Subscriber Jim Aylsworth has checked in with a full and very informative report regarding a recent Alaskan fishing adventure with Enchanted Lake Lodge in the heart of Katmai National Park. Thoroughly impressed with their operation, which he booked directly with the lodge, Jim walked away from his trip with his largest rainbow trout ever, along with lifetime memories. He gives the food, lodge, guiding, and transportation to and from the lodge a rating of Excellent. He goes on to say:
I just returned from a trip to Alaska to catch my favorite ﬁsh in the world, the rainbow trout. I had previously been to Alaska in the early 1990s at a place in Wood-Tikchik State Park called Wood River Lodge, where I fished the Agulipak River. They are no longer in business. This year, my fishing buddy, Jack Handey, and I decided to fish Enchanted Lake Lodge in the Bristol Bay watershed area north of King Salmon. It is located in the heart of Katmai National Park on 54 acres owned by Daren and Tracy Erickson. To get there we took a commercial aircraft from Anchorage to King Salmon, then a floatplane on to the lodge, about 50 miles to the northeast.
The lodge is beautiful, with a dining and living area that includes very comfortable furniture, a fireplace, large windows, and a deck with a view of Nonvianuk Lake and the Walatka Mountains. Each morning, I was awakened by someone putting a pot of hot coffee at the front door of my individual cedar cabin. Then we would have a great breakfast before flying off to our fishing destination of the day. Usually, after eight to nine hours of fishing, which included a streamside lunch with hot soup, we would regroup back at the lodge to find a wood-burning sauna ready to relax in. Later, we would meet in the living area for drinks, followed by a dinner that even the most educated would call gourmet.
The cabins featured very comfortable mattresses and luxurious bedding. Fortunately, the cabins had 24-hour power because I use a CPAP device to avoid sleep apnea and snoring, something Jack, my roommate for this trip, sincerely appreciated). As far as staffing goes, they have it down pat. It is truly a step above!
As regards the location of the lodge, Katmai National Park, at 4.2 million acres, is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Being situated in the middle of this expanse means anglers who come here are close to the action. It also means they are close to lots of bears. At last count, there were about 2,000 to 3,000 bears in the park. That means we had bear encounters several times every day—some of them very close, all of them, fortunately, nonviolent. We also saw some moose, caribou, wolves, ptarmigan, otters, mink, grouse, bald eagles, and loons, the latter of which would serenade us as the sun went down. The water in this area has all ﬁve types of salmon, plus Arctic char, lake trout, Dolly Varden, northern pike, tons of grayling, and rainbow trout. But all I was interested in were the rainbows.
Two years ago, we were told, someone at the lodge caught a 34½-inch rainbow. Last September, anglers in one boat caught a 30-inch, a 32-inch, and a 33-inch rainbow all in the same afternoon. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that the Kvichak River, where they were fishing that day, is home to trout of this size, which means we had to share the water with 12 to 14 other jet boats the day we fished it. Run up, ﬂoat down, cast at the bank, and catch huge trout. I loved the hunt for monsters, but I was not crazy about the lack of solitude. Fortunately, the other spots we fished during our week were not crowded. In fact, we had them to ourselves.
One of the other rivers we fished was the world-famous Brooks River. You may have seen videos or photos of bears there catching the salmon that try to leap over the falls to reach their spawning grounds. Other waters in the area include the Kulik, Battle, Big and Little Ku, American, Moraine, and Funnel. We got to these rivers each day via floatplane. We would float the smaller rivers in rafts the guides packed in. The larger rivers we would fish from jet boats that were there waiting for our arrival. At times, we hiked over tundra and fished the upper portions of famed waters.
Our first day on the water was not what I would call fishing. It was catching! The weather was picture-perfect: sunny, light wind, and fish on the line almost every 10 minutes. These brutes literally gave us sore arms by the end of the day. My first fish was so large that I insisted we measure it. It was 21 inches long and had a girth of 11 inches! By the end of the day, and countless 21-inch rainbows later, I realized that a fish that size is just normal for this place, nothing special.
Our second day started with our guide warning us that the 6 wt fly rods we used the previous day were not strong enough for the fish we were about to catch on the Moraine. We had to bring our 8 wt rods, with a bit more backbone. The first trout I caught—within 15 minutes of getting my fly in the water—was measured by Nick Douglas, the head guide, at 27½ inches long, with a middle width of 17 inches.
On our third day of fishing, guide Scott Keller took us to the Kvichak, where I landed a new record trout for myself. It was a beautiful 32-inch rainbow that likely spends its winters in Lake Iliamna, I was told. A close examination indicated this beast of a fish had never been caught before.
The fourth day we moved on to Battle Creek. The day started off slow, with heavy wind, but our luck changed when we worked our way up to a ﬁshing hole called “The Teapot.” We ﬁshed that one area for over three hours. Jack and I had at least six double hookups. The trout were just stacked in there, all visible and all in the most beautiful surroundings of the trip, with mountains on both sides, bears around every other corner, and gin-clear water meandering through the tundra.
Interestingly, the rainbows were so focused on eating salmon eggs that they wouldn’t even look at other food. Jack tried his favorite mouse pattern, Mr. Hankey, and then tried some large streamer patterns, but none of these offerings worked. Only egg patterns worked, but they had to be the right size and color. At one point, with success flagging, I changed from a light pink egg to a lighter pink color, and the fish began to bite. This does not mean presentation wasn’t important. You had to be sure the fly was not draggling. It had to drift naturally.
We spent our fifth day on the above-mentioned famed Brooks River. Tourists with oversized cameras stood on a protected viewing stand to get shots of the bears, but we were in the water, almost side-by-side with these beautiful animals. We showed them respect, and they pretty much ignored us. Park regulations did not allow us to fish within 50 yards of the bears because of the risk of them charging us if they saw us bring in a big trout. When they got too close, we would just reel in our lines and watch the bears. Very cool!
We spent our last day back on Battle Creek in miserable weather. We decided to let two other fishermen have “The Teapot” hole while we hiked the tundra and waded the river up to a spot called “World’s Greatest.” Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its name. We caught about four fish right off the bat, then nothing. We could see them, but no matter what we threw at them, we didn’t get so much as a look. Eventually, we worked our way downriver to another long run called “Desperation Run,” where we proceeded to catch a fish every 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of that last day of ﬁshing I looked up and thanked God for being alive and in Alaska at that very moment.
Postscript: Aylsworth gives the cost of his seven nights’ stay and six days of guided fishing as $9,800. For more information about Enchanted Lake Lodge, go to www.enchantedlakelodge.com; or e-mail them at [email protected].