Just another shot of the Alaskan experience by Cameron Miller.
We get lots of questions from anglers planning trips who want to know ‘the best time to go’. When it comes to rainbow trout in Western Alaska, the answer depends a lot on what you’re looking for.
Since rainbows in the Kanektok are all resident fish and their summer feeding season is short, if there’s no ice on the river you’re probably going to catch fish. That being said, there are some definite differences in the rainbow fishing during the period in which we’re open at Alaska West.
Here’s a little primer.
Early season – mid-June to mid-July
During this period, the Kanektok isn’t yet clogged with salmon. Our rainbows are hungry after a long cold winter, and they’re really opportunistic feeders.
Covering lots of water with big flies is generally the ticket. Sculpins, leeches, big flesh flies, and contrary to popular belief, mouse patterns all produce. BONUS: kings on swung flies!
Mid season – mid-July to mid-August
This is generally our peak time for trout numbers. A wide variety of techniques applied in lots of different water all produce fish. Side channels, spawning beds, mid-river snags, shelves and the couch water get fished and the fish tend to do their part.
Beads, flesh in a range of sizes, and the standard leech and sculpin patterns remain favorites. Mousing is awesome. BONUS: silvers, chums, pinks, sockeye, dollies, grayling!
Late season – mid-August to early September
Time to look for Big Jerry. Our rainbows get fatter and fatter as the season goes on, so late is good if you’re hoping for the fish of a lifetime. The trout tend to be a little more concentrated later in the season, so it’s important to spend your time in the right water.
Side channels are less of a factor as the river drops. Upriver spawning beds and lower river snags are favorite spots. The couch water on inside bends still produces. A variety of flies get fished, but beads and smaller flesh patterns are the stars in the late season. BONUS: silvers, silvers and more silvers!
More On Our Fishery At Alaska West
Today’s edition is just a nice, normal, beautiful Alaska West rainbow trout underwater shot- heavily spotted, nice red stripe, and with a very run-of-the-mill fly in its mouth. Wait a second – that’s not a run-of-the-mill fly – it’s a giant floating mouse pattern! That angler must have had some fun.
Mike Sanders isn’t the only Deneki expert who gave us some great input on those spots that Alaskan rainbows live in, but don’t always get covered by anglers.
Here’s what we asked our expert panel this time around –
“What’s the most overlooked type of trout lie in Alaska?”
And here’s what they said.
“The inside of the inside seam, where there is no current. Drop a big flesh fly with enough weight to get to the bottom, and let it marinate. The only problem is usually there is TOO much natural flesh there. I’ve caught fish after ‘dead-sticking’ the fly for 5 minutes!”
“The immediate edge of any shallow/riffle drop off. I’ve watched choker trout in inches of water right at the back edge of the shallow near the drop off. Fish above the edge, work your way down the shallow and let your sculpin fall over the edge for killer action. They eat mega!”
“‘Schnittle channels’. Little itty-Bitty side channels, most noteably in June and the front half of July.”
“Anglers, and guides, need to be aware of changing conditions and feeding habits of Alaska bows. Where and how they position themselves and feed varies throughout the season. But here’s my insta-tip: When it comes to mousing (my favorite!), look beyond the traditional side-channels and grassy banks. Toss that lil’ mousie right out into the middle of the main channel, make him dance, and HANG ON!. I call it ‘mousing in the mainstream.’ Eeeh eeeh eeeeh ssqquueeaakk.”
Guests at Alaska West have the opportunity to book fishing days on the Arolik River, which is a really awesome experience for a whole bunch of reasons. Accessing the Arolik involves taking a short bus ride through the village of Quinhagak and down the Arolik Road to the edge of the river, where we keep our guide boats.
The Arolik bus is a real gem. Formerly used by forestry teams, it made its journey to us by barge. Its life in (well, near) Quinhagak started off with the barge getting stuck in the muddy bay outside the mouth of the Kanektok for a couple of weeks, easily within sight but yet so far away…but that’s another story.
It’s got plenty of room for anglers and gear, and let’s just say it’s got a ‘well-worn’ feel to it. Rugged, reliable and overflowing with character – just the way we like it.
More Character At Alaska West
We asked our Deneki Expert Panel a question a little while back about trout lies – no, not the tall tales that trout spin about the size of the anglers who almost caught them, the places in the river where trout like to live.
A later post will give a number of bits of wisdom from our panel on trout lies, but today we’re starting with a very special kind of trout lie. None other than Mike Sanders, our long-time GM at Alaska West, put together a writeup on where the very biggest rainbow trout tend to lie. Let’s see…multi-decade Alaska fishing veteran telling you where the biggest trout are…maybe you want to read this one.
