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Alaska's Premier Fly Fishing Source

The Situk River

By Kayla Roys
saracleaverThe fish of a thousand casts. A legendary and ghost-like species that demands hours of patient and relentless pursuit. Fishing for days on huge rivers that look like they may not hold a single fish. For many anglers these are the images that come to mind when they think of steelhead.
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But there is a place where it is different. Where wild fish by the thousands storm into a stream you can cast all the way across. Where you can actually see steelhead holding in large numbers. Where the opportunity to catch multiple fish in a single day is not unreasonable. That place is the Situk River in Alaska. 

Located near the small community of Yakutat, the Situk is a unique and prolific river even by Alaska standards. With 4 species of wild salmon, the largest wild steelhead run in Alaska, resident Rainbows, Cutthroat and Dolly Varden, its no wonder so many anglers venture from far and wide to fish it. As an added bonus, access is as simple and inexpensive as it gets in Alaska. There are two daily 737 Alaska Airlines flights in and out of Yakutat, which makes access from other Southeast towns, Seattle and Anchorage very easy. 

While there is excellent fishing for salmon in the Situk River, in this article we’ll keep our focus on the steelhead runs. The Situk gets both a spring and fall/winter run of wild steelhead. The spring steelhead run typically begins mid March, really picks up speed the last week of April and tapers off by mid to late May. The fall run typically begins in November, these fall run steelhead travel through the Situk River and into Situk Lake to over winter and spawn along with the spring runs in May.3rd

Over the last fifteen years, on average 8500 Wild Steelhead have returned to the Situk River annually, spawned, and returned back out to sea. There is a weir set up on the lower Situk River, that counts out-migrating steelhead between the beginning of May and the end of June. 

Compared to most west coast steelhead rivers the Situk River is relatively small with alders and trees overhanging the river banks, log jam filled runs, and shallow depths. The Situk averages about 90 feet wide and three feet deep, with holes as deep as 12 feet. It is an entirely wadeable river, and because of its relatively small size it is the perfect place for anglers of all abilities.

There are several options when it comes to fishing the Situk River for Spring Steelhead. 

First, you can do a day float of the Situk River, either guided or unguided, from the 9 mile bridge down to the lower boat launch. The float is 13.5 miles, taking at least 6-8 hours with good water flows (200-600 CFS). This option allows you to cover the most water, but due to the need to complete the long float, you cannot linger.4th If water flow levels are low (90-175 CFS), the float could take you anywhere from 10-13 hours. The advantage of floating is the ability to get away from the crowds and cover a lot of water. Once you float past the Situk River Forest Service Cabins (about 3.5 miles down from the 9 mile bridge) the foot access trail disappears and you have a lot of river miles to yourself. You should plan on fishing from sunrise to sunset when floating the Situk River.  

If you are interested in floating the Situk River, there are a few operations in Yakutat that rent drift boats, or you can bring your own pack raft or pontoon boat with you. A couple of the places who rent drift boats in Yakutat can be accessed here. Often times, if you are staying at a private lodge or bed and breakfast in Yakutat, those facilities will allow you access to drift boats as well.

Another option is to rent one of the U.S. Forest Service cabins located on the river. Then either hike down or float from the 9 Mile Bridge and fish the area around the cabins. The Forest Service has two cabins about 3.5 miles down from the 9 mile bridge that you can rent here. The two cabins are the Eagle and Raven Cabin and they book up quickly for the very popular April-May season. You can book your cabin reservations up to 6 months in advance and the cabins often fill exactly 6 months out.

Another option for a multi-day float, is to bring your own tents and camp supplies and find a safe place to camp for the night, and continue on the next day. With this choice, you are on your own in ways of food, water, shelter, etc. for the night. If you are amenable to camping in foul weather in wilderness areas, this option gets you the most solitude. If you do decide to camp riverside, we suggest you bring bear/animal protection, and store your food safely at night.

If floating the river is not in the plans, the Situk has great foot access. You can access the Upper Situk River by hiking from the 9 mile bridge upstream or hiking to Situk Lake and fishing your way back downstream. There is a semi-maintained trail that travels riverside from the 9 mile Bridge all the way to Situk Lake. There is a stretch of river about 2 miles up from the 9 Mile Bridge that is an active steelhead spawning area. It is closed to fishing and you should avoid wading it so as not to damage reds or harass the fish. 5The hike in option is great for anglers who are looking for easily accessible fishing, and enjoy exploring for wild steelhead. Be aware that fishing the Situk from the 9 mile bridge up involves traveling and fishing through some fairly rigorous terrain. One, if not more, river crossings, endless log jams, and terrain that requires a reasonably fit angler are the name of the game.
There is a trail leading from the 9 mile bridge downstream to the Eagle and Raven Cabins. The nature of the river down from the 9 mile bridge is entirely different from that above the 9 mile bridge.

Down river there are long stretches of fast riffles that don’t hold fish followed by pockets of steelhead.6 Much of the trail is on a steep hill side 20-50 feet above the river so scampering up and down is frequent. The water begins to deepen and become slightly swifter, so crossing the river is done less frequently, and more carefully. When you do have access to the river from the trail, you are often fishing under alders, with less gravel bars to fish from. Fishing from the 9 mile bridge down to the Eagle and Raven cabins tends to be more difficult for anglers on foot, but the rewards can be great!

There is also a campground located at the 9 mile bridge, for those anglers who prefer a ‘Do it Yourself’ experience over staying in a lodge. The campground is run on a first come - first serve basis with 6 full campsite areas, one picnic area, and one outdoor toilet. The campsites are well designed for tent camping in soggy weather. They are equipped with a wood platform to keep you out of the mud and a framework for hanging tarps over your tent and cooking area. 

