|Bristol Bay Region|
Bristol Bay: The Big Picture
Bristol Bay is a large inlet on the remote easternmost shore of the Bering Sea. Framed by 8 major river systems, "The Bay" is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run, and some of the greatest freshwater fly angling to be found on the planet. Located 280 air-miles southwest of Anchorage and accessible only by boat or plane, the Bristol Bay region covers roughly 55,000 miles of varied terrain, mostly soggy tundra. Bordered by the Kilbuck-Ahklun range to the northwest, the Taylor mountains to the north, and the Aleutian Range to the southeast, the region is home to some of the largest lakes in Alaska, including Lake Iliamna, at over 1,000 square miles of surface area.
The Bristol Bay region concentrates some of the largest salmon runs into a fairly small area, and where the salmon run, the bears are not far behind. Home to some of the densest seasonal concentrations of brown bears found anywhere in the world, the region offers a great opportunity to view these magnificent creatures as they chase and feed on salmon in an attempt to put away as many calories as possible during their short season of abundance. Fishing and camping around bears is not without its risks, and while salmon runs and fishing results can often be predicted, bears can not. The U. S. Forest Service (USFS) and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have a tremendous amount of information on traveling and camping safely in bear country, and we strongly recommend reading this and getting a clear understanding of the essential practices.
PLEASE CHECK YOUR REGULATIONS. The ADF&G regulates opening and closing dates very tightly in the Bristol Bay region. Many of Bristol Bay's rivers are entirely closed to sportfishing from April 10-June 7 to protect rainbow trout durning the spawn. HELP PROTECT THE RESOURCE BY KNOWING THE LAW.
April and May are also times of very fickle weather in the region. In a single day, one might encounter bright sunshine and balmy 60° temps, a howling northerly with a 30° blizzard, and a soggy, drenching westerly rainstorm. Pack accordingly, and be prepared with layers of warm clothing topped off by a sturdy rain jacket.
June also heralds the beginnings of the salmon run in Bristol Bay. Towards mid-June the sockeye salmon run begins, first in ones and twos, then trickles, then hundreds, followed by thousands of fish streaming upriver. Regarded as the most picky of Alaska's salmon species, sockeye can be enticed with small, sparsely dressed patterns fished deep. We recommend the Sockeye Green, the Copper Swan, and Montana Brassies.
Where the sockeye run, the rainbows are never far behind. As the reds get closer to their spawning grounds the rainbow trout begin to intermingle with them, eagerly awaiting the egg-drop that usually happens in early to mid-August. These early trout can be had with a wide variety of flies, so be sure to have some traditional trout nymphs and dries like the Micro Mayfly and Flashback Pheasant Tail, as well as a good selection of beads in early colors. Streamers and Leeches can also work well during this time, so be sure to have some Exasperator Sculpins, JR's Streamers, and AFG Articulated String Leeches. Don't be surprised if you happen to run across grayling or char when fishing for rainbows, as they follow the sockeye as well.
June and July are also the months of the king salmon and chum salmon, and with each passing day the run builds until its peak in early July. The rivers of the Bristol Bay region seem to be custom-made for the two-handed rod enthusiast, with long, mid-depth runs that have very even flows. Rapidly catching on in many watersheds of the region, Spey fishing for king salmon could be considered the ultimate challenge, with ocean-fresh fish regularly running into the 40lb+ range eager to eat flies on the swing. Choice patterns include Stinger Prawns, Pink Rockstars, and Guide Intruders in various colors. The last day of July marks the official closing of the king salmon sport fishery in Bristol Bay.
Late Summer: August and September
There are fishable numbers of coho by mid-August, and by September the run is in full swing. Coho are responsive to many different groups of flies, and the angler-in-the-know will have a wide selection, including top water patterns like Popper Wogs, streamers such as the Chartreuse/White Clouser and Pink Half-n-Half, and dead-drift flies such as Hareball Leeches and Coho Kryptonite.
Be sure to check out our Run Timing Chart for a comprehensive look at the fishing season in Bristol Bay.