70 miles of Rainbow, Char, Sockeye, Kings, & Wildlife.
From the log of July 19th, 2018
We departed from Dillingham at 11:30 am with our first two planeloads, shortly followed by the third. Three bears were spotted from the plane, still up in the hills grazing on berries. It’s a special opportunity to move through Brown Bear country and view these animals at a safe distance. A big moose was also seen in an adjacent drainage. As soon as we entered the headwaters of the river we were met by a big pod of spawning Sockeye with some large Dolly Varden mixed in behind them. With high water river conditions, our row to camp took just a little over an hour at fishing speed. We took several, rainbows, Grayling, Dolly Varden and Sockeye on our 3-mile float down to where camp was made. Luke and Michael, armed with bead rigs, caught Dollies hand over fist until the sun got low. Several fish were over 23”. Dick was a returning guest and he knew the fishing was only going to get better so he limited his fishing that afternoon. Steve had also fished with us in the past but he was eager to catch a few nice Dollies and one particularly large Chum before heading to the wing. Steve was full of jokes and had the wonderful ability to keep the group entertained for the entire week. It was incredible how many different jokes he has stored in his mind and the variety was impressive. Following a big pasta dinner the group sat down and enjoyed a lovely evening with beverages of choice in hand. In typically rainy Bristol Bay, sometimes you just need to enjoy those nice nights and sit back and smell the roses. Especially with more fish on the way…
From the log of July 20th, 2018
After a hearty breakfast and our morning safety briefing, we packed up the rafts and hit the ground running. The fishing was hot from the moment we pushed off the bar and every boat was hooked up in a matter of minutes. The North Fork of the Goodnews for some reason does not support large numbers of Rainbow trout and the ones that we do take are generally a bit smaller than other watersheds. That being said, Luke started his morning off with a very nice 18” Rainbow taken just below camp. The group caught several dollies and Grayling but then things really got hot. At a long bar we dubbed, “Swimming Bear” bluff our rafts and the migrating Dollies collided resulting in some incredible fishing. The four anglers boated over 40 Dollies in this reach. Luke caught a nice fish in the 25” range. We departed and worked our way ½ mile downriver where we viewed a nesting pair of bald eagles with 3 large chicks that perched in the nest. Dick caught several nice fish in guide Bailey’s boat while they waited for John’s boat to catch up after a rod malfunction. The insect hatches on the river were strong. Stoneflies, Caddis and even green drakes were coming off. We found a pod of Kings at a spot we know as “5 Doors”. Michael had a large jack King come up and look at his indicator and dive back down and crush his bead. It was a proper battle on his 6 wt. We fished our way down to the second major tributary where we ate lunch and continued to catch some very nice Char. At the convergence of the tributary, large numbers of mixed salmon species congregated and Dollies held just behind them, keyed on the egg drop. Steve took several nice fish out of this spot. After the tributary we worked our way into the canyon stretch, which is essentially devoid of gravel bars big enough to camp on, especially in the high water level. Just as we were entering the top of the canyon stretch, John’s boat with Michael and Luke spotted a young bull moose before he went crashing back into the willows. We pushed through most of the Canyon with our rods up and when we reached the end we stopped at a small creek that entered the main river. Dollies were stacked up below the creek and every rod in the group was bent. We found a pocket of Grayling where Luke managed to land two in two casts. Steve, fishing to a pod of kings in Pete’s boat caught an eager rainbow that came out and crushed his fly. After a long day on the water we finally arrived at camp to get settled in for the night. We enjoyed fish tacos on the river and exchanged stories from the day. Everyone fell asleep with full stomachs.