One last option for fishing the Situk on foot is to head to the drift9 boat take-out. You are close to the mouth of the Situk at this point, so the water is larger, and reading it becomes a bit more difficult, but if you are fishing near the take-out on an incoming tide, it is possible to catch some dime bright, hot steelhead just pushing into the Situk. If you get lucky and get a batch of incoming steelhead these fish can often be more aggressive than those that have traveled the 13.5 miles upstream.
Now that you know the lay of the land, you can begin planning your trip supply list. If you are planning on staying at one of the lodges in Yakutat, renting a car, and commuting to and from the11 river each day, all you need to worry about is fly gear. 

Your ideal gear list for one week on the Situk River:

-Fishing Licence
-Fly Rod - Switch or Single handed (7-9wt)
-Reel - Rigged with weight forward floating fly line. If you are fishing above 9 Mile Bridge this is likely the only line you will need.
-Spare spool with a sink tip line or Versi-Tip (this is a good idea especially if fishing the middle and lower river)
-Salmon/Steelhead tapered leader & matching tippet
-Nippers
-Polarized sunglasses 
-Headlamp 10
-Wateproof backpack/hip pack for hiking 
-Refillable water bottle
-Hemostats or pliers
-Flies (twice as many as you think you'll need)
-Steelhead beads & pegs
-Strike indicator
-Split Shot
-Bear spray
-Flask with your favorite riverside warm-up 

When it comes to fishing the Situk River, 7 it is possible to get perfect flows, overcast skies, and no wind.... if you are living in a dream world.  In reality, you will more than likely get rained on, snowed on, hailed on, sunny days, and bugs like you can’t believe, so you need to come prepared for anything. That means Gore-Tex outer layers, synthetic mid layers and, wool or fleece base layers. One major thing to remember about fishing the springtime in Southeast Alaska, is that the weather is unpredictable and you never want to get caught outside in nothing but your blue jeans and cotton t-shirt, because you will never get warm and dry after that… Cotton kills!

Your ideal clothing list for one week on the Situk River:
-1 pair of Gore-Tex Waders (Simms G4 Waders are suggested due to bushwhacking, log jams, etc.)
-1 pair of rubber soled wading boots (No felt bottoms!)
-The absolute best Gore-Tex wading jacket you can afford.
-2 next to skin synthetic shirts
-2 fleece or wool sweaters
-2 pairs of long underwear- synthetic
-1 pairs warm fleece pants
-4-5 pairs of wool or synthetic socks (You can never have too many!) 12
-1 pair ‘camp pants’
-2 ‘camp shirts’
-1 pair ‘camp shoes’
-Clean underwear (as many as you feel necessary for a week on the water)
-2 pair of gloves (fingerless and full-gloves, chemical hand warmers are nice, too)
-Stocking cap - wool or fleece beanie
-Your lucky fishing ball cap

One thing to note while planning your spring steelheading adventure on the Situk; if the city of Yakutat has had a snow-wealthy winter, it is possible that you won’t be able to reach the river at all. 8The gravel road leading to the 9 mile bridge isn’t plowed during the winter. Road crews wait for spring and start plowing. That being said, if you get snowed out you can still fish Tawah Creek and Lost River in the Yakutat area for cutthroat trout.

As you begin deciding what flies and beads to tie or buy before your trip, it will be good to check out the river flows. If the water is running high, you will want to bring extra split shot, a fast sink tip line and heavy flies. If the water levels are low, you will want to bring smaller flies or beads, with nymphing in mind. If you are not sure bring both!

Your Ideal Fly List for a week on the Situk River: 15

-Dolly Llama- Black & White #2 (Buy these in bulk!)
-Dolly LLama- Purple & Pink #2
-Signature Intruder- Gothic, Purple #2
-L.E. Egg Sucking Leech- Purple #2, Black #2
-Squidro- Pink & Orange
-Squidro- Black & Chartreuse
-Garcia Sculpin
-Glo Bug- Garcia
-Glo Bug- Chartreuse & Cerise
-Polar Caballero- Pink
-Polar Caballero- Orange
-Money Bug- Aleutian Queen 14
-Money Bug- Psychedelic
-Baranof Bomber- Psychedelic
-Sitkoh Prince
-Copper Swan- Red, Silver, Chartreuse or Black

Your ideal bead list for a week on the Situk River:
-Trout Bead TB Pegs Clear
-Owner Cutting Point #4 Hooks OR Gamakatsu C14S #4
-Split Shot- BB & 3/0
-¾” Thingamabobbers Pack
-AFFG Nail Polish Steelhead Bead 10mm, 12mm or 14mm
-AFFG Cosmic Red Steelhead Bead 10mm, 12mm or 14mm
-Mottled Trout beads- Blush, Cerise and Orange Clear 10mm, 12mm or 14mm
-Disco Ball- Hot Cherry Roe 12mm or 14mm
-Disco Ball- Lemon Roe 12mm or 14mm
-Disco Ball- Hot Pink 12mm or 14mm
-Disco Ball- Dark Roe 12mm or 14mm
-Trout Beads Glow Beads- Chartreuse, Frosted and Bubblegum 10mm, 12mm, or 14mm

For more information on lodging and housing, car rentals, float boats, and general Yakutat information, visit http://www.yakutatalaska.com/, https://situkriver.wordpress.com/, and
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/regulations/fishregulations/PDFs/southeast/2014SEYakutat.pdf.

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