Alagnak Alaskan Adventure

11/12/2018 by James

When my fishing addiction started as a young lad the thought of traveling to foreign shores in search of all manners of incredible species used to send me into a constant daydream, 20 years later it still does.  The problem is social media literally puts a new destination or fish in front of your face every day and personally, I now have a bucket list the size of a medieval scroll. I suppose it’s not really a bad problem to have but the options seem endless. As a fly angler, there has always been one location at the top of the list, the ultimate fly fishing destination – Alaska!  The runs of salmon are truly mind-blowing and consist of 5 separate Pacific species that all run in a relatively short period of time in their millions, along with them the rivers are full of wild rainbows, grayling, and char that give anglers another option to target and the chance of a great mixed bag.

ATA lodge

There was only ever going to be one option for Alaska, especially after hearing all about it from my good friend Wayne Mcgee who just so happens to co-own the Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge (ATA lodge) situated on the banks of the pristine Alagnak river within the Katmai national park, every time he speaks about the place the emotions and love truly shine through, but also the millions of photo’s he has, always give’s me pure fish envy which is always is winner.  There was no way I was going to go alone tho, a big thing for me is experiencing such an incredible journey with friends, there’s something about being in the presence of others enjoying themselves, reaching their goals and catching a dream fish, this is no doubt why I love guiding people back home so much.  We eventually decided on our group and had literally put together the ultimate dream team, consisting of a great bunch of fishing fanatics from different angling backgrounds, abilities and walks of life, this is what I love about fishing so much is the people that you get to cross paths with that you would never meet in other sports and industries.

The journey

So after months of waiting September eventually arrived, and the day of our flight was upon us but unfortunately due to locality and times booked we were all on different flights, I did, however, have one of my good friends and Untamed Anglers co-presenter Ripon as company, one thing you can always rely on with Rip is entertainment, well when he’s not snoring his head off.  A few flight’s and thousands of miles later we arrived at anchorage to join up with Jonny, Marina, Russell, and Lee, we were instantly met by some of Alaska’s most iconic animals within the airport including a bear the size of King Kong, yes they were stuffed but it was the first time we’d ever seen anything of that size in person.  One short flight later and we arrived in the appropriately named King Salmon where we would wait for one final flight to the fishery, this is the closest airport to the lodge which is only accessible via a very exciting 4 seater bush plane which lands on the private airstrip.  If the flight in had anything to go by it was going to be one hell of a week and it got the old imagination running riot, all it required was some dramatic music and it would of been like entrance scene from a major blockbuster movie.

Once we were all settled in and had calmed down from the excitement of the flight, Wayne gathered all the new guest’s together for a pep talk on what to expect from the fishing but also safety, due to how remote the area is and how rich the resources of fish are there is a huge head of brown bears that absolute gorge on salmon, this is, however, is nothing to worry about as they are far more interested in the fish and if anything makes the whole experience even better, I mean who wouldn’t who wouldn’t want to see a bear?

After what seemed like a long night, mainly due to Rip snoring we woke to an incredible sunrise and our first morning of fishing, again my head was absolutely racing at the thought of what awaited us.  Due to it being early September we were predominately in prime silver salmon time but with the chance of connecting with pink’s and coho’s never to mention Arctic char, rainbows and Arctic grayling. Due to the multitude of species, this gave us an incredible chance of smashing in 2 totally separate Alaskan grand-slams, one salmon and one multi-species.  After what I can only describe as a breakfast of champions myself and a great friend/Iconic fish producer Jonny Mcgee headed upstream with camera in hand ready to get some fishy action, we were also joined by Ripon and Marina Gibson in another boat to add a little bit competitiveness and entertainment to the day.

Wayne, marina and myself ready to hit the water

Arctic Char

The first species to target was something both myself and Gibson had at the top of our list – an Arctic char, especially one of the males in his full spawning colour’s, these fish are so bright and stunning they don’t look real.  The method would be bead fishing using a standard fly rod and reel setup but with a plastic bead (replica salmon egg) placed just above the hook instead of a fly, this ensures that the hook doesn’t get taken deeply and is nearly always hooked on the outside of the mouth. This method of fishing was new to us and the only thing I can slightly compare it to is a form of Czech nymphing, the reason for using this method is the incredible volume of fish spawning at this time of the year means all the residential fish swap diet’s from feeding on invertebrates to salmon eggs and flesh.  Once we had arrived at some incredible looking water, full of seam lines dotted with deeper pockets and most importantly spawning fish I was instantly into a char, now these fish don’t half pullback due to the nature of the fast flowing water they live in and that fact they are pristine fully finned wild fish, after a few minutes of ragging me around the water I had my first ever Arctic char, not the male I was after but still a first and special fish.

