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The Situk River: A Steelhead Anglers Dream

Situk River CleaverA beautiful spring steelhead caught by Sara Cleaver. Photo by Nate Catterson. The 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. 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, Alaska, the Situk River 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 trout 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. 
Situk Map UpdatedSituk River Map
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.

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.

Fishing the Situk River Options
FourA typical day's float of the Situk River requires a full day and drift boat. OPTION #1 -
Day float of the lower 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. 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.
ThreeBeautiful Spring Steelhead.OPTION #2 -
Eagle and Raven Cabins. The U.S. Forest Service has two cabins located on the river that are public use, all you need to do is rent them. You can access them by either a hike or float in basis from the 9 Mile Bridge and fish the area around the cabins. The cabins about 3.5 miles down from the 9 mile bridge, view rentals here. The two cabins 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.
FivePack rafts, pontoon boats, and inflatables are ideal for a multi day float of the Situk River.OPTION #3 -
Multi-day float. For this option, you can bring your own tent 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.
TwelveA typical log jam you may encounter. Be prepared to pull out and hike if necessary. OPTION #4 -
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. The 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.
SevenCamp platforms located at the 9 mile bridge, perfect for the DIY angler.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. 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!
Nine CampsiteCampsite overview for the 9 mile bridge public use area. 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. 
TenAnother blushing spring steelhead. Photo by Nate Catterson. OPTION #5 -
One last option for fishing the Situk on foot is to head to the drift 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 the river each day, all you need to worry about is fly gear.
SixPrime example of a crisp spring day on the Situk.Yakutat's ever changing weather
When it comes to fishing the Situk River,  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!

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. The 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.

Gear & Accessories for your trip
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!
Fly List for a Week on the Situk River  
  • Dolly Llamas #2 (Buy these in bulk!)
  • Liquid Wrench
  • Garcia Glo Bug
  • Swinging flies - Signature Intruder, Dirty Hoh
Bead list for a week on the Situk River -
  • TroutBead TB Peggz Clear
  • Owner Cutting Point #2 Hooks OR Gamakatsu C14S #2
  • Split Shot- BB & 3/0
  • ¾” Thingamabobbers or Air Lock Indicators
  • Mottled Troutbeads - Blush, Cerise and Orange Clear 10mm & 12mm
  • Disco Ball Beads - Hot Cherry Roe, Lemon, Hot Pink 12mm or 14mm
View Full Gear List
For more information on lodging and housing, car rentals, float boats, and general Yakutat information, visit http://www.yakutatalaska.com/,

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