An innovative approach to trophy trout fishing in Alaska
Big Ku Lodge is nestled on a bluff above its namesake river – the Kukaklek overlooking a spectacular vista of river, lake and sweeping Alaskan wilderness. Built several years ago on privately-leased Native land within the boundaries of Katmai Preserve (the Branhams hold the lease rights on over 5,000 acres up and down the Big Ku River and including some lakeshore on Kukaklek Lake, as well) , the lodge could not be more centrally located to the highest concentrations of trophy trout streams in the state. This isolated outpost combines the best of all worlds for the serious trout angler – four incredible rivers within quick and easy boat access, and a home-base that is as comfortable as it is remote. Guests here can walk down and fish the legendary Big Ku River anytime they would like, before and after their normal fishing day, and it is common to see massive grizzlies wading the river, oblivious to the anglers, focused intently (and with bad intentions) on the legions of spawning sockeye salmon. A week here is a bit like stepping into a National Geographic special.
The Katmai Preserve and adjacent Park play host to some of the most remarkable landscapes in the world. Stepping out the front door of your cabin and turning your head, you will see, in turn, heavily forested mountains, vast expanses of tundra (Alaska’s underfoot Narnia), and everywhere, water.
There are active volcanoes, agate beaches, glaciered mountain ranges, wild blueberry bogs… it is no wonder this area is considered one of Americas most precious and pristine natural resources. And the region’s watersheds, gin-clear and cold, pouring from ancient tarns, harbor some of the largest remaining salmon runs on the planet. Lurking amidst these millions of spawning sockeye salmon swims the target of most Big Ku Lodge guests, the huge rainbows of the Katmai/Iliamna basin. Averaging 2-6 pounds, with massive specimens over thirty inches landed every year, there is perhaps no better place on earth to target, catch, and release numbers of these magnificent fish. There are both resident river trout, often dark and red-sided, and chrome-bright nomadic lake rainbows that make late season forays into the streams to forage. These rivers are largely scarce of trout food as we think of here in the Lower 48, but nature has provided them a bounty in the form of salmon eggs and decomposing salmon flesh. The time of plenty is short this far north, and the trout feed voraciously, often putting on several pounds in a short 3-month window of opportunity. The implications for the angler are obvious! As well, some of the streams here are also home to brilliantly-colored sea-run Dolly Varden, and sail-finned Arctic grayling. Only a short boat ride from the lodge a shallow tundra lake full of big northern pike lays waiting. And for a few weeks in July, the home river is full of bright, jet-fueled fresh sockeyes, a lot of fun on a fly rod. And all are readily accessible via short boat rides from the lodge, eliminating the necessity of expensive floatplane travel, keeping the trip cost to a fraction of the area’s luxurious fly out lodges; the perfect scenario for anglers looking for modest-yet-comfortable wilderness lodging and the regions best possible trophy trout opportunities.
The Branham name has been synonymous with quality fishing and hunting experiences in Bristol Bay for over 50 years. Chris and Linda Branham started their famous Royal Wolf Lodge over 15 years ago with the help of The Fly Shop®, and what began as a tent operation in the woods has evolved into one of the most respected trophy trout destinations in the state, built on the integrity, hard work and vision they brought to the project. So it is with the confidence built on all those years of working together with them that we enthusiastically approach the opportunity to help anglers experience their newer sister operation, Big Ku Lodge.
Reservations & Rates
The cost of the week-long Big Ku Lodge package is $6,250.00 per person (no fly-outs)
• 1 Fly-Out - $6,700.00 per person
Included in your angling package at the Big Ku Lodge is all guided fishing, use of boats, instruction, flies, and all meals, including limited beer and wine with dinner only, as well as soft drinks, and juices. Fishing gear can sometimes be supplied, if requested in advance of the trip. During salmon spawning season, the guides will also provide all egg beads and appropriate hooks.
