Winters Grip

Winters Grip

This story is meant, in hopes, to paint a picture for you, what things look like in the off-season. And to show an appreciation and understanding of nature, in the midst of Winters Grip.

If you have had a chance to visit Alaskan Adventures lodge it was most likely pretty favorable weather with lush green bushes and trees about. From end of May till September that is pretty typical, however, the golden yellow of autumn comes quick at the end of the season and it you can watch the trees leaves change to yellow and be gone in almost a week. It is very soon after that everything turns cold and white with snow.

Often when I meet folks that have never been to the lodge and we talk about Alaska, the conversation often shifts to the question of, “I bet it is freezing cold at night in the summer” or “how much snow do you see in the summer”. And to be honest summers are typically quite warm. We never see snow and RARELY does it ever get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit unless it is late August or September. As a matter of fact, I have seen two weeks of 90 degrees and the rest of the summer it stayed in the 80’s. That’s right! -in Alaska! That was a bit much if you ask me. Typically, where we are I would expect an average of 70 degrees during the day and 50’s at night and that’s perfect, in my opinion!

Now, once September hits the temperature really starts to get cold and it does not surprise me to see frozen puddles in the later part of September. When this happens it is just a reminder as to what is to come. It is rare that we ever see snow in September, with that, we do sparsely but it does not make its presence known until further into October. Once October rolls around things usually turn white and stay that way until the thaw, sometimes not until May some years.

Winter Months can get extremely cold. So cold, that I have heard from old timers that negative 75 degrees has happened, and it has been common for negative 50 degrees to last for seven days straight. In Alaska it can get COLD and it is not a dry cold, as a matter of fact, it is a damp cold and, My oh my! That is cold! Cold enough that the river freezes solid with six feet of ice. Six feet of ice sounds like a lot and it is, however, when spring rolls around it melts rather quick. In May I have seen it take only one-two weeks for these big ice chunks to melt.

With the extreme cold it is amazing that wildlife can survive in conditions like this, but nature has ways of prevailing. Bears, for example, will sleep for four to six months… Must be nice! However, I think most of us have heard about the sleeping bear magic, but have you heard about the frog that lives in Alaska? Yes, amphibians in Alaska! To me, it is amazing to think this is even possible since it gets SO COLD in Alaska. What really amazes me is that the ground in Alaska stays frozen well into July. The wood frogs live in the ground and literally freeze with the ground. During this frozen time their heart slows to almost one beat a minute. Just barely enough to keep the frog alive until winters grip loses its strength.

In the heart of winter, the shortest days in Alaska do not allow for much light. Only five and a half hours of daylight during this time. If you are into watching stars or Northern lights, winter is the optimal time of the year for you. You had better bring your extra layers and down jacket because Winters Grip peaks at this time!

Spring in Alaska is short lived and usually lasts the end of April to the beginning of May as the river opens up and the ice break happens. During this time we have seen four to six feet of snow at the lodge that has accumulated all winter, and in a matter of two to three weeks, we watch it all disappear. We enjoy watching the change in seasons as Winters Grip gets warmed away, however, we also pray for a slow release. Because when nature slowly loosens her grip, the river has a chance to move all that water downstream. If the earth warms too quickly, the river will rise and rise and rise until EVERYTHING floods. The flush is a good because it moves all the remnants of winter downstream, however, a large flood is not a good thing for the salmon smolt. The pike and sheefish end up moving into the timbered areas of the flood and once the river recedes these fish become trapped and eventually die. This purge of the river could be nature’s way of creating an eb an flow.

It is amazing to me how nature thrives in the extreme temperatures that Alaska throws at all things living. From the extremely cold in the winter to some extreme cases of heat in the summer. The idea that this amount of life can thrive in these extremes from fish to frogs, to bugs, to birds. Alaska is a land of extremes that everyone should experience. So, when visiting the lodge be sure to ask about how things looked in the midst of Winters Grip.

The future of salmon

Future of Salmon in Alaska

By Dan Paull

If you watch the news or pay any attention to things happening in the natural world, it may come as no surprise that our planet is changing. One thing is for sure, in the last 50 years it seems as if we are watching things change before our very eyes.

I seem to remember when I was a kid some 35 years ago that winter came earlier and stayed a little longer. Based on what I see today, winters are later and seem to be more fleeting. One day it is super sunny and 70 and then the next day it is 10 degrees and blowing snow. Our weather patterns have come to extremes.

