Article Date: October, 2016
Subscriber Bryan Whiting cannot say enough good things about his trip to the Kanektok River in southwestern Alaska handled for him this past July by Alaska West (www.deneki.com/alaskawest). He says the dominant species at the time he was there were chum salmon, sockeye salmon, and pink salmon, but he also caught seven fresh king salmon, more than a dozen silver salmon, plus rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and grayling. He says most of the fishing was from gravel bars and channels, which they reached with the help of jet boats, though they did spend some time in an anchored boat fishing to specific drop-offs that were difficult to wade. He says the weather was typical for Alaska in that it rained some every day. He goes on to describe some highlights of the trip as follows:
“The Kanektok River was simply full of fish. I was fortunate and caught the ‘chrome slam’ of all five species of salmon on our fourth day. Every day we caught four of the five species even when we weren’t specifically trying to catch the slam. Mind you, I didn’t catch the ‘slam’ because I am a great fisherman; I caught it because the river was full of fish and all five species were there to be caught. The numbers of chum, sockeye, and pink salmon were astounding. One could look in the river at any time and see them constantly streaming by. Fish were always visible, whether swimming by in three feet of water as they headed upstream or holding/resting in an eddy, slough, or just slower current edge.
“My wife and I had originally planned to go the last week of June and focus on kings, as we had done the year before, but then I fell on some ice at home necessitating rota¬tor cuff surgery the first week in May. My surgeon said ‘no’ to king salmon. Our second choice would have been August for the main silver run, which we have also fished at Alaska West before, but my wife is an elementary school principal and she had to report to work the first week of August. As a result, we decided to go the last week of July. We had never been there at that time of the year, and we were unsure if the quality of fishing would be what we have come to expect from Alaska West. We so enjoy the Alaska West camp and their people that we decided to go anyway. Anytime at Alaska West is a fun experience.
“It turned out that we had no need to be concerned about the fishing. Finding fish was just not an issue. You could swing or strip in the current edge for salmon as they moved upstream, or cast and strip in the slower water where huge numbers of salmon were resting. My wife especially enjoyed catching pink and chum salmon on poppers in this slower water. Most of the time, we stripped leeches, streamers, and Clousers, and everywhere we fished we had numerous fish chase our stripped flies. You couldn’t strip too fast. They would smash it immediately after the fly landed, or during mid-strip. Sometimes they would follow it all the way to a drop-off edge before slamming it. Most of the time, we could watch the salmon chase and hit our fly, sometimes literally at our feet. At one point, I remember, our guide, Jason, was admonishing my wife to keep stripping and moving the rod when the fly got within 10 feet because fish were still after it. The next cast, when she stopped stripping and prepared to cast, Jason said, ‘Give me the rod.’ Once he had it, he kept the fly moving around her with the rod tip until, suddenly, a silver salmon hit it literally two feet away. It promptly jumped straight up as he handed her back the rod. An¬other time, Jason was standing by me on a gravel bar covered by a foot of water. We had waded across a small, 15-foot-wide channel to get there and were casting to rolling silvers on the far bank beyond the pinks and chums stacked in the middle of the slough. My hands were wet from rain and fish. As I double hauled to try and reach the far bank, the line slipped through my fingers on the back cast and fell into a small channel behind me. At that point, Jason said, “Strip!” With the rod still back over my shoulder, I stripped twice and caught a pink salmon. There are no bad casts at Alaska West. Just get the fly in the water.
“Another day, I wanted to practice my Spey casting while Jason was available to help me with my technique. I was swinging an egg-headed sculpin and still caught silvers, chums, and pinks. The highlight, however, was a big pull that felt like a king pull. But it wasn’t. It was a 26- inch rainbow! All the so-called leopard rainbows of the Kanektok are special, but this fish was over 10 inches thick and consequently quite heavy.
“We spent another fun afternoon upriver from camp where the river braids into many small channels not navigable by boat. It is fun to wade there amid the bear and moose tracks. Every piece of structure we fished there held rainbows, Dolly Varden, and grayling. At one point, Jason spotted two rainbows six feet behind a tree that had fallen in the water. My first cast with a small sculpin produced one of the rainbows. After releasing it, Jason said the bigger one was still there. Seven or eight casts produced no action from the second rainbow, however, even when I got it to pass by him correctly. Finally, Jason said to cast ahead of it, right at the base of the tree. I managed to do so and from the bank, Jason exclaimed, ‘Dollies are chasing it!’ But then, abruptly, the rainbow burst into action and slammed the sculpin before the Dollies could get it. After netting it, Jason said, ‘Look in its mouth.’ Not only was my sculpin there, but also the tail of a five-inch Dolly Varden still protruded. That rainbow hadn’t initially been interested in my fly apparently because he had just eaten, but the competition spurred him into action. He wasn’t about to let the Dollies get it. What fun!
“Still on the subject of highlights, I have to mention the quality of the guides at Alaska West. With their reputation, they get the cream of the crop. We had fished with guide Jason the prior two years and knew he was more than capable. He sincerely en¬joys watching his anglers catch fish and has as much fun as you do. It’s not just another day of work to him. He also has great knowledge of the river, especially the tidewater area near the mouth of the river. He had taught us to Spey cast there two years before.
“Another highlight was the quality of the food. Chef Peter produced meals worthy of five-star designation and did so hundreds of miles from the nearest grocery store. Evening meals featured beef, pork, chicken, or salmon as entrees, utilizing different recipes each night. The second night included grilled lamb chops, which were exceptional. Entrees were accompanied by a couple of different vegetables, potatoes, and salads. The desserts were way too good. I was forced to have seconds on desserts each night.
“The camp itself is very comfortable WeatherPort tents for two persons, with two beds and bedding, wood and carpet floor, and propane heater. A warming hut dries wet waders and coats each night. A lounge tent provides a site for appetizers, a bar, lounge chairs, and the week-ending slide show. Alaska West is a top-notch facility in every way. Only two of the anglers with us in camp were new to Alaska West. Most weeks are full of repeat customers, which points to the high quality of the camp, the guides, and the fishing.
“Would I recommend this trip? Definitely. Are there activities for non-fishing companions? Not really. I suppose one could take photos or sit at camp, but this is a place for people who want to fish. The guides are ready at 8 AM, and you will fish right through to 6 PM. If you want to come in for lunch or quit fishing early you surely can, but most utilize a shore lunch or pack sandwiches to stay on the water. If you are so inclined, you can fish after dinner right at camp and catch all the fish you want. In truth, most anglers are tired and ready for bed so they can enjoy the next day’s adventures.”
Postscript: Bryan Whiting gives the cost of his trip as $5,900 per person for the week.