From the log of July 21st, 2018
We broke camp and hit the river just before 9:30. The morning fishing started slow and the King salmon did not seem to be in their traditional holding water. This may have been due to the high water conditions but they were particularly lock jawed on this day. High winds were a hindrance, especially when casting the heavy flies to the King’s holding in deep water. The char fishing was strong and we fished to several pods of mixed salmon and caught a variety of fish. As we drifted down, Pete alerted the other boats to a bear he saw walking up the river. The boats all got an opportunity to observe him fishing as he worked his way up the bank looking for his meal. Just ten minutes later, Bailey and Pete’s boats had another encounter with a sow and two cubs. We pulled alongside the riverbank and viewed them from a safe distance before they disappeared over the bluff towards Canyon Creek. While moving down the river towards the bluff two Great Horned Owls came out of the trees and flew across the river towards the brushy cottonwoods. The confluence of Canyon Creek came into view where we hauled over to cast. Dick caught a Jack King and several big Chum Salmon out of this pocket of water. By the time we left the creek, a strong headwind had developed and was creating white caps on the surface of the water during our push towards camp. While the guides set up camp, Michael and Luke, who hadn’t gotten their fill of fishing for the day and departed to the river. Michael caught a half dozen Dollies before returning to join the group for appetizers. He also landed a nice Sockeye, which Luke netted for him even though his waders were already off. The fish would have been perfect table fare if it weren’t Pizza night. We enjoyed a variety of different pizza combinations and a fresh salad. Our bellies were full and we needed the energy reboot after a day of heavy wind and casting large flies. To close out the day, we enjoyed watching guide Bailey Spey cast in the evening.
From the log of July 22nd, 2018
We poured a few extra cups of coffee amidst heavy winds and low scudding clouds in the morning. We departed camp fishing the bead in the morning with excellent success. Several nice fish were landed immediately. Michael and Luke got into a few Pink salmon in this stretch. We saw our second large eagle nest with several larger chicks in it. The adults cackled loudly to let us know that our presence was noticed. Just below the nest we popped into a large slough that had good numbers of Sockeye, Chums and Jack Kings. Luke took a nice Jack King out of the top section, Steve caught a large Sockeye and Dick caught a nice Chum from this hole. John’s boat with Luke and Michael stopped at a big pod of Char hoping to get a taste of some top-water action. Casting Gurgler patterns, all three of them caught Char in the 22”-24” range. It is tough to find a cooler “eat” than a big Char “sharking” after a floating fly. Dick and Pete were not far away from the Char side channel targeting Sockeye and managed to get a nice one for dinner. It was unclear who caught the fish and who netted it but the important thing was that we were all thankful for them providing fresh fish for dinner. Luke caught a nice blushed up Sockeye just before lunch that gave him a good tussle on a 6wt rod. While the Char, Chum and pink fishing was quite spectacular, the Kings were a bit lock-jawed and the high water disbursed them to uncommon areas. The group was able to hook good numbers of Jacks, but finding big Kings that were willing to eat proved challenging. We made camp at a traditional bluff camp and were able to enjoy an incredible view of the surrounding landscape.
From the log of July 23rd, 2018
We enjoyed hot oatmeal in the early morning rain to warm our bones. We chased Kings for a good portion of the morning but also had some great Char numbers. We stopped a lunch spot just above a small tributary creek where the Char were thick. Dick and Steve caught over a dozen fish in matter of 12 minutes! As we were wrapping up lunch, the River Keepers from the village of Goodnews Bay pulled their jet boat up on the gravel bar to chat. Our Yup’ik friends, Paul and Billy along with Paul’s dog Mongo visited with us for over 30 minutes while we caught up about the previous winter and the current condition of the river. They motored up river as we continued down to find a few bluffs with strong king numbers. John and Dick explored a new side channel after lunch that typically didn’t have enough water to float and found some very large Dollies in deep orange spawn colors. These were some of the first fish of the season exhibiting darker spawning colors. All boats found good numbers of fish casting to large pods of mixed salmon and many chum were landed and released. We hauled over on a bar just a ½ mile above our traditional camp and found incredible numbers of Char. Steve and Dick caught and released as many fish as they wanted. Pete disappeared to the lower part of the bar with a rod in hand. The water erupted with a bright Sockeye and John rushed down with a net to make sure that fish would become dinner for the group. We found our traditional camp blown out by the high water and so we continued down river. We made camp ½ mile down on a gravel bar with a large pod of mixed salmon staging right in front of us. The lower part of the bar showed signs of moose, wolf, and bear tracks. The evening rain threatened the anglers and kept them under cover of the wing until dinner was finished. Luke, Michael and Steve all caught large Chum Salmon right in front of camp as an after dinner treat.
