Enjoy our photo essay on one of the most unique fisheries we have ever encountered.
While we all #StayHomeStaySafe, we have decided to bring our destination to you. This week we’re taking you on a virtual road trip across Kodiak Island, Alaska. By utilizing float planes, jet boats and rafts you can access some of the best remote fishing Alaska has to offer. Kodiak reminded us of what makes Haida Gwaii so special and unique and our guests have loved every adventure on #Kodiak. When the opportunity to fly in and document this magical place came up, angler and photographer Darcy Bacha took full advantage. Enjoy the adventure!
Kodiak Island, “the emerald isle,” is the largest island in Alaska, and is second only to Hawaii in the U.S. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge encompasses nearly 1.9 million acres on Kodiak and Afognak Islands. It is 252 air miles south of Anchorage, a one-hour flight. The mountains of the Kodiak islands range in elevation from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. From the air it is amazing to see the glacial divide. The North west is sharp and rugged and the northeast is smooth with broad ridges. You can see exactly where the glaciers ended as the rugged mountains sharply turn into hilly lowlands. It is full of rivers and streams that are short mostly 10 miles long or less.
When flying to the Ayakulik river it is amazing just how many rivers and streams you fly over. Most rivers are forever changing and in Alaska you get to see it in its wild, natural process. Unfortunately most of the world’s rivers have been greatly altered by man in some way – dams, forestry or just industry in general. On Kodiak you see natural coastal systems untouched, beautiful estuaries the way they are meant to look. All of Alaska is incredibly unique, but travelling through Kodiak you see a very different landscape than anywhere else on the entire west coast.
I am no stranger to Alaska bush flying after guiding there for 12 years but this landing is top 2 that I have seen. The upper Nushagak near Egdorf’s camp is the other that is this small. This sequence is incredibly shot by @darcy The pilot lines it up and drops the 6000lb plane in perfectly one float at a time. Than they have to keep the plane on step and run it like a jet boat to get 3 bends up river over very shallow water. Welcome, you have arrived at king camp! The pilot will be the last person you see for the next 7 days outside of camp staff.
Fishing the Ayakulik is like nothing you have ever seen in Alaska. It is amazing how productive such a small system can be for not only king salmon, but sockeye, coho and steelhead. The river is so small, the way to fish it is by hiking and floating. One group hikes up river while the other floats down river. At the end of the float guests walk back to camp while the guide humps the raft back home through the tundra. The sockeye bi-catch makes for some great riverside meals
We are now stepping into this amazing river for the first time. This small, intimate river is one of the most unique in the world. Very few rivers this small are this productive with all 5 species of salmon and also an amazing run of steelhead. The river is so small, and yet is a super highway for salmon passing by. It feels alive when you step in it. Watching tide fresh pushes of fish swim by flopping and rolling as they get accustomed to freshwater is a sight to see. The swingable runs in this section of the river are tremendous and the fish are quite predictable on where they hold. These photos do a wonderful job of putting you visually on this river to make some swings.
The scenery, wildlife and solitude make Kodiak a world class destination. The fishing puts it over the top. Small intimate river with beautiful runs to swing. The pushes of chinook are announced with aerialized tails and loud splashes as they aggressively make their way up river. Heart pumping extra hard when your partner hooks up down river. The tide push has arrived.
Most of Kodiak is encompassed by the Kodiak National wildlife refuge which has given great protection to the mighty Kodiak Brown Bear. Kodiak bears size averages just slightly less than Polar bears. The big boars can hit 1500lbs and live to 30 years or so. The genetic make up this large brown bear has been isolated since the last ice age (10 000 years ago). In the spring they graze on the grasses in the meadows and alpine valleys. Once the salmon arrive all bets are off and every bear hits their favourite creek just like anglers.
The threats to the Kodiak kings are mounting. In the 90’s the 2 chinook bearing rivers received over 35 000 kings each year. This has plummeted down to 3000 fish a couple times over the last decade. The threats from commercial fishing have been very real. An operator on the Ayakulik Amy Freddette has said, For the past 15 years I have fished the Ayakulik River and the increase in commercial fishing at the mouth now prevents any King salmon from entering the river. There are Seine nets strung across the entire River for sockeye. While they must release king salmon over 28 inches , the mortality rate is enormous. There needs to be restrictions 500 yards from the mouth. Between commercial harvest, bi-catch and poor ocean conditions, the kings have been facing real threats for nearly 10 years. There has been signs of hope in Kodiak and if greater protections are put in place these fisheries could rebound.
Thanks for following our stories on Kodiak Alaska. No Alaskan fishing conversation should ever take place without pointing out we need to stop the pebble mine. If you have never seen Bristol Bay Alaska, check out some amazing images I captured over my years guiding. This is a very special place that needs protection. Enjoy – Derek Botchford