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Alaska steelhead fishing on 
Kodiak's wild Karluk River

Story and photos courtesy of Steve Andresen, 
Port Lions Lodge

Fly-fishing for Alaska steelhead on Kodiak Island is one of the last great wild adventures. This year's float trip was no exception. Peter Hayes and Nigel Sturgeon from England accompanied me on this trip and these two chaps made the excursion an absolute delight.

Peter Hayes with a Karluk steelheadThey arrived on a stormy October Sunday but by the time we flew out to the river on Monday morning it was sunny and calm. After blowing up the rafts and securing our gear we floated down river looking for a suitable campsite.

These sturdy anglers really appreciate the wilderness and the opportunity to pursue truly wild fish. They have fished in Russia for Atlantic salmon, Tierra del Fuego for sea-run German browns, New Zealand for browns, Finland for rainbows, western Alaska for rainbows, and Kodiak for silver salmon. According to them, this trip rated tops for fishing and adventure.

We passed only a few camps on our two-hour float. Everyone we talked with shared information on fly patterns and recent steelhead habits. One man we meet was a professional fishing guide from Southeast Alaska. He was spending his vacation fly-fishing Kodiak for steelhead. He had some pretty interesting theories.


According to him, the fresh steelhead hit just about anything, but after they get hooked a time or two they become very leery. So he was using a sparsely tied orange fly below a dropper fly that was weighted to keep it down. We used a big black fly called the Morris Marauder on a #2 hook followed by a small dark Teeny nymph. We caught most of our steelhead on the marauder but we landed a few on the nymph too.

Nancy Morris, a fishing guide on the Naknek River in Western Alaska introduced me to the Marauder on a spring rainbow excursion last season. It looks similar to a black leech but has some colored maribou with a little flash added. Heavy bead eyes and a little red yarn on the throat make it look an awful lot like a dark sculpin. It worked for spring rainbows, summer silvers, and fall steelhead as well.

We caught only a few fish on the first day but by Tuesday we were in the swing of it. I caught and released four nice bright steelhead before noon. Peter and Nigel were soon netting up to 8-10 fish per day.

The fish were brilliantly colored as the photographs show, and tremendously strong. They jumped, flipped, ran upstream, ran downstream, and sometimes just hung in the strong current where we couldn't even begin to move them. They hit the fly like a freight train. And the hit always seemed to come when we least expected it.
Peter Hayes shows off a Karluk steelhead>We caught them in shallow water early in the day and deeper holes later on. We could often see them working their way upstream or holding behind a rock. If we couldn't see them we worked the water thoroughly before moving on. Our hunting skills were called into play as often as our fishing skills.

The weather was clear and calm causing the temperature to drop sharply at night. It dropped to 18 degrees one night but warmed up to the mid fifties by the middle of the next day. Steelhead are temperature sensitive and really slow down in cold water. The early mornings were poor fishing with the water temperature dropping to 36 degrees. But both the water and the fishing warmed up rapidly when the sun came out. The water temperature would hit 45 degrees by late morning.

We shared the water with two anglers camped about a mile above us, five others camped about a mile below us and a trio of brown bears who visited us periodically -- more on them in just a moment. Most steelheaders hike long distances from camp hunting these magnificent fish -- although I am convinced one can succeed just as well fishing the same section of stream as new fish move through.

Author Steve Andresen of Port Lions LodgeAll the fishermen we encountered were real sportsmen and gentlemen. They always made sure we had "first water", i.e. had fished the water in front of our camp before they "fished through". They always invited us to "fish through" their water too. We shared tales of fish caught, fish that got away, and rumors of the big schools of fish coming up-river.

The trio of bears I mentioned was a sow with twin three-year-old cubs. They looked old enough to be on their own and were pretty independent. The first day they passed us on the opposite side of the river as they made their way downstream. Two days later they came back and approached us on the same side of the river. We had to back away from the riverbank to allow them to pass, as they didn't seem to want to go around us. They quickly went by after we left the water so we returned to our fishing.

Alaska steelhead fishing!Later that evening as I was frying up some silver salmon for dinner the bolder of the two cubs returned -- obviously interested in what we had to eat. We blocked his way into camp and he actually made a false charge trying to intimidate us into leaving our food. We fired a cracker shell (a shotgun fired firecracker) and he turned and ran away quickly. We never did have any problem at night, probably because we store all our food in bear-proof metal drums and there is no smell to attract them.

This float trip is a rugged adventure and we travel prepared for potentially harsh conditions. Our tents are the Alaskan "Bombshelter" designed by Alaskans and built by Eureka. The rain fly reaches the ground on all sides and it has a vestibule front and rear for storing gear. We have a separate weatherproof dining/cook tent. Hot breakfasts are a great way to start the day and everyone thoroughly enjoys hot dinners after a long day on the river. We sleep on sturdy cots and heat the tents with butane stoves if the temperature drops too much. The days are relatively short with dark falling by 7:30 p. m. so we usually go to bed early.

Click for more information about this videoThis trip is not for everyone. But if you want to experience one of the world's last great wild fishing experiences, it may be for you. We are booking for next year's trip right now, and we limit our numbers. If you are interested, e-mail or call us now for rates and availability.

What's it like to sport fish Alaska?  Here's a video with
some fun-to-watch sequences from different parts
of the state.  Click
here for more information.




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