Guest Review August 9-15
This review first appeared on www.expeditionbroker.com
“I recently returned from a wonderful, amazing trip on the Kanektok River. It’s on the Southwest Alaska Peninsula and flows into Kuskokwim Bay. It is north of the Aleutian chain if you look at the map of Alaska. It was arguably the best fishing trip of my life.
I began with a one day trip from Spokane to Bethel, AK via Alaska Airlines. I stayed overnight in Bethel, and the next morning boarded a float plane that flew us to the Kanektok headwaters at Pegati Lake in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Our group consisted of five anglers (a family group of a grandfather, two adult sons, a 12 y/o grandson, and myself), plus three guides rowing 16 ft. rafts.
We traveled about 100 miles, spent 7 days and 6 nights on the river. Some fishing was done from the rafts as we floated downstream, while at other spots we would stop and wade to fish promising water. Camp consisted of a large cook/dining tent, a bathroom tent and 3 roomy sleeping tents. Each comfortably held two cots with sleeping pads. As a solo guest, I had my tent all to myself. On the third and sixth nights we had warm showers in the bathroom tent, which was a welcome and much appreciated way to clean up. Meals were over the top – steaks, halibut, lasagne, fried chicken in the evenings, bacon, eggs, pancakes for breakfast. On the last morning we even had eggs Benedict! For lunches we made sandwiches stream side.
Where it flows out of Pegati Lake, the Kanektok is crystal clear and fairly small, probably no more than 50 ft. wide. It got gradually larger as it was joined by tributaries downstream. We had sunny/partially sunny weather for the first three days. On the fourth day the weather turned, with gale force winds and heavy driving rain. The guides had to work hard to keep from being blown back upstream on the river! Despite the weather we continued to fish, with surprising success. For the last two days the wind was gone, and we had intermittent drizzle with periods of sunshine, as well. Even though we were wet on the outside, with good gear we were warm and dry on the inside.
And the fishing? Even though awesome is an over-used term, I’d describe it as beyond awesome. Phenomenal. Unbelievable. For the first three days we found pods of spawning sockeye salmon (easy to spot because of their red color), and would cast a salmon egg colored egg fly or a 6 mm. peach/natural egg bead over them. Below the spawners were hordes of Dolly Varden/Arctic Char, Grayling and Rainbow trout, eagerly fighting each other to gobble up the stray eggs that floated downstream. It was rare for my fly to be in the water for more than 30 seconds before I had a fish on, and it was nonstop action all day long. On my first day I stopped counting after landing 73 fish, and I’m sure I landed over 300 during the week. They were good sized fish, too, with some of the Dollies going over 5 lbs. We also cast flesh flies (imitations of decomposing salmon flesh) to Rainbows as we floated downstream. They would rush out of their hiding places in streamside root balls and strike them with a vengeance. It was definitely a “catch fish until your arms ache” experience.
On the fourth day we began to run into silver salmon/coho in slower water in sloughs or on outside bends of the river. They were in their red spawning colors when we first encountered them, and became more and more silvery as we moved downstream closer to the ocean. On the last day some of the chrome bright fish still had sea lice on them. We would cast either a purple egg sucking leech or flashy pink/purple starlight leech, and the more aggressive fish eagerly attacked them. Several times our group had triple and quadruple hookups. I landed at least 30 silvers over the last three days, and hooked/lost probably a dozen more.
The guides had a lot of experience on the river. They were knowledgeable about the fish, wildlife and plant life, and were excellent fish finders, mentors and coaches. I really enjoyed my time with them, and thank Beyond Boundaries Outfitters for putting together such an outstanding trip. Even though this was a “trip of a lifetime”, I look forward to doing it again in the near future.” ~Thatcher – Chattaroy, WA
Our trip down the Kanektok went very well. Lots of fish of every kind. Chris scored the Kanektok slam with at least of one of every species. Most exciting was a large king that toasted her spinning reel. Dave, Chris, and Sky really went out of their way to make the trip special. Dave is an amazing logistician and a fountain of river knowledge. Chris does it all and was as enjoyable as he was in base camp last summer. Sky’s easy going personality is well suited for the job and he is a tireless worker. Together, there is great synergy and teamwork.
