Gary Kramer is a traveling fly fisher – photographer. Check out his work at garykramer.net.
The Land of the Midnight Sun offers some of the best freshwater fly fishing in North America—and the world for that matter—offering all five species of Pacific salmon, along with rainbow trout, Arctic char, grayling and northern pike, among other fishes. Of these, my top pick is the silver salmon, which are also called cohos. They have all the attributes we crave—they are aggressive, strong fighters, and they like to jump repeatedly.
Silvers are the last salmon to arrive each season, gathering in Alaska’s coastal waters in late summer, preparing for their arduous journeys upstream to natal spawning grounds. The Bristol Bay watershed in south-central Alaska is home to some of the most prolific silver runs in the 49th state and that’s where I landed, at Tikchik Narrows Lodge, in September.
During a weeklong stay, we utilized floatplanes to access distant rivers, including the Kulukak and Togiak, where a guide and a boat with a jet drive outboard were waiting for us. We just unloaded from the de Havilland Beaver, jumped in the skiff, and the guides took us to the fish.
Twenty- to 40-fish days per angler was the norm—all hooked, landed, and released on 8-weight outfits and flashy streamers. The fish ranged between 8 and 15 pounds, averaged an honest 10 to 12 pounds, and they did not disappoint—they were super aggressive, made doggedly determined runs, and jumped as often as we expected them to. Many of these fish were fresh in, chrome bright, some with sea lice on them. Others had their red spawning hues and some of the males showed off their deeply hooked noses.
During my 40 years of fly fishing and travel, chasing silver salmon in Alaska ranks among my favorite experiences. Late summer and early fall is a great time to be in The Great Land, when the seasons are changing as well as the leaves, and the silvers flood in on each new tide. You can wear out your forearms and shoulders casting to and fighting these fish, but you’ll never hear a negative word from me.
Flying to a remote river each day—where you’ll rarely if ever see other anglers—and catching one hard fighting fish after another, is a quintessential Alaska experience. You’ll appreciate those numbers of fish, and the ease at which they are taken, at other times of the year when a big, spring creek brown trout snubs its nose at your size 18 dry fly, or a permit turns its back, yet again, on a perfectly landed crab. Fishing fall silvers in Alaska is pure fun, which is the whole point of it, right?