Alaska is one of those places that dreams are made of. If you are looking to have a chance to catch, truly a fish of a lifetime, the land called, “The Last Frontier” definitely fills the bill and more.
It is my pleasure to travel each year to many destinations throughout Alaska and I will have to say, I can’t really think of a better place anywhere in the world to take in not only the beauty and splendor of your surroundings, all the while seeking, seemingly endless fishing opportunities along the way.
Of course, Alaska is known for many aquatic species, be it in the ocean, rivers or tiny streams that hold them. But, on nearly every adventure, at least one of the five Pacific salmon species come into play. Now I am usually a numbers guy, not that I am not looking for “The Big One” on some trips, but I would usually much rather catch quantity over what some would call quality. But, when talking about Alaska, the word salmon, with “king” in front of it always catches my interest.
Now there are many great king or Chinook rivers throughout the state, but when you look at the return numbers, there are only a couple of really, really good rivers and the one with by far the best numbers is the Nushagak River in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska.
With an average of over 100,000 kings returning annually, the Nushagak is the place to be if you want to catch kings and plenty of them. It is not unusual to have the chance of catching double-digit numbers on a daily basis from the middle of June through the end of July. And our operation of choice on the ‘Nush” is Alaska Kingfishers, one of our longest standing Platinum Approved Outfitters.
Now when you are only endorsing one operation on a river that is this good, it had better be the best and Rob Fuentes and his staff do the things it takes to support that moniker. They have the best boats, the best equipment and the best guides available and when it comes to knowledge, there is no one better to learn from than the master himself, head guide and former owner, Bob Kratzer. Bob has fished the Nushagak for over 30 years and has the knowledge it takes to train his guides to be the best.
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way before we delve in any further. Alaska Kingfishers is 30 miles upriver from Dillingham and the only way in is by boat or air, being a float plane in most cases. Along with this, almost all of the land throughout the area is owned by native associations, so outfitters must lease the land for their camps on a yearly basis. Because of this, almost all are tent camps, with only the cement slabs left at the end of the season. But, don’t let this deter you from considering a trip with Kingfishers. They have built their camp with their guests in mind and in my estimation, their tent camp is as good or better than most permanent structure camps that I have visited in Alaska and Canada.
All the comforts of home can be found along the banks of the Nushagak River at Alaska Kingfishers. Each tent houses two people and are complete with twin-sized cots, sleeping bags lined with fresh linens, towels and hanging organizers for your convenience during your stay. There is a centrally located shower tent next to the large main common tent that is used for all meals and to house their small souvenir and apparel offerings. Also, other tents house the cooking area, fish processing and freezing and wader drying areas. Even decent WiFi is available, especially in the early morning hours for those that just have to keep up with what’s going on back home or at the office.
Now let’s talk about the river and its fishing opportunities. The Nushagak River is the third longest river in Alaska, originating from the Kilbuck and Alaska mountain ranges. It twists and turns its way south, where countless spawning ground tributaries join its flow toward Bristol Bay. This region of Alaska is vital to the overall salmon populations, with millions of fish returning each year to do their part in keeping the runs going strong.
Now, although some rivers of Alaska can boast the opportunity of catching periodically bigger fish, the Nushagak River’s average king salmon averages between 18- and 30-pounds. Yes, you will catch a few smaller than this average and a few even bigger, sometimes pushing almost 50-pounds, but the vast majority of the kings will be in that “good eater” average. You are allowed to retain one king salmon of any size per day (four per season) on the Nushagak, with a five-fish season limit in freshwater throughout the waters of Alaska. And the best thing about the regulations on the Nushagak is, you are able to continue to catch and release fish all day long, even after you retain your fish for the day.
Our trip during the 2017 season was a special one, as fellow Pro-Staffers Rick Rosenberg, Brooks Hansen, and close friend Lonne Gubler were all able to join me along with our latest Pro Membership Sweepstakes winner, Will Kite and his guest, Eddy Basulto for their first trip to the Nushagak and boy, would it be a memorable one!
It is always great to share my travels with others and with our addition of the Pro Membership Sweepstakes, we have opened even more doors to include lucky winners on many of the great adventures that we have had the pleasure of experiencing. So, it was great to meet up with Will and Eddy in Dillingham on our way to the Nush.
Since there were 20 new guests making their way in to the camp and 18 just finishing their stay, we drew lots to see who would get a seat on which plane. Tikchik Airventures would be doing the transporting and Rick, Brooks, Lonne and I were lucky enough to draw the first floatplane seats, so we landed at the lodge first and slipped into our gear and after grabbing a quick sandwich, we headed out for our first day on the river and yes – it was a good one.
Our guide, Conner Taplin had us on fish all afternoon, using what’s called their “Bobber Doggin’” technique (a large float is positioned above a bead stop, above a slinky weight, with about two feet of line tipped with a single hook, complete with an egg loop that harnesses a small glob of roe). Conner would then position the boat sideways in the current along a section of the river where kings were known to follow on their journey up river to their spawning grounds.
No sooner had my line hit the water and I closed the bail, my bobber went under and I set the hook on our first king of the trip. After a great fight, a 25-pound king came to the net and literally 5-minutes into our first day on the water, we had our first fish in the boat. By 5:30pm, we had all filled our limits for the day, while landing and releasing 20 more fish. Now that’s what I call a pretty good start to the trip!
At dinner that night, we found that our other boat, consisting of Kevin Orton, Brad Jefferies, Will and Eddy had just about done as well and after a great meal and a few more introductions, we made plans for the next day before hitting our bunks for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, Brooks and I would be joined by Will and Eddy, with guide Nick Fernandes. Nearly 40 kings came to the boat on this day, with both Will and Eddy landing and retaining nice kings over 30-pounds apiece. After dinner, we all headed downstream from camp to do a little fly fishing for chum and sockeye salmon, with the results about a half dozen bonus fish for our fillet pile.
Again, on our fourth day, our last full day at the camp, Will and Eddy joined Brooks and I as we were able to collect plenty of footage for an upcoming edition of SNTV, as Will put on a show in the morning and Eddy hogged most of the takes in the afternoon as we back-trolled Quikfish on a great stretch of the river just below camp. The smiles on their faces were priceless and Eddy couldn’t wait to get home and sign-up for his own membership in the Pro Membership Sweepstakes.
Our latest visit to Alaska Kingfishers was a rousing success and we will again have a trip for two available during the 2019 season on the schedule next year. So, as they say, “You can’t win if you’re not entered”! Just ask Will Kite, who has already won two major prizes in the past year. And if you are looking for a trip to Alaska, there is no better place to be than Alaska Kingfishers on the Nushagak River. Give Rob Fuentes and his staff a call today to get your trip booked at 907-843-1605 and remember to tell them that Sportsman ‘s News sent ya!