No matter how excellent or how good a reputation a location or a lodge is, there will always be trips when things do not go according to plan! Fishing is an unpredictable business, and the weather is as often as not the culprit. For the 2022 season, WhereWiseMenFish had the final two weeks of the King Salmon season at the Aleutians Rivers Camp on the Sapsuk river or Hoodoo River. Although it will always be the case that there are not as many fresh Kings in the system towards the end of the season, the flip side of the coin is that most of the Kings are in and as a result, historically the end season weeks have been amongst the most productive
Alaskan weather is at best temperamental! There are plenty of weather quotes attributed to Alaska, however a useful one to have in your glass half full approach is “wherever you go, no matter what the weather, bring your own sunshine’. On arrival into Anchorage, there was no shortage of sunshine however conditions on the Aleutians can be very different. The Aleutians is on the most Westerly tip of the USA, stretching towards Russian across the Bering Straits, a distance of just 55 miles at its closest point. Frustratingly, low cloud meant aviation safety restrictions came into play resulting in our loosing 2 ½ days fishing. The fact that a delay of this length was totally unheard of over July did little to soften the blow. Having travelled so far, it is very hard to reconcile losing any days, but it is a reality that comes with travel. You only needed to look out of the window at the rugged snow-covered mountain peaks to get an idea of the extent of the rugged wilderness that makes up Alaska. Staying in Anchorage vs re-playing our own horrific version of ‘Alive’ on the side of a mountain is a good enough reason not to play with fire when it comes to safety.
In one of the great but not remotely unusual fishing paradoxes, despite the river being much lower than normal, all season as it transpired, over the first two days we were treated to some quite torrential rain, much of it overnight to our relief, even if the sound of rain on canvas brought back memories of military exercises in Wales. Low-water in itself will not impede the run of fish on the Sapsuk. What it does do is affect the dynamics of where the fish hold on the river The Aleutian Rivers Camp sits absolutely in the midst of some of the best and most productive holding pools on the river. For this season, some of the pools within walking distance of the camp were not holding Kings to the same degree, with the best pools being above the weir, approx. 10 minutes boat-ride upstream.
This journey necessitates going over the weir with its salmon counting box. Old fashioned technology ensures exact numbers are counted. A pair of ladies working for the Alaskan Department of Fish & Game, equipped in black oil skins and wellington boots, dutifully all season long counted the Kings as they run the weir. The detail provided is fascinating, showing how the run has varied over the years, its timing, and of course volume.
If one ever wanted a more visual confirmation of just how many fish were in the river, a drone shot is pretty revealing! Numbers of fish are extraordinary and concentrations like this are visible at a number of the more major holding pools. By mid-July the Sockeye run was in full swing and those account for the bulk of the fish visible in the picture below, although the larger ones to the RHS are mainly King Salmon. Generally speaking, the King Salmon run in Alaska this year has been very poor and on the Sapsuk it is unquestionably diminished vs the huge run in 2019. But, comparatively, the Sapsuk numbers are ok with everyone landing on average one King salmon each day and typically a good number lost. For King Salmon, these are unquestionably good results, even if they are not as good as experienced in past years.
The Aleutian Rivers camp over June & July is very much focused on the King Salmon run, however enjoying catches from other species is not a crime!! Sockeye should not be considered a by-catch, even if Kings are the goal, especially if you switch from using a 13ft spey rod to something smaller and lighter. Proportional to the huge numbers of Sockeye that were in river, they definitely are not avid takers of a fly, but the sport that can be had when they are taking is fantastic, added to the fact that they are delicious to eat.
After two days of very grey skies, for our final full day of fishing the sun came out and as is always the case, it transformed the look and feel of the river. With bright skies on our final evening, Pavlov, one of the most active volcanoes in Alaska, was very clearly visible. Every now and then it would burp a black cloud of ash and sooty smoke, which would rise up as if from a chimney, before being carried away by the wind. Warm evening sun was enough to inspire an after supper, up-river expedition in pursuit of some Sockeye and the chance of a King. The fun had by all was enough to dispel many of the memories of the shortened trip or wet days!