With that, we present Mike Sanders on Big Jerry.
Bangin’ the bank with a mouse on outside bends is a perfect way to play with kick-butt, carnivorous bows waiting for Mr. Hanky the mouse to drop in for a bite. Addicting? For certain. The best? Maybe. But… the Jabba the Hut hogs, those ‘…get in my belly’ Fat Bastards, let’s call them all Big Jerry; Big Jerry is usually not into this kind of fun.
Simply put, Big Jerry is lazy. He would rather watch the WWF SmackDown between fish and mammal happening on the cutbanks from a comfy spot the other side of the river. If at all possible, BJ will hang in the soft couch water of a sweeping inside bend or long flat. Why? Because that’s where the eatin’ is easy. Big Jerry is a fat slob and he needs to eat MEGA and he does not want to work for his food. He likes treading water behind his favorite fast-food salmon redd (kings if he can get it but any dollar menu species will do), gulping down eggs and macking on flesh tid-bits, like fries, pizza and snickers fun-sized candy bars.
To a lot of anglers couch water looks too shallow, too slow and too boring. Most people do not throw to it – they wade into it or put the boat on top of it, opting for the mysterious dark water on the outside bends or cutbanks. A lot of the time the water is clear and you can see the fish. BJ is lazy – but he is smart. He earned his blub by not making mistakes. BJ is crafty – if you see him – he can see you and he may slink away if you threaten him or he may just hang there feasting. But… I think most times anglers do not see Big Jerry when he eats – if you see him he is not going to eat your offering. He comes as a surprise most times and he goes unappreciated for the first few minutes of the fight, confused as another spawner. Then more times than not, just after you realize what is happening and just as your breath is taken away… he’s gone.
I know this fish. I hate and I love him. I’ll be out there trying to hit him in the grocery hole with a glazed donut again this weekend in hopes of watching him leap his fat butt high into the sky while flippin’ me the bird.
More On Rainbow Trout Fishing
If you’ve ever been confused listening to people talk about the different species of Pacific Salmon, you’re not alone. No one knows why, but for some reason each of the five North American Pacific Salmon have two names. It’s really not that complicated!
King Salmon = Chinook Salmon. No difference.
Chum Salmon and Dog Salmon are the same thing.
Sockeye Salmon and Red Salmon are both formally known as Oncorhynchus nerka.
Pink Salmon and Humpback Salmon? Identical.
You can call it a Silver Salmon or a Coho Salmon – it’s the same fish.
If you noticed that all those fish looked pretty bright and fresh, that’s because they were caught at Alaska West, a stone’s throw from the salt on the Kanektok River. Where are all the dark reds and greens and other zany colors? They show up as the salmon lose their fat reserves and get ready for spawning – upriver!
The period from late July through early September at Alaska West is just one big mess of silver salmon mayhem. At this time of year the leopard rainbows, dollies and other salmon species in the Kanektok make room in already crowded waters, because they know as well as we do that the river gets jammed with silvers.
Our silvers love eating flies. They typically stack up in softer-water sloughs and along undercut banks. This tendency to hang out in softer water makes them excellent targets for stripped flies, both on the surface (that’s right – poppers and pollywogs) and beneath the surface.
Here are five of our favorite flies for targeting silvers on at Alaska West, in no particular order.
1. Riverborn Pink Popper.
We’re going to come right out and say that we’d rather catch silvers on topwater flies than beneath the surface – the visual nature of the popper/chugger/pollywog game is just way too much fun to not indulge whenever given the chance. These days we prefer actual foam-headed poppers to the traditional spun deer hair Pollywog, simply because we catch a lot of fish and a foam popper keeps floating for fish after fish, while Pollywogs tend to get waterlogged.
2. Solitude Starlight Leech, Pink.
This type of fly right here is your go-to silver fly when you’re fishing the lowest stretches of the Kanektok. Pink is king the majority of the time. The lead eyes are important too – silvers can’t get enough of the slight jigging action that results from stripping a lead-eyed fly.
3. Solitude Starlight Leech, Purple.
4. Idylwilde Hickman’s Party Boy, Pink.
Jeff Hickman, Deneki Outdoors alumnus, created this very versatile pattern, and we like it. For those situations in which the silvers seem to want a longer, ‘leechier’ type of pattern, the Party Boy is a great option. Also, it’s pink.
5. Idylwilde Idyl’s Bruiser, Black.
It doesn’t happen often, but if you can see a bunch of silvers in the right kind of water, but you can’t get them to eat, it often pays, after throwing some pink and purple at them, to try a moderate-sized fly in black. We don’t know why, but it won’t hurt to have a few of these in your box.