We all dream, I think, of being the first to discover a remote Alaskan river, a stream so far off the charts, it has only been acknowledged, vaguely, by a few intrepid explorers.
A river so distant that even its actual name is in question. How amazing to be among the first human beings ever to walk the banks of such a river, not to mention casting a line into its mysterious flows? Until recently, even we thought such a scenario merely a pipe-dream. After all, as massive a wilderness as Alaska truly is, it has been explored aggressively over the past 50 years. There have been adventurous float fishermen who’ve canvassed the nether regions of the state, poring over maps, talking to the friend of a friend of a friend who once spoke with a trapper who said he’d spent a season near this river or that, then taking literal flyers to unproven ribbons of blue identified on charts with unpronounceable names; and there have been floatplane pilots who have dropped down onto distant rivers on the way to somewhere else, “just to sling a few casts and see what might be there”; and lodge pilots paid to explore for the next secret creek that will give their operation a leg up on the competition. For 50 years…
Imagine our surprise, then, to have just such a river dropped into our laps. At first, to be honest, we were skeptical. Admittedly, the river was in a scarcely-traveled corner of the state, halfway to Russian Kamchatka; true, the outfitter in question, Rod Schuh, had impeccable credentials from his many years as one of the top hunting guides in the state; and we couldn’t argue with the salmon escapements tallied faithfully by the Alaska Fish and Game at their remote little retractable fish weir, recording extravagant numbers of fish ascending the smallish river annually since the 60’s. But still, it just seemed too good to be true! The final straw was seeing all the photos of mint-bright kings, silvers and steelhead that Rod showed us, taken by the handful of his hunting friends whom he had hosted while building the lodge the year previous. We were convinced!
Almost a decade later, we are more convinced, and excited than ever. The king salmon fly fishing continues to exceed even our lofty hopes, with average numbers of fish hooked daily varying from great, to absolutely ridiculous…and these are almost all chrome-bright fish, a few short miles from the salt. The silver salmon fishing is well beyond ridiculous, with sheer numbers of fish simply mind-blowing, and plenty of them taken on surface poppers. Perhaps most telling here is that we have fresh cohos rolling into the river daily, from early August through early October! This is like nothing we have ever seen. As well, the lodge now accesses several other untouched rivers via both floatplane and wheelplane, wilderness streams that load up with kings, silvers and big searun Dolly Varden. For those wanting to sample what may well be the most consistent steelhead fishery on the planet, Hoodoo Lodge has built a lodge on the nearby Sandy River, a fishery that kicks out big numbers of 30″-34″steelhead nearly every day of it’s 4-week September/October season.
What we do now know is that Hoodoo Lodge is for real, and possibly the last true fly fishing gem to be discovered in North America. The facility is quite comfortable, the service and food excellent, the guides wonderful, and no corners are cut in Rod’s quest to have the finest anadromous fly fishing lodge in Alaska. The setting is remote almost beyond belief, and the fishery…well, suffice it to say it is everything we could have dreamed of, and more.
Reservations & Rates
The cost of the week-long Hoodoo Sportfishing packages range from $6,450.00 (Grand Slam Package) - $7,450.00 (King Salmon or Silver Salmon Package) per person depending on the option you choose.
Included in your angling package at the Hoodoo Sportfishing is the round trip bush plane flight service between Anchorage and the lodge, all lodging in shared, double occupancy rooms with separate, shared full baths, all meals while at the lodge including beer, wine, a limited open bar with a select few choices, and sodas, daily guided fishing (two anglers/guide and boat), optional overnight spike camp excursions including sleeping bags, dry bags and the bush plane flight to other nearby rivers.
Not included in your angling package at Hoodoo Sportfishing, accommodations in Anchorage, Alaska Sport Fishing or Hunting License and appropriate stamps (available for purchase at the lodge), fishing tackle, gratuities and items of personal nature.
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 Hoodoo Sportfishing
The Hoodoo Lodge season kicks off in mid-June, with the first waves of king (Chinook) salmon flooding into the river estuary, and pushing their way up into the river.