From the log of July 24th, 2018
The morning started under cloud cover. Steve caught a few nice Char and a nice Rainbow Trout to start his morning. We came into a large flat below a big bluff and where the entire group was able to get into good numbers of fish. Steve fished the lower end of the flat with John where they were able to hike up and sneak up on a pod of fish. Steve sight nymphed to each of these fish and landed over 8 fish, the largest being around 25”! Fishing with Pete, Luke and Michael leap frogged Steve down to a lower bar and couldn’t keep the fish off their lines. We noticed a drop off the in the number of kings in this reach of the river as we descended down to our traditional camp six. The fishing for Char remained strong but the salmon became sparse and that wasn’t the only problem. It was sushi night. As the day got later, we worried if we would find good enough numbers to be able to catch a salmon for dinner. As we arrived at our traditional camp, we saw several strings of sockeye pushing up near the bar. Before Johns boat was even unloaded he grabbed his rod and made several casts up to the fish to no avail. On what was claimed to be his last cast, his line came tight and a bright sockeye shot out of the water. Pete returned the favor from the night prior by netting John’s fish. Sockeye sushi would be on the menu for dinner. After the sushi was rolled, eaten and stomachs were full, the biting insects became quite heinous so the group started a campfire to help keep them at bay. The fire served double duty to roast s’mores as a messy yummy dessert. Once the fire died down, we scurried away from the bugs into the protection of our tents.
From the log of July 25th, 2018
We began our last full day on the river quite early to allow plenty of time to fish. The day started strong and the Char were hungry. Luke landed a very nice Char while wading a bar just a mile below camp. We came down into a big deep run we dub the “Carousel” for the way we generally fish it. We fish our way down, then row or drag our rafts up the opposite bank before floating it again. It can be pretty extraordinary fishing. Several bright pink salmon and Chums were hooked out of this pocket. On the third pass, Luke hooked a hot 10lb king that was brought into the net minutes later. Still in awe of the power of the fish and talking about how cool the experience was, Luke and his father continued to fish side by side. Several hundred yards below the place where he landed his king, blind casting to a bank, Luke’s line jumped out of his hands again. He was attached to another king Salmon. This one was slightly bigger then the last and even brighter. The fish put up a strong fight but was eventually brought to the net and photographed quickly before being released. Spirits were high going into lunch, but the real salmon fishing began after lunch. Steve caught several very nice Chum salmon on his hand tied flies. Luke and Michael both got into some really nice bright Chum as well. Dick had been almost exclusively targeting Kings this day and had been fishing hard. In one of the last King holes, dubbed as “Swallow Bluff”, Dick hooked into a monster, that ripped line off his reel and darted all over the river. Steve and Pete had a waltz with the fish as they chased it down river. They eventually got him (or at least his head) into the net and snapped a few photos of a fish in the 25-30lb range. Dick was satisfied and opted to sit and relax and enjoy the scenery for the rest of the day. We arrived at our final camp and Michael was not quite done fishing. He landed 3 species of salmon in camp alone! A Chum, Pink and King Salmon. Pete crafted up his salmon curry for dinner and we ate our fill. We each enjoyed our preferred adult beverages as we recapped the week, and what a week it was.
From the log of July 26th, 2018
We departed the gravel bar early in the morning and rowed past the lodge as they fired up their jet boats in the early hours. We pushed down to the floatplane pick up and awaited the planes as the tide ripped in. A few curious seals made an appearance, bobbing up and down and checking us out as we rowed past. We broke down our gear and thought back on the week we had just completed through the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. It was full of fish, wildlife and solitude in one of the most pristine fisheries in the world. The floatplanes arrived mid day and we piled in to our respective planeloads. The tide was high and we had to be careful while loading up. We all made it back to town and figured a burger night was in order after a week of a heavy fish