September Trip to Naknek River, 2016

Posted by Phil Lilley on October 5th, 2016
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My youngest son Greg had never been up to Naknek and I thought it was time to take him.  I hadn’t been up in 2 years–last time was with Steve Dickey in late September when we caught big bows.  But this wasn’t going to be a hard core fishing trip.  Greg doesn’t fish that much.  It was a trip to spend with him and experience Alaska in all its greatness.

We arrived at Johnson’s Katmai Trophy Lodge Monday evening, a place I hadn’t seen before.  Jim bought the lodge at the first of the season, adding it to his fishing establishments on the Naknek.  He owns Naknek River Camp at Lake Camp, located at the top of the river.  KTL is miles down river located at what they call the rapids.  It’s a log construction lodge with 5 rooms and a great room overlooking the river.  Very nice.

The next morning after a hot breakfast, Greg and I headed up river in one of their skiffs, motored by a 90 hp Johnson jet.  We passed boat after boat, anchored along side the river at various spots either close to small gravel bar points or drop offs where big bows lay.  The river has been high all summer because, according to Jim, they had not had a cold winter and the glaciers had not stopped melting for 18 months.  There were a few places to wade but very few.  Most were fishing from the boat.

We motored up to the top of the river where the lake met the river.  There’s a cabin there – Trafaunt’s Cabin.  The river is fairly deep and slow current, rock bottom where salmon, mainly sockeyes, spawn.  No wind, mid 50’s… couldn’t ask for more ideal weather.  But the bugs (white sox) found us.

We started throwing black 1/8th ounce jigs (yes the same ones we throw here on Taneycomo), 4 pound line, spinning gear.  And the rainbows loved them.  We caught close to 40 rainbows, most were 18-22 inches and up to 24 inches long.  And man did they pull!!!  There’s black leaches in the river and the jigs were the perfect lure to imitate them.


We went back down river and tried a few spots, using the chuck-n-duck method and throwing flesh and leach patterns.  We caught a few but nothing like the action at the top of the river.  He did catch a dolly which was cool…. adding to his life list of fish.


The next few days were windy and rainy so we limited our selves to short trips on the river, trying to catch the elusive 30-inch rainbow.  But all the spots were pounded by the guided boats and it was difficult to fool the big ones.

We did take a rid to Brooks by boat.  Chad Bryson, one of Jim’s guides, drove us over.  I love that boat ride!!  About 35 miles of bigness.


The rangers were still there and took us through Bear School.  I was glad because I wanted a bear pin from this year.


Walked to the bridge to cross the river on the way to the falls and… bears.  Mom and cubs mainly, two sets–and they weren’t going anywhere fast.  So we turned around and took the tougher course–through the marsh and up the river.


There was only one bear on the falls.  We watch him trying to catch a fish.  We tried to tell him there were dead ones just downstream but he didn’t listen.  The crew at our office (Lilleys’ Landing) were watching the Brooks Bear Cam at the same time we were there… we wanted to jump down and make faces in the camera but that would have gotten some attention from the rangers.


Walking back down river, we fished the cut bank.  Greg caught some sockeye on a leach which was fun for him but we were after rainbows.  I finally found a pod of them at the bottom of the section but we were out of time, scheduled to meet Chad back at the boat at 5 p.m..



I think we saw a total of 12 bears at Brooks, all big, fat and happy.

The rest of the week was more of the same.  Lots of relaxing and some fishing.  Toured Naknek (the town) and the mouth of the river at Bristol Bay.  The tide was out and the flat was so far out you couldn’t see the edge – probably 2-3 miles.  It was a low, low tide.

We didn’t take many fish pictures simply because these rainbows are very hard to hold without hurting them.  The biggest were the rainbows on the first day, and Greg mastered chuck-n-duck so that next time he’ll be ready to catch the trophy 30-incher.

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