I recently had the opportunity to host a group of anglers at one of our newest lodges in Alaska. Alaska Steelhead Company is perched on a bluff at the mouth of Deep Creek overlooking the Cook Inlet on the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula. Justin Miller scouted this area and program in 2020 and realized the potential for it to be a great destination for those anglers looking for an easy to get to steelhead lodge without needing to go outside of the country. We had a group of 11 anglers on this trip and I was joined by Pat Pendergast, the Director of The Fly Shop’s travel department, in hosting this group of steelheaders. Each time I am on a trip I like to keep a daily log throughout the week. Usually these are just random thoughts at the end of each day. Have a read below about my trip to Alaska this year.
Woke up early excited about the trip and heading back to Alaska. Woke up my wife and had her drop me off at the airport at 6 AM. Checked a bag (47 lbs) and met up with Pat. As we were standing outside waiting to go into maskville we ran into Greg Kennedy, who was headed south to chase tuna out of San Diego. You never know what kind of riff-raff you are going to see while traveling. Half way through the TSA line I realized that I forgot to take my Leatherman off my key chain. I gave it to the TSA officer and asked them to put it in my checked bag. They said they’d try…. As we flew north over the smoke covered Cascades I was filled with anticipation of the week to come. Recent reports were the fish had just shown up after a summer that proved to have all of the Pacific Salmon runs coming in a bit late to the country’s largest state.
Got to Anchorage and was dreading the 8 hour layover. Checked the schedule and saw that there was an earlier flight in an hour. Went standby and made it! Got to the hotel to get ready for the morning and my Leatherman was in my checked bag. Good omen? Walked over to the Safeway and picked up a few items for the week and pulled out a couple extra layers for the morning. When you live in Redding, California, everywhere is colder. Alaska is colder still.
We opted to fish the first day of arrival so Pat and I were set to be picked up at 6:15 am at the hotel. Heavy fog, ice and moose slowed down the shuttle and the timing of rounding everyone up at different hotels in town. By 7:15 we had gathered everyone and we headed to the Kasilof River. It was 23° when we got to the parking lot but we had already seen a cow moose with 2 calves, a black bear and a pair of spruce grouse…. Alaska. The boat ramp was soaked in with fog and the aura of the morning was stunning.
The Kasilof starts out quite slow at the top coming out of the lake so we motored down a ways before we got going. It is common practice in the area to nymph fish between swing runs so we started with indicators out of the gate and I caught a nice 6 pound fish pretty early into the day. We went on through the day switching back and forth nymph fishing between swing runs. Not too much to report on the swing fishing today with the exception of a few grabs, one of which broke me off because I was too lazy to change the tippet on the old sink tip I put on. Lesson learned. I fished with Jeff and Doug and they each caught a silver while indicator fishing but nothing to hand on the swing. We all caught several dolly varden throughout the day to keep things interesting. We got back to the lodge and WOW this place is ridiculous. So beautiful! The view, the rooms, and the main lodge are absolutely spectacular. For dinner we had braised short ribs, grilled shrimp, polenta and crispy fried kale… I need a nap.
Fished the Kasilof again. Today was with Pat and Craig. We had some great conversations and Pat hooked one…. 22° in the morning and a 30° temperature swing by the afternoon. Not near as much action for an absolutely beautiful day. We didn’t fish the indicator as much today as Craig prefers to swing. I did not get any grabs today at all. Some days are like that. I think the cold clear weather just makes them not willing to swim for a fly. Craig caught a Coho on the swing and Pat hooked into a nice steelhead that gave him all but the picture. The Kasilof has beautiful swing runs and it was a pleasure to fish with a two handed rod. However, it seems that with the low numbers of fish on this particular week coupled with the cold weather that it lends better to fishing egg patterns under an indicator in these situations. Back at the lodge we had salmon for dinner with a fantastic sauce and some kind of Asian broccoli that was outstanding. The guys are all starting to warm up to one another. Some absolutely hilarious stories at dinner about travel adventures and mis-adventures. Danny was telling a story about a trip that went astray and finally fessed up that he did not book it through The Fly Shop. That’s when Pat shouted “I Knew it!” The room erupted in laughter. Kevin hooked 4 fish up on Deep Creek from the helicopter. Going to fish with Craig again tomorrow. We are taking the helicopter to upper Deep Creek. Wish us luck…
Fished Deep Creek from the helicopter. Wow, that was one of the coolest things I have ever done fly fishing.
We gave it our all, but to no avail. I hooked one fish of size on an indicator that we never got a look at. There were a few Koho around but not much else. We saw no confirmed steelhead but caught a few dolly varden while nymphing. The helicopter moved us around a few times throughout the day and it was a great experience. We saw the sunrise as we headed up river in the morning and there was a moose hanging out by our first LZ of the morning. I worked with Craig on his casting, He was appreciative. He might come down to the one day clinics in November. With the low water they are experiencing, Deep Creek does not seem to lend itself well to the swing. It is very small water and the holding pools are best fished with an indicator.
