Covering over 371 million acres, Alaska contains one-fifth of the total landmass of the Lower 48, more than half of America’s national parkland, 80% of America’s national wildlife refuge land, and more world-class fishing water than a person could possibly explore in a lifetime.
Now that you have decided to experience all that this amazing region has to offer – the huge rainbows, the grizzlies, the runs of salmon so thick you can almost walk across their backs, and the incredibly long fishing days in a land where the sun hardly sets – the most important question becomes: “where exactly do I go?”
In no particular order, we’ve compiled the 6 Favorite Alaskan Fishing Rivers to help you plan for your Alaskan fly fishing adventure.
1. Nushagak River
The Nushagak River is home to all five species of Pacific salmon: Chinook, sockeye, chum, coho, and pink salmon. Combined with rainbow trout, arctic grayling, and Dolly Varden, “prolific” is an understatement when describing this fishery. The term “fish factory” might actually be more fitting. Salmon migrate to the uppermost regions of the Nushagak to several very prolific spawning areas. Four species of salmon annually spawn throughout July, August, and into part of September, providing a food base that supports very strong numbers of rainbow trout, grayling, and char.
Collectively, this activity creates a fabulous destination for visiting anglers. This is fly fishing in a pristine, isolated wilderness setting. This riverside camp experience is enhanced by regular sightings of wildlife and great home water pools for more after-dinner angling opportunities in a location that is well away from crowds and other lodges.
2. American Creek
American Creek is one of the most prolific trout and char fisheries in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and inevitably part of evening conversations at lodges across the region throughout the summer seasons. The creek meanders into Lake Coville in Katmai National Park and Preserve with its headwaters in the foothills of the Aleutian range. The American is a quintessential Alaskan creek with no lack of wildlife during a standard day on the river. Of course, brown bears are abundant as salmon move throughout the drainage as well as birds of prey such as bald eagles.
There isn’t a lot of water flowing in American Creek during the summer months which is a double-edged sword – low water levels make it very wadeable during prime summer months but the jet boat run upriver is reserved for the most experienced guides in the region. Float trips are also an option, allowing anglers to experience sections of the river out of range from jet boats or hiking. Anglers agree that the American can be some of the best fishing in Alaska with rainbows and colorful char abound in the crystal-clear waters, ready to inhale a dry fly, streamer, or egg pattern.
3. Aniak River
The Aniak River which is a main tributary to the Kuskokwim is home to 10 different species of fish that are all targetable on the fly. Like many Alaskan destinations, this is remote and wild. If casting big flies to a variety of species tickles your fancy, then consider this smaller, more intimate tributary of the larger Kuskokwim. Guides use jetboats to fish the miles of the river, often navigating through log jams and small channels. The adventure is safe, but often time feels like you are the first humans to visit the river.
Mousing is a very popular tactic on the Aniak as the rainbows are aggressive and rely heavily on the rodent populations for food. The Aniak is also home to a variety of species including sheefish, northern pike, grayling, dolly varden, and all 5 species of pacific salmon so there’s plenty of diversity! For any mouse lover, this is an exceptional fishery right up your alley!
4. Kulik River
Running between Nonvianuk and Kulik Lake, the Kulik River is less than two miles long. However, due to its length, it’s never blown out and one of the most reliable rivers in Alaska. The river’s stability allows anglers to fish the river from early June all the way through October each year; with consistent fishing regardless of water level. The gin-clear water and gravel bottom make it the perfect habitat for rainbow trout and easy wading for anglers of all ability levels.
All anglers generally use a jet boat or raft to access different runs on the river and target powerful rainbows with streamers, egg patterns, and even mice when the conditions allow. Bordered by thick willows, the Kulik is inundated with bears as the river fills with sockeye in August, so be sure to keep your head on a swivel! But don’t let the bears deter you – big snowy mountains, crystal clear water, and big fish make the Kulik one of the best fly fishing rivers in Alaska.
5. Kvichak River
When brought to mind, it’s impossible not to associate the Kvichak River with large, chrome rainbow trout. Located in southwest Alaska, The Kvichak River flows 50 miles from Iliamna Lake to Kvichak Bay which is part of the larger and more famous Bristol Bay watershed.
The clear cold water holds rainbow trout as large as 28” to 30” that move in and out of large lakes and are dime bright during certain parts of the season; leave your favorite 5wt at home! In fact, the rainbow trout fishing is so excellent that it’s the only river in Alaska with the “Trophy Rainbow Trout Area” designation. Aside from rainbows, the Kvichak has the world’s largest salmon run as the fish move from the ocean into freshwater to spawn and die. Every fly fisher should experience the wild and incredible fishing that the river offers.
6. Naknek River
This pristine river drains from Naknek Lake and flows 35 miles into Bristol Bay. As far as fly fishing Alaska trout goes, the Naknek is a must-experience fishery. The river holds some of the largest rainbow trout in the world that get to be enormous sizes from feeding on salmon eggs and insects that abound in a healthy environment.
The river’s also a major highway for Pacific salmon making their way back upstream to spawn, and starting the end of June and lasting roughly until the end of July, witness one of nature’s magical events as thousands of salmon clog the river while making their way back home. This is a river that will leave you with fond memories and a want to return year after year.
+ Listen to this WAYPOINTS Podcast: CAMILLE EGDORF – Alaska Trip Planning and How to Do it Right