Written by: Chris Morgan, www.twosherpas.com
My good friend, Mike, has traveled to Alaska for more than twenty-five years to float and fish various rivers in the state’s southwestern region. Over time, he’s focused in on the Kanektok river as his favorite and has taken friends on trips there for over a decade. I’d always had a good reason not to make it on these adventures, but since he claimed this year’s trip was to be his last, I decided it was time to go.
In early July, a group of twenty-five of us from Utah traveled to Anchorage and on to Dillingham. From there, we were ferried on two vintage Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft to Pegati Lake, where began our eleven-day float. The Kanektok flows west from the lake for over one hundred miles through the Togiak National Wildlife refuge, past our pullout at the Yupik village of Quinhagak, and on to the Bering Sea.
For the first few days, we floated through the trackless Ahklun Mountains and initially focused our efforts on sockeye salmon. As the days passed, the mountains gave way to flat tundra, and the numbers and variety of fish increased. By mid-trip, we were catching four species of salmon—there were no silvers in the river yet—as well as grayling, Dolly Varden, arctic char, and “leopard” rainbows. The quantity and diversity of the fish in the river were simply awe inspiring. Overall, we had excellent weather with some rain at the beginning and end of the float. Mike and others said it was the best weather they’d ever encountered on the river.
The most unbelievable part of our float happened at the very end of the trip. As we approached our pullout in Quinhagak, I made one final cast and felt a strong tug on my little silver flash-fly. What I initially thought was a snag ended up being a 50-pound King salmon. After a short time we successfully landed her, took some photos, and sent her on her way. It was a wonderful capstone to a trip full of memories of good friends, great scenery, and spectacular fish.
Chris Morgan is a former fighter pilot turned filmmaker living in northern Utah. You can find him online at www.twosherpas.com and on Instagram @chris_twosherpas.