highlighted in our internal journal, one with many angling accomplishments and wilderness experiences. Our two boats got there just in time to break down and load the first Beaver, perfect timing to a wonderful adventure; we came for rainbows got the Sockeye and made friends for a lifetime in angling memories, thank you Matt, Ringo, Larry, Jessica, Bill, Poppa Mac and Joey and mostly Jason and Christian for keeping it real.