I live in Montana where trout are king. When I travel to Alaska, I usually do
so for salmon and steelhead, which I can’t find in Big Sky Country. Oh, I’ve
leeched up some big fall rainbows on the Kenai Peninsula and the Naknek River,
but I’d never really fished early summer around Bristol Bay–until last month.
That’s when I grabbed a flight from Missoula to Anchorage and another from
Anchorage to Kulik Lodge via Katmai Air. From there I wiggled into a
floatplane and cruised another 20 minutes to Grosvenor Lodge, which is located
on a small spit of land partially separating Grosvenor Lake from Coville Lake.
The structures, including three guest cabins, a main lodge, and a cookhouse,
are situated in lush, tall grass with a surrounding abundance of willows,
birch, and moss-covered moose skulls. Quaint. Unique. Beautiful.
It’s the only lodge in this particular area and offers the best access to
American Creek and other tributary streams, despite being located deep in
Katmai National Park. When other area lodges are grounded by weather,
Grosvenor guests simply climb into a jetboat and take a 20-minute jog to the
American Creek outlet.
Photo by Dan Favato
From mid-July through August it’s all about drifting beads behind spawning
salmon on the creek. While that’s a productive method and puts plenty of trout
in the net, guides and anglers sometimes tire from the routine, maybe
thinking, Isn’t there something else? The answer is yes,
if you hit Grosvenor before the sockeye salmon arrive, a time when
those rainbows, plus lake trout and Arctic char, smash salmon fry in the lakes
and streams. In addition, this is a time when they may get after some big,
meaty insects, including stoneflies, caddis, and drakes. When those rainbows
do just that, a day on American Creek might feel like a Rocky Mountains trout
trip–except you’re way more remote, the fish average 19 to 25 inches long, and
they are line-burners of a unique brand. Don’t bring the dainty 3- and
4-weights here—you’d be lucky to hold a 20-incher on American Creek with a
5-weight. Or it would fight itself to the point of death before you could get
it to the net.
I didn’t really consider the dry-fly option when I headed to Grosvenor, but I
did pack a mix of dries that proved very beneficial when we saw a head pop up
along a deep bank. Guide Todd Emerson, who started guiding the Katmai area in
2004 and serves as Grosvenor’s manager, said, “I’ve seen that fish before and
we haven’t been able to hook him yet.”
Well, then we might just have to hook it, right?
I spent an hour or more trying to lodge a cast between a log that was about four
feet off the bank and a stack of willows a few yards upstream, all waving in
an unruly 20-mile-an-hour wind. Let the line go at the wrong time and it would
end up in the willows. Make a bad cast and you’d paint the log with flies.
Which is just what I did. In the end, we moved in on that big, picky fish,
Emerson holding the boat just above the log while I dabbed a Caddis Variant
(the closest match I had for some grayish colored drakes) over the log and
along the bank. Got the fish to eat. Held a brief moment of hope when it took
off downstream, only to realize I was cooked when it swapped ends and ran back
to its lair, wrapping my leader on the log in the process. Ping! Probably
would have gone 28 inches.
We spent the rest of the day catching some nice Dolly Varden, chasing more
rainbows with the dry, and talking about what makes Grosvenor and American
Creek such an absolutely unique fishery in a Bristol Bay region teaming with
“Katmai is an amazing area, and I’ve fished the majority of streams that you
can feasibly get into from a small lake and a float plane,” Emerson told me.
“American Creek is my favorite trout stream on the planet. It reminds me of
Michigan—the trees, the sweepers, all the snags on the lower end of the creek.
The upper creek is totally different. All low tundra, no trees, boulder
picking, beautiful rocks, just a whole different system. But dry-fly fishing
is spectacular up there as well. The whole thing is 49 miles from top to
Emerson thinks the fish behave differently in this valley than elsewhere in
“These trout here act like trout,” Emerson added. “Some of those larger
systems, and even on the Moraine, those trout act like steelhead, which at
times is a fun game to play. But these trout orient to structure and key in on
bugs. In the early season you can get them on dries, you can get them with the
mouse, get tricky with the leech. It’s an intimate stream where you can take a
section and just dissect it. It’s a stunning place to be and the trout are
Those fish are particularly beautiful right now, mostly because they are big,
maybe even at the top end of a boom cycle. Each one seems to be trophy-sized,
camera-ready, and a big-time test on a smallish river with roots and deadfall
around every bend.
