Like most other avid anglers I have a bucket list of distant waters I want to fish. High on my list was the Kanektok River located in NW Alaska. I was intrigued by this fishery simply because of the stories I had heard about the sheer numbers of all 5 species of pacific salmon that migrate up the river each summer. It has also been one of the go to fisheries for catching big chinooks on double hand rods. I was able to spend a week at Deneki’s Alaska West Camp during the first week of August of 2017.
Spoiled for Choice
The chinook season/migration had just ended and my trip was coinciding with the start of the incredible coho migration that was mixed in with continued runs of chums, pinks and sockeye. All of these fish were entering fresh from the ocean as the water we fished ranged from tidewater to perhaps 12 miles upriver. Most fish had sea lice still clinging to them. An added bonus were resident rainbows and grayling as well as sea run Dolly Varden, a species I had not fished before.
The End of the Earth
The Kanektok River is a low gradient river flowing through a landscape of tundra mixed with patches of alder and willow. It originates at Pegati lake and flows approx. 120 km before entering the Bering sea near the village of Quinhagak. Each bend in the river or bottom end of an island or one of a multitude of braided channels provided suberb fly fishing opportunities for some or all of the 8 salmonid species present. Easy wading over small gravel bottoms further complimented the fishing experience.
I was constantly amazed at the productivity and health of this river ecosystem and often thought that this was what many coastal rivers from BC to California were like as little as 75 to 100 years ago.
The Right Gear
Salmon were caught swing flies with switch rods and light tips or casting and retrieving with single hand rods. 7 and 8 weight lines were perfect for the bigger fish and 5 or 6 wt rods ideal for the dollies, rainbows and grayling. Much of our fishing was done with floating lines and weighted flies. Colour of the week for the salmon was pink and purple and if that slowed down a switch to black or black and purple would get them going again.
Some of the most memorable fishing was casting and retrieving bright pink poppers and watching chrome bright coho charge the fly before engulfing in a swirling boil. I also found the dolly fishing to be a lot of fun as they were often seen in the shallow riffle areas where some of the earlier returning sockeye were starting to spawn. These char were strong fighters and readily took an egg or flesh pattern. We were also able to entice a few rainbows to take floating mouse patterns that were twitched through slower moving side channels or by drifting flesh patterns close to root wads or other woody debris structure along the banks of the main river channel.
This was an incredible week of fly fishing and one that will be permanently etched in my mind!
As a guide, seminar host, successful author, and retired fisheries biologist, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more passionate and influential angler in all of British Columbia than Brian Chan. Based out of Kamloops, he enjoys spending time on local lakes when he isn’t reaching for then ends of the earth for his next adventure.