Fly Fishing In Alaska, Is It Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

There are very few places in the world that can compete with fly fishing in Alaska. We recently caught up with Ambassador Jenna Wagner who just returned from exploring the Bristol Bay region which is known for its impressive sockeye salmon run. As someone who has never fly fishing Alaska before, we had to find out if it was really all it’s cracked up to be…in short, the answer is yes.

IS IT REALLY ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?

Absolutely!  Not only are you catching quality fish, you are catching lots of them. My trip to Katmai was all about catching healthy, leopard spotted rainbows by swinging chunky streamers, nymphing beads, and twitching mouse patterns. It did not disappoint.

The Wade Streamer Express 7wt was the perfect rod to switch between these three types of fishing. It was strong enough to cast big streamers and the accuracy of the rod led to beautiful mousing. Some days, it was hard to go 10 casts without hooking up with a fish. Book your tickets yet?

CAN YOU GIVE US A PICTURE OF WHAT EACH DAY LOOKED LIKE? 

At the lodge I visited, the day really began the night before. Each night after dinner, the fishing manager would walk around and ask where you hoped to fish the following day. Guests had the opportunity to fish the world class home river or fly out to other famous Katmai rivers.  Fortunately, I was visiting for two weeks and had the opportunity to fly out and stay “home.”

A day on the home river proved to be the perfect introduction to Katmai National Park. We started by swinging streamers. The guides advice: swing until you have your rod pointed directly down river, then wait 15 seconds. Don’t set the hook on the first tap. We fished until lunch that day hooking up with many over 20 inches. The afternoon’s goal was a trout on a mouse pattern. This was my number one goal coming to fish Katmai.

The key to mousing for these trout is to be patient and allow for the fish to actually inhale the fly. Often, the fish would try to drown the mouse instead of swallowing it. This was a lesson in patience for me. Though many fish were lost, seeing the fish come to the surface was an incredible experience. Landing a fish caught on a mouse pattern was very special.

During my time at the lodge, I also had the opportunity to fly out. I’ve lived in Alaska off and on for the last 7 years, and had yet to be on a float plane, so I was pretty stoked to say the least. While we flew over beautiful landscapes of Katmai National Park the pilot pointed out grizzly bears and the bluest mountain lakes. After about thirty minutes we landed on a remote lake, gathered our fishing gear and hiked the tundra to the river. While the fishing was tough, we ended up sharing the river with over 30 different bears on the seven-mile hike down the river that day. It was spectacular.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SHARE A RIVER WITH BROWN BEARS?

You’re both fishing in harmony. Sharing a river with a bear in Alaska is very normal and incredibly majestic. While beautiful, it’s imperative to always be prepared. Here are a few rules to follow if you find yourself sharing the river with a brown bear.

  1. Always carry easily accessible bear spray when fishing or hiking Alaska. I have it holstered on to my wading belt at all times.
  2. Always be aware of your surroundings and make noise. Believe me a bear does not want to be surprised by your presence and  you don’t want to be surprised by a bear.
  3. Never get in a power struggle over a fishing hole with a bear, give way to the bear. These creatures are fantastic to observe from a safe distance.

Alaska is my happy place. Even when the fishing slows, it’s tough to be bummed when you look up from the river towards the beautiful mountains and surroundings.  Add the real potential for a grizzly bear around the next bend, and it’s magic.

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