BRISTOL BAY FISH SPECIES
ALASKA WILDERNESS FISHING | World’s Largest Salmon Runs
Each summer, tens of millions of wild salmon return to spawn in the rivers and streams of the vast Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska. These salmon return nutrients that allow the ecosystem to support healthy populations of other fish and wildlife species, making the Bristol Bay watershed a “sportman’s paradise.” Even in Bristol Bay, the Alagnak River is unusual in that it hosts strong runs of all five species of pacific salmon.
Every serious fisherman should make at least one pilgrimage to Bristol Bay, but be warned, one trip often turns into many, as the fisherman gets hooked!
The king or Chinook salmon is the largest of the five species of pacific salmon, and offer anglers true big game fish excitement. Most Alagnak kings range from 25 to 45 lbs, but fish in excess of 50 lbs have been caught on the Alagnak River. The Alagnak River has the reputation of producing the largest kings that are caught in Bristol Bay.
The first of the kings start their migration during the seemingly endless days of late June, and continue until the season closes 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.
Kings are targeted with both fly rods and conventional gear. For the fly fisherman, at least a 10wt rod is needed, and spey fishing for kings has become a popular choice.
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 that add up to the most exhilarating and challenging fishing you will ever experience.
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 5 to 8 lb range.
Sockeye are silver and sleek when they enter the river but change rapidly to bright red bodies and green heads as they approach their spawning grounds. They do not bite aggressively as do the other salmon species, and are the most difficult species to catch. They challenge even the most skilled fly-fisherman, yet with the help of our expert guides providing you with the right flies, offer great fishing to the less experienced angler.
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.
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 close to the ocean 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.
You may hear them referred to as dog salmon, since the locals feed them to their dogs. This name has caused chum salmon to be underrated for years, but they have now found new acclaim with catch and release fly-fishermen, and their aggressive nature makes them perfect for the less experienced fisherman. 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 different in that they return to the Alagnak River 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, they are great for novice anglers and kids.
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.
Trophy Rainbow Trout
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 represents the best time to combine trout fishing with salmon fishing, with silvers running in the lower Alagnak.
The best kept secret is the rainbow fishing in June, when the fish are feeding aggressively after a winter under ice. At this time, millions of salmon smolt head out to sea, and rainbows are easily fooled by streamer patterns. This is also the best time to fish for rainbows with dry flies. Catching an Alaskan rainbow on a mouse pattern is one of the most amazing sights in fly-fishing.
The rainbows in this part of Alaska are renowned for their beauty and size, with fish exceeding ten pounds landed by guests at the lodge each year.
Arctic grayling are a small beautiful fish, easily recognizable by their large dorsal fish. Grayling are surface feeders and renowned for taking dry flies. Grayling are caught upriver in the Alagnak at certain times, but are more commonly seen on fly outs.
Char are mainly fished on fly outs, and we have a few destinations that are specifically targeted towards fishing for char, but can also offer good fishing for rainbows and grayling. Char are a beautifully colored fish, and the best fishing is later in the summer.