The first week of King Salmon season at Alaska West is always filled with anticipation of what the season is about to bring. During this time the river has just begun to show its features and the fish have started their march past the classic gravel bar runs that have made our camp famous. The most interesting thing about fishing during this week though, is all the new water that Kings show up in.
This year our anglers fished lots of this “new” water. Some of these spots were totally new runs that had been freshly carved out by the runoff from last winter’s snow, while others were favorites from our fishing past opened up by this year’s higher river levels. Whether fishing old forgotten water or new water, Chinook minded anglers during the first week found lots of fish willing to eat flies. Fish were caught in sloughs, off bars, from boats, behind snags, and even in side channels. If there was soft deep water, there were King Salmon to be had. That being said, there were some issues that had to be overcome.
The winter of 2011-2012 brought record snowfall to most of Alaska and the lower Kuskokwim delta was no exception. More snow always means more water, and while extra water in the river can be a good thing, it can also make for adverse fishing conditions. This year our first week saw the lower river at an almost unfishable level. The tidally influenced bars were out of play and the classic “spey all day” spots were just too fast to swing. On top of that, a huge permafrost tundra bank collapsed into dismal plumes of mud under the Kanektok’s relentless flow.
While most guides would describe these river conditions as blown out and give up hope on finding fish, our guides knew that the fish didn’t simply get on a bus to travel to their spawning grounds far above camp. The anglers that had the best fishing under these conditions were those who thought outside the box and decided that catching fish was better than just fishing a certain way. Single hand fly rods began to rapidly have a resurgence in popularity and by the end of the week, anchoring up was where it was at.
The water temperature during our first week was a little cold, but not far off the average for the middle of June. Cold water typically means that the fish swim deeper and one should fish smaller flies to elicit strikes. The water volume, however, cancelled out any cold water tactics and big flies on light sink tips were the ticket to getting the Kings to eat. Fly colors ranged from dark to light depending on the water clarity and sky. Orange, red, purple, and chartreuse all took their share of fish, with presentation and site selection being far more important than profile or color.