Not included in your angling package at Big Ku Lodge are the round trip air transfer flights between Anchorage and the lodge*, state and borough bed taxes*, Katmai National Park daily user fees*, hard alcohol (please feel free to bring your own bottle), rods and reels (though loaner gear can often be arranged, if needed), fishing licenses, optional additional fly out fishing at $450/person/day, and staff gratuities. *These fees change on an annual basis and cannot be anticipated far enough in advance to be included in our set/published prices. These costs in 2019 are estimated to be between $750 - $870, to be paid in cash or check while at the lodge.
The Fly Shop® is not in the insurance business, but we recommend Travel Guard coverage as a service with a desire to see your best interests protected. It is impossible to know when an unfortunate situation (loss of luggage, fly rods, illness in the family, or an accident) may occur. However, such things can and do happen, and this insurance can provide a means of recourse against non-refundable financial losses.
• Travel Guard Insurance
Seasons at Big Ku Lodge
While predicting the weather in Alaska is a highly inexact science, there are some general trends that normally occur. Typically, June is a warm month that is getting warmer, with some short rainstorms blowing through. July continues the trend – it is often the warmest month of the short season – and as with June, the days are extremely long, often with little to no actual darkness during the night hours. In August the days begin to shorten a bit, normally still with warm days but cooler evenings. Septembers are usually cool during the day and cold at night. If it seems there were an awful lot of "typically's", "normally's", "often's", and
"usually's" in the last few sentences... well... welcome to weather reports in the Alaskan bush!
June and early July is a great month for those who love to swing streamers for big trout. There are no salmon around yet, and often not many dolly varden, either; what you have is a bunch of mega-bows that have ganged up in the inlet and outlet areas of Kukaklek Lake, gorging on the small sockeye salmon fry as they enter and exit the lake. Every trout in the region is fine-tuned to this baitfish migration, and they are waiting and ready, feeding voraciously. The Big Ku, in particular, can offer tremendous streamer action in June, with trout pouring down out of the lake into the first few miles of the river to feed, joining the big resident river rainbows. We love to fish weighted streamers on floating lines this time of year, as the trout are often busting the bait on or near the surface. And because they are surface-conscience, skated mouse patterns can also be productive. Typically around the first week of July, massive runs of sockeyes begin entering all of the rivers. While these dense schools of mint-bright salmon – averaging 6-9 pounds – are tremendous gamefish on a 7 or even 8 wt outfit, it is also true that the last 3 weeks of July are among the slowest trout fishing of the season. There are literally so many salmon, they disrupt the trout fishing! The trout don’t go away, however, and for those who like warm weather, non-stop action for sockeyes and pike, with pretty good fishing for Dolly Varden and trophy rainbows, this is a great part of the season. As with June, the trout are best fished with 7 weight outfits, as they make throwing weighted streamers relatively effortless.
By the very end of July and the first of August, the tens of thousands of sockeye salmon begin to actively spawn; overnight, the fish that had spent the past few weeks disrupting the trout fishing suddenly become the darlings of the angler’s world. Massive lake rainbows immediately flood the streams, joining their native river brethren hovering behind egg-laying salmon, gobbling the endless conveyor belt of free-floating salmon eggs. For the next 6-8 weeks this gluttony continues unabated; trout that weighed in at three pounds in June, might tip the scales at five, come September. Trophy fish that started the game at six pounds could reach the magic 10-pound mark. Inches don’t always mean a lot, this time of year, as trout are often obscenely and disproportionately obese; fish sizes are simply guessed in pounds. While streamers are still fairly effective, dead-drifting single egg patterns dominates the fishing, in all the rivers. As the warmer August days begin to give way to the cool autumn temperatures of September, not a lot changes (except the trout and Dolly Varden continue to pack on the protein pounds). In fact, the egg fishing remains very productive through the end of the season (late September and occasionally even early October), but there is one last variable that occurs as the salmon all die, and sink to the bottom in massive aquatic graves. As in all of nature, nothing goes to waste...here, the rainbows, feeling the urgency of a long winter spent in lethargy beneath the ice with little or no feeding, turn finally from the dwindling egg supply to a seemingly never-ending source of food, drifting salmon flesh. Needless to say, this is prime time to swing or dead-drift small to giant salmon flesh streamers, and as it happens, these trout can be fairly aggressive to almost any large streamer – black or olive are favorite colors. As well, you might try skating mouse patterns again – you might be surprised how many bloated rainbows can be willing to come to the surface to savage an imitation rodent.
