By Kent Danjanovich
Senior Editor Sportsman’s News
Many remote wilderness lodges can be very one dimensional. The facilities are great, the fishing is great, but a lot of times by the end of the week you start on your trek home wishing that you could have experienced just a little bit more. Well, I think I have found that place you just may have been looking for!
Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge is nestled on picturesque Lake Aleknagik in southwestern Alaska. The setting is in the heart of the Wood-Tikchik region of Bristol Bay and the waters are home to all five pacific salmon species along with rainbow, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling and northern pike. Rob and Lisa Fuentes are the owners/operators of the lodge and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I have ever met two nicer people on any of my trips, anywhere in the world. Their dedication and hard work show in every aspect of their operation and you really do leave at the end of the week as a lifelong friend. It is no wonder they have so many repeat visitors.
I was accompanied on my trip last July by Kevin Orton, one of our Sportsman’s News Pro-Staffers. We flew out on the red-eye from Las Vegas to Anchorage and then hopped on another plane for the short flight to Dillingham. Rob picked us up at the airport and after a 15 or 20 minute drive, we loaded our gear onto the jet boat and headed to the lodge. After Rob filled us in on our plans for the week, I turned to Kevin and said, “This is going to be an incredible week of fishing”. My intuition was dead on!
Rob’s wife, Lisa and their three girls, along with the rest of the staff met us at the dock and quickly led us to our room, one of several, with the lodge accommodating up to 10 guests per week. Each room is quaintly decorated, with two beds and an adjoining bathroom, all within the walls of the main lodge. Rob met us a few minutes later in the dining area for a quick lunch and we were out the door. After grabbing a pair of breathable waders and wading shoes, conveniently supplied for all visitors, we headed for our boat to start our week of fishing.
The surroundings of Lake Aleknagik are spectacular. Pines, lush underbrush and snow capped mountains surround you in every direction. Our 20 minute boat ride soon led us to the mouth of the Agulowak River, our destination for this afternoon and many more to come. We first would target red (sockeye) salmon and then go after all of the other options each day. I know this sounds like a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!
Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge supplies all of your rods, reels, lures and flies during your stay and Rob quickly had us set up and fishing for high flying, reel zinging reds. It didn’t take Kevin long to hook into his first fish and as the week wore on, he would be crowned the luckiest fisherman ever. Even though he would spend most of the next five days filming for an upcoming edition of Sportsman ‘s News Television, our first afternoon would give us both the opportunity to see just what we were in for. We employed two different techniques for reds fishing: One being with a fly rod, using floating line with a slinky weight about three feet above tandem size #8 flies. The second method that we would use throughout the week, personally my favorite, was the same setup with the addition of a 10 foot sink-tip, less the slinky weight, with two small tape weight wraps positioned on the leader. Both of the systems produced hookup after hookup and five fish apiece for our fish box. The power of these reds, along with the flow of the crystal clear water was amazing and made me appreciate even more the fighting power, pound for pound that the sockeye salmon has to offer. To let you know just what we were in for, the Wood River system averages about 1,500,000 sockeye annually and 2010 was above average. Over 100,000 fish were counted through the sonar on several days during our stay…Amazing to say the least.
Our next stop was at the mouth of the river entering into Lake Aleknagik . Gulls were swarming and diving into the water, which we soon found to be full of sockeye smolt. Rob turned off the motor and handed us each a spin cast outfit, equipped with a plastic minnow with a lead jig head. My first cast produced a three pound Arctic char and that was just the beginning of a fast and furious thirty minutes of catch and release fishing, the likes of never seen in my 50+ years on earth. Just a little tid-bit of information for you; Only about 2% of all hatched salmon ever make it through the life cycle to spawn, which is an amazing statistic, but one that is very evident when you think about all of the obstacles that present themselves everyday of their existence.
That evening was the first of many wonderful meals and the opportunity to meet the other guests at the lodge. We met new friends from Georgia, Alaska, Florida and Virginia, not to mention the other great guides on staff at the lodge as well. Many stories were told and a great time was had by all each morning and night in the dining room and around the lounge area. Each afternoon found us reaching in the cooler on our boat for a neatly prepared sack lunch or stopping at a designated area along the river for a shore lunch consisting of pasta, fresh fish and homemade bread. Oh and did I mention the homemade cookies freshly baked every day!
The next five days found us limiting out on reds daily and also getting in plenty of char, rainbow and grayling fishing. We went after the rainbows with articulating leaches, with the result beautifully spotted, dazzling colored fish all seemingly in the 18 to 22 inch range. Rob informed us that these same fish would put on easily a pound or two during the next couple of months and be football sized by September. When the bugs started to emerge, we changed over to dry flies and were treated to unbelievable top-water action for grayling and rainbows. Even me, with my slow reflexes managed to catch plenty of fish and I will have to tell you, when you hear people talk about dry fly fishing being the ultimate, they may just be right.
Seemingly as quick as it started, our six days in paradise came to an end. Our stay at Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge was absolutely wonderful and I already have them on my calendar for 2011. In fact, you have the opportunity to join me on that trip by entering our Bi-Annual Sportsman’s News Writer’s Contest which started in October and will run through March 2011. Watch for the entry ad in those issues and send in your hunting or fishing stories for a chance to win a six-day trip for the last week of July 2011. We will also be hosting a special “Sportsman’s News” trip that you can take advantage of at a great price by giving Rob a call at 866-429-2327, also during the last week of July and you can be part of the filming of another Sportsman’s News Television show in our DVD line.
We are proud to include Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge as one of our prestigious Platinum Approved Outfitters and I know that you will have the time of your life when booking your next Alaska fishing adventure with them. They also offer king salmon fishing at their Nushagak River tent camp from mid-June through July and fall fly-out fishing for knuckle busting silver salmon and sightseeing as well. And the chance to see eagles, moose and brown bears on most days is a welcomed treat as well. Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge…I hope to see you there!