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Subscriber Steve Burke has supplied us with this report from the Iliamna region of Alaska, where his trip was a huge success. You can file a report on your recent travels by emailing me at email@example.com or on our website at https://www.anglingreport.com/file-a-trip-report/. -Seth Fields, Editor
Having fished Alaska regularly since 1982, 3 years ago I decided to introduce my then-10 year old grandson and his father to the experience. We were fortunate to be referred to Iliamna River Lodge. This past August was our third year fishing there together.
The lodge is managed by Bill and Mel Betz, who work closely with sister-lodges Rainbow River Lodge and Rock at Talarik to ensure a remarkable experience. An added feature at Iliamna River Lodge for my grandson was that Bill and Mel have 2 boys, Cole and Luke, that are his age, assuring his post-fishing play activities during cocktail hour (and well into the night!).
Reaching the lodge from Florida requires us to overnight in Anchorage, and fly out the following afternoon. This year, the airline lost my grandson’s luggage, and we put the time before our flight to good use re-outfitting him for the trip.(his luggage reached the lodge 4 days later).
The stay in Anchorage is always enjoyable for us, as there are nice hotels (we stay at the Captain Cook Hotel), very good restaurants ( Glacier House Brewery for lunch is a must for us), and touring downtown is fun as well. We particularly enjoy touring the outfitter/sporting goods stores.
Fly-in day is usually on Sunday. An afternoon charter with Lake Clark Air (https://lakeclarkair.com/air_service.html) leaves from Merrill Field, about 15 minutes from Anchorage International Airport, for a one-hour flight to Pedro Bay on Lake Iliamna. In decent weather, the flight across Cook Inlet, up a deep, glacier–rimmed river canyon, and down the length of Lake Clark is spectacular. A comfortable enclosed jetboat ferries the guests 20 minutes from Pedro Bay to the lodge.
The property itself is perched on the banks of the Iliamna River, just above its discharge into Lake Iliamna, in an idyllic setting. The spacious main lodge, which has a commanding view of the river and the surrounding mountains, serves as dining room, cocktail lounge, recreation room, and mini fly shop. It is equipped with Wi-Fi, as well as telephone service.
Anglers (usually 8-10) stay in meticulously maintained, roomy streamside cabins, each with a heater, abundant hot and cold running water, and 24/7 electricity. Accommodations are generally 2 anglers per cabin, but single rooms are available (ask for “the snoring room”).
Daily maid service is provided. Daily laundry service is also available.
The kitchen deserves special mention. Lee is the equal to any chef I’ve encountered in Alaska in 35 years. The menu changed daily, the food was exceptional, and the portions are bountiful. Lunches varied, but always included hot soup and fresh baked goods.
The fishing aspect of the lodge was, is, remarkable. The boats and rafts, as well as the 3 DeHavilland Beaver airplanes were spotlessly clean and scrupulously maintained. So too are the boots, waders, rods and, reels available to every angler.
The 5 fishing guides – Blake, Bryson, Jonah, Winton and Andy, were consistently excellent. Blake, the senior guide, who I have fished with for the past five years, may be the best guide I’ve fished with in Alaska.
Guides rotate among the anglers through the week, meeting them the evening before to discuss tactics, arrange for equipment, etc.
Fishing from the lodge is done with 2 anglers per guide. You depart each day either by jet boat on the Iliamna River, or by Beaver fly-out (4 anglers and 2 guides per plane) to any of the dozens of remote streams. My partner for the week (when not swapping to fish with my grandson) was a delightful gentleman from Connecticut, Milt Ignatius.
August fishing mean targeting rainbows, char/Dollie Varden, and silver salmon. Rainbow ,char and Dolly fishing is generally done with 5-7 wt. floating lines, dead drifting beads, and occasionally fishing flesh patterns. Fishing for silvers entails using 8-9 wt. floating lines and streamer patterns.
Though I bring my own equipment, the lodge is more than happy to equip the angler with everything, including boots and waders.
This past summer saw historic, record-breaking low water throughout the Iliamna drainage. Several streams, such as the Copper River, were essentially unfishable, and others were severely affected. The drought lasted through our week and beyond.
Monday, our first day, we took a short flight with our guide Winton to Gibraltar Lake, from where we were supposed to float the Gibraltar River, about 5 miles down to Lake Iliamna. Unfortunately, due to low water, the first 2 miles or so involved my grandson and I hiking and Winton dragging the raft. Eventually we were able to float the raft.
The Gibraltar is a beautiful river. We encountered multiple bears, and had great fishing, catching numerous 18- to 25-inch rainbows. Overall, a delightful day!
Tuesday, we flew with our guide Bryson over to the coast to the Kamishak River. The weather was gorgeous and the scenery was spectacular. The Kamishak is known as a silver salmon river, but it is also a remarkable char/Dolly Varden fishery. After loading the jet boats, we motored about 20 miles upstream to the fishing grounds, where we caught 10- to 15-pound silver salmon to our hearts’ content (the limit is 4, but you can catch-and-release all day).
In the riffles, the char/Dolly fishing was astounding! It could best be compared to throwing a ball to a retriever. As long as you kept casting, the fish would keep eating. We caught mostly 18- to 22-inch fish, with an occasional 25 plus-inch one thrown in.
One special memory of the day was the fresh-cooked salmon lunch. Served streamside in such a pristine wilderness setting, it was a delight.
Wednesday was our day to fish the Iliamna River. This is generally a prolific char stream, with several braids offering excellent rainbow fishing as well. Unfortunately, due to extremely low water, we were unable to make it upstream in the jet boat. Instead, we beached the boat and hiked up a tributary stream. It was a beautiful hike, but not many fish. Our guide Andy did his best, but couldn’t manufacture fish.
Thursday we returned to the Kamishak, this time with Blake as our guide. Once again, we were treated to a spectacular flight, unbelievable fishing, and another great salmon lunch.
Friday, Milt and I were paired with Blake as our guide. we flew into Crosswinds Lake, at the confluence of the Funnel and Moraine Creeks. We fished the Moraine while Blake hiked up the Funnel to explore. We got into fish, but Blake saw enough on his exploration to convince us to embark on a 2-mile bushwack up the Funnel. Was it worth it! Milt and I both had a great day, landing many 18- to 26-inch rainbow’s. The only negative was the now 3+ mile end-of-day hike back to the plane.
Since Saturday is fly-out day, the fishing day is shortened, returning to the lodge by 3pm, rather than the usual 5-5:30 pm returns. On our last day, Milt and I were once again to be guided by Blake. We were fortunate that our pilot, Forrest, was staying at the lodge, since this allowed us a first-light departure for our Moraine Creek float. We were the first raft in at the put-in, and fished rested water all day.
Moraine Creek was on fire! We were into fish from the put-in, non-stop to Kukaklek Lake, catching 18- to 27-inch rainbows in dizzying numbers. We couldn’t have had a better day to end our Alaska week!
Returning to the lodge at 3 allowed time for a shower, a snack, and settling up, before leaving to meet the return Lake Clark Air charter at 5 pm. The charter arrives in Anchorage in time to make any flight leaving after 9:00-9:30 pm.
Iliamna River Lodge is a true treasure. It is small, welcoming and remarkably well-run. The scenery, the wildlife, and the fishing are addictive. We’ll be back next year.
Iliamna River Lodge rates vary depending on the amount of fly-out opportunities anglers want in their package. Base rate with 3 flyouts and 3 days on homewaters is listed at $7,400 for the week.