Getting To Big Ku Lodge
For the next 6 days, you'll be fishing in one of the most famous fly fishing regions of Alaska!
On the day prior to your arrival in camp, you should plan on traveling to Anchorage and overnighting at one of the many fine hotels. Information and recommendations on Anchorage hotels are in our Alaska Pre-trip Tackle Planner, which you will receive with your deposit receipt statement. The following morning (Saturday), you will take an amphibious Caravan flight from Anchorage directly to the lodge. In Anchorage on
Saturday morning, please catch a cab or hotel shuttle to the Branham Hangar. Their terminal is located at Anchorage International Airport; take the Lake Hood Seaplane Exit, then proceed to the Branham Hangar, 4701 Aircraft Drive (adjacent to the Aviation Museum at Lake Hood). Any hotel shuttle or cab will know where the museum is, and the Branham Hangar is immediately adjacent to it. There you will be met by the plane that will be transporting you to the lodge. This air transfer is all part of your package price, and is pre-arranged for you by the lodge.
Day of Arrival at Lodge: Big Ku Lodge will reserve space for everyone on the transfer flight. Soft-sided baggage is strongly recommended, with a maximum weight of 60 pounds per person. The pilot would prefer two smaller bags, as opposed to one large one. Arriving at the Branham Hangar, your baggage will be weighed, and you will also be asked for a close approximation of your weight. When you arrive to the main lodge you will be served a full buffet luncheon. After lunch you will have time to get settled, unpacked and get your equipment in order, and if you would like, wander down to the river for a bit of unguided fishing.
Loading luggage into the small Alaska bush planes for the final leg into the lodge is a learned art form. As a result, the allowable baggage weight per person is either ONE 60 pound maximum bag, OR two bags of no more than 30 pounds each. The latter is preferable: two small, soft- sided bags fit in the airplane better than one big bag. Bag length may not exceed 36" and rod cases may not be longer than five feet.
Full Fishing Days (Sunday through Friday): For the next 6 days, you'll be fishing in one of the most famous fly fishing regions of Alaska. From its location in the heart of the Iliamna-Katmai drainage, the jet boats of Big Ku Lodge will help you access a combination of streams and rivers that are often literally choked with fish.
Departure Day from Lodge: On the departure day of your trip – Saturday, a non-fishing day – the lodge will fly you back to Anchorage. Depending on the commercial air schedules in effect, you should be able to continue on towards your home destination, but do not schedule any flights out of Anchorage earlier than 4:30 p.m., as weather delays are always a possible factor.
Lodging at Big Ku Lodge
Big Ku Lodge is very well built, with well-appointed guest cabins and a cozy main lodge.
Though not a large operation – we find this to be a good thing – Big Ku Lodge is very well built, with well-appointed guest cabins and a cozy main lodge that lets guests spread out in comfort and view the breath-taking local landscape through the many large windows designed into the structure. Anglers are free to come and go from their nearby cabins to the lodge as they please; typically they will be there for breakfast before
the fishing day, and again for dinner and on into the evening.
The lodge facilities include a main cabin with living and dining room, full bath and kitchen. The two duplex cabins hold two guests per room, with heat, comfortable beds and full private bathrooms in each room.
Meals here are delicious, and prepared fresh daily. Hot and cold breakfasts will be waiting for you each morning; lunches will normally be taken in the field; and dinners are always a special event, preceded by addicting appetizers (and a cold beer or soda) and including well-prepared and presented beef, chicken and fish dishes, shared with a glass of wine where desired. You will not leave here hungry!
For non-anglers, the wilderness surrounding the lodge makes for an amazing backdrop, and it is not unusual to see, from the lodge and on the rivers, brown bears, wolves, moose, caribou and eagles.
