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My father and I are starting to plan a "once in a lifetime" fishing trip for chinook in Alaska for 2019 and we're seeking recommendations (guide services/lodging, timing, rivers, etc.). Any input would be greatly appreciated!
 

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JD
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Alaska Chinook (Kings)

They call Chinook Kings in Alaska. The Bristol bay area is the most targeted area of sport fishing & for good reason. I gets huge runs of fish. You hear a lot about the big kings on the Kenai Penninsula. Yeah they are big, but its combat fishing elbow to elbow, gear fishing. It's crowded because you can drive there from Anchorage so that is where the locals go to fill their freezer.

Most of the Bristol Bay drainage in flat tundra country. if you're looking for trees & wooded areas, that would be the east coast where Alaska comes down along side Canada. Now don't get me wrong, the Bristol bay area is a fantastic fishery. If you are fishing close (say within 20 miles) to the sea, the fish are full of piss & vinegar & an adult Chinook is a hand full on a fly rod. But the commercial fishery is there too. A lot of the lodges, even fly fishing lodges, fish for kings with conventional gear.

I've been to Alaska four times, mostly the Bristol Bay drainage. The first trip was the best, perhaps because I was rather naive about the whole thing & had never caught anything bigger than three or four pounds, especially on a fly rod. Twenty years later & after about ten years fishing steelhead with a two hander, I returned to the first lodge I fished up there. The fishing was still good but for some reason, the magic was gone.

Sometime after that first trip, I got to digging around & found this place. Flywater Adventures
This one always turned me on. Especially the mother ship expedition. Alas, it remains on my bucket list

Alaska West is all about fly fishing, & the guides are all fluent Spey types. Many you will recognize from the Speypages. The accommodations may not be first class, but I've heard good things about them. (still on my bucket list)

Do you homework. That's part of the fun. Have a great trip.
 

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MC
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You could/should check with Ard Stetts, known here as "Hardyreels." He is a great guy who specializes in guiding two-handed fly fishing, catch-and-release. I'm going with him in about 2 weeks, first time ever to Alaska for me! He offers lodging as part of the package, and the price is very reasonable for Alaska.
He has a website, "akflyfishingguide.com" but he's not a sponsor here so I might get in trouble for posting a full link to his website.
 

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Alaska West, Goodnews, and Reel Action. All top notch lodges. Get in contact now to line up dates for next year, they fill up fast.
 
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I did one of those "once in a lifetime" fishing trips in Alaska two years ago. Kings, huge rainbows, dollys, grayling.... The problem is, I desperately want to go back and in fact spent part of today trying to put our crew together for next summer. Rumor has it that the Nushagak is the best King fishery there is and I can say that my experience there is consistent with the Nush's legend. Yes, there is a commercial season in Bristol and Nushagak Bays but some of the lodges open at least a week before the commercial guys can start fishing and that is the week you want to be there. Of course the reason it is a "once in a lifetime" trip is the cost. I dropped a scary chunk of change for a seven day trip. It was worth every penny.

Commercial season opens on a different date each year so go to the Alaska Fish and Game website for the details. Expect high water, 24 hour daylight and no bugs at that time of year. Wading is dicey because the fish like to hold up against steep gravel banks and the current is really moving. I'm sure you can find a lodge that will set you up to swing for Kings. I don't think you can stay in business very long up there if you are not really good at what you do so call the lodges and talk to them. You should be able to sort out the type of place that's a fit for you and your father.

Consider lodges on the Kvichak, the next major drainage to the south too. If they offer flyouts, you can fish for Kings on the Nush the whole time or mix it up with some amazing rainbow fishing on the Kvi and smaller rivers that empty into Lake Illamna and even fly down to Katmai to fish with the bears. That is not to be missed. If it really is a "once in a lifetime" trip, get the whole experience.
 

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Did my once in a life time trip to Alaska four years ago with my daughter. We used Reel Action fly fishing which is on the Kanektok River. It is a tent camp, I wanted to experience the whole Alaska experience and not stay at one of the up scale lodges. I must say it was very comfortable and a great experience.

They have early season King season and the camp is about a mile up river from tidal water from Bristol Bay, which gives you a shot at really fresh fish. They also, have access to the whole river and the reserve area, with all species of salmon along with leopard rainbows, char, and grayling up river.

What I most enjoyed was it was not a 9 to 5 fishery like the large camps. They hit the water early and stay late. While the other camps were getting on or off the water we were still fishing.

Contact Paul Jacobs, at Reel Action Fly Fishing. REEL ACTION ALASKA LODGE - Alaska Fly Fishing Lodge | Best Alaska Fly Fishing Trip | Alaska Fly Fishing Tent Camp | Kanektok River Tent Camps | Fly Fishing Kanektok River | Swinging for King Salmon | Mousing for Leopard Rainbow Trout | Silver Salmon
 

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Are you interested in targeting Kings specifically or do you want the full Alaska experience? If the former, then I would recommend fishing on the Alaska Peninsula on the Bering Sea side. There are two excellent rivers, the Nelson (aka Sapsuk, aka Hoodoo) and the Sandy. Both rivers have two different camps/lodges on them. The Kanektok is a great river and has much more variety of fishing, but it can get very crowded during the peak King season - there are three camps on the river and many floaters. Also, the King fishing has been less consistent there over the last few years with complete closures back in 2014 or 2015. You might want to talk to someone at The Fly Shop or Flywater Travel, who represent a lot of AK lodges/camps.
 