From the lodge down to saltwater is only about 8 miles of flat water, which the fish move through quickly, arriving to the lower holding pools just above the lodge in a matter of hours; often, the fish you catch one
day were swimming in the ocean the day before! From the lodge upstream to the river's headwater lake is about 25 miles of prime fly fishing water. The best king water tends to be in the lower 12 or so miles upstream of the lodge, as this water is comprised of deeper, moderate speed, gravel-bottomed pools... perfect king holding water. To give you an idea of the size of the run, Fish and Game counters at the weir believe that approximately 50% of the river's king run never even reaches the weir, as they spawn downriver, both in the main channel and in the major spawning tributary. So it is probably safe to double the average annual weir count of about 2,000-4,000 fish, a remarkable number for such a small river. Some days last year we would cut the engine and drift as we motored downriver at the end of the day, and were flabbergasted to look down into some of the small pools and see 30-50, twenty- to thirty-pound ghost blue kings scatter beneath us! Never failed to pump up the enthusiasm...
At this same time the river is also full of mint-bright sockeye (red) salmon – they tend to mirror the mid-June to late July king salmon run, though the run size is enormous by comparison. Sockeyes are the real reason the weir exists, as Fish and Game monitors their yearly escapement in an attempt to manage the offshore commercial netters in this region. Weir employees have counted over a quarter of a million sockeyes annually, on average - fish destined to temporarily reside and spawn in the upriver lake. Heavy run years approach half a million fish! This run provides tremendous action and a welcome daily option for anglers wanting to take a temporary break from battling the monsters, and hook some red-hot, dime-bright salmon in the 6-10 pound range. Sockeyes quickly permeate the entire river, though they hold in different water than the kings, typically in deep, slow-moving eddies. It is not unusual to look down into one of these backwater "lakes" and see hundreds of chrome sockeyes, literally stacked like cordwood from top to bottom.
Beginning sometime around the middle of July, and lasting into early August, there is a strong run of chum salmon into the Hoodoo. These aggressive, bull-strong fish are often referred to as "little kings" – though averaging smaller at around 10-15 pounds, they possess the same broad-shouldered power as kings when hooked. And they are eager to a fault when presented with anything purple, or pink, with a large profile. Also in this time frame there is a light return of pink salmon. Though not a highly sought after species, it is the final link in the "Grand Slam of Salmon", making this an ideal time for the angler attempting to catch all five species of Pacific salmon in a single week. As well, from late July through August, thousands of sea run dollies (as well as some resident char and rainbows) congregate behind spawning kings in the upper river; with a 6 wt rod and a handful of single egg patterns, you can catch these beautiful fish until you drop!
Our guides note the first push of silver salmon (cohos) into the river near the lodge in early August each year. By about the 15th the river has many fish throughout, and by early September the numbers are mind-numbing. Over the course of the season these fish average 10-12 pounds, and it is not at all unusual to land fish in the 14-16 pound class. Guides have weighed plenty of 18's, and even a handful of 20's…trophy fish in anyone's book. Even better, many are caught on the surface, popping Foam Top Pink Pollywogs across the tops of slow pools, anglers watching with rapt anticipation as fish wake up behind them, heads porpoising out to engulf the oversized dry. Truly, Hoodoo would seem to be the Holy Grail of silver salmon fly fishing!
Getting to Hoodoo Sportfishing
For being such a remarkably distant destination, Hoodoo Lodge is surprisingly easy to access. Guests begin the journey by flying from home to Anchorage, Alaska, and overnighting.
The next morning, guests will board a private charter flight from Anchorage to the village of Nelson Lagoon, near the extreme western point of the remote Alaska Peninsula. Here they are met by Rod, and
flown the 10 minutes to the lodge in his floatplane (or take a short boat ride up to the lodge, if the weather is bad); assuming clear weather, this is a spectacular flight, often featuring grizzlies wandering tidal flats, caribou grazing the tundra highlands, and a breathtaking coastal mountain range comprised largely of volcanoes, many of which are currently active!
