On August 28, our twin-engine Goose, fully loaded with provisions for eleven days, set down on Kigati Lake at the headwaters of Alaska's Kanektok River. The Widgeon was not far behind with the rest of our group. We built rafts and loaded them with tents, food, beer, sleeping bags, and all the other essentials. We shoved off only moments after a bull caribou brazenly strutted through our beachhead.
The fishing was a bit slow the first day, but we did manage to hook and land a few 19-20 inch grayling and a few silver salmon. The fishing picked up on the second day after a tributary came in from the north. Actually, the fishing more than picked up, it became spectacular. Huge arctic char and dolly varden, up to 26 inches, were taken regularly. At times, it seemed as if every cast generated a strike. On the third day, we pulled into a gravel bar and set up camp where the Klak River pours into the Kanektok. Our expectations were high and yet, unbelievably, they were exceeded. We each caught numerous silver salmon on purple wooly buggers or egg sucking wooly buggers. These huge silvers were awesome, taking high jumps and powerful runs, and testing the strength of our 8 weight rods. Bright dolly varden, in spawning colors, congregated below the schooled silvers and sucked up our glow bug flies. Some of these dollies were huge. The biggest of the day was 27 inches.
After breaking into small groups, we wandered up the river, fishing run after run, hooking fish after fish. At 3:00 P.M., I decided to make my way downstream and back to camp to rest my weary wrist... too many fish. As I rounded a sharp bend in the river, I noticed a grayling jumping aggressively to take a size 12, gray drake mayfly from the surface. I switched my fly from an egg pattern to a size 12, ratty old Adams and started catching 18-19 inch grayling. The mayflies continued to come off and in the slick below the riffle. I noticed huge heads taking more of the drakes off the top. It could only have been the dollies. I floated my Adams down to one of the swirls and it disappeared with an audible "pop." I was fast to a large fish that was fighting much harder for having been hooked in 6 inches of water. Over the next hour, I caught 12 fish over 22 inches. My biggest was 26.5 inches, all caught on a single number 12 Adams. We all caught between 50-75 fish over the course of the day, including grayling, silvers, dolly varden, and arctic char.
The days rolled on, each as incredible as the one before. We started picking up rainbows at mid-river. By the time we reached some of the smaller tributaries on the lower river, we were picking up 20 plus inch bows with some consistency. The Kanektok rainbows constitute a subspecies called "leopard rainbows." They are beautiful, bright fish, with the rainbow's trademark spots more densely packed and continuing down the head through the upper jaw into the lower jaw. Kanektok rainbows are a true trophy... at any size.
Our trip ended way too soon. The only solution was to begin planning a trip to Alaska for next summer.
Think about your expectations for a trip to Alaska. If you are interested for next summer, plan now. Many of the destinations we recommend are small owner-operated lodges. They fill quickly, often by the end of January. In addition, we offer float trips on many of Alaska's best rivers from June 28 to Sept. 15.
Written by Scott Heywood