When people think of fishing in Bristol Bay, the focus always falls on the huge trophy Rainbow Trout that can be found here, and for good reason. Any day you have a chance of hooking into a 15+ pound rainbow is a good day in my book. But behind the scenes, the sockeye salmon are the true stars of the show. They are the reason that the giant trout exist in the first place.
The eggs laid by female sockeye are the perfect food to create such large rainbow trout. After spawning, the salmon die and their bodies provide additional sustenance for the trout throughout the winter.
We have the opportunity to fish for all 5 salmon species here in Bristol Bay. The small but numerous pinks, colorful and powerful chums, the aggressive and incredibly fast silver salmon, and the massive kings. By far, the most numerous and important are the sockeye. Every year, close to 50 million of these fish return to the Bay; between 3 and 6 million of them swim up the Kvichak, right in front of our dock.
Fishing for sockeye is a unique challenge. They are a filter feeder by nature, not prone to chase down flies. A seasoned guide will be able to show you the special gear and techniques for getting one on the line. When you do, hold on tight! Pound for pound, sockeye are the hardest fighting salmon out there. Once hooked, they go crazy with run after line-stripping run. Frequent jumps can send them spinning end over end out of the water. When landed, they make a fantastic shore lunch.
Sport fishing and trout meals aren’t the only things that sockeye are good for. They serve to drive many aspects of the Alaskan food chain. If you have ever visited Brooks Camp at Katmai National Park, you’ll know that sockeye (along with other salmon species) are a main source of nutrition to fatten up our resident brown bears for a long winter. After the bears and trout are finished with the sockeye, whatever is left becomes a natural fertilizer for the entire region.
Everything in Bristol Bay works the way it does because of this one fish and its yearly migration. We invite you to visit to the lodge and try to catch one for yourself!
(Additional photos courtesy of Chris Rose and Matt Jones)