Not only are we looking at severe changes in weather patterns, but we are also seeing populations of wildlife change right before our eyes. Since most places are warming in temperature, ice formation is not what it used to be. Because of that, it sounds like we are losing a large population of polar bears. Or are we? It is rare for animals in the natural world to cross-breed, however, since the ice has become scarce some polar bears have ventured more onto land and into Grizzly bear country. Years ago, there was “a” report of a hunter harvesting a crossbred “polargrizz.” As of recently, this has been reported several more times. This leaves us to question instead of losing a population could we be seeing evolution play out in Infront of our own eyes? Or is this a downward trend that has not completely unfolded?

I will tell you those two stories to lead into my next. The next, has a lot of variables at play to the tune of do we point the finger at evolution, or do we point the finger at man’s disaster? An even bigger question is what do we do?

When I was leaving Anchorage a couple of years ago, I stopped by a taxidermist to drop off a Sheefish to mount. It was not a monster “only 42”. While I was there, I got to know the taxidermist a little. They were closing the shop soon and moving to South Dakota. When I asked why the explanation I got was that there just is not any fish there anymore. If you just read that, you surely must be as shocked as I was when hearing their decision. As was explained to me by the taxidermist, in the 1980’s it was nothing for them to receive 20 or so King Salmon a year over 70lbs. Now she said if someone was to catch a single 40lber, they really did something special and none of those fish made it to the taxidermist. She went on to explain that sure there are salmon in the river and plenty to catch. Sometimes in recent history, however, it is continually less and less, and they are smaller than they used to be.

Alaska is the biggest state in the union. Its coastline is unbelievably long. When flying from Seattle to Anchorage it is aww inspiring to think about how many fish must live in that blue water of the Pacific Ocean. However, stepping back it is also clear that the fish are not alone. Seals, Wales, and much other marine wildlife call the Pacific home as well. However, there is one that has a significant impact.


To put into perspective what I am referring to, think about this just for a second. The town you live in I am sure has a grocery store and in that store, salmon filets are sold. Now zoom out to the city, zoom out to the county, zoom out to the state. And then the US. How many salmon filets are sold and consumed daily? Now multiply that by 365. It is amazing to me that we have been able to sustain our needs this long. However, the need and demand for salmon continue to grow. We still need to eat.

That said, Alaska closely monitors fish populations, consumption, and future need. Over the years it is no secret that many fisheries have seen fish populations decrease and some to the edge of existence in certain rivers. Because of this, in some areas restocking has assisted the wild populations; however, in many areas, and for some species supplemental stocking is not needed.

I purchased our lodge in 2018 and since then have gotten to know one of the locals well. He has told me many times that you can always tell how healthy a river system is by how bad it smells come late August. The massive stench should be coming from the rotting and dying chum salmon. The dying salmon feeds the entire system from eggs, fry and even decaying body matter. It all plays an integral part in feeding fish, eagles, bears, and even the trees. As he has exclaimed to me many times before, the Holitna and Kuskokwim rivers were once EXTREMELY healthy. Today they are vastly different from what they once were, however, most of Alaska is in the same boat.

On our river system “the Kuskokwim” the king salmon populations currently as I write this are pretty darn low. There once was a time that they were VERRY plentiful, and it was not that long ago, however in the latest years the numbers have been low. That story holds true for many rivers accost Alaska. The Kenai for example is a well-known river system that once was full of large Kings. Over the weekend, I talked to a guide that in 2022 fished hard for Kings in June and July. During those months, his clients hooked and landed a grand total of eight all season. To a lot of guides, this was a lot. Years ago, this might have been a daily average.

On the other side of the fence, there is an upside. The Sockeye have been on the increase all over the state. The Kuskokwim for example at one time never really had a run of sockeye to speak of. Today that runs is growing by the year and is a welcome site. The Bristol Bay area is seeing record numbers of sockeye year after year. How long this trend will continue, nobody knows but for whatever reason it is it is a welcome sight.

On another note, the silver salmon have had their difficulties. In 2019, we experienced a drought that no one has seen. The river had dropped to its lowest level ever. Two weeks of 90-degree heat plagued our area, and the rest of the summer was in the 80s. Once the silvers made it to our part of the river, they made it to resting areas and held tight until the cool fall rains. During this time, we were able to hook and land 100-120fissh to the boat a day. Since the limit is only five, we caught and released most of these fish. Since then, on average during most years we have seen 50-60 fish brought to the boat a day, until last year (2022). This past year (2022) was an anomaly as we barely saw any silvers at all. In fact, the numbers were so low ADFG shut down sport fishing altogether on the Kuskokwim drainage. Now that does not mean we did not see any, it does mean the numbers were very low. Does this mean we will never see 100 fish days again? I do not know, however, after speaking with a friend that owns another lodge in a different part of the state, I am optimistic that we will see good numbers of silvers again. As he has explained to me, having been a lodge owner for the last 20 years there was one year they had seen a bad run of silvers but after that everything was back to normal. Regardless we are watching the run and crossing our fingers.

The last of my two cents is that I think we will be ok. What I mean is some populations are slowly increasing. Some are steadily increasing, and some have an up-and-down cycle to them. Overall, the total numbers seem to be down, but they are doing well. On the other side of the fence, I think that the pike and sheefish that feed on these will be simply fine. As I mentioned I see some populations of salmon increasing and some populations have a bit of a flow to them. At the end of the day so far it seems that overall we are holding our own.

When I purchased the lodge one of my main criteria was to make sure we had something to fish for besides salmon. Our river system has great populations of Pike and Sheefish. So, if a guest were to come and fish with us and for whatever reason, the salmon runs were off, we still had plenty of other fish to go after. The salmon runs all over Alaska are in some ways up and in some ways down. One thing is for sure, Alaska is still just as wild and beautiful. What they say is true, beautiful fish do live in beautiful places.

A River In Time

A River In Time

By Jeff Woleslagle

He woke oddly refreshed and for the first time in a week, his back didn’t hurt when he rose from the bed. “You were dreaming again George” Nancy said, as he walked into the kitchen. He reached for the coffee pot to fill a mug already waiting on the counter. “Was I?” he grinned. The dream was fresh in his 80-year-old mind and he was a little startled at having it for the second time in four days. He had never been kind to have recurring dreams or to even remember them at all really. Sure, there was the occasional odd one, that somehow slipped from your slumbering subconscious to the conscious, waking part of your brain, but those were usually quickly forgotten. Flowing from memory like dry sand through parted fingers. Everything about this dream seemed so vivid. So real. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the landscape – all of it.

He recalled the first time he had the dream about three months ago. Back then, it wasn’t as clear. He remembered stringing his fly rod and making his way down a stone path to a beautiful river shrouded in the morning mist. The day held promise he thought. Gazing through the low fog, he saw there was another angler already thigh deep in the flow and he looked vaguely familiar. He knew he recognized this person’s unique casting form and the rhythm and cadence with which he worked the line. He tried to step into the inviting water and at that moment he woke up. The image would linger in his mind for much of the day and it was over dinner when he finally connected the casting form with the angler. His uncle James had been wounded in World War Two, on D-Day. Taking a piece of shrapnel to his left arm on the beaches of Normandy, but he was lucky to leave that place alive. Many in the platoon he stormed the shore with that day did not. He didn’t lose the function of his arm from the injury, but nerves and a tendon were severed, and they would never be the same. It gave his casting a jerky form, but he compensated amazingly well. He was one of the best George had ever seen at putting a fly right where it needed to be. James had been the one to introduce him to fly fishing and it ignited a lifelong passion for the sport. H Hh

The next time he had the dream, he waved to James standing in the middle of the river and James waved back. He went upstream so as not to disturb his uncle and at the base of the next pool was another angler already claiming it. This one had his back to George and again it was somehow familiar. When the fisherman turned to face the bank, George felt his chest tighten at the sight of his older brother. He hadn’t seen Max in so long he could barely remember. It had been what, 20 years since the accident? Probably many more than that. Max was known for his frugality and he wore an old tan vest that was threadbare in places. George had bought him a new one as a Christmas present, but it was a gift he never got the chance to deliver. The memories he had of the two of them fishing together washed over him in waves. There was the giant brown trout Max caught below the falls on a tributary to Lake Michigan that was as beautiful in coloration as it was large, stretching to almost 25 inches. George watched him fight the fish on the light tippet for almost 15 minutes before it came to the net. Max would wear the smile from that encounter for over a week. There was a time in the Adirondacks that they both took one step too many into a river that was running high. They lost their footing at the exact same time and were swept downstream to a small spit of sand jutting out into the flow. There were some lost fly boxes as well as bruised bodies and equally bruised egos, but they were ok. They sat on the bank for a time in silence, cold and soaked to the bone, and then Max began to laugh that infectious laughter of his. Before he could stop himself, George too was busting a gut. They laughed until their sides hurt and then Max said “Lets dry out and go get a cup of coffee. My treat.” George shot back with “You didn’t hit your head on a rock, did you?” in disbelief at his brother’s offer to buy. Again, a hearty round of laughter ensued. It was after that trip that they got matching wading sticks so they could always check the depth in front of them. Overcome at the sight of his brother, George lifted a foot to step into the current and make his way over and suddenly his eyes shot open. He looked at the bedroom ceiling and smiled. It was great to see Max again, if only in his sleep.

A week later, again the dream came to visit. This time the air held that freshness that only the early morning hours can possess. A grouse was drumming on a distant log and the trout lilies were in the splendor of full bloom. Again, he waved to James as he walked along the path and worked his way upstream. When he got to the next pocket, Max was concentrating intently on a fish rising in front of him and George felt compelled to move up to the next pool. Rounding a bend, he immediately recognized the angler who sat on the far bank with his back against a sturdy oak tree. George froze in his tracks as he watched in disbelief. His father lifted the old blue steel rod from where it rested in the center of a forked stick that had been placed in the soft earth to hold it. He gave the rod a quick sweep to set the hook and there was a brief battle before he netted a gorgeous specimen of a brook trout. The small hook that was attached to the black cotton line had been baited with a lively red worm. He watched his dad carefully remove the hook and then add the trout to a small rope stringer that held three others, all about equal in size. His father then became aware of George’s presence and looked at his son and smiled. He waved and George could see the calloused and rough hands of a man that had spent most of his life working hard to provide for his family. He didn’t fish much, but when he did he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. In direct contrast to his hard-worn hands, he had blue eyes the color of faded denim that projected kindness and caring. When those eyes locked onto George’s, George was overcome with emotion. Here was the man who had taught him so much about the important things in life. So much of it George had learned just from his example, with few words being exchanged in the process. He went to wade across to embrace his dad and found himself suddenly wide awake.  The best dream yet, George thought.

The following day as George was walking back to the house from the garden, he felt a sudden pressure in his chest. His left arm went from tingling to numb. Nancy saw him fall to his knees and she screamed as she ran toward him, already dialing for an ambulance. She cradled his head until she heard the wail of the sirens in front of the house. Time stood still.

At the hospital, the monitor showed a flat line and she clutched his hand tightly. Not wanting to let go. Never wanting to let go. She would stand in that pose for over an hour before succumbing to exhaustion. As her hand slipped from him, he was gazing at a river shrouded in the morning mist. He walked along the stone path and for the first time, when he stepped into the sparkling water he didn’t jerk awake. His uncle James motioned for him to come closer. He looked vibrant and happy. “One heck of a caddis hatch right now George. Got any in a size 14?”

DIY Black Bear Hunt

Topper Popper Sheefish

For as long as I can remember sheefish or Inconnu have been a wonder to a lot of anglers looking for something different. I think the wonder is the fact that there is not a lot of places in the world where you can catch sheefish. That topped with there are not a lot of anglers living in places where sheefish do live. It seems they like they live a solitary existence.

Looking at their home water existence they can be found from the Kuskokwim River, North to the Kobuk and in almost every drainage in between. The Yup’ik and Inupiat of Alaska as well as some Athabascan people call these fish “shees” and thus in Alaska the common name is sheefish. However, in other parts of the circumpolar north, this species is commonly called Inconnu (unknown fish) because early explorers, upon seeing this fish for the first time, did not know what they were.

Regardless Sheefish can be found in great numbers around the waters of Alaskan Adventures Lodge on the Holitna river which is a drainage of the Kuskakwim River. Sheefish typically are some of the first fish to make their presence known after ice out. We typically can catch sheefish before any of the Pike turn on. Usually this early in the season we are catching sheefish on spoons or soft plastic swimbaits. It’s rare that real early in the season have we ever seen sheefish break the surface of the water to chase smolt or bait.

By the time mid-June and into July is when we usually really see the big schools breaking the surface as they fly out of the water chasing smolt. It’s not uncommon to see up to two dozen fish flying out of the water at the same time as you look down the run. During June and July, this is really a common practice all over the river system. We typically find the schools of fish when they are rolling and fish them. In the past, we have done really well with small swim baits and flies fished on a heavy sink tip.

Being successful in fishing is a construct of paying attention to what is happening in the water with fish and attempting to replicate that to achieve some sort of success. For example, when a fish is caught it is brought back to the lodge and when cleaning it for dinner, we open the stomach contents to see what it’s been eating and then attempt to replicate that until we have keyed into greater success. In the past one of the things, we have seen a lot of in the stomachs of Sheefish are baby Lamprey. From there we have and continue to perfect the fly imitating a baby lamprey. What we have created over the years has gotten better and better.

On another note, we have often dreamt and talked about catching sheefish on topwater. For those that know what a sheefish is this conversation has often come up around the campfire however it was never attempted… until this year.  When attempting to “figure” a fishery out most your attempts come from deductive reasoning based on what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Most of our deductive reasoning AND minor attempts made us shy away from any attempt at topwater. As guides our job is to put people on fish so often experimenting with new techniques is not usually a standard practice. Hey, we want you to put fish in the boat so basically, we have always done what works well and experimenting is for free time. Free time is rare.

One night after dinner guides Sam and Scott decided to “experiment”. So, they ventured from the lodge looking for rolling fish. Sam had tied some deer hair poppers to try out. It seemed as if the stars aligned, and Scott and Sam were in heaven. What was only dreamt about was happening. Sheefish were clobbering the topwater fly. Absolutely blowing up on it and I don’t mean one or two strikes here and there. I mean fish after fish were blowing up on is and literally destroying the fly. What was a pipe dream was coming to reality.

After that, we started to really target sheefish on topwater with clients and for the first time, I was able to witness complete adults turn into little kids in the candy store. Sheefish on topwater is not an everyday occurrence however in June and July when it does happen it’s truly magical. Adding to this magic are all the other species one can find at the lodge. Alaska is an amazing place filled with endless adventures you truly need to

Sheefish On the Holitna at Alaskan Adventures Lodge

When the word Alaska comes to mind, I’m sure you are immediately thinking about snowcapped mountains, big brown bears catching salmon in the river, bald eagles, and even wales in the ocean. Although these are iconic images of Alaska if you were to look even deeper Alaska has a lot more to offer to the adventurous spirit. 

 Alaska is the largest state in the union and with that being said has the most to offer for someone wishing to explore. From the far north slope where tundra expands as far as the eye can see to the rainforest in the southeast. Almost everywhere you look it’s something different. I get asked often…. “I want to see Alaska so where do I start”. My answer is always the same and that is… Make a yearly trip for many years because you’ll never see it all in two weeks. 

Alaskan Adventures however will be able to share with you what is referred to as Western Alaska Bush Country. We also happen to have a rare find in the world of fishing. This rare find can only be found in five drainages of the north. The Kuskokwim river system is the southernmost system you can find these fish and Alaskan Adventures Lodge is situated on some of the best runs in the state. 

The rare find I’m speaking of is known as a Sheefish. What is a Sheefish you ask? Well, they are also called the Tarpon of the North. So that should give you some indication as to what they might look like. To also better describe one, it’s almost as if when the good Lord was making fish, he had a lot of leftover parts from different fish and rolled them together and made this fish we call today a sheefish. Sheefish have the big bucket mouth of a Tarpon, the silver scales of a striper, an adipose fin, and the ability to be anadromous. All in all, they are a unique fish well-deserving of a look at once hooked and released to fight another day. 

Alaskan Adventures targets these fish with both fly and conventional tackle. Sheefish are very aggressive eaters and absolutely gorge themselves on salmon fry, baby lamprey, and almost anything ells up to four inches they can get their lips on. The runs we fish in the summer are pretty deep. From 10’-40’ of water is how deep most of the runs are that we target sheefish on. In a lot of cases, they hover at about the 10’ depth mark and wait for bait to come down the river over them and then they shoot to the surface, engulf their prey and continue to the surface where they fly out of the water like Free Willie. It’s actually an awesome sight to see. 

 Our flies are tied mostly to imitate small salmon fry and baby lamprey. We also fish a floating line with a 10’ section of T-11 or T-14 to really get down in the water column. We typically float a hole and blind cast and strip until we spot a boil. Once a boil is spotted, we cast to it, strip, and hang on. Often sheefish will ignore the boat only to grab a fly right next to it as your pulling your fly out of the water. 

If we are gear fishing our favorite offering is Berkley Power Swim Baits fished on a 3/8oz head or 1/2 oz jig head. Often, we will jig right off the bottom as we drift down the run. Keeping our baits just off the bottom right in front of the faces of some of the larger Sheefish. When vertical jigging like this the strike is very light but when the hook is set often the rod doubles over with no give to a 15-20lb sheefish. If we aren’t vertical jigging, we are either blind casting or casting to boils with a nice steady retrieve on the swimbait. Sheefish are usually looking up ready to ambush so hang on. 

The fight of a sheefish is really different. Some run to the bottom and try to bulldog it out while a few jump out of the water like a bass or tarpon. Honestly, you never know what you’re going to get with the fight of a sheefish but at the end of the day, they are big, averaging from 10-15lbs and can reach 40-50lbs. Last year’s big fish at the lodge were in the 25lb range. 

So yes, In Alaska there is an absolute abundance of things to see and do. If you’re a fisherman Alaskan Adventures will show you some hidden gems of the Alaskan Bush from the comforts of jet boats while staying at a nice lodge and eating some really great meals. Drop us a line for more info!

Top Water Pike

Pike fishing on the Holitna River is some of the best that Alaska has to offer. Or at least I have been told many times by guests. The waters around Alaskan Adventures lodge on the Holitna River consist of a wide variety of environments. From landlocked lakes to oxbow lakes that are connected to the river system to fishing the slack water on the main river. If someone wanted to just pike fish, they could easily fish different water every day and have great success. 

Our favorite time of the year to fish for pike is early summer or the month of June. It’s during this time that the water from Spring runoff is on the drop however it is usually still up pretty high. High enough that all of our oxbow lakes are full and have warmer water than the main river. It seems that with the warmer water in the oxbow lakes has encouraged the pike to really put on the feed bag. Maybe the warm water has turned up the metabolism of these fish but whatever it is this is when they get really aggressive. When I say aggressive, I mean they will actually fight each other for feed. 

Although we will fish with gear our favorite way to target pike is on the fly especially during the early season. BIG poppers on the fly is by far in my opinion where it’s at. When I say big poppers, I mean 12-16” is just big enough. If you can tie and cast bigger than please do. Big fish like big food! 

Often when fishing we like to make a delicate cast as not to spook the fish that might be close by. With pike that is far from the truth. Making a big splash or even slapping the fly onto the water’s surface as hard as you can is as if you are ringing the dinner bell. Often, we have seen big pike laying up under the brush and with a delicate cast, they seem to just ignore it or pay some interest but not quite as much interest as if we were to slap the water hard with the fly. It’s as if when we slap the water hard it really triggers them to come to the fly in a hurry with a fierce aggressive posture. If they don’t grab it on the slap, they usually grab it on the hard strip, and then it’s game on. The best a fisherman can do is to make as much commotion as possible and hang on. 

Although steel leaders are a great way to keep fish from biting your fly off, they do have a disadvantage. When a hard-fighting pike decides to do a gator roll the steel wire can wrap around them and cut slices into the fish. We have found using 60lb mono or bigger will help eliminate this as the diameter is larger than wire and mono is softer. Sure, you might lose one or two fish but at the end of the day, there is less damage to the fish that are caught. Generally speaking, all of our pike are released to fight another day. 

So, whether you’re a gear fisherman or a fly fisherman we can get you on some really unbelievable topwater action. It truly is amazing to see a 9” plug completely disappear into the jowls of a large predatory fish. Then to bring a 40-50”fish to the boat is a blast that most can only dream of. So, come see what dreams are made of. 

Sheefish-the most unique species

Probably one of the most unique species we fish for at the lodge would have to be the sheefish. The only native to five drainages in the north Alaskan Adventures sits on the banks of the Southern Most river, the Holitna River. It’s here that we stage our daily fishing adventures. With the main lodge, several cabins, and meals prepared by a great chef guests get to chase Sheefish, Pike, Char, Dolly’s, and all five species of salmon from comfort. 

            The Sheefish is one of the most miss-understood gamefish species there is. For example, out of the five drainages in the North, the Kuskaquim drainage is the only river that they come to not only to spawn but to feed as well. In all the rivers some Sheefish live in the salt and only return to spawn. Some just stay in brackish water and some live their entire life in the river system. One thing is for sure and that is no matter what when you do find them, they are usually big, and I mean on average we are talking 12-20lbs in the waters around the lodge. Every year we see fish in the 30lb range and hear about 40lbers caught. 

            During our fishing season of June till September where we find that sheefish change through the season as to where we might find them. The first part of the season we look at is late May Early June. This is high water runoff months. During this time, it seems to us that we find some of the larger fish and schools of fish in more classic moving water runs. In areas, you might look for trout on a classic trout stream. Our theory is that these are fish that are moving into the system and looking for that happy section of the river to call home for the summer season.

            Our tactics for finding and fishing for sheefish during this part of the season is the first challenge of the year. Historically we know where to start looking however that changes constantly with the water level. When searching a run to see if any players are home, we have two possible go-to tactics this time of the year. First, to cover lots of water when the water is high and really moving, we will troll a run with 20 jets and flutter spoons. If ANY fish are in the area, they typically can’t resist a spoon and we can cover lots of water to find fish. Once fish are located, we go back and drift the run and throw swimbaits. 4-6” paddle tail swim baits on jig heads are deadly once you find where fish are holding. Also, once we find Sheefish we also fly fish for them with weighted sink tips and 4” fry pattern streamers. By far this is our favorite style of fishing for sheefish. 

            As the season progresses more into summer and the water levels drop it seems that Sheefish on our river system seems to move into what we refer to as summer home. Summer homes for Sheefish seem to be more of larger deeper runs or pools where they can hold to some structure to the bottom and ambush schools of fry as they come over the top of them. Sheefish are not big fans of bright sunlight and really love the deep however constantly look to the top and use the light to see small fry against the backlight. Once spotted they attack from the bottom upward and continue their thrust upward until bursting through the surface. It’s not uncommon to see an entire run as if it looks like the water is boiling with large sheefish. 

            During summer months we typically fish Sheefish with either swimbaits or the fly. Mostly depending on clients and how they wish to catch fish determines how we target sheefish. For conventional tackle spinners, spoons and swimbaits all work great for sheefish. For fly gear as long as the fly has lots of movement and looks like a smolt or even baby lamprey they will attack it with gusto. We still will fish sink tips with our fly’s and sheefish will attack in an upward aggressive strike, so the grab is usually quite visual. 

            As summer progresses Sheefish start to move through the river system and into their spawning mode. Where we seem to find them is more of a hunt. They don’t typically “hold” in an area for a long period of time. It seems like once a nice school has gathered, they then stick together and shoot upriver with reproduction on their mind. The big difference of Sheefish from most spawning anadromes fish is that they still feed during there spawning period were as salmon don’t. We find them where we find them. What I mean is one day an area that looks prime will be completely void and then the next day that area will be full of fish. Sometimes areas we would never think would have sheefish in the fall end up having a few hawgs. It’s a very hit and miss game in the fall however we know where exactly to look. With a river like the Holitna being so large knowing where to look can be a daunting task. 

            Usually, in the fall we are more focused in on the Silver Salmon run than actually fishing for Sheefish. We usually catch Sheefish on pink spinners, spoons, and pink jigs as a bycatch. We can still target them with the traditional gear of spoons, spinners, and swimbaits. Fly Fishing for Sheefish we would still fish with the same flies as we do all summer. Four-inch smolt patterns and baby lamprey imitations all with LOTS of movement are absolutely deadly all year round. 

            September is the end of our season on the Holitna River and we look forward to next year’s fishing season. Sheefish however are in the river system year-round. We have heard rumors of fish being caught through the ice. For us, we decide to head south in search of warmer waters. To find out what they fight like, and even what they taste like drop us a line and we would gladly get you on fish. Who knows maybe you will set the next IGFA Record? 

Cast & Blast!

Our area of Alaska has an absolute ton of freshwater. We are situated on a big river and all around are oxbow lakes and small marshy potholes all over the tundra making for ideal breading and summer habitat for all kinds of waterfowl. All summer long as we are running the river, we see an exuberant number of waterfowl. Because we are on the river all summer, we have been able to pay attention to where ducks like to be.  

The last week of fishing we save for our cast and blast. Yes, catch fish and shoot ducks in the same week. Alaska is a wonderful place to duck hunt. As a matter of fact, the majority of the birds that end up in the Gulf area for the winter are birds that were born right here in our water system. We shoot a TON of Teal in the early season but also Mallards, Gadwall, Widgeon, Shovelers, Pintail, and Goldeneye. We have several locations that we hunt from. Some are on local lakes and some are on the river itself.  

During this past seasons cast & blast, we had a full camp but only four duck hunters. The first few days were spent fishing for Silver Salmon, Pike, and Sheefish. The silver salmon were still showing up in good numbers for sure and guests were easily landing limits and then some.  The best of all was the Sheefish. We have a very great run of Sheefish every year and this year guests were easily landing double digits of fish. The Pike fishing is always good and everyone at the lodge landed pike over 40”.  

 September 1st is when Duck season opens, and you can bet opening day guides and guests were in the duck blind waiting on the first flights of the season to come into the decoys. The first day was a little slow but the second really picked up. The limit in our area is 10 birds per hunter per day. Guys were easily pulling the trigger on limits.  

 Once ducks are harvested, they are cleaned, and some are frozen for guests to take home however some are also prepared by our chef. I’ve heard it said that a lot of folks won’t eat duck because of how it tastes. To that, I say you haven’t had it prepared right. In my opinion, duck is one of those things you can either make really great or you can really mess it up. Knowing the difference in how to prepare either takes a great chef or an experienced duck hunter. Luckily at the lodge, we have both and I can guarantee you that whatever came out of the kitchen never made it to the leftover plate. Yes, duck prepared that good can be great!  

 Guests that come all year can take home boxes of fish (25lbs). The cast and blast week is by far the best time of the year to take home a great variety of what Alaska has to offer. Salmon, Sheefish, and a mixed bag of ducks. This week is also one of the best ways to not only experience a great variety of Alaska, but our garden is in full harvest so whatever meals are prepared are 100% fresh Alaskan. The weather is perfect, and the bugs are for the most part gone. For those of us that live at the lodge, it’s our most favorite time of the year. 

For more information on Booking your Cast & Blast Alaskan Adventure, contact us here 

Fifteen New Pending IGFA Records

It’s no secret that in 2019 we set 12 new IGFA records with Vicki Martin as the angler. Vicki is a very talented angler that has made it her goal to travel the world and set world records mainly with conventional tackle. She and her husband are a team that is very organized and focused on success. Vicki and her husband were booked to come back this year (2020) to re-break and set some new records but unfortunately due to Covid-19 decided to take a break and play it safe at their home in Florida. 

Meredith McCord is another very accomplished world record chaser however her specialty is fly fishing. When Meredith McCord found out that Vicki’s spot at the lodge was open, she did not hesitate once to make arrangements to come to the lodge and set some records on the fly.  It’s the Sheefish that really peeked Meredith McCord’s attention. As an accomplished angler with records from around the world (200+), the Sheefish is one she’s never heard of until she met the owner of the lodge Dan Paull. 

Now I have met some dedicated anglers and most of them are men. In my time guiding it’s rare that anyone is ever willing to REALLY get after the game. What I mean is Sheefish like the late evening and early morning hours best. Not to say that they can’t be caught mid-day because they can however to really get the good bite you have to be EARLY or Late in the evening. Once I told Meredith McCord this, I was amazed to get a response of “ok great I guess we leave the dock at 6 am”. Did I mention she was dedicated? Most days she wouldn’t even want to leave the water. Some days it wasn’t until 6 pm that we arrived back at the dock. She is a true die-hard!  

Sheefish are a unique fish and catching them on the fly can be a BLAST as long as you know where to look and how to put it in front of their face. For most of our runs, we fly fish for sheefish in that we are stripping small baitfish streamers with ten feet of T-11 to get the fly down in the water column. Sheefish, do not like the bright light so they will hide on the bottom looking up and attack by chasing to the surface usually erupting at the surface with the fly in the mouth. Fishing the fly like this, Meredith McCord was able to land many sheefish records on the Holitna River. 

Most days were spent fishing for Sheefish however Pike also was on the menu and Meredith McCord already had a few records with Pike however breaking those records and setting a few new ones was her goal. Pike on the fly is a BLAST especially on topwater. During Meredith McCord’s time at the lodge fishing for Pike, she was setting a record here and there until the last day fishing for Pike. It’s almost as if the river decided to hold the best for last. I think it was this day that she landed roughly five new pike records and her best and the one I’m most impressed with a 15lb 10oz Pike on 2lb test. First, let me tell you it’s not easy hooking a big scrappy fish on a 2lb test let alone fighting it to the net. Especially a 15lb fish but Meredith McCord made it look easy. 

Yes, Meredith McCord is a well-accomplished angler that makes it look easy on the fly. We are truly honored to be able to assist in her goal of setting world records.

To learn more about Meredith, visit

To learn more about IGFA visit

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