Another Great Season in the Books at ATA Lodge!
After browsing through this blog post, I think that you will have to admit that The Alagnak Wild River is a pretty photogenic location. We certainly feel privileged to be able to call it "home" for almost 5 months every year!
Conditions this season were a bit different than what we have come to expect out here in Bristol Bay. After a very mild winter with little snowpack on the mountains, we went on to experience an unprecedented heatwave and drought throughout the entire season.
The snow that was on the mountains in spring had almost totally melted off by early July as the photo above shows. Normally we would have prolonged snowmelt to sustain the system through much of July and then August rains keep water levels steady, sometimes even rising some into September. But with no rain whatsoever in June, July, and August, water levels were already lower than we have ever experienced by mid-July and only continued to drop throughout the whole season. Low water levels and exceptionally high water temperatures meant that things were not "normal" this season. But that didn't mean we didn't catch a lot of fish and have a great time!
Some things happened earlier, like our King Salmon and Chum Salmon runs which were prolific. Other things happened late like our Sockeye Salmon and Silver Salmon runs.
Nothing was predictable, but still, the mighty Alagnak River delivered! We saw the earliest signs of Sockeye in the system for quite a few years and thought that bode well for an early run. But that did not materialize and ended up coming in late and sporadically. Although the number of Sockeye that entered the river met escapement quotas, they seemed to be less than the ridiculous numbers we have taken for granted in years past. The run was sporadic and ended earlier than normal.
Bristol Bay had another bumper year for Sockeye catches in the Bay.
We suspect that with the water conditions in the river being less than optimal, it may have resulted in the salmon not coming straight in and getting caught in the nets of the commercial fishing boats. They bunched up in the estuary and then came through in "bursts", blasting through upstream looking for cooler water. This provided some amazing sport at times, with our anglers enjoying fantastic fishing for these ballistic "silver bullets" as they raced upstream!
The beautiful weather this season, almost made us feel like we were in the Bahamas sometimes! With the warm and sometimes downright hot temperatures, it was easy to enjoy the absolutely stunning setting that the Alagnak Wild River offers those fortunate enough to get to come and experience its bounty!
With miles and miles of pristine wilderness to explore, we encounter some amazing scenery and wildlife. You certainly don't want to find yourself without a good camera as you never know what you are going to encounter while spending the day on the water!
Every season we are fortunate to have some fantastic photographers that visit us to photograph the bears, eagles, moose and other wildlife that we regularly see each day on the river.
ATA Lodge was glad to welcome back both Shoot the Light and Idube Photo Safaris this past season. These groups are hosted by renowned wildlife photographers Chas Glatzer and Kevin Dooley, who spend most of every day with a camera in their hands instead of a fishing rod.
We are the chosen destination of these photographers during July, primarily because of the large concentration of brown bears that are feasting on the abundant Sockeye Salmon that team in the river during their annual spawning migration.
Every day they go out in our jet boats, guided by our professional team of US Coast Guard Captains to experience what most people only see on television documentaries on the Discovery Channel. It's like being on a National Geographic expedition each day they are here!
The King Salmon run this year was phenomenal.
With King Salmon populations decreasing in many traditional locations, our King Salmon seem to be going from strength to strength. Large numbers of Kings moved into the river, and because of the low water and high temperatures, they didn't waste any time coming upstream in search of cooler water. That meant that they arrived earlier than normal in good numbers making it a great year for those wanting to land a King. We had a fantastic season fishing for these hard fighting fish.
There is something very special about the sensation of feeling a 30 lb + Chinook Salmon at the end of your line, testing both you and your tackle to the limit. There are very few places where you can go and have the opportunity to sight cast to dozens of these brutes in a pool using either a single or double-handed fly rod.
It's definitely something that every keen angler should experience. The power of this salmon is unparalleled in freshwater. When combined with the current of the river, sometimes it is impossible to hold them. If they decide to "turn tale" and head downstream, unless you are near the boat and can "chase" them downriver, you stand no chance of turning them as they careen in the opposite direction while your fly line disappears in just a few seconds, taking you deep into your backing.
We have seemingly limitless water to explore each day, so you will rarely see another boat or human being during your time on the river each day. You feel as if you are the only angler on the river. Being situated in the upper braids of the system, we do not get encroached upon by other fishermen.
