Alaska Rainbow Adventures
Alaska's Premier Multi-Day Wilderness Float Fishing Trips.
Trip Review ~ Kanektok River
I am a veteran of 20+ fishing trips throughout Alaska but I had never done a float trip.
I decided 2016 would be the year and selected the July 4-11 Kanektok River with AK Rainbow Adventures. My selection was based not only on the reputation of Paul and his staff, but also on the long summer days, the trip length/float distance, and the available species.
Within the first two days of the trip two unexpected significant elements became very apparent. First, the very nature of a float trip creates a wholly positive level of interaction/camaraderie amongst everyone. From setting up and breaking down tents, sharing meals, loading and unloading rafts, sharing the river, sharing guides and rafts, as well as individual experiences, the float trip simply creates involvement and pleasant contact amongst everyone. The second element that became very clear is the significance of the river. The river itself is an important aspect of the experience. By name, it is the Kanektok every day. By character, topography, available fish, etc., it is a different river every day and even within a day. The mountains alone create distinct experiences as does the segment outside the mountains. The changing flow, presence of braids, etc., within those segments create ever changing fishing environments making it appear it is a different river.
As previously stated, my selection of this trip was influenced by the available species. I prefer targeting grayling, Rainbow Trout, and Char since these lend themselves to dry flies, streamers, mice, and nymphs (very seldom will I go to the “dark side” and use a bead). Moreover, Pink, Sockeye, and Chum Salmon can be caught using streamers while fishing for my target species and this proved to be true.
OK, now for the fishing. Writing a fishing summary for this trip without getting lengthy is very difficult. The ever changing river as well as the available species makes capturing the essence and details of each day very difficult. Nonetheless, let’s try.
Day 1. Normally, some of the first day is spent floating. However, due to fog we could not get out of Bethel until late in the day and thus did not float. We camped at the lake where I caught a few grayling on dries.
Day 2. Going with the guides’ recommendations, the starting water was fished using tan dry flies (Humpy and Mohican Mayfly) for grayling which produced fairly steady action. Later on an olive or black conehead streamer yielded a few rainbows as well as grayling.
Day 3. Departed camp under mostly sunny skies and began catching grayling and a few rainbows using the conehead streamers. The first stop yielded Char and grayling. Began using a mouse and the second stop yielded a 24” (measured!) rainbow on a mouse. I think this was the most scenic section of the river because although we are still in the mountains, the area near the river was open allowing full view of the surroundings.
Day 4. Before breakfast, I caught several grayling and three rainbows (21-22”) around camp. Grayling were the mainstay as we started the day’s float. The water became very good mousing water and eventually the mouse became the mainstay as we worked our way through braids casting amongst the brush and deeper runs catching rainbows. That evening the section of river adjoining our campsite held Char and grayling and we made good use of it!
Day 5. My favorite day. Up before anyone else, I caught very respectable grayling and Char around camp. Upon departing, we fished to a group of Kings just below the island where we camped but did not hook any. We are now nearly out of the mountains. As the river widened we noted copious (I do not misuse the word) numbers of Char laying in the shallow runs next to gravel bars. Our stop to fish for these yielded a fish nearly every cast using a black Egg-Sucking Leech with orange egg. This was Alaskan fishing at its finest. From this point to the campsite we caught Char with regularity while floating which was a very satisfying experience. The catch included a few rainbows and grayling but the grayling were noticeably less present. The scenery, character of the river, number of fish caught, and methods of catching made this my favorite day.
Day 6. A bear up-river kept me from fishing the run I wanted. I caught around a dozen Char in front of camp first thing while evaluating whether an olive, black, or purple conehead streamer was best. The purple caught the most fish in the fewest casts so that is what I started with (the conehead Polar Shrimp did not catch anything). We were out of the mountains and the river had deep runs but still had shallow bars extending from the banks and these continued to hold Char. Everyone met for soup at lunchtime and during that break Michelle (my raft-mate) and I each caught a fresh Sockeye that ultimately became dinner. A five pound fresh sockeye on the 4wt. was great fun. Later on we stopped for a while and tallied numerous Char and fresh Pinks. Doubles were the norm at this stop. This was the first day we saw signs of human life other than our group.
Day 7. Caught 20+ Char in just over an hour fishing around the island where we camped. Black conehead streamer. I started using this fly during the float but noting the river is wide and the salmon (all four species) were deep, I switched to the 8wt. with a heavy black or cerise streamer. I did not catch any salmon but did catch a 20+ inch rainbow. Michelle did well throughout the day on Char using a bead. There was other traffic on the river but it did not affect our fishing or travel. Upon reaching our final campsite and setting everything up, I fished the area (yup, the 4wt. and black conehead streamer) and found enough Char to make it interesting. With the clear day, I was able to fish just past midnight.
Day 8. The final day. Up before anyone else and with the 4wt. I found the Char again around camp. I always like to end these trips on a fish so at 9:00 AM I landed a very respectable Char that became the last fish. From there it was breakfast, break-down camp, and off to Quinhagak. During the float to Quinhagak and using a bead, Michelle caught several Char and ended her trip with a nice rainbow.
The supporting logistics for this adventure were very well organized and executed and that is especially true for the arrival in Quinhagak and subsequent return to Bethel. The break-down of the rafts and transfer to the airstrip with everyone’s belongings followed by a charter flight to Bethel was spot-on for efficiency. In Bethel there was enough time to reorganize personal belongings and clean-up before being transferred to the airport for the evening Alaska Air flight to Anchorage.
Considering the logistics, the culinary offerings on this adventure were on par with my lodge based experiences. From the skillet and traditional breakfast offerings to the fresh fish, smoked pork, spaghetti and meatballs, King Salmon Jambalaya, and cheeseburger (to name a few) dinners, if you left the table hungry it was your fault! Dinners included vegetables and fresh salads (your choice of dressing). Lunches were typically wraps or Pita Bread based offerings with a variety of meats and were perfect for a streamside break.
A trip report would not be complete without recommendations. First, follow the clothing recommendations found on the AK Rainbow website! Staying dry is essential and thus quality waders and wading/rain jacket are key as these garments will be worn most of the day. Buy the best you can afford! Cotton clothing should be avoided except for anything worn for sleeping. Second, bring a duplicate of the rod you expect will be your primary rod (I brought two 4wt. rods and would do the same if I were doing it again). The reasons for this are: 1) you have a back-up should something happen to one of the rods. 2) you can have the rods rigged with different flies allowing a fast change should the need arise (and it will!). Having extra rigged rods in the raft requires some care to avoid breakage. With the guides’ help, this was very manageable. Lastly, quality dry bags are a must and a smaller bag that allows access to daily items such as snacks, glasses, flies, cameras, etc. will prove invaluable.
For my first Alaska float trip, I am happy with my choice of AK Rainbow Adventures. While I have caught more fish during lodge based trips, the previously discussed elements of group interaction and the importance of the river must be recognized for what they bring to a trip of this nature. I want to thank Paul, Nancy, Hopi, and Perry for their efforts and Michelle, Greg, and Mason (the 13 yr. old master fire-starter) for all the camaraderie. I also would like to thank Cory Luma at AlaskaFLyOut.com for his effort making me aware of this opportunity. I expect what I learned on this trip has prepared me for nearly any other float trip.