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A Place of Many Fish: Alaska?s Aniak River

September 18, 2007

By King Montgomery

The first thing you notice about Alaska is how much there is of it. More than one-third the size of the United States, its landscape varies from temperate rain forest to glacial fiords, to snow-capped mountains, to tundra, with some places having all those terrains.


Head guide Josh Rago, holding the rainbow trout, nicknamed Rockville resident Ernie Brissen "Ernzilla" for his monster fish-catching ability.  (King Montgomery)

Wildlife is everywhere, and the streams, rivers and lakes teem with fishes of all description, including the wonderful Pacific salmon: the king (Chinook), silver (Coho), sockeye (red), chum (dog) and pink (humpback). It is an angler's nirvana, and I, once again, was about to cast in paradise for a week.

The view fromthe PenAir twin-engine aircraft is stunning, particularly on a clear day. After leaving Anchorage, you cross over the impressive Alaska Range, and Mount Denali (McKinley) cuts a striking figure to the north. Denali, the “High One” in the native language, is one of the most beautiful and haunting mountains on earth.

Some of the finest wilderness-fishing for all five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, sheefish (inconnu) and Northern pike is found in the fertile and gorgeous Aniak River, which was my destination, an hour-plus flight from Anchorage to the West. There are no roads or rails into the region, and much of the area lies in or near the huge Yukon National Wildlife Refuge.

The Aniak River Lodge is a fine log-structure sitting high on the south bank of the Kuskokwim River. It has all the amenities, including warm beds, modern plumbing and fine food. But the 10 to 12 guests a week only stay here for two nights, sometimes three. The remaining time is spent about 40 miles up the Aniak River, a tributary of the Kuskokwim, in a comfortable riverside Spike Camp, right smack in the middle of some of the best angling that Alaska has to offer.

It takes all day to travel in the jet boats to the camp because guests fish along the way; first for Northern pike in the tributary sloughs and sheefish in the lower, slower-moving waters of the Aniak.

While salmon filets roasted in aluminum-foil pouches, and beans or corn bubbled in their cans, several of the guests broke out five or six weight-rods with floating lines or medium-light spinning gear for Dollies, grayling and rainbows over 20 inches.

However you catch your fish, Alaska is the place to do it, and the Aniak River is as wild and beguiling a place you’ll ever see. There might be a few rubber drift boats sliding by, but otherwise there won’t be another soul. Having the modern jet boats -- two anglers fish with one guide -- opens up miles of water up and down stream. Anglers can follow fish upriver and into tributaries, something that can’t be done in a drift boat or raft.

After arriving at camp, the gear is unloaded in a large, comfortable two-person tent with a wooden floor, cots with sleeping bags with liners and mosquito netting. Then there is a great meal in the mess tent, followed by a superb night’s sleep.

Wake up, visit the canvas port-a-potty-type latrine, get into waders, have a cup of coffee in front of the fire while the chef does breakfast, and enjoy the changing of the light as the sun rises higher in the sky. Then go down to the boats, pick up the rods in the rack by the river along the way, fish until you’ve had enough (and you will), and repeat the process on your return in the late afternoon.

Life is good on the Aniak River. Fish are all around the camp, either spawning in the redds or passing through, and with the longer days of an Alaskan summer, an angler could fish most of the night as well.

And always keep an eye out for bears, wolves, moose, eagles, minks, river otters, beavers and other critters that make the Alaska experience even more special.

The Aniak River Lodge is open from June into September. It is a well-run operation, and the guides are some of the best I’ve ever worked with. You may use conventional equipment and fly-fishing gear, and catch-and-release is encouraged, although arrangements can be made to keep some of your catch for shipment home -- these salmon are not endangered.

***

Our fishing editor King Montgomery fishes in Alaska every year and never tires of it. Sure he sometimes gets worn out catching so many fish, but someone has to do it to bring these fishing tales to PressBox readers.

Issue 2.38: September 20, 2007