We not only have a wide variety of fishing conditions which makes each day a completely unique experience, but we also have a very diverse offering of species you can target. With 5 different species of Pacific Salmon over the course of the season coming into the system to spawn, the experience we offer our guest changes from week to week depending on what species are present.
Our tactics and techniques will change to match the type of fish we are targeting. And its not just the salmon, but also our resident fish like Rainbow Trout, Arctic Char and Arctic Grayling.
As we moved into the month of August. We began to see the Coho Salmon (also called Silver Salmon) begin to enter the river. Because of the extremely low water and high water temperature by this time in August this past season, the Silver run was a bit patchy early on.
We started to catch Silvers in early August and continued to catch some throughout the entire month. But the main push of fish was a bit late this year. We really didn't start to see the numbers we expect until late in August and into September.
During the middle of August is when the Chum Salmon and King Salmon begin to actually spawn. The spawning process means that as they drop their eggs, fishing for our resident trout (as well as char and grayling) really starts to heat up as these fish begin to gorge on the glut of eggs that are now in the river. This year's warmer water conditions meant that spawning was later than usual as many salmon seemed to be waiting for water temps to drop before moving on to their spawning gravels. Resident fish were also less active because of the lack of oxygen in the warmer water.
This meant that the "bead bite" was really good at times, and then at other times, we had to work a bit harder. But persistence paid off and we managed to land some amazing fish this season. I have to say that the trout of the Alagnak Wild River have to be some of the most beautiful trout on the planet.
While many of our guests predominately come with the intention to catch salmon in mind, they are often "converted" to our trout fishing. There is just something about these wild native trout that once you've hooked into a few, you really want to just keep on doing it! They are numerous, hard fighting and are great sport on lighter tackle, whether sipping a well presented dry fly on the surface or smashing into a swung sub surface streamer.
This year was particularly good for "mousing". This is where a mouse pattern in skated on the surface of the river, resulting in vicious topwater takes that leave you wanting more! We saw a larger number of lemmings this year, and even caught a couple of trout that regurgitated an actual mouse when landed using a fly tied in a mouse pattern!
Another exciting "add on" that many of our guests chose to do this year, was to "fly-out" to other destinations to experience not only fishing, but some of the many things that the region has to offer. There are many different types of experiences to choose from which are organized based on what is happening at them once they are here.
Early in the season, we took a number of trips to the rugged Katmai Coast to view bears that were grazing on sedge meadows and digging for clams at low tide. We also did numerous fly outs to Brooks Falls in July to watch the bears catch the salmon as they jumped over the waterfall there. Later in August and September, we flew out to other destinations that have very high concentrations of bears that are chasing (and catching) the Sockeye Salmon after they have turned Red.
These are amazing opportunities to experience something completely different to what you see at the lodge. Throughout the season, conditions, concentrations of various fish and bears will change as does their behavior. So our fly-out program capitalizes on putting your right in the action at different times to take advantage of what is happening at the time.
Flyouts also allow you to get a bird's eye perspective and appreciate the beauty of the entire area. You will not only get to see the rivers flowing through the boreal forests and tundra, but also fly over some of the most stunning mountains and lakes as well as volcanoes and glaciers. A favorite destination is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which is a spectacular volcanic ash field where the last century's largest volcanic eruption took place! It's landscape so resembles something you would expect to encounter on the moon, that it is where the astronauts trained before the first lunar mission!
Another great destination that some of our guests got to visit was down the Aleutian Peninsula where they were able to see over 3,000 Walrus that had hauled out on to the beach and were frolicking in the Sea just a few yards from the shore!
All in all, despite some challenges conditions, we had a fantastically successful season! We want to thank all our guests that came this past year, many of whom have come back for their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th year in a row! We also want to thank and acknowledge our dedicated, hard working and profession crew, both guides and camp staff alike. Thank you for a job well done! Everyone went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that this past season was one to remember for years to come!
And so, the 2019 season at ATA Lodge, on Bristol Bay's Wild Alagnak River, has come to an end. As we leave for another winter's "hibernation", we are already anticipating what 2020 will bring! If you haven't booked your spot for 2020, get in touch soon as many weeks are nearly full, or fully booked already. Having said that, there are still some great weeks with availability left. We look forward to welcoming you to ATA Lodge!
Get in Touch over our Website at: www.ATALODGE.com
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Or give us a call on +1 877 801 2289