Once that first fish hit the net it turned into absolute carnage for the rest of the morning with both Rip and Gibson getting amongst the action landing numerous Char, that trophy male fish was still alluding us all, so the decision was made to split up and drift fish from the boats allowing us to cover a huge amount of water, this would also allow us target grayling and rainbows at the same time.  As the day went on the action never stopped, picking fish up on every single drift, it got to the point that you were expecting a take every single cast, with both rainbows and grayling showing a constant face giving me my first but not last Alaskan grand-slam, this, however, wouldn’t be the highlight of the day, as late into the afternoon I hooked the biggest fish of the day that not only fought differently but resembled something like Jason’s technicolor dream coat, Yes you guessed it, id finally hooked the bucket list fish I’d traveled thousands of miles for and it was an absolute belter, being overly careful I played it like an absolute fanny, probably taking far to long to land it, but I eventually drew it over the net for Jacob my guide to net it.  Id literally never seen a fish like it in person, he didn’t look real, the colour’s were so bright, bold and elaborate – He was an absolute stunner and dressed to impress the ladies in his spawning colour’s.

1 of 2 male Arctic char caught all week

Marina with a stunning char

Pacific salmon

The next day we decided to switch thing up in both the boats and on the species front, this time I was partnered with one of my salmon fishing buddies Gibson and it was time to do what we do best – Chase some silver.  The jet boat’s the guys use on the river are incredibly agile, fast and the minimal depth of water they can run over is insane, let’s just say it didn’t take long to get to the fish.  When it comes to down to the tackle, the preferred choice of rod for silver’s (Coho’s) is an 8/9 weight single hander, being a hardcore salmon fishing fanatic I couldn’t resist using my switch rod matched with a short head scandi line, my thought’s were id possibly be able to target fish the others couldn’t.  At the business end stripping back streamers and intruders were the preferred choices, with pink, orange and black being the most popular colour, nothing like we target Atlantic salmon with back home.  Like the previous day we literally hooked up in seconds, this time it was insane with me, Gibson and Rip all hooking up at the same time, it was absolute madness with fish running in all directions followed by us chasing them.  Unfortunately one of us had to slip up, and guess who – yes, it was me, the fish literally threw the hook leaving me to put on a brave face and watch the others both land fish.  I wouldn’t have to worry about missing out, as over the next week’s fishing we would have numerous double hook up of silver’s, including some absolutely stunning chrome fresh fish not to mention the fish in their bright scarlet spawning colour’s, it was crazy to think that between us we could land 20 silver’s in a morning, and this was normal – absolutely mind-blowing.

Ripon and Marina with a brace of silver’s

One thing I was determined to try out was my Stokoe shrimp, it’s accounted for hundred’s of Atlantic salmon back in the Uk so surely the pacific’s could be tempted at some point, I wouldn’t have to wait long, the perfect day actually came about when it was a little bit slow, and when the normal streamers and intruders weren’t doing their job – it was time for the Stokoe show!  To my amazement and only a few casts after putting the fly on, I was straight into a silver, now these fish fight well, but due to the slack water they’re hooked in they can’t use the strong current to their advantage, but the sight of seeing a scarlet red rocket charging around the backwaters is incredible, and on light tackle doesn’t half get your heart racing.  On a day when others struggled I managed a handful of fish to my fly, now i don’t believe it was personally just the pattern but think the profile/size of the fly had a massive part to play, due to the fact the fly was on a size 8 and only about an inch long, it was at least a third of the size of the normal streamers used.  Along with the silver’s the river had good numbers of pink’s and chum’s throughout the system, although not a prime time to target them they readily hit the fly resulting in a couple sought-after salmon grand-salams for myself and other anglers.

Double hook up for myself and Ripon

Ripon with a chunky silver salmon

Rainbow’s and Arctic Grayling

Due to the salmon fishing being absolutely off the scale, you’d be wrong to think this was the main reason that people flock to the Alagnak.  The river is absolutely rammed with absolutely pristine, fin perfect, and super hard fighting rainbows, we had also had the bonus of having timed it perfect for the egg feeding bonanza, this is a time when all the residential feeding fish change their diets from everything to salmon egg’s – it is absolute carnage.  Again the most effective way of targetting both rainbows and grayling was to use bead fly’s, in other words, replica salmon egg’s, we would again be drift fishing from the boat allowing us to cover a massive expanse of water and fishing Czech nymph style.  It won’t surprise you that the action was absolutely insane, no matter where we fished we were constantly smashing into fish resulting in endless amounts of double hookup’s of both super hard fighting bow’s to 24 inches, and stunningly marked grayling bigger than I’ve ever seen.  Another interesting method was fishing flesh fly’s, now this consisted of a fly that was tied with rabbit strips that when wet resembled decaying and rotting bit of salmon flesh, this time instead of a chuck and duck style cast, we would be swinging the fly into deeper pockets and slack spots where hopefully the bigger fish would be lying in wait.  One of the highlights of the trip was on the last day’s fishing when both myself and Gibson smashed a double hook up of grayling that were literally like to peas in a pod, the strange thing was actually caught mine on a flesh fly, just incredible.

A fat rainbow caught with a flesh fly

Another double of rainbow’s

A brace of grayling to end an incredible week

On a whole, the trip was probably my favorite fishing holiday to date, a great combination of the untouched land, stunning crystal clear water, incredible fish, the best hosts and last but not least the company Iwas there with.  I will be going back to ATA in September 2020, for anyone interested in joining me please drop me an email for further details.