I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool things in my life, but fishing on the Naknek River in King Salmon, Alaska is ranking pretttttty high up right now.
I had the good fortune of getting to go to someone’s private fishing lodge on the Naknek River – something I would have never been able to afford to do myself since it can cost around $9000 pp for a 6 day trip, not including air fare. I left Anchorage around noon on Friday, flying on a private jet to the small airport in King Salmon.
Fun Fact: the King Salmon airport is considered a ‘cold base’ for the military, meaning it’s technically still active but mostly left unattended.
Over the weekend, I learned to cast a reel, fly fish, and floss fish. I had never heard of flossing before, but basically you cast with a weight on the line and hope it hooks a fish swimming up stream. We didn’t use any bait on any of the types of fishing we did, and it was (mostly) catch and release. The fish we did catch were promptly prepared and served to the 12 guests in the lodge – a delicious reward for a hard days fishing.
History of Naknek: Naknek is located in the Bristol Bay region, and home to great fishing for both salmon and rainbow trouts. Some of the best rivers in the world, actually. Naknek was originally a native village, with two communities on both sides of the river (Naknek and South Naknek). As the fisheries came in and more commercialization happened, Naknek on the North side became the place where all the businesses were, and South Naknek fell by the wayside. It’s still a small town, with around 500 residents year round and fishing season being the big boom. Mid-June to end of July is the big commercial season, supporting fishermen and the canneries. In 2018, there have been over 37 million pounds of fish processed commercially. That’s a whole lotta fish!
Fun Fact: Naknek is home to the only school plane – students living in South Naknek are flown across the river and back for school every day. There are no bridges to drive across, and the river ices over making it to where you can’t take a boat!
Connected to Naknek by a 13 mile paved road is the town of King Salmon. King Salmon was originally established as a military community, picked for it’s location due to access to Russia during the Cold War and the abundance of sand and flat surface space to build a runway. King Salmon is most notable for the fishing lodges: if you’re taking a fishing trip out here, chances are your lodge will be on the King Salmon side.
Aside from beautiful, lush, green scenery and splashing rivers, the wildlife was incredible. We saw beavers, birds, salmon, and trout. But most excitedly, we saw BEARS! On the last hour of our trip, we were heading back to the lodge and a mama bear with THREE cubs were along the river bank. Her cubs were climbing all over the steep hillside, and mama was concerned about catching fish. They paid us no mind whatsoever: it was amazing.
We had three amazing guides at the lodge, ranging in age from 15 to 23. They’ve spent the summer (a few of them many summers!) guiding guests up and down the river so they know it as well as you know your hometown streets. I was so impressed with their maturity and confidence at such young ages: they knew what they were doing, and they were commanders of their boats despite having people older than them around. They get to spend their summer in a remote part of Alaska and see what life in an isolated and small town is like. I really hope that is something Bear will get the opportunity to do when he’s old enough.
As someone who isn’t that great at catching fish (remember my trip on the Russian River a few weeks ago when I came home with nilch?), the fact that we were able to get so many really spoke to how good the guides were at what they do. They even let me filet my own fish, all while grimacing at my horrible job.
Overall, an amazing weekend in a beautiful place. If you ever find yourself with the time and the money (two hard things to come by, I know), I recommend getting out to this part of the world and seeing it with your own eyes. You’ll leave feeling connected to nature and proud of your fishing prowess.