Communication is limited, due to the extremely remote nature of the lodge, and is accomplished via radio phone with sister operation, Royal Wolf Lodge. There is limited WiFi available, but it is via satellite, so guests need to realize there is no surfing, or fast messages - only simple emails. Guests who absolutely must have phone contact with the outside world during their stay at the lodge should consider renting a portable satellite phone that is capable of working in the far northern regions.
Fishing at Big Ku Lodge
One of the beauties of this small occupancy, boat-to-fishing lodge format is the flexibility it allows.
On a daily basis you have many options to choose from, and many are quite close to the lodge. You will get to see beautiful country, and fish for some of the largest trout the area has to offer. You can choose to get up early to virtually assure you’ll be the first on the water, or sleep in, and both start and finish your day later. You can sometimes mix your days, fishing pike in the morning, and trout in the afternoon. Weather, often
the bane of fly-out operations, is virtually a non-issue here; morning fog won’t keep you from the water, nor will any but the most severe winds. Even in the worst weather you can always fish the home river, and typically the Little Ku, as well.
At the heart of the Big Ku Lodge boat fishery are the rivers themselves, four jewels that are counted among the finest of what Alaska has to offer in terms of trophy trout.
One of the beauties of this small occupancy, boat-to-fishing lodge format is the flexibility it allows. While Big Ku Lodge is happy to arrange for fly outs for guests at any time they might so desire – planes and pilots from nearby Royal Wolf Lodge can be deployed with 24-hour notice ($450/person - minimum of two anglers), fishermen can be flown to one of the other blue-ribbon stream. Most will not choose this option, as the boat-to fishing is as good, or better. Admittedly, special situations arise that might warrant a fly out during the week, though none involving more or larger fish. Examples may be flying to the upper American River in early summer, where some days big rainbows suck oversized dries off the surface for hours each afternoon; or a flight to the upper Funnel, a magical place for massive trout in the late season; or, serious hikers only, a modest flight and hour-long hike to one of several small streams in the region with 2-5 pound trout in mid-season. You will see almost no other anglers during the season. It is a great option to have, but one we suspect will be lightly used.
The Kukaklek River (Big Ku):
Kukaklek River (Big Ku) is located literally a stone's throw from the front porch of the lodge. More importantly, there are miles of river accessible by jet boat, from the outlet of Kukaklek Lake just upstream, down through the tundra plains and eventually into a deep canyon, which marks the downstream boundary of available water. And while a handful of anglers from other fly out lodges will float from the outlet downstream a short distance, the vast majority of the Big Ku available from the lodge will see almost no outside angling pressure. The lodge's river jet boats can also easily access a large, shallow lake integral to the river, a giant pond that is full of northern pike. These predators are readily caught on brightly-colored streamers (and wire leaders, to mitigate their barracuda-like dentures), but the most exciting method is dragging mouse patterns across the surface… the takes can be quite memorable! Of the four streams, the Big Ku is the one we most often fish with large streamers for trout, usually swung on 15-foot or shorter sinking tip lines; the tight-line grabs can be quite dramatic, and the average size of fish here impressive. For the dry fly enthusiast, there are also grayling here, though few can ever pull themselves away from the big rainbows! While most fishing here is done wading, there are times of the season, and stretches of river where the guides will fish you from an anchored, or rowed jet sled. Nine foot 6 and 7 weight rods are perfect here, and because of the width of the river and the effectiveness of swung streamers, switch rods and light spey gear are also quite popular. As everywhere in this region, there will be some times of the year when dead-drifting egg patterns on floating lines will be particularly deadly.
