Words and Images by Yellow Dog Program Director Jack Porter
I recently returned from a fantastic trip to Outpost on the Nush which is located on the Upper Nushagak River in the Bristol Bay Drainage of Alaska. To say that this operation is remote would be an understatement. After a night in Anchorage, we took a 1 hour flight on a single engine PC-12 to Illiamna where we then jumped on a float plane for another hour flight to “the runway” portion of the Upper Nushagak River. On the hour-long flight, we saw hundreds of caribou, a grizzly, lakes, rivers, streams, mountain passes, and untouched land in all directions.
Once we landed on the river, we deboarded the planes while the guides unloaded our luggage and the supplies for the week. As the flights were taking off to head back to Iliamna with the previous week’s guests, a grizzly bear walked up the opposite bank of the river with a sockeye salmon in its mouth, and at that moment, it really sank in that we had finally arrived in the Alaskan wilderness and that we had a great week ahead of us.
To get from “the runway” to camp takes about 30-35 minutes in the jet boats as the guides drive through the twists, turns, side channels, and log jams of the river. It’s hard not to smile on these boat rides, and as the time passes and the river continues to wind, you can’t help but think just how wild and isolated this place is. When you round the final corner to camp, seeing the structures is almost startling as these are the only man-made buildings in an otherwise untouched environment.
I had been to the camp before when it was owned by Dave and Kim Egdorf who ran the lodge for over thirty years under the name, “Western Alaska Sport Fishing.” The new owner, Dave Pishko, was the head guide during the Egdorf’s last few seasons of operation, and I can’t think of a more fitting individual to take over and continue the legacy of what was established by the Egdorfs on the Upper Nush. To own and operate a camp in such a wild and unique environment requires a very specific type of person who can quite literally do anything, including but not limited to: guiding, managing the staff, fixing motors (or anything that breaks), taking care of guests, cutting down trees for firewood, ordering supplies, coordinating charter flights, and everything in between.
In Dave’s two years as the owner, he and his business partner John have made some serious upgrades, and despite how remote the camp is, guests who have the opportunity to visit will be surprised at just how comfortable life in the Alaskan bush can be – so many improvements have been made since I was last here a few years ago. Some of the amenities include cabins, burner toilets, a hot shower, generator-powered electricity, wifi, and more. Perhaps the most notable and impactful update has been the focus on the quality food with the addition of Jay Peery as the chef. With limited resources and only able to receive groceries once per week, Jay shocked us with what he was able to produce in the camp kitchen. Each morning, he offered made to order breakfast, lunches featured his homemade sourdough, and each evening was a memorable experience with healthy dishes and big flavor. The meals included Filet Mingon with scallops and mushroom risotto, salmon with rice and vegetables, Asian style chicken bowls, braised pork “street tacos,” and more. The desserts included crème brulee, lemon bars, and apple pie. All home made. During the fishing day I would find myself wondering what Jay had in store for us when we got back to camp at the end of the day – it was that good.
The target species here on the Upper Nushagak include Arctic Grayling, Dolly Varden, and Rainbow Trout. Each day we fished with a different guide, and the guides each had their own section that they fished for the whole season so they were directly in touch with what was fishing well and what was worth skipping. The guides at Outpost on the Nush are special. These guys are professional, sharp, talented, focused, and hardworking. They are a close group, and they operate well as a team – always working together to deliver the best fishing experience to the anglers on their boat and in camp. Each of the guides had numerous years of Alaska guiding experience, they are all licensed captains, and they’re some of the hardest working guides in Alaska. When they aren’t guiding, they’re either tying flies, swinging flies in the run below camp, fixing something, or chopping firewood – these guys are hardcore anglers and an absolute pleasure to fish with each day.
Wild places are unpredictable, and I think that’s what I like so much about this fishery. Throughout the season, things are constantly changing. Some things happen quickly like daily weather, or rising/falling river conditions tied to rainfall in the vast watershed, while other changes happen slower like salmon entering the system and ultimately dying which impacts where the fish are and what they’re eating. The wildness of the fishery requires anglers to focus in on what’s in front of them, and to fish based on what the river and the conditions are telling them. Equally wild is the environment around the lodge. We saw grizzly bears every day (even a few from camp in the evenings), caribou, moose, bald eagles, osprey, and a plethora of unique bird species.
We had some fantastic fishing during our week, and we were able to use a variety of techniques in many different settings and fishing scenarios. As the days went by, we slowly watched the sockeye salmon die off, as the silver salmon started showing up which made for a dynamic fishing experience. At times, we would cover water while drifting in a boat throwing streamers and mouse patterns at structure and holding water. Because the salmon were dying, we noticed a lot of flesh in the water, so we were able to catch a lot of fish on “flesh flies” and white/tan/cream streamers near the log jams where the carcasses were getting piled up. At other times, like in the sockeye redds, we would slow things down and sight fish for the various fish feeding on the eggs of the spawning salmon. While these sockeye redds can be extremely productive with a lot of action and many fish landed, we chose to spend more time fishing other parts of the river with different techniques. At the end of each fishing day, there is always a jet boat ride back home with a beer in hand while you take in all the scenery and reflect on the catches (and misses) of the day.
By the end of the week, we had caught more fish than we could have ever hoped for, and we enjoyed a fantastic time with the guides and other guests. The Upper Nushagak River is a national treasure, and Dave and John have taken this already legendary camp on its bank to another level. A week experiencing it flies by and before you know it, you’re getting back in the float plane with unforgettable memories of a week spent deep in the Alaskan bush. Outpost on the Nush really is a true and wild Alaskan experience that goes way beyond the world class fly fishing you’ll find there. I hope to be back soon!