Fish for Trophy Trout in the Vast Alaskan Wilderness
by Jess McGlothlin
The lure of Alaska has tempted many a sportsman over the years. With legendary fishing opportunities for salmon, trout, Dolly Varden and a variety of offshore species, the furthest-north state in America draws anglers from around the world for a variety of pursuits. Most visiting fishermen choose to stay and fish out of a lodge, utilizing numerous fly-in options for excellent fishing in the Alaskan backcountry, or “bush.” This lodge experience provides access to a team of experienced guides who spend every day on the water and are ready to use that knowledge to help maximize your time on the water.
Alaska’s Exceptional Rainbow Trout Fishing
Fishing for rainbow trout in Alaska is an undertaking — there is no denying the effort and expense to travel to the far northern reaches, and anglers often view a trip to Alaska as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. Whether you are swinging mouse patterns for wild leopard trout on the Kanektok River or fishing the famed Alagnak for hungry rainbows, you will quickly find that Alaska is home to arguably some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the world. Rainbow trout in Alaska are healthy, eager to eat, numerous and overall quite large.
Chasing the Leopard Rainbow Trout
Many anglers seek the stunning leopard rainbow trout on their Alaskan fishing trip. This brightly-colored, heavily-spotted rainbow trout ranges throughout southern Alaska and is one of the more photogenic rainbow trout variants. Guides know where these trout live and can lead visiting anglers into their best opportunities to catch one; look for the ambitious leopard trout on shelves and drop-offs, around structure (snags, root balls) and in soft water near bends. Small leopards will often take eggs, sculpins, leech patterns and a variety of nymphs, while larger fish can even be caught with a mouse pattern — perhaps the most fun way to catch a trout! Anglers will find these Alaskan leopard trout to be hungry; after long winters, these fish eat ambitiously during the season, and it’s not uncommon to boat several nice fish in a single day. Fish over 20 inches are not uncommon, and it’s possible to hook into a 30-plus inch rainbow trout.
The Best Months to Fish Alaska
Just like salmon anglers will find there are certain months that are more productive than others, rainbow trout fishing in Alaska is best in the months of August and September. (It’s quite possible to catch fish earlier and later in the season, but this tends to be the best, most consistent fishing.) Most sport fishermen will find themselves traveling to the Kenai drainages, fishing rivers such as the Kvichak, Alagnak, Tikchik and Naknek for trophy rainbows.
Lodge and Fishing Options in Alaska
Lodge options range from multi-day floats with wilderness camping to plush lodges with a daily floatplane ride to the day’s fishery. Depending on the experience anglers are seeking, either option can be a fun, productive way to enjoy Alaska’s famous fisheries and bring home plenty of memories. Both choices allow anglers to experience a variety of waters and the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of Alaska. From the tundra-like, vast plains in the southwest to the rainforest of Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska, the state’s impressive 1.718 million km² breadth offers a variety of options.
For the Best Trip, Pack the Correct Equipment
Anglers preparing for an Alaskan trip should give thought to their gear. Even in mid-summer, days can be cold and rainy, so pack plenty of layers as well as a quality rain shell and waders. Felt-sold wading boots are not allowed in Alaska so bring rubber-soled boots, but consider avoiding studs, which can tear up a boat deck quite quickly.
For trout, bring along a 6- or 7-weight fast-action rod, preferably 9’6” or even 10’ long for additional roll-casting and mending power. Ensure your gear is hefty enough to bring fish to hand without overly tiring them — a key part of fishing responsibly. Many lodges will have a stable of rental gear visitors can reserve in advance, but most anglers prefer to use their own, familiar equipment. Pack a quality large-arbor reel spooled with a weight-forward floating line and consider overlining your rod one size. It’s also a good idea to bring along a sink-tip line to dredge deep pools with leech patterns. Also bring along a supply of 8 to 12-pound monofilament leaders and tippet; these fish are “hot” and tend to fight more than visiting anglers may expect. (I could not find an Alaska packing list on the Eagle Review site; if it exists, link into this graph.)
Flies will vary per fishery and season, and it is best to talk with the lodge before arrival to ensure you pack the best possible selection. Generally, a selection of sculpins, eggs, flesh, salmon fry and even mice perform well, and it is prudent to pack along a variety of dries and nymphs as well. While the monster rainbow trout of Alaska primarily eat flesh, eggs, leeches and even mice, occasionally one can be enticed to eat a dry fly.
Fly-fishing Alaska for large rainbow trout is an incredible experience, one every angler should have at least once in their lives. Whether you are choosing a deluxe fly-out lodge option or roughing it with a multi-day float in the wilderness, Alaska will capture your imagination and forever set the bar higher for trout fishing.
Eagle Review’s Top Alaskan Rainbow Trout Fishing Lodges: