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
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!
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.
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?
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
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 meredithmccord.com
To learn more about IGFA visit igfa.org
To book your own Alaskan Adventure contact us!
Homemade biscuits and gravy anyone? or say….fresh garlic bread off the smoker, with some lodge famous meatloaf, taters from the garden and home whisked gravy??
The Holitna River is over 200 miles west of Anchorage in the bush of Alaska. Here at this remote lodge, we offer trophy sportfishing trips as well as moose and bear hunts. When most people plan a trip of a lifetime or return to a place of rest, it’s usually because they had a fabulous experience or heard that the amenities were worth the investment. A lot of us also judge a place by its ratings or stars that they earn. What does this mean to us at Alaskan Adventures? In regards to amenities, we pride ourselves in bringing you classic lodge grub, to accompany the rustic feel of the lodge and cabins, along with the fresh veggies from the garden and wild berries from the patch outback. ALL HOMEMADE. Sauces, dressings, bread, desserts and more!
After a long, fun and action-packed day on the water, battling the fish of the Holitna River, we know you have worked up quite the appetite, and we want to bring you some good ‘ol homemade wilderness gourmet food. Not “fancy” by any means, but when you look at the logistics of getting anything, let alone food, to this lodge, you’ll understand what goes into a single meal.
Because we are so far out, and air transportation is expensive, we have to strategically plan every meal. Now, if you’ve never been to the lodge, we should let you know that we have ONE regular-sized refrigerator, along with three small drink (dorm) mini-fridges, and two chest freezers. Why is this important information? Well, the closest store is a 2-hour boat ride north and west to the nearest village of Sleetmute, and that trip we only make once a week to get the mail at the small post office. To be practical, and save resources, a lot of our food comes in frozen. We will order in bulk and the food for the first half of the season comes in on one plane about a week before guests arrive. Space is limited and we must get creative while packing the freezers and fridges! Imagine fitting 50 dozen eggs in the fridges, along with all the other perishables and dairy products like butter, cheese, and cream. Just getting them in there is great, but placement is key. We don’t want any of those precious eggs freezing! Remember too that once meats are thawed and bottles are opened, those foods then need a place to stay in the fridge!
The next plane of food……
doesn’t come again for another 5 weeks! Pounds, ounces, teaspoons and pinches matter!
We eat as fresh as we can, which means the garden is our most prized asset for meals. The growing season, sunlight, as well as the soil and weather conditions, can be a challenge so some vegetables are started in a greenhouse. We eat fresh lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and potatoes, carrots, strawberries and raspberries, beets, tomatoes, cabbage, and rhubarb! Along both sides of the garden, there are two impressive fresh herb gardens that we use to season all the savory food including thyme, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, chives, onions, sage, parsley and more.
So let’s talk about the grub. When the menu is planned out, we have to take into account the number of eggs to begin. What desserts and breakfast can we serve with the allotted eggs? Which days do we serve what foods? A lot of thinking, planning, and ingenuity go into feeding the guests and the staff at the lodge; and no sneaking for late-night snacks!
Meats get attention the day before, with thawing, brining and seasoning. Breads are made fresh every day. Alaskan Adventures did not buy a single loaf of bread from a supermarket in 2019!! Fish is freshly caught the day of the meal. Desserts are also made the same day and we use fresh berries from the strawberry and raspberry patch in the garden, as well as the rhubarb and wild blueberries for pies. Spice cake with cream cheese frosting, cake roll with berries, warm out of the oven cookies, sweet fry bread, brownies with homemade caramel sauce, berry and rhubarb crisp and many more. Breakfast consists of scones, burritos, quiche and French toast, pancakes, egg sandwiches and bacon of course. Dinner has us always excited for pork ribs and tenderloin, meatloaf, fresh cedar plank salmon and fried sheefish, Ribeye steak and baked chicken thighs, all complemented by vegetables picked fresh, like coleslaw and various potatoes dishes.
In 2019, the lodge favorites were the meatloaf with mashed taters and French bread, as well as the cookies and cake roll with raspberries and cream cheese filling, and don’t forget the famous corn casserole, creamy with a slight bite of spice!
We love having guests at our lodge. We love to take care of them and bring them the best experience possible and do it in a way that makes them feel at home away from home. Stories told on the porch and flies tied on the bench with a cozy cabin to rest, all add to the rustic wilderness experience. The time is now to book with us. You will have a once in a lifetime experience. We are a unique and special place, out in the wild space of Alaska. Our river is full of life and the sites are unforgettable. The food is only a small piece of the puzzle that we want to put together for you and your loved ones! We look forward to meeting you or seeing you again!
Sheefish, What is it? Also known as “the tarpon of the north”. Sheefish are in the Whitefish family however instead of eating plankton Sheefish aggressively take baitfish. Sheefish spend a good portion of there life in the ocean just like Salmon. Also just like salmon they return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Alaskan Adventures is situated on the banks of the Holitna River and they see great returning runs of Sheefish. Only a few rivers in the north hold these fish and the Holitna is a great place to target then either with a fly or gear.
For many years Rocky & Sharon McElveen have shown people some absolutely amazing adventures in the Alaskan Wilderness. Alaskan Adventures has hosted many incredible people over the years with the goal of “Restoration Through Recreation”. Over the years, that is exactly what they have achieved. It has now come time to pass the torch on to another that will carry on the same goal and tradition.
New face same place!
Our goal at Alaskan Adventures is and will continue to be “Restoration through recreation”. One of the greatest things about Alaskan Adventure’s lodge is that your cell phone does not work. You may think it’s a pressing matter, but come week’s end, we guarantee you will have seen something special!
Restoration through recreation starts with a focus on what is important in our lives. Having limited access eliminates many of the distractions in everyday life. Without the attention of a phone or computer screen, you are completely able to reconnect with the people around you, nature and yourself.
2019 Previous guest special!
We would like to invite all past guests to return at a 2019 special rate of $3750.00 per person for up to 8 guests. Over 8 guests, $3500.00 per person! As always, this includes your flight from Anchorage, food, lodging and guiding for a week. If interested please drop us a line as spots will fill up quickly!
Alaskan Adventures New Owner- Dan Paull
Dan Paull grew up on a farm on the shores of Lake Erie. If he wasn’t working the dirt growing vegetables he was on the big water as a first mate for several charter boats during the summer and guiding the rivers for Steelhead in the winter months. After many years of looking, Dan has finally found a place suitable to the standards he has learned. Alaskan Adventures on the Holitna River has all of that, and more. A big garden to grow fresh vegetables, big water for both fly and gear fishing, and all with a wonderful homestead feeling. Dan would like to invite you and your family to come to experience the Alaskan wilderness and reconnect with yourself, friends and family.