Alaska has a seemingly endless number of rivers for anglers to explore. It’s no mystery why Alaska is on most people’s bucket lists with its astounding natural beauty and world-class fishing. However, for anyone taking a trip to the largest state in America should know what to expect and how to be best prepared to ensure a great trip.
What should you practice at home?
A good rule of thumb to prepare for any fly fishing trip is to practice your casting. No other single aspect can improve your trip experience more than improving your cast. Set aside some time prior to your trip and practice in your local park or even on your street. If you can, place a target such as a large ring or bucket to which you can aim casts. Similarly, try to practice in inclement weather so that if a weather front rolls in you will be fully prepared and will still be able to shoot line into a headwind.
Different casts you should practice are single haul and double haul casts as well as roll casts. If you have these three casts down you will be set up for a successful Alaska trip.
Alaska’s Seasons, Fish & Weather
Before any fishing trip it’s important to have general expectations laid out. Each month will present different challenges and advantages to the angler and it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
Alaska has three distinct seasons: early, middle and late.
Early Season: June/July
If you’re looking to target a diversity of species, then June and July is a great time to be in Alaska and to fish for trout with a variety of fly patterns. During the months of June and July, anglers can typically target rainbows on a variety of different fly patterns including streamers, nymphs, dry flies and even skated mouse patterns!
As the trout species are coming off a long winter season where they have been lethargic and lay dormant, they begin to feed heavily and very aggressively to pack on the pounds before next winter. Many of the rainbows will chase down almost any well-presented fly pattern, and you can see lots of action in a variety of different scenarios.
You can also have great fishing opportunities for a variety of different salmon species as they move into the freshwater of Alaska. The King Salmon will show up in mid to late June depending on the area you will be fishing, and will be available to anglers throughout the month of July where they will spawn and decompose back into the system.
Sockeyes, pinks and chums are also coming into the river systems strong as you move into July, which makes a very diverse time of the season from a fishing perspective. If you’re looking for the chance to catch a bunch of different species, this often overlooked time of the year is a great time to experience Alaska.
The weather can be variable in June and July with temperatures in the high 50’s and low 60’s. Make sure to pack layers as springtime showers can show up unexpectedly and temperatures can drop. Although July will offer more consistent weather, rain, wind and low temperatures can still be experienced. Since this is the spring time in Alaska bugs will be prevalent; BRING BUG SPRAY!
Mid-Season: Late July/August
As you move farther into the season of late July and early August, the Sockeyes will begin making their big push upstream to their areas to spawn. When this happens, they will also pull many fish and some larger specimens with them from the lakes and their hiding holes, making it a great time for anglers that are looking to catch a lot of rainbows and some of the bigger fish of the year.
One thing that anglers should keep in mind is that they will be primarily fishing for rainbows and it will turn into more of a nymphing game during this time as the salmon drop their eggs and flesh into the river.
Many of the trout species are very keyed into eating the eggs being dropped on beds by the salmon, and the best way to target them at this time is with eggs or flesh. You can occasionally get one to eat a streamer or mouse patter, but the most effective way to target the trout species will be with eggs and flesh and a nymph fishing rig and setup.
This is also a fantastic time if you are looking to fish for silver salmon, which is a favorite of many sport fishermen in Alaska. Not only do they chase down streamers and topwater fly patterns a little more aggressively than the other salmon species, but they are very aggressive, acrobatic, and put up an incredible fight once hooked.
This is probably one of the most highly demanded times to be in Alaska as anglers are looking to catch as many big fish as possible (which you definitely can), but weeks at many of the better lodges tend to book up the fastest of any weeks during the season.
One of the reasons August is considered the prime time to fly fish Alaska is because of the nice weather. Temperatures are usually in the 70’s and 80’s and the sun is shining. But even with all this said weather systems can roll through at a moment’s notice. In 2018, for instance, a 5-day typhoon hit the coast and the region’s watersheds. We always recommend buying trip insurance for these, although rare, instances.
Late Season: September/early October
We consider this time of year to be “trophy time” for big rainbows in Alaska. As the salmon begin to die off and decay back into the river systems, the rainbows have gorged themselves to their largest size of the year on eggs and flesh. The larger fish will continue to hang around in many of the rivers, but the fishing during this time turns to more “quality over quantity.”
Late season in Alaska is a great time of the year for that angler that might not be interested that much in catching tons of fish, but for the angler that is really looking to land that once-in-a-lifetime rainbow trout – many reaching in excess of 30+ inches!
You can see a little bit of colder temperatures and precipitation during this time, but the fall colors of Alaska are in full swing and the scenery is spectacular. Many of the anglers in Alaska have left by the late season, so it’s definitely more of an intimate experience and does not feel as crowded as other times of the year.
The weather in September will have more hints of winter right around the corner. The temperatures can be colder in the high 40’s, 50’s, and at times reaching the 60’s. Wearing layers is absolutely paramount. It’s not unusual to have some wind and rain while on the water. In the mornings don’t be surprised when there’s ice or frost in the boats.
If you’ve spent some time in fly fishing you know all too well not all guides are created equal. Thankfully by and large Alaskan guides are committed, professional and good at their jobs. They’ve been there the entire season fishing and know the rivers inside and out.
Alaska is a terrific destination to fly fish with its beautiful landscapes and world-class fisheries. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare for your trip will prepare you to thoroughly enjoy your fly fishing trip.