Bristol Bay Big Fish Stories from 2022
Story by Meghan Barker
Following a record-breaking 2022 sockeye salmon season, we checked in with Trout Unlimited Save Bristol Bay Guide Ambassadors and other friends to hear their big fish stories for Bristol Bay. Thanks to clean water and endless, healthy fish habitat, Bristol Bay produces some massive fish. But sometimes it’s not the biggest fish, but the people we fish with, or seeing the scale of wilderness in southwest Alaska, that burns a memory in our hearts and minds. These stories have been transcribed from recordings submitted by each angler
-Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited
I have fished the Kvichak and the Naknek and many of the other rivers around Bristol Bay for at least 16 years and every year I would catch a rainbow trout in the 28- to 29-inch range, but I never was able to crack the elusive 30-inch barrier until this past trip. On the Naknek, I hooked this fish all the way across the river. As soon as I set the hook, I saw him come out of the water and I knew just how big he was. We managed to ferry across the water while I very tenuously held my rod and thought about the strength of my last knot. We managed to get the boat across the river to where the fish ran and I was finally able to get out of the boat and land this fish. When we first put it in the box it was 29½ inches. But then, by an act of faith, the fish relaxed and lengthened out to 30 inches. Now I can honestly say that I was lying for all those years when I said I didn’t care that I had never caught a 30-incher.
I just got back from an amazing coho-fishing season in Togiak, Alaska. My big fish story for the season isn’t necessarily about my biggest fish, but probably the coolest accomplishment I had for the season. Towards the end of the season, we had some really crazy bad weather and the river blew out. It was muddy and there were giant logs floating down the river and we were all questioning whether it would even be fishable. But we went out anyways, and if you could find clean water, there were still fish just stacked up, ready to bite. I got to come back from a really, really tough day of fishing with limits of silvers for my clients. That was really cool. It’s just a reminder of what an absolutely incredible fishery Bristol Bay is. If the river was blown out like that in any other state in the Pacific Northwest, we would cancel all trips. Here, we could still go out and catch limits with clients. That day was one of my coolest experiences for the season and potentially ever as a guide, and I’m happy to share it with you all.
-Kylie Vroman, Togiak River Lodge, Save Bristol Bay Guide Ambassador
For my big fish story this year, I had three clients. We were rainbow trout fishing out of the boat with single-hand fly rods and streamers and it was a high-water year. I knew where the fish were and the sink-tips we had on weren’t getting deep enough to where I knew these fish hold. So, I experimented and put a spey tip on one client’s rod. The fly was just getting a little deeper. I thought to myself, this water looks like it did in 2015. So, I grabbed a fly out of my box that I hadn’t used in seven- or eight years with this single-hand spey-tip setup and the whole thing was an experiment. On that client’s second cast, we hooked and landed a 34-inch rainbow trout! That was the biggest rainbow I’d ever guided a client to in my whole career. It ended up being a super-great day.
-Alexia Paige, Gold Creek Lodge, Save Bristol Bay Guide Ambassador.
In 2021, I was able to do some consulting work for Kulik Lodge, enhancing their Emergency Management protocols. Rather than taking payment for the job, I swapped out my services for a 2022 lodge visit during the September sockeye egg drop. While I offered my wife the chance to accompany me, she told me that she was sure I’d have a lot more fun fishing with my regular fishing partner, Glenn Nielsen. Best friends since high school in Anchorage, we’ve spent a lot of time fishing together, in the Interior where I live and down on the Kenai closer to Glenn’s home and where he has a cabin. Revisiting Katmai and Kulik Lodge was once again a marvelous experience, fishing the Kulik River and American Creek. If there was ever a place to spend fishing time with one best friend, it’s in the pristine waters of Bristol Bay and Katmai National Park.
-Dan Hoffman, author of An Alaska Fly Fisher’s Odyssey: Seeking a Life of Drag-free Drift in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
The big fish of Bristol Bay, and the memories we make chasing them, are why southwest Alaska sits at the top of angler bucket lists in Alaska and across the country. They also give us more reasons to continue to advocate for permanent protections for the Bristol Bay region. Even though the key federal permit for the formerly proposed Pebble mine was denied in 2020, Trout Unlimited remains committed to advancing durable protections for the region so Pebble—or another mining project like it—cannot return. While the fish were coming back in record numbers this summer, we were also in the midst of a public comment period for proposed Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay. Over 500,000 comments were submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with record comment numbers from Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans supporting proposed protections. We expect a final decision by the EPA in early 2023 and will continue to pursue additive measures that will ensure greater durability of protections for the region.
Follow the effort and take action for Bristol Bay at savebristolbay.org or @savebristolbay on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Trout Unlimited’s mission is to protect, reconnect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Learn about our work in Alaska at home.tu.org/tu-programs/alaska. Meghan Barker is the Bristol Bay Organizer for Trout Unlimited