The follow-on week, thankfully, did not result in significant delays similar to that we experienced, although it did result in our diverted departure via Cold Bay, so we had a little unexpected Alaskan sight-seeing on our journey home. One additional bonus was some whale watching waiting for the flight out from Nelson Lagoon. Looking for a few excuses to fill in a few hours we made use of one of the resupply quad bikes to cruise along the shoreline. Much to my surprise a pod of three grey whales were making their way along the coastline, at no more than a walking pace, swimming in and out of the surf, little more than 20-50M from the shoreline.
The follow on WWMF group had a delayed outward-bound trip to the lodge, again due to weather, but otherwise had a successful week. Average catches were again between 1 & 2 landed King Salmon each day, with fish of 24 & 26lbs being respectively the best fish of the two weeks.
The smaller run of Kings this year meant that we were unfortunate not to have seen or caught more fresh fish, possibly exacerbated by the lower water conditions. Equally the fish were undeniably concentrated which meant less variety in terms of areas fished than might have been typically the case. Regardless, whether fresh or coloured, the bigger Kings that were caught ‘fought like tigers’ and with the addition of numerous bright silver Sockeye that took the flies offered the weeks were definitely successful. Added to the fish caught were the numerous ‘friendly’ bear encounters, moose sightings, families of otters, mink, bald headed eagles, the scent and den of a Wolverine, if not a Wolverine itself, the visual treat of seeing salmon in numbers almost beyond comprehension and of course the pod of grey whales as well as puffin which provided a very rounded Alaskan experience.
Once we got to the camp... Mike and Eli looked after us brilliantly and Jake fed us more than adequately. The camp worked really well in all respects, and we had a really nice group of anglers. As you suggested in your email there weren’t any fresh fish in the river - at least none of us caught any - but the fish we did catch were beautiful in their own way and fought like tigers. I managed to land 12 kings, with 3 over 20 lbs (best 26 lbs) and a number of silver sockeye (hooked legitimately!), so was very well pleased. However, the fish were very concentrated, probably because the river was very low, so we only really fished a couple of pools all week. As a bonus we saw grizzlies, a fox, a tribe of about a dozen otters, seals, bald headed eagles and a pod of grey whales just off the shore at Nelson Lagoon while we were waiting for our flight back to Anchorage. So, all in all, it was a great trip and we fell in love with the Hoodoo river - it really is a magical spot!-C Bruton - July 2022
Hi Justin, thanks for checking in. Maybe we are more easily pleased than some of your clients, but all in all we had a really great time! We heard about your decision to come back via Cold Bay, and when we arrived in Nelson Lagoon we could easily understand why! I wouldn't have wanted to spend any more time there than was necessary. Mind you I enjoyed meeting Rick - what a character - and we saw a pod of whales off the beach, which added a frisson of excitement to an otherwise pretty bleak landscape! Now to the fishing: we were disappointed that we didn't see one bright King, but the slightly older ones did fight incredibly hard. I had 8 Kings for the week - biggest 26lbs and I had two 17lbers. I also had 9 sockeyes ranging from bright silver to dark red, but they also fought well! So I really can't complain- and the river was full of fish! We both were obviously disappointed to have missed a day's fishing, but you did warn us that could happen. The guides were fantastic - helpful, professional and very willing to lend you their tips and flies. We enjoyed talking to them and we enjoyed the camp - and the other fishermen- enormously. We saw bears, a family of otters, lots of eagles and the whales! And the remoteness was just fantastic. Paul de Q-UK -Late July 2022
We had a pretty good trip, pity about loosing a day due to weather although I understand that it was fine at Nelson Lagoon, better in fact than on the day we got there. I understand you had issues getting in and out also. There was an American and British team split, all good fun. Plenty of kings in the river above the fish weir. We did all our fishing above the weir and mainly from two pools, Chen’s Bend and the Italian Hole. No bright kings, but the ones we caught were in pretty good condition. The sockeye were getting aggressive and were taking the fly, unlike the last time I went. So, the combination of the two species made it very interesting. My best was 24lb, Paul and Clive both had a 26lb apiece and Seth had a 23. Ian Morris -Late July 2022
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