On the day of departure after your week fishing, you simply reverse the process. Rod flies you back to Nelson Lagoon, where you take the same private charter flight back to Anchorage; at this point, you can either overnight again, or where viable, take a redeye flight back home.
Lodging at Hoodoo Sportfishing
Rod has really outdone himself on the actual physical accommodations.
When you first see the lodge from the air, its size is surprising, considering how far in the middle of nowhere you are. Walking up the boardwalk steps from the floatplane dock, you notice the oversized windows, the attractive architecture, and all the work that has been done around the facility. But the real surprise comes when you walk inside. The
first room is the designated mud room, where anglers can sit and comfortably remove their wet waders and shoes at the end of the day, hang their vests and jackets, and begin the transition to warm and cozy lodge life (and when they suit up the following morning, all their gear is nice and dry). Passing out of here, you enter a gathering room – guests can step out of their adjacent bedrooms and relax in the couch and chairs - reading, assembling their tackle, or just hanging out together. All the guest rooms empty into this area. The guest rooms themselves are spacious, each with two comfortable beds, shelving to organize clothing and gear, and a large window overlooking the nearby wilderness. Leaving the gathering room, you pass the bathrooms and showers on your right – three separate bathrooms, each with full sink and vanity, and three oversized shower rooms, each with its own large and private dressing room. Finally, everything funnels through a single door, opening up into the great room, bar and dining room. This is the showcase of the lodge, replete with huge picture windows looking out over the river and surrounding mountains. The great room features luxurious sofas and chairs, and is the perfect place to gather after a day on the water to trade lies; adjacent is the open bar, above which is a loft. This area, including the staircase to the loft and the entire ceiling is all trimmed in beautiful tongue and groove aspen. Guests are able to look out at dramatic vistas as they dine on the lodge's sumptuous dishes, which normally include steaks, king crab, prime rib, halibut and fresh salmon. In fact, the food at this lodge is a high point – from breakfast to lunch to hors d'oeuvres to dinner, everything is fresh, tasty, and of the highest quality. No small feat for being in such a remote corner of the world!
Finally, for those interested in a little bit of an adventure, Rod has built a very well-equipped, semi-permanent tent camp on a nearby unnamed river. This allow intrepid anglers to fish water that has rarely been seen, and still stay quite comfortable.
Fishing at Hoodoo Sportfishing
One of the beautiful parts of the Hoodoo Lodge program is that there is absolutely no outside pressure on the fisheries.
So whether you are swinging big streamers for kings on the lower river, popping Pink Pollywogs across the surface for hyper-aggressive mid-river silvers, drifting big leeches for upper river steelhead, or hammering crazy numbers of sea-run dolly varden on egg patterns, the fish are always
fresh, and grabby.
There is no hurry to get to the water each day; the pace is relaxed, and built more around angler preference than the need to rush to secure a few hundred yards of stream. Typically, hot coffee is on at 6:00 a.m. and breakfast is served at 7:30 a.m. Anglers and their guides should be on the river for a full day of fishing by 8:30 a.m. Anglers will normally be back to the lodge by 6:00 p.m. in time for a hot shower and a cold one before dinner is served at 7:00 p.m. Of course, fishing and weather will to some degree affect this daily schedule and anglers are asked to remain flexible.
The king salmon (and chum and sockeye salmon) program is based around jet boat access, which includes the lower half of this small river. This extensive mileage is broken up into various beats, with anglers normally seeing new water on most days of their stay. The river is dense with great king-holding water, and its small size, coupled with the heavy run of fish make it the most amazing king fishery we have ever experienced.
The silver salmon fishing is also largely accessed via jet boats, as the fish tend to "stack" in the lower half of the river. Unlike the kings, though, which largely utilize the lower main-stem and two lower/mid-river tributaries for spawning, the silvers will run all the way up to the lake headwaters.