By Kevin Orton
Senior Field Editor
Have you ever been to a place that you literally just never wanted to leave? A place that was just so breathtakingly beautiful and serene that you forgot you actually live in the real world and have responsibilities? Oh and not to mention that the fishing is so great that it makes it hard to describe your experience using the words we all know because it does the whole thing a disservice. Well, I have and that place is Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge in Bristol Bay Alaska.
The lodge sits on Lake Aleknagik on the southern end of the Wood-Tikchik State Park. The Wood-Tikchik is the largest state park in the nation with just over 1.6 million acres. It was created in 1978 for the purpose of protecting the area’s fish and wildlife breeding and support systems and to preserve continued subsistence and recreational activities. And that is exactly what it does, especially when it comes to the fish support. Named for its two separate systems of large, interconnected, clear water lakes, it is characterized by its water-based ecosystems.
Bordered by the Nushagak lowlands on the east and the Wood River Mountains to the west, the lake systems span a variety of terrain and vegetative zones renowned for their diverse beauty. Spired peaks, high alpine valleys and deep v-shaped arms give the lakes’ western reaches a spectacular fjord-like appearance. The eastern edges of the lakes look out upon islands, gravel beaches and the expansive tundra of the Nushagak lowlands. The lakes, varying in length from 15 to 45 miles, are deep and temperate, with water temperatures ranging from 40°F to 60°F throughout the summer season.
All five species of Pacific salmon; king, sockeye, pink, silver and chum spawn in the Wood River and Tikchik systems, with sockeyes having the largest run. Freshwater sport fish are generally prolific throughout the area. Rainbow trout, grayling, lake trout, arctic char, Dolly Varden and northern pike abound. Whitefish are an important subsistence species in the Tikchik Lakes.
On this adventure, I would be joined by some long-time friends of mine, Greg Pilling, Russ Robison and Bryce Ball, all making their first trip to Bristol Bay and Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge. Since we live in different parts of the world, we all met up in Anchorage and jumped on our short flight to Dillingham where we were met by a couple of the guides that were waiting to take us to the lodge. After a short drive in the van followed by an even shorter boat ride across Lake Aleknagik, my buddies’ eyes got real big as we stepped foot into the beautiful lodge on the lake. I wanted to say, “I told you so” but I would save that for later.
The first day of our trip found Greg and I trying our hand at top water fishing with dry flies for grayling and rainbow trout. I am fairly new to the world of fly fishing and there is just nothing that compares to watching a fish come to the surface and slurp your fly and then return into the darkness. Of course it takes a bit of coordination and timing to figure out just how to get them on the hook, but it didn’t take long before we were fighting fish almost every cast. After a mile or so float on the river, our guide would start the motor and return us to the top to do it all again. Absolutely incredible! That night we found that our buddies in the other boat had slammed the Arctic char and we both knew that we needed some of that action during the trip as well.
After some discussion it was discovered that the king run on the Nushagak River was still going strong even though it was now July 26th. So, we made a decision to take advantage of one of the many fly-out opportunities that you can do at Bearclaw Lodge and we were off to the Nush. Rob Fuentes, owner of Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge, has a full operating tent camp on the Nush for just such opportunities during the king and silver runs. I knew my friends were in for a treat as they had never caught a king salmon before. We all jumped in a boat with Rob and one of his guides and the hunt was on.
All of Rob’s guides are masters at several techniques that work stupid good when it comes to catching these huge fish. On this occasion our technique would be “bobber doggin’” and in no time at all we started hooking into these beasts they call kings. Wow what a rodeo! The grins on my buddies’ faces were huge, I would say just shy of the Joker himself. Fish after big huge fish were hauled in until our arms were sore. At one point my friend Russ said to me, “This just made the whole trip for me!” I smiled because we still had three days left and there was a lot more fishin’ to come. We spent a couple of days on the Nush and we caught a lot of kings with the largest weighing in at 45 lbs. Just a toad. If you haven’t heard about or experienced the Nushagak, you should know that Rob had multiple days this year during the peak of the season that his boats, with four fisherman, hooked over a 100 fish. Just incredible!
The rest of our week was filled with more of the same. Fish, fish and more fish. We did get our shot at the Arctic char and they were not disappointing as we caught fish after fish for hours. It is just hard to describe. And then just like that, it was over. Back to reality, what a bummer. It is really hard to get on the boat and leave this place. Rob and Lisa Fuentes have a little piece of heaven on earth on Aleknigak Lake. You will not find two more gracious and kind hosts in all the world. The next time you are planning your Alaskan adventure, make sure your plans include Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge. You can call Rob direct at 254-749-8168 or visit him on the web at www.bearclawlodge.com. Of course, you can always see our outfitters on the Sportsman’s News website and you will find Alaska’s Bearclaw Lodge under the Platinum Approved Endorsed Section. I am returning again next August and taking my whole family. I can’t wait!