When I left Alaska three weeks ago to go back to Texas for a few weeks, I couldn’t help but dread leaving the early Alaska fall with the cooler temps and beautiful leaf changes and going back to beyond uncomfortable heat and humidity. I didn’t have to be dreadful for too long though, because I knew I would be back in Alaska in just a few weeks. As I packed my bag to return up north, adding some extra warm clothing to compensate for the cooler temperatures I knew I was going to encounter, I thought about fall fishing on the Naknek, which is what Rapids Camp Lodge is really known for this time of year. As the leaves change colors from green, to orange, red, and then yellow and the temperature goes from cold to freezing, the Naknek rainbows get bigger and bigger. I found myself reminiscing of past years, and I thought fondly of one of the best – if not the absolute best – days of fishing of my life.
A few years ago, Dan and I had the opportunity and blessing of spending a day fishing on the Naknek with our dads. Fishing for trophy rainbow on the Naknek is a bucket list for many anglers and spending a day with my husband and both of our dads is a gift. So, getting to do the two together made for a memory of a lifetime. Multiple huge rainbows were caught by all throughout the day. It was cold – I’m a southern girl but it was cold by anyone’s standards – but the sun was shining, and the fish were biting.
There’s nothing like the feeling of a huge rainbow tugging on your line. You know immediately when it hits that there’s something big and special at the other end. Their strength and force are challenging and exhilarating. The fight is intense and the anticipation of finally getting to see the beautiful creature coming out of the water is worth the wait. The Naknek rainbows vary in color – some are more silver and resemble a steelhead while others have more varied colors, looking more like an actual rainbow. Some are resident fish while some go out to the lake and come back in. But one thing is common across the board – in September they are big and hungry and ready to eat and an angler’s dream of catching that once in a lifetime Alaska trophy rainbow is very attainable.
The Naknek is a big stream, looking more like a lake than river in some parts. Wading is doable but can be challenging. Guides can adapt based on water levels and anglers’ comfort level, and rather you fish from the boat or the water, the rainbows will be willing participants. The preferred method is often swinging for the big giants, but it is certainly not the only way to catch them. Depending on the timing of the salmon runs, the rainbows could also still be hitting on beads. Mother Nature varies, and we do what we need to accommodate, but the Naknek never disappoints, particularly in late season.
I’ve had the privilege of fishing the Naknek in September for many years, and every time it’s rewarding and unique, but the day I got to fish with my husband and our dads was hands down better than any other day. Yes, the fishing itself that day was outstanding – almost unbelievable – but I think fishing can be about so much more than the fish itself. It’s about nature, spending time with your buddies or your family, or even enjoying a day of peace and solitude on the river. It’s about making memories and sitting around the bar at the end of the day and retelling the story of the one that got away or landing the biggest fish of your life. It’s about bonding with nature and with people. For Dan and I, the day with our dads was about spending time with the men who are at top of the list of the most important people in our lives and watching them get to bond with each other as well. We didn’t go out on the river that day with any real expectations other than to spend some quality family time together and hopefully catch a rainbow or two. Yet, four years later when Dan and I talk about our best day of fishing ever (and we’ve been fortunate to have a few) it’s the day that always comes to mind, and it wasn’t just because of the fish – it was the entire experience.
If you have never fished the Naknek for late-season fall rainbows, I hope you get to one day because every angler should experience it at least once. And if you don’t get to fish with those who are nearest and dearest to you very often, try to do so more. Most things in life come and go and in the craziness of our lives we often don’t take the time to fully absorb it all, but memories last forever, and you never know when a simple family day of fun turns out to be the best day ever!