Alagnak River Fish Species
The King or Chinook salmon is the largest in size of the five species of pacific salmon, and offer anglers true big game fish excitement. The Alagnak River has the reputation of producing the largest kings that are caught in Bristol Bay. They from 20 to 45 lbs, but fish in excess of 50 lbs have been caught. No one really knows the size of the run, but is could be about 20,000.
The first of the kings start their migration in very late June, and continue beyond the regulated season closure at the end of July. Best fishing is usually found between July 4th and 25th. Latter July may see fewer kings entering the river than at the peak of the run, however the big male fish tend to come in later in the run and the largest fish of the season are often caught at this time. They start spawning in early August and do so mainly in the stretches of the river above the braids to the Lakes.
Kings are targeted with both casting reels and fly or spey rods . To appreciate king salmon you have to fish on big water like the lower Alagnak. Our kings will take you further into your backing quicker than you ever thought possible. Big fish, big rods, and big water add up to exhilarating fishing you will long remember. Beware, it can become addictive.
The sockeye or red salmon are the first species to return to the river each year. Best fishing is found from the end of June through to mid July. The sockeye salmon run is the largest of the runs numerically, and the run is relatively short, so you can imagine that when the sockeyes are running, the river is teeming with fish. Most sockeye fall within the 8 to 12 lb range. Fish and Game operates a counting tower on the Alagnak on some years. One the years they count we average about 3 million annually. In 2017 the count was 2 million. Think about that, 3 million fish passing in a 3 week period. That is 140,000 per day.
Sockeye are silver and sleek when they enter the river, but evolve to bright red bodies and green heads as they approach their spawning grounds. They generally pass through the lakes and spawn in the upper streams and creeks. Our August fly outs offer an opportunity to fish for the native stream fish as they feed on the eggs and flesh of the spawning sockeyes. Needless to say, a lot of wildlife is also there gaining weight to survive the winter.
They do not readily bite as do the other salmon species, and are therefore the most difficult species to catch. Once you have them on the hook they are great fighters and powerful fish. You hook them near the bank, but they quickly run out to the current and give a long and hard fight before you can bring them to hand. We have developed special techniques to ensure success for any angler in landing enough of these to fill your box on the days the run is strong.
Chum or dog salmon are pound for pound the strongest of the five species of salmon, and are also very aggressive. Every year they cause a few broken rods and reels, a tribute to their tenacious nature as well as their size and strength.
Chum salmon start holding on shallow sandbars in tidewater near the lodge during the second week in July, and continue entering the river until the middle of August. Chums caught soon after they enter the river pose a formidable task to bring to hand. The average chum on the Alagnak is about 12 lbs, but fish up to 18 lbs are caught each year. No one really knows the size of the run, but it could be about 1 million. They seem to be everywhere in the month they are at the peak of their run.
They have the lowest fat content of the Pacific salmon so the salmon snobs have underrated them for years, but they have now found new acclaim with fly-fishermen. When they are fresh and bright they are good for eating and smoking, but when they deteriorate as they prepare to spawn they need to be released. Bright chums fresh from the ocean in the tidal section of the Alagnak River are easily mistaken for silvers.
The pink or humpback salmon are unique among pacific salmon in that they go to the ocean in their first year of life then return to spawn in their 2nd year. For the Alagnak river they spawn only on even-numbered years. Pinks begin their migration upriver the last week in July and continue until mid-August. When the pinks are running, they can be found in huge schools on the sandbars in the lower river. The run size can easily exceed a million fish. Pinks are the smallest of the five species of pacific salmon, mostly falling in the 3-5 lb range. They are most renowned for their aggressive nature. Pinks are excellent light tackle fish and since they are aggressive and relatively easy to catch.
Silver or coho salmon replace the king salmon as star attraction on the Alagnak as July turns to August. Presenting more of a challenge to catch than chums, silvers are characterized by their aggressive behavior, and are famous for their spectacular acrobatic leaps and line-peeling runs.
The silver salmon begin to enter the river at the end of July, and can still be running strong into September. Silvers commonly fall in the 8-12 lb range, but larger fish up to 18 lbs are caught each year, typically later in the month.
Silvers are very popular with fly fisherman, seeing the wake appear of a chasing silver as you fast strip across the surface is an experience long remembered. The silver run also coincides with some of the best opportunities to fish for rainbow trout and other native species such as grayling and char on fly outs, completing the perfect fly-fishing adventure.
Bristol Bay is a renowned rainbow trout fishery, and the Alagnak River drainage is one of the best in the area. Trout fishing is available all season, but some specific times warrant special attention.
In August and September, the rainbows congregate for their annual late summer feast at the spawning grounds. Much of the fishing at this time is with patterns representing salmon eggs and flesh. This is the best time of year to catch trophy fish, as the rainbows have been feeding all summer. August and early September represent the best time to combine trout fishing with salmon fishing, with silvers running in the lower Alagnak.
June is another time of opportunity, when the trout follow the salmon smolt downstream as they head out to sea and feed aggressively after a winter under ice. At this time, the rainbows are easily fooled by streamer patterns. This is also the best time to fish for rainbows with dry flies and mouse patterns.
The rainbows in this part of Alaska are renowned for their beauty and size, with trout in the six to ten pound class landed by guests at the lodge each year. Usually we need to go upriver to the braided section to effectively target the native stream fish, but they do feed around our dock in July.