Alagnak River, Bristol Bay
Sockeye, or Red, Salmon are the backbone of Alaska's Salmon Fishery, these 6 to 10 pound on average fish are arguably the tastiest of the 5 species of Salmon. Just as arguably they are one of the best Salmon, pound for pound, for their fighting ability on the end of a rod and reel. What is without argument is their sheer volume of numbers when they enter their respective drainages. They arrive during the height of Summer and run in schools nose to tail, and 20 feet wide, for basically the entire length of the river they're migrating up, right against the bank. The Midnight Sun, blooming wildflowers, brown bears wandering past camp, rafts floating serendipitously through mile after mile of pristine wilderness, all combined with millions of chrome, ocean fresh salmon, chugging by in mind-boggling numbers, right at your feet. It's a piscatorial party, or as we've come to refer to it.....Sockeyefest!
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Our Sockeyefest trips originate in Bristol Bay, the bastion of Sockeye fishing, both recreational and commercial. Beginning in the Village of King Salmon, we board float planes on the Naknek River, World Famous for it's healthy Salmon and Rainbow Trout Fisheries, and begin our journey into the heart of Katmai National Park. Landing at the headwaters of the Alagnak River, we transition from mechanical to physical transportation as rafts are loaded and the fishing begins.
It's not all sockeye salmon however there are also beautiful rainbow trout to be had. That said with millions of sockeye streaming by, it's not unheard of for anglers to bring 50+ Salmon to hand daily, with higher numbers being common. We incorporate this bounty into our menu regularly throughout the trip, with salmon either being the main course or an appetizer a few nights through the trip. Nothing is more satisfying than sitting around the screened in dining tent after a long day of catching salmon and watching as a sow brown bear saunters past camp accompanied by her rolly poly cubs, while a bald eagle circles aloft, and an osprey cannonballs from above into the river in pursuit of its dinner, all while the sun shines overhead at 10:00 pm. The days pass in a euphoric blur of hearty breakfasts, phenomenal fishing, making new lifelong friends, lots of laughter, and memories that last a lifetime. It's Sockeyefest, and life doesn't get any better!
Sockeyefest on the Alagnak River, in July!
Alagnak River Float Trip, Write that down on your list of things to do! Although the actual float trip lasted seven days... my mind has stayed on the river long since my return home.
Our guides were Mike, Andrea and Dac. I found them to be professional, entertaining, accommodating and experts in consistently putting us on fish. As is the case with remote float trips, there is a never ending list of chores that need to be accomplished.
All of the work that comes with taking three De Havilland Beaver-loads of people and gear down a 50 mile river, while camping in comfort and eating in style the whole time... they did. And they did it with obvious joy, enthusiasm, and dedication. I knew, at all times that we were safe in their experienced and capable hands. It is no stretch to say, with pride, that we became fast friends.
The optimal timing for the Sockeye-Fest adventure is in early July and the conditions could not have been more perfect. Fishing on Day One, from the lake outlet, was focused primarily on wild rainbow trout (lots of them), and the pleasant results where reflected by my flies, chewed down to nothing but hooks with a few trailing threads. The fishing was so amazing it felt like the only breaks in casting were to eat and sleep.
On Day Two, as we floated past into the upper Alagnak, the sockeye invasion began. Fifteen feet wide and nose to tail to nose to tail, mile after mile of ocean-bright, knuckle busting, sockeye salmon. Our group landed hundreds of fish, all of which where carefully returned to the river, with a select few being delicately released in beer batter and hot oil. The "Fest" was ON and there was hardly a time over the next six days that one (or two, or three) of us did not have a fish on the line.
I continued to land a few big hard-fighting rainbows and grayling, in the midst of the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of sockeye. Those resident species treasures are now in the lifetime trophy case that resides in my memories. My 7-weight rod was perfect for most of the trout and grayling, and I had good luck with elk hair caddis, skunks and matukas, while black and leechy streamers were the ticket when going sub-surface.
The Alagnak is a great river for mouse patterns, the trout hit them like a freight train. Stronger rods (#8) are absolutely recommended for the salmon. For variety I pulled out my spey rod for big water casting, although the sockeye were usually just a few feet off the bank.
We fished a variety of water... big open river, braids and slow channels. Mike, Dac and Andrea offered as much, or as little... solid fishing help as we needed, they where always there when we needed anything, and truly went above and beyond expectations, in every aspect of the experience.
When it comes to the meals I could write a separate review on the food alone! We were very well fed, with appetizers and warm, hearty meals from the Dining Tent. The camaraderie shared by guests and guides seated around the table eating hot dinner following an exhausting day of fish catching is just the best thing.
Dinners included jambalaya, pork chops, barbeque chicken and linguine with a salmon/cream sauce. Breakfast varied from pancakes and sausage, scrambled eggs and bacon, sausage and potatoes with cheese skillets, and more.
One thing I love about the float trips with Alaska Rainbow Adventures, that keeps me coming back, is the amount of time spent fishing. It is possible to fish from dawn until dark (no easy feat when the days are 20 hours long!) and I almost did on some days.
I sincerely wish want to thank Alaska Rainbow Adventures owner Paul Hansen, and guides Mike, Andrea and Dac for this incredible experience. Thanks also goes to my fellow float-mates from the far reaches of the earth, although we met as strangers we left as friends.
What is next? Perhaps a return to the Alagnak, the Moraine or trying my luck with the Goodnews River!