With a bit more water it could be a great small swing river suited for 4 and 5 weight spey rods. It was so cold today that even my waders were icing up. Not to mention the guides on the fly rod.
For dinner we had an amazing pork tenderloin roast that was nestled in a plate of half white sauce and half black bean chili. Felix the chef continues to knock it out of the park.
Fished the Kasilof again. We discussed in the morning whether or not Bruce and Brett wanted to fish an indicator from the boat between runs and they said they would not. After a little more convincing as to how tough the fishing had been, we decided that it would be best to employ all efforts to see a fish come to hand. We stopped at a spot around lunchtime and Brett caught a small steelhead on the swing. It was great to see one move for a swung fly, even though it was just a little guy around 22”. We jumped back in the boat and nymph fished on the way out of the run and Brett and Bruce doubled up! Benny did a great job of managing the boat as well as instructions to get them both in the net. Got a great picture of their father son double, and when asked if they would be open to fishing an indicator the following day, the answer was a resounding yes! We had some local ling cod for dinner that was again fabulous.
Walked into Deep Creek today. Early in the morning while fishing a small pool I caught a dark coho on a nymph rig. A few drifts later I landed a nice steelie out of the same pool. We swung several runs in the morning before we walked out for lunch, but there were no grabs for anyone on this cold clear morning. We drove over to fish the Stariski but the surf was too high. Went to the Anchor river and Brett and Bruce swung a few runs with no luck. I walked all the way down to the mouth and back and did not see or spook a single fish. Went back to the Stariski and made the drive down to the beach. Got stuck in the sand and cobble and had to call Matt to come tow us out. Then Matt got stuck. What an adventure. We never threw a line in the river and spent the last hour and a half digging out the 2 vehicles. The highlight was watching Bruce drive the Jeep Patriot down the beach once we got it unstuck like a scene from Mad Max. The rest of us were pushing and once Bruce got some momentum, he never looked back. He kept the pedal down and was fishtailing all the way back down the beach kicking rocks and sand out the entire time. Got back to the lodge late with no time to clean up before dinner. Had an incredible Bolognese sauce with homemade pappardelle that was outstanding! I made an announcement at dinner that Bruce got the driver of the week award for his heroics on the beach.
Fished Kasilof with John and Kevin
Finally got ’em. I hooked 2 on the swing in one run, both of which kicked my ass. Ben H was our guide and it was the best fishing day we saw. John and Kevin went 2 for 5 on nymph rigs. And Kevin got 2 silvers, one on the swing and one while nymphing. This day was warmer in the morning by 15 degrees. I’m sure that this had everything to do with the fish being more aggressive and willing to bite. Later in the afternoon I hooked one other fish on the swing for a 10 second rodeo. Once again it threw the hook with its second cartwheel of the fight. (I love steelhead) .Interesting that we got 6 of the 8 steelhead in the same run. Don’t know if there was a fresh pod of fish that just showed up or if the weather change was the key to our success. Either way it was a great day of steelheading. Back at the lodge we had King crab for dinner. It was a nice treat. Can’t say enough good things about the food while we were here or the view from the back deck of the cabin at the end of the day.
Day 7 – Final Day:
Flew across the Cook Inlet to the Crescent river. The wind was howling and the flight took twice as long as what would be considered normal. We stopped at a spot to try for some top water action, but with the cold, we had to resort to sub surface flies. John caught several silvers at the first spot. When we moved up the river we set up on a super long beautiful run. We started a fire in the gravel bar to stay warm. The wind continued to howl all day long but didn’t affect the fishing much. Throughout the day John likely hooked 30 silvers and then got into the dollies that were almost every cast in some spots. I caught several Silvers and dollies as well but spent much of the day by the fire cheering for John as he pulled in fish after fish. The valley was absolutely breathtaking and was a good break from grinding it out on the steelhead rivers. I think it’s great that this program has the ability to adapt and change up the program to keep everyone into fish.
We went to meet up with everyone at the Kasilof. The reports from the day were once again a little slow as the weather returned to frigid cold.
Flew to Anchorage and overnighted for the flight home on Sunday.
Overall, I think this was a great trip. The lodge and the area are beautiful. The lodge is still exploring other options for rivers on the other side of the Cook Inlet that hold runs of steelhead. On a good run year there is a lot of potential to have an absolute banner fishing trip. The food and the hospitality made up for the difficult fishing this time around. But, in the end, everyone had shots at, and most landed some steelhead. What more can you ask for when chasing the most difficult game fish on the planet?