Freshwater & Fly Fishing Guide
Freshwater and Fly Fishing Guide
Our mid-May spring fishery focuses on Dolly Varden, cutthroat trout, and a few late steelhead. There are not many rainbows, and no king salmon are targeted in fresh water.
July brings waves of pink salmon that number in the tens of thousands, and that is for one bay or inlet! Sockeye, or red salmon, are sprinkled throughout the system. Mid-August marks the arrival of silver salmon and good fishing for resident cutthroat and rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char.
Fly fishing in southeast Alaska begins with the simple desire to do so. That desire becomes reality as you false cast the line to hundreds of fish, wade remote streams that know not the footprints of man, or watch that cutthroat trout rise for the perfectly-drifted dry fly. If you know fly-fishing, it doesn’t get any better than this. If you’re new to fly-fishing, allow us to introduce you. The fish-laden waters of Glacier Bay make it easy to learn this wonderful sport.
Forget the long travel times of up to an hour or more in a floatplane that western Alaska anglers must often endure. Most of our private fisheries are within 10 to 15 minutes of takeoff from the airport or landing strip behind the lodge. Expect to fish small-stream systems, the kind that you can wade all day and never tire of sampling their endless fishing opportunities. Chances are you’ll be the only person fishing these waters; definitely for the day, perhaps the season.
What You Should Bring
Fly anglers are a varied and diverse crowd. Some bring everything from tying vises to landing nets, others just show up and use ours. We suggest bringing your own waders, preferably lightweights, and the best raingear you can afford. If you don’t have any, we use the Dri- Plus® ones from Cabelas. Most seasoned anglers bring a arsenal of fly rods. If you are a beginner or simply don’t want to bring yours, we have ECHO rod and reel combos designed and manufactured by Rajeff Sports. Give us a call and we’ll help you make a gear selection that is right for the trip.
Southeast Alaska steelheading offers one of the greatest challenges and thrills in Alaska sport fishing. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has documented over 300 waters in Southeast Alaska that are home to wild steelhead. In any of these waters, a return of 150 to 200 fish would be considered a large return, with most experiencing a fraction of this number. These small watersheds have a rock or sand bottom with a very-steep gradient. While some steelhead pools are easy to access, some of the premier streams require you to hike long distances in chest waders, and break through dense rainforest brush to access the best pools. Most steelhead hooked here range in the 8 to 12-pound range, with 34-inch-plus fish available. Expect Chromers with sea lice, as well as spent fish returning to the sea.
We recommend nine-weight single-handed rods with a selection of floating and sinking and sink-tip lines on sturdy single-action or anti-reverse reels. Versi-tip lines are good, as well as a selection of micro shot and sinking leaders and fluorocarbon leader material.
Typically, spring steelheading starts in mid-April and has peaked by the time we open in mid to late May. Although not typical, during some years such as 2004, steelhead were caught well into the month of June.
With the unpredictability of spring breakup and water conditions, the best steelhead fishing is available to anglers who can be ready to travel and fish at the spur of the moment. If you are interested in such a trip, we will keep daily tabs on conditions and when the timing is right, inform you by phone to drop everything and head to Glacier Bay. Airfare is more costly with this option, but the chances of success increase exponentially, as some steelheading peaks within a week to 10 days after ice-out.
Anglers considering a serious southeast Alaska steelhead experience are advised to first seek psychiatric help, and if you’re still not relieved of the notion then give us a call. We’ll arrange a guided trip for you.
Dolly Varden and Cutthroat Trout
Dolly Varden char are the game fish elite in the Pacific Northwest. Known for their willingness to take a variety of flies, these fish are extremely fun to catch. Both species can be year-round freshwater residents. Others migrate out to saltwater in the spring, where they fatten up and return with the salmon in mid summer and fall to overwinter in freshwater.
If you are not familiar with the Dolly Varden or cutthroat, allow us to introduce you.
The Dolly is a thick-bodied fish, with small pink dots against a silvery flank. In September, they begin to change to their spawning colors of orange and green, with the pale pink dots turning a brilliant orange. They are a hard-fighting fish, and like most char, rarely jump when hooked, but they do roll and twist throughout a hookup, often putting a dangerous bend in any fishing rod.
Cutthroat trout are darkly spotted to silvery fish, depending on whether they are resident or sea-run. They are easily distinguished by the red slash running the length of their bottom gill cover, thus the name cutthroat.