The Little Ku:
Barely more than a creek, the Little Ku is accessed via a quick (10 minute) boat ride from the lodge to where it dumps its modest flows into Kukaklek Lake. From there anglers will hike upstream, fishing various stretches depending on the time of year. This is fishing in fairly tight quarters, and hooking a 4-pound trout in the small flows is an experience not soon forgotten; not only will you often see the fish before you cast here, but once hooked, the big fish often panic and go airborne, not uncommonly right onto dry land or into overhanging bushes! This is "close fishing" at its best, with the opportunity to hook many big trout in shallow water within 20 feet of your rod tip. Also pouring into the creek during the summer and fall months are beautiful sea run Dolly Varden; visually, imagine 15-22 inch brook trout, in full spawning dress, and you get the picture. These gorgeous fish are almost unbelievably gullible to a dead-drifted egg pattern, and are more than happy to fill in any slow trout periods during the day here. In a normal sockeye salmon escapement year, you will be dumbfounded by the numbers of salmon that ascend this little stream to spawn – it can be quite a visual spectacle. Because of the small size of the stream, nine foot 6 weight rods, floating lines, and dead drifted egg patterns are the de rigueur choice of equipment.
The Moraine River:
Arguably the finest small river trophy trout fishery in the Bristol Bay region. Over the past twenty years more truly enormous, and more astounding numbers of merely big rainbows have been hooked and landed here (as well as lost to overtaxed tackle and anglers) than in just about any other similarly-sized stream in the area. The Moraine is reached by an approximate 40-minute ride in the lodges comfortable “lake boat”, an inboard jet designed to transport anglers in comfort, regardless of the condition of the lake. Once at the river's entry point into Kukaklek Lake, guests are transferred into smaller river sleds, which allow them access to miles of the stream’s prime lower reaches. This mid-sized river is fished by wading, and while streamers and even skated mouse patterns can be superb early and late in the season, most of the really big number days here are achieved by dead-drifting egg beads during the heart of the summer. For those inclined to hit these waters in September, a large flesh fly streamer swung on a sinking tip, or dead-drifted beneath a floating line can be the ticket to a fish of a lifetime. Nine foot 6 and 7 weight rods are standard fare here, though the river is large enough for switch rods and light spey gear to be effective.
A relatively short stream between Kukaklek and Battle Lakes is what many serious trout hunters consider the quintessential trophy rainbow stream; it is modest-sized, generally shallow, with a heavy run of spawning sockeye salmon. Add this all up, and you have a lot of large lake rainbows following the mobile salmon buffet into water that is easily waded, and ideal for sight-fishing, to trout that are far larger than what you would normally expect in water this size. It is primarily fished with floating lines and dead-drifted egg patterns, and quite often to sighted trout. When you see one of these big fish suck in your egg in twelve inches of water, and set the hook, you need to be prepared, for you can be guaranteed something dramatic is about to happen. Though the furthest boat ride from the lodge (also in the big lake boat) at about 50 minutes, this is also one of the most intriguing options, as many fly out lodges prefer to avoid it, due to the prevailing wind issues there. The odds are good that on some days, Big Ku Lodge guests may be the only anglers on the water, or at least sharing it with only a small handful of others. Typically, as with the Moraine, guests will be driven across the lake in the comfort of the large lake boat, then transferred to a river skiff to actually enter the river. Again, a 9 foot 6 weight rod is ideal here, though a 7 weight is not really overkill, and there can be days in late season when throwing larger flesh patterns can turn up some huge trout, making the larger rod appealing.
What Makes This Destination Special and Unique?
• Small, intimate lodge with a maximum occupancy of six anglers per week, a perfect spot for inclusive groups of anglers and families that want a private fly fishing experience.
• Boat access to four of the top trophy trout streams in Katmai National Preserve – no need for float planes, no weather delays, and our water is quickly and easily accessed every day of the week.
• A stone's throw from the best home water in southwest Alaska – unlimited fishing time for anglers that can’t get enough. The Big Kukaklek River is a long double haul from your cabin, and only your stamina will determine how much fishing you can take.
• Round-trip private air transfer from Anchorage to the lodge, quick and easy… You will able to get a solid first half day of fishing in at Big Ku with access to the home water.
• Very solid trout fishing program with one of the top outfitters in Alaska. These folks are pros with 30-plus years of operating experience in Alaska - you are in very capable hands. The lodge staff will take care of the logistics of the trip, so all you have to do is fish to your heart’s content.
• One of the best bear viewing locations in all Alaska. See these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, away from the crowds. Great photo opportunities…and lasting memories of true Alaska wilderness.