Alaska is a magical place. I was lucky enough to spend 6 summers up there many years ago. The first two were as a state park employee in the largest state park in the country with 1.6 million acres. During those two summers I lived in a cabin on the banks of the Agululpak River. It was basically a paid fishing vacation as I fished the river every night by myself. The following 4 summers were spent as a guide at one of the lodges up there. I got to experience some of the magic of the Alaskan bush there and here are my slides now digitized that show some of what Alaska was when I was up there. It is only a small part of Alaska but it will give you the basic idea.
I spent my time in Bristol Bay between the Togiak and Nushagak rivers. The lodge that I worked for fished about an hour plane ride radius from the lodge and we moved around depending on the time of year and the fishing conditions. When I think of fishing in AK I break it down into salmon and then the freshwater fishing. I will give a breakdown of each of the fishing as it was done in my day. This was pre bead AK.
In our the Bristol Bay area we had all 5 species present and we fished actively for 4 species; King, Chum, Red and Silver. This is the order of which they appeared in the rivers.
King of Chinook: the largest of the Pacific Salmon. We had good runs of kings in our area of Alaska and most of the fishing in the lower rivers consisted of using big spinners and roe. Back then noone was swinging flies for them in the lower rivers. The kings came into the rivers in small pods and the people would cast all day until a fresh pod moved in. The lower part of the rivers were very nondescript in terms of structure and the fish usually moved up the bank as that offered the path of least resistance. When the kings got up river they often held in the deepest part of the river. We never targeted them a lot, but after work us guides would go after them when they first showed up and we relatively fresh. One of the rivers that I spent a lot of time on was 100 or so miles from the mouth. The kings tended to spawn in the tails of a run and made large redds often near bluffs for some reason. Fresh fish were chrome and turned red as they entered the river or got closer to spawning. In our area most fish were 20-35 pounds with the odd 50 pounder thrown in.
Chums or Dog: An under rated game fish and one of my favorite due to the great number of fish in the runs and hence the large number of eggs in the water. We had two great rivers to fish chums. One was small and right on the salt and the fish were chrome full of sea lice and hot. The chums would stack into sloughs as they migrated up river and this is where we fished for them. Chrome when fresh and as they got close to spawning would turn green, red and black. Males would get huge hooked jaws to fight each other and to protect the redds from the hungry trout. The average size was 6-10 pounds with a big fish hitting 15 pounds.
Red or Sockeye: the best eating fish and great fighters. They are plankton eaters in the salt and basically done eat. There was only one place where we would get them and it was because they would stack up by the 10,000. We would cast out our flies and if you felt any hesitation set the hook and then all hell would break loose. Smallest of the salmon besides pinks. In our area would average 5-7 pounds.
Silver or Coho: My personally favorite salmon. They came in last and in great numbers. They would actively take flies and would often jump a great deal. In a few areas would take surface flies. Silver when fresh and would turn red and black. These fish would vary weights the most depending on the river system. On one system 6-8 pounds was average with a big one hitting 12. On another system they averaged 8-12 with big ones 15-18 pounds.
Grayling: A beautiful fish that was very difficult to get pictures of that did justice to their colors. Many people looked down on them since they were often abundant, easy to catch and didn’t fight as hard as the bows, but when I compare them to many of the trout fisheries in the east they are awesome. On some rivers they could average 15-18 inches and one could catch them on dries all day long.
Artic Char: the mouth of the Aguluwak reportedly has the highest concentration of char in the world. They are a pretty fish that fight well but are looked down because they don’t jump much and aren’t as pretty.
Dolly Varden: I think the Taxonomical differences between these two fish are close to impossible to distinguish plus I don’t even think the Dolly Varden exist as a species scientifically any more. We noted that they looked different in different river/lake systems so much so that they looked like different species, but then other ones looked very similar. In fall spawning colors these fish were stunning and there were some large fish to be had.
Lake Trout: The Tikchik lake system had Lakers and we only caught a few here and there. As a result they were more of a by catch fish than a targeted species.
Pike: some of the shallow bays of the lakes had excellent pike fishing and they could provide excellent surface action and were a nice change of pace from trout fishing (for a limited time).
Rainbow Trout: Everyone’s favorite gamefish in Alaska. The bows were often stunning in their appearance and are a very strong fighting fish that would make many aerial excursions and in places could get very large. In our area we didn’t have the numbers of huge bows that other parts of Ak has but there were some nice fish to be had.