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You could/should check with Ard Stetts, known here as "Hardyreels." He is a great guy who specializes in guiding two-handed fly fishing, catch-and-release. I'm going with him in about 2 weeks, first time ever to Alaska for me! He offers lodging as part of the package, and the price is very reasonable for Alaska.
He has a website, "akflyfishingguide.com" but he's not a sponsor here so I might get in trouble for posting a full link to his website.
I'll let Mike tell you how things went for him and tell you what little I know about various fisheries here. I was a sponsor years ago but I cannot handle many people a season because I'm just one guy and I'm not suggesting you to contact me.

Here's what I think is the number one concern. Wherever you go be conscious of the dates you book. I wouldn't advise taking any second week of July bookings even over in the Bristol Bay area. The fish may be turned by then. These fish start trickling in by May and peak by the end of June. Right now, June 20 through June 26 are the historical peak for most runs here but some areas can be earlier or later. When you shoot for the week of the equinox it's a safe bet there will be fish present. Fish that are in the rivers turn quickly and begin preparing for reproduction, once that change begins they turn red. I was once involved with a lodge that contacted me asking that I help with an "over booking" situation on a river in Bristol Bay drainage. The gig was to run 12 days beginning July 12th. I thought that sounded late but the operator assured me the run timing over there was later than here. Long story short they were targeting turned / red spawning fish. The clients knew no better but in the entire trip I saw not a single bright king. No one who fished with me there caught a king because I would not target spawners, the lodge was not happy with me......

Be aware of the proposed dates. As another posted said, do your homework and be sure you both can cast well. Fish streamers and fish them a lot so you are familiar with how to present the flies to the fish. The better you can cast and control the fly the higher your chances that it will be the trip of your life.

Ard
 

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MC
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I'll let Mike tell you how things went for him and tell you what little I know about various fisheries here. I was a sponsor years ago but I cannot handle many people a season because I'm just one guy and I'm not suggesting you to contact me.

Here's what I think is the number one concern. Wherever you go be conscious of the dates you book. I wouldn't advise taking any second week of July bookings even over in the Bristol Bay area. The fish may be turned by then. These fish start trickling in by May and peak by the end of June. Right now, June 20 through June 26 are the historical peak for most runs here but some areas can be earlier or later. When you shoot for the week of the equinox it's a safe bet there will be fish present. Fish that are in the rivers turn quickly and begin preparing for reproduction, once that change begins they turn red. I was once involved with a lodge that contacted me asking that I help with an "over booking" situation on a river in Bristol Bay drainage. The gig was to run 12 days beginning July 12th. I thought that sounded late but the operator assured me the run timing over there was later than here. Long story short they were targeting turned / red spawning fish. The clients knew no better but in the entire trip I saw not a single bright king. No one who fished with me there caught a king because I would not target spawners, the lodge was not happy with me......

Be aware of the proposed dates. As another posted said, do your homework and be sure you both can cast well. Fish streamers and fish them a lot so you are familiar with how to present the flies to the fish. The better you can cast and control the fly the higher your chances that it will be the trip of your life.

Ard
I'm back from Alaska and thanks to taking seriously Ard's advice on timing my trip (and to hiring Ard as my guide), I HAD the trip of a lifetime. My first day fishing was June 21, and I fished 4 days. I caught and released 20 Kings in 4 days, all swinging flies. A few of them were slightly red; most were bright chrome fish. The day after my last day of fishing, the river we fished was closed to all fishing for Kings, after being open for catch and release only while I was there.

It is unpredictable enough up there that Ard advised me to buy refundable airline tickets, so that if conditions looked bad enough a week out, Ard could call and I could cancel my trip at no cost. The big lodges won't do that; you pays your money and you takes your chances. I decided not to get refundable tickets, because the other part of my trip of a lifetime was renting an RV with my wife, who met me up there after I was done fishing.

I can't afford a trip to one of the lodges. Going with Ard let me take the trip of a lifetime within my budget. And, it was the best fishing experience I could imagine. If I can't catch them swinging, I don't want to catch them. I caught a couple!
 

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JD
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Great trip of a lifetime. Glad it worked out for you. Twenty Kings in four days, on the swing. WOW! I'm impressed.

I also flew wife up for a week after my first trip. We drove up to Fairbanks, stopping overnight at Denali. Over to Dawson City. (kind of a waste since we don't gamble, but it was an experience) Stopped at some little lake where I caught a Northern on mouse pattern.

Looking forward to pics
 

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Reel Action on the Kanetok River

Fished with Reel Action the last two years and caught plenty of Kings.
Several were over 30 lbs. and one was over 40. A very well run camp.
good food and great guides. I could not go this year because of my wife's health.
The best time to go for Kings is the last week in June or the first week in July.
I will return next year for Silvers. All King fishing is catch and release.

Steelman
 

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Another option is Angler's Alibi on the Alagnak. It's tidewater so fish are chrome, willing to bite and full of P&V. The camp is not fancy but it is comfortable. A great addition to the guides this year was Scott Struznik with several decades of experience on the Alagnak targeting kings on fly.

The run is a little later so second or third week of July are prime.

Full disclosure I have guided there as well as been a guest.



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