Finally, I wanted to ask about the openings for next year for the weeks of August 9-15or August 1-7
When my father in law moved to Alaska in the late 70's there was a bounty on Dolly Varden. It was something like 5 cents a Dolly, I assume paid upon receipt of a beautiful carcass. The thought was the Dollys were destroying the Pacific Salmon eggs, therein destroying the population. Thankfully the state of Alaska moved beyond this mentality and kinda recognized the fact that we as humans were the ones hurting the salmon numbers. Still arguably overfished commercially but at least anglers weren't paid to recreationally kill fish.
So, besides the fact that the State was giving them a bad rap, there is no commercial value to the species. In other words there's no set nets with holes specifically designed to harvest Dollys, there's no seine nets with Dolly quotas, no longliners would venture in to their domain. Add to that the fact that Dolly Varden spawn in the same systems the Salmon do but they live to see another day. Instead of spawn til you die it's more like spawn til you're colored up like a psychedelic lollipop and then eat some more and return to the ocean. Dollies can spawn upwards of 7 or 8 times in a lifespan. That's a lot of Dollies!
More than you can wrap your head around. On the Kanektok and Goodnewswe have two runs of them, an early season hawg run, and a late season babydoll run. This results in an infestation of the system. Last year, 2017, they estimated our sockeye salmon run over 50,000 fish and I can say without a doubt there were 5 times that many Dollies.
So you may ask what's the dilemma? The dilemma is solely based on guiding for these voracious predators. With so many in the system all feeding on eggs it's hard to get a fly in the water without them grabbing it. On some of the big Red beds there's so many Dollies anglers' numbers multiply by the minute. I've had guests go from a few to over a hundred in about an hour and a half. So what do you do after you've caught that many? "I want to do something different " is what I hear a lot. Of course you do, you're tired of getting destroyed by hard fighting 20+" fish that never quit. There's so many Dollies that they outcompete the resident Rainbows, literally consuming their grounds with numbers. As a fly fishing guide can you imagine taking off the hot fly just to give the net some relief? We do it daily in Southwest Alaska!
On the subject of nets, we all carry nets and hook outs. It is imperative to give these fish the utmost respect on a good release. Barbless hooks are not only part of our permit but critical for the health (and wealth) of all the fish but especially Dollies. They fight harder and harder the closer they get to the net and have a tendency to twist violently. We prefer the hook to just pop out; as evidenced below:
Or the highly acclaimed "shake and bake"
We're incredibly fortunate to have such a dilemma and the biggest reason for this is because Alaska is still truly the last frontier. We can not take this rare last place for granted, and our 6 million acre Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is as important as ever. Support Alaska and visit this awesome place!!!
The origination of the name Dolly Varden is from a Charles Dickens novel called "Barnaby Rudge." Dolly Varden was a lady character in the book who was known to wear very fancy and pretty dresses. The pattern of "Dolly Varden" was a popular pattern for embroidery and sewing in the 19th century.
They really are a special and unique color form!
Just a note to let you know the Kanektok River trip was everything we hoped for and so much more. Saw beautiful scenery, caught lots of fish, and had an overall great adventure. It was an added bonus to have Andrew and his dad Dan join us to finish out the group. I remembered Andrew from his time working at the Lodge. They certainly had more camping experience than we four Texans, and were a great help the first few days as we learned how to set up and break down our tents.
Dave runs a fantastic camp and knows that river and the fish like the back of his hand. He served the finest meals I have ever eaten in a tent camp. Chris and Sky were great guides and worked their tails off to make sure we had a great experience. The added hot shower system is a real luxury. We joked only thing missing was the spa robe and slippers.
We each caught lots of Rainbows and Dolly’s, the occasional Sockeye that took us well into our backing, enough Pinks and Chum for everyone to get pics, and a few Coho on the last day. Probably 3 of the 6 caught the Pacific Salmon grand slam, with the others lacking only a Coho. We each had the chance to catch Rainbows on a mouse pattern which is always fun.