The Alagnak River is a
wonderful float trip because of the abundant wildlife, excellent
water quality, good hiking and wide open scenery. This river is known as one of
the best fishing streams in all of Alaska. It has 5 species of
salmon as well as lake trout, char, rainbow
trout, pike and grayling.
The many pools and confluences make it perfect for the fly fisher. Also known
as the Branch River, this designated Wild and Scenic River flows starts at
Kukaklek Lake in the northernmost part of Katmai National Park and flows 75
miles to the Kvichak River (pronounced kwee-jack). This river is defined by
sockeye salmon and brown bears. By mid July the river is full of fish and they
will be all the way up river into the lake and the mouths of the streams. A few
weeks later, as the sockeye change to spawning colors, the streams flowing into
the river look like red dye bleeding into the lake. The abundance of sockeye
salmon make this river rich bear habitat. Brown bears are very abundant around
the lake and along the entire stretch of river. On one trip in late July we saw
48 bears in 3 days. At this time of year they will be an everyday sight on the
ridges above the river, walking the game trails along the shore, fishing in the
shallows and rapids and swimming across the river. Kukaklek Lake is an excellent
place for observing bears due to its long views and diverse habitat. From our
camps on the lake shore we have seen bears fishing in the creeks, grazing on
plants and berries on the tundra, and pulling fish from the waves as they walk
the beaches. We have seen sows nursing their cubs and boars attack and eat
smaller bears. Some times the bears at Kukaklek Lake, after tiring of salmon
flesh, will swim out to the islands and feed on gull eggs and chicks. The clouds
of swarming gulls overhead note the exact location of the bears.
The river flows
southwest from the lake and for a few miles is slow with many side sloughs and
grassy shallows. The pike fishing here is good but can be excellent in the
spring during the out migration of the salmon smolt. The lake trout will also be
abundant and extremely aggressive at this time of year. The river soon
into a well defined gorge and for the next 20 miles is characterized by class 2
swift water with frequent rapids. For the first 5 miles the river flows through
open tundra benches with long views of the river valley and continued excellent
hiking. The current is swift with some whitewater riffles. Caribou herds are
common along the ridges above the river and the bleached-white antlers sheds dot
the brown tundra. The rainbow trout on this stretch are large and abundant and
typically eager to take a fly. The river then leaves the tundra behind as it
enters a spruce forest. The current increases forming small rapids and boulder
gardens. At about mile 15 the river enters a narrow gorge with a class 2 – 3
rapid. This rapid can be very challenging at high water levels and would be very
difficult to portage. At mile 18, the Nonvianuk River joins the Alagnak from the
From the Nonvianuk confluence, the river broadens and the current diminishes to class 1. For the next 17 miles, the river braids considerably forming many grassy, willow covered islands. Groups of boats need to stick together in this section as it very easy to be separated for a day or more. Sweepers are another hazard here in the small channels. The islands and sloughs here are perfect habitat for rainbow trout, char and grayling. Silver salmon, pink salmon, chum salmon and king salmon begin to appear now depending on the time of year and become more frequent as you float down. Every even year, the pink salmon runs are enormous and can overpower other fishing at times. Brown bears are common on this stretch as they fish the banks and swim the channels between islands. These islands offer great protection for sow bears with cubs so they often use the tall grass on the islands for day beds or to pass to night. Old native fish camps and hunting and trapping cabins will be seen at many places along the river and some are quite interesting and worth the time to visit. Although the river flows through broken spruce forest and is heavily vegetated along its banks, hikers can quickly get up to the surrounding tundra benches for good views and nice walks on game trails or to explore small lakes.
At about mile 35 the
river widens and forms a single channel as it winds its way to the Kvichak.
Three fishing lodges are located on a short stretch of river here. Their jet
boats fish the sloughs and pools on the river and occasionally they travel up
river to a spike camp below the Nonvianuk confluence. King and silver salmon
fishing is excellent in this lower river as is evident by the native fish camps
and salmon drying racks. A few miles before the river joins the Kvichak river,
lovely grassy marshes appear along the river banks. These are tidal marshes
indicating that the river is now influenced by the ocean and will rise and fall
suddenly with the tides from Bristol Bay 13 miles away. Use caution when camping
along the river here or your camp may float away in the night as happened to me
on my first trip on the Alagnak.
I recommend starting
the trip by flying into Nanuktuk Creek on Kukaklek Lake and setting a camp here
for 2 days of hiking and fishing. On the third day we paddle along the lake
shore to the mouth and begin our float down the Alagnak. If hiking and exploring
are the objectives we can fly out from the river at an old native cabin above
the lodges or for more fishing we can continue down to a point near the Kvichak
RIVER DATA: Floating distance 45 miles. Minimum 5 days.
ROUTE: From Anchorage, the first leg of the trip will be a commercial flight by jet or commuter prop plane to the town of King Salmon 200 miles SW of Anchorage. In King Salmon we will charter DeHavilland Beavers that will take off from the Naknek River to drop us off at Kukaklek Lake after an hour long flight across the open tundra of the Alaska Peninsula. We will spend a few days along the lakeshore for hiking and fishing before paddling down to the mouth of the river and beginning our float trip. Our pickup will be by beaver on the lower Alagnak River then a charter flight 45 minutes back to King Salmon.
WEATHER: Summer weather in this part of the Alaska Peninsula is relatively mild. Temperature may range from as high as 80 degrees on calm, sunny days to the low 50s F on cloudy days. Beginning in mid to late August you can expect freezing temperatures on clear, calm nights warming to the 60s or 70s the following day. By mid September, daytime temperatures can dip to near freezing and snow can be expected anytime. This region receives 25 to 30 inches of precipitation annually spread evenly throughout the year. In the summer, August and September are the rainier months. Storms are not common but when low pressure systems move through, the rain can fall for many days and the wind can be relentless.