Dollies and Cutts are available to fly fishers throughout the season and are found in greatest numbers in freshwater near the end of June, when the first pink salmon enter the estuaries. Both species feed on a variety of freshwater forage, and are taken primarily on Clouser patterns with five-weight rods. Another excellent pattern is a Glo Bug or egg pattern fished where these fish hold behind spawning salmon. When Dollies are thick, it’s possible to spend an entire day catch and releasing fish from a stretch of stream no more than 100-yards long.
When salmon are not available, Dollies and cutts feed on small bait fish and are regularly caught on dry flies such as elk hair caddis. Because of the dark waters of many bog-stained systems, your trout flylines should be a bright color if you have trouble seeing in low light. Avoid tan or brown lines. Most casting consists of roll casting or pocket casts that are less than 30 feet. Floating lines work well in most waters, with a sink-tip line ideal for fishing larger rivers and deep holes.
Pink salmon are a guide’s best friend, and they are eager to be yours. Pinks are the smallest of the Pacific salmon, but don’t allow their size to imply they lack a fighting heart.
They are plentiful throughout July and most of August, and take even the most ravaged fly. For the beginner, they are a fantastic fish to build the casting, presentation, and landing skills necessary to take some of the state’s larger gamefish. For the veteran, those skills can be honed to razor sharpness in hour-after-hour of fish-catching frenzy.
These underrated fish when hooked in saltwater can max out an eight-weight rod. Our guests are amazed at what a strong fish the pink can be when caught during their in-migration to coastal spawning streams. Within a day or two of entering a freshwater confluence, however, they can lose up to 30 percent of their strength, and a six-weight rod offers sufficient power and length to handle them efficiently.
When the pink migration is in full swing, we cast flies off rocky points and shores, targeting fish swimming by on an incoming tide. Good casting skills are required here to maximize your catch, although fishing freshwater streams offer lots of action with simple roll casts. You’ll delight in exploring the saltwater shoreline, seeing starfish at your feet, and watching whales porpoise and breach farther out at sea. Look up on occasion to catch a possible glimpse of foxes and bears feeding in the meadows that line the shoreline.
When it comes to being both prime table fare and a superb fighter, a sockeye salmon can’t be beat. If sockeyes grew to the size of king salmon, you would never land one.
Sockeyes don’t take flies as aggressively as pinks or silvers, yet it is possible to catch sockeyes consistently in freshwater. In the early 1980s, Alaska fishing author Chris Batin developed a method of catching sockeyes consistently, using a sockeye salmon equation for success that he discusses in his classic, award-winning book, “How to catch Alaska’s Trophy Sportfish.” www.AlaskaAngler.com. He calls the method “flippin,” and by using his formula for success, you can catch sockeyes consistently, wherever you find them. In some areas without the right type of water and structure, expect to make anywhere from one to 90 or more casts to hook a fish. Don’t expect aggressive strikes; sockeyes merely open their mouth to “take” the fly as it drifts by. But once you set the hook, they are pound-for-pound the toughest fighting salmon in freshwater. Bring your eight-weight gear and intermediate lines.
Chums are also called dog, tiger or calico salmon, because of the purple stripes that highlight their flanks as they near freshwater. Chums are more stocky and bully-shaped than the torpedo-configuration of the sockeye. Chums average 10 to 14 pounds, with some fish reaching 25 pounds. A few guides have claimed “dogs don’t fight very well”, although we break more rods on them then any other fish. We argue that they fight very well, and are very aggressive in brackish water and the bottom reaches of freshwater, where they are the most fun and easiest to catch. If you hook into a hot chum, and you will if you book with us, you’ll wonder why the chum is not the “Alaska State Fish”. Be on the safe side and pack a nine or 10-weight rod if you plan to flycast for these water tigers.
Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon)
Glacier Bay is blessed with an abundance of coho or silver salmon, as they are available in nearly every watershed in the region. There are two runs of silvers: Early-run, late-July and August fish are 8 to 10 pounds, with 16 to 18-pound bruisers returning early in September. Whatever their size, cohos can be very aggressive, or they can have a serious case of lockjaw depending upon the tidal conditions and water levels. Hooking one on an eight-weight outfit is all-out war.
We fish shrimp patterns, leeches and some crazy-looking flies as colorful as a peacock. We recommend a multi-tip line for the ever-changing water conditions, and some good rain gear, because a few rain showers often accompany the August and September silver runs.