“The number of quality size fish—meaning 25 to 30 inches long—is astounding
right now,” Emerson said. “The chance to catch a fish of that magnitude on a
dry fly is mind-blowing.
“Kvichak, Naknek,” Emerson said. “Yeah, you can swing the Spey rod and get
them on a leech, which I love. But to have these big heads coming up and
sipping dry flies like we have right now, you aren’t going to see that on
those other rivers. There’s tons of water to probe in the [lower] sections
where I can fish with the jetboat. But there is also the option of hiking into
what we call ‘the braids,’ where I park the boat, we throw on the backpacks,
and go sight-fishing, just cruising through all these channels and braids. You
are looking at mid- to upper-20-inch fish where you have to figure out, first
off, how am I going to make the cast without getting caught in the tree. OK,
let’s say you make the cast. How are you going to get the drift? Then, let’s
say he eats it. Set the hook and where is he going? When it all actually
happens and [the angler] puts the wood to it, and the fish turns away from the
logjam, and we run 50 yards downstream, and finally get ahold of it–it’s
But, as mentioned, American Creek isn’t just about rainbows. Dolly Varden and
Arctic char are available all summer and fall and they reach 30 inches long.
Early in the year they are silver and sleek, moving out of the lake to eat fry
and anything else those aggressive dudes can find. As the salmon move in, the
Dollies stack up behind them, chowing down on eggs. They put on weight quickly
and start taking on their spectacular spawning dress.
“They are stunning,” Emerson said. “White-tipped fins and just colored up
beyond belief. The males get kyped-out and they are just really cool looking
fish. Most people who come to Katmai just want to catch the biggest rainbow
they can catch. I get it. But when you’re holding onto a 27-inch Dolly Varden
that is colored up, and it’s eight pounds in your hands . . .” Enough said.
Photo by Dan Favato
One reason you might fish Grosvenor versus another lodge is because it is the
only stick-built structure on the planet offering access to lower American
Creek without the use of an aircraft. It gives Emerson an advantage over other
lodges, guides, and guests who might be tapping their fingers on a
table—instead of fishing—when weather comes in.
“There are situations where King Salmon and Igiugig get fogged in and I can
slip in here and we can have access to American for ourselves with bright blue
skies overhead,” Emerson said.
As for the actual lodge and location, Emerson feels like it’s unrivaled.
“We are a concession within Katmai National Park and we are responsible for
preserving the place [including the structures] as it’s always been,” he said.
“So, when you get off the plane, it’s like stepping back in time. There’s no
air traffic. There are no people. The location is so tucked away it makes you
feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. We are off the beaten path,
literally, but it’s just a quick boat ride to American Creek.
“The other direction, across Grosvenor Lake, we can go to tributaries that
fish well. We also have the Grosvenor River, which has some very sizable pike.
And one special feature is the Hardscrabble. This is a stream that not many
people get to see and we are the only people who can access it because we are
the only people that have a jetboat to go up and fish it. That’s pretty
special—exclusive access to locations other people don’t have.”
When fishing at Grosvenor, especially in the early season when it doesn’t
really get dark in Alaska, you can fish after dinner or before breakfast, with
the possibility of catching some lake trout and maybe even a rainbow.
Photo by Dan Favato
At times, the lake trout will chase and herd smolt, often cartwheeling out of
the water to catch their prey. The gulls and mergansers see the fracas and
charge over for scraps. It’s a spectacle. And, if the fish cruise close enough
to shore, a smolt pattern is sure to get them.
“It’s such a cool phenomenon to witness,” Emerson said. “It’s a spectacular
scene. The lake trout average about 22 to 24 inches, but we’ve landed a few
15-pounders on the fly. You can literally be a cast away from marauding fish
while you’re standing there drinking coffee.”
Surely there are reasons to fish Alaska in late July and August—more bears,
maybe even more fish in the rivers, all following sockeye salmon. There are
those colored-up Dollies and possibly better weather. But, after fishing
Grosvenor in late June and early July, I don’t know that I could suggest a
better time to hit Katmai. Emerson is right—seeing those big snouts breaking
the surface on American Creek, watching the lake trout cartwheeling for smolt,
catching fresh dollies that are full of fight, all while staying at an
intimate lodge on a forgotten patch of the world, is very, very cool.
Want to experience Grosvenor Lodge and American Creek when 25-plus inch rainbows are rising to dries and char are chasing smolt in the surf? Check it out and book here: https://flyfishinginternational.com/lodge/grosvenor-lodge/