Naknek River Salmon Fishing

Background photo by Mark Emery. Inset photo by Melissa Norris.

Nestled on the famed Naknek River in King Salmon, Alaska, Fox Bay Lodge provides the ultimate in Naknek River salmon fishing—and all of it takes place right on their home water located just steps from the lodge. You’ll appreciate the prolific salmon and rainbow trout fishing on the Naknek with 35 miles of thriving river running from Naknek Lake to Kvichak Bay. Whether you come for Bristol Bay world-class fishing or to experience the wonders of the area, which include everything from the famous fishing bruins of the Brooks River to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Fox Bay Lodge will be your welcoming home during your Alaska vacation. Owners Jerry and Susan Klassen, along with their private chef and experienced guides, are here to host your adventure and share their love of Alaska’s Naknek River with guests.

If Jerry Klassen had a theme song it would be an abbreviated version of Luke Bryan’s “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day” and that’s the song he cranked while driving us the six miles to the lodge after greeting my husband Wayne and I at the airport. Along the way Jerry treated us to a Fox Bay Lodge digital photo show on the television monitor in his SUV. It’s a great way to wet your whistle for what’s to come and a nice introduction to getting to know your jovial host.

The plan was to get to the lodge, drop bags, grab our waders and head out to fish right away. Jerry walked us in to the main lodge and we were immediately impressed. They had recently rebuilt the entire main lodge, much of it by Jerry’s own hand, and it is simply stunning. The Klassens have excellent taste, used quality materials and made the lodge very welcoming. The kitchen features upper-end appliances shipped from Anchorage and dark beams across 14-foot ceilings. 

Although fishing was on everyone’s mind it was hard to tear away from the lodge because there was so much to see. Somehow we managed to head back to our cabin to grab what we needed and along the way noticed the meandering creek running through the property. In the cabin we were immediately distracted by the king-sized mattress we don’t think either of us have seen at a lodge before. Jerry promised we’d like the mattresses they had just upgraded, as well as the fresh-baked cookies waiting for us in our cabin.

Jumping back in the SUV, Jerry drove us down to the launch spot on the river. The lodge itself is located on a section of the river heading towards the lake near Rapid’s Camp, but they have a boat dock, gear shed and processing.

Graham began to attach a lure to a snap swivel. I asked what kind of lures they were because I hadn’t seen them before. “We make these ourselves,” Graham said, “and they work really well.” They looked good. They were light but had some weight and balance to them, the blades spun well and they cast well, too, as I soon learned.

It was only a couple casts into our day before the first fish hit. It’s my rod, yay! I fight the coho calmly, as I still wanted a few chrome salmon to end up in our smoker. Gills cut, photos snapped, in the box it goes. Jerry hooks up next, then Wayne is on the board and pretty soon after a few resets on the drift, we’ve got 10 fish in the boat. Regulations are generous for the Naknek: 5 coho per day, 5 in possession. A couple more and we call it a day, not wanting to take more than we need. When silvers are around and feel like biting you can sometimes make short work of it.

Silver salmon fishing on the Naknek is a blast and we saw a steady burst of fish that were healthy and chrome while we were there in the third week of August this past summer. The Naknek offers some of the earliest silver fishing in Bristol Bay, with the run typically beginning around the last week of July or first week of August and seeing its peak around the second week of August. We came at the tail-end of the peak and still saw plenty of nice fish.

Silver Salmon fishing

Photo by Melissa Norris.

This style of fishing is nice and easy. Coho are a fish species suitable for everyone from beginner to expert. People love fishing for silvers because they leap and jump and run up- and downriver, plus they are delicious. Once you get the hang of timing the cast so as to work in succession with the other anglers onboard, you just need to cast to the bank and retrieve the lure at a medium speed, casting towards ten o’clock, retrieving by two o’clock and then let it hang for just a second longer. Anyone can do it with practice.

This is actually a perfect trip to bring your spouse if they have been on the fence about going with you to an Alaska lodge before. Some lodges cater to hardcore fishermen or elite purist fly fishers and that can intimidate some, but that isn’t the attitude at Fox Bay Lodge. It’s a very welcoming place with people who make everyone feel invited. The Klassens are excited when couples book and enjoy hosting families. I asked Jerry why he bought the lodge and he told me to bring families together that don’t get to spend enough time with one another in their busy day-to-day life.

The trip for us was so much more than just fishing. It was the first time my husband and I had been away together overnight since our daughter was born over three years ago. We couldn’t have asked for a more inviting place to stay for this sweet getaway and we were so happy to spend it with the Klassens. Jerry, with his infectious laugh, is perpetually in good humor. He’s a smart man who has worked hard in the construction, architecture, building planning and management industry. Now he enjoys time with his lifelong sweetheart Susan, their kids and grandkids, doing what they love. Jerry spends each summer at the lodge from April through October. Susan stays for several months at a time as well.

King Salmon is a tight community; all the locals know each other. In small towns like this it can be hard to be an out-of-stater, but not for the Klassens. It could be the 18 years Jerry has spent year after year coming up to fish the area, but I think it has more to do with the kindness and generosity that surrounds their interactions with people. Most people have a wave and a hello for Jerry and Susan and their longtime guides told me they wouldn’t be contracting for very many people, but they sure do respect Jerry and Susan. Another local King Salmon resident had actually contacted us originally and recommended we write this story about the Klassens, such is their reputation in the area.

Fox Bay Lodge entrusts two longtime, experienced fishing guides in the area who utilize traditional fishing methods with conventional gear that’s easy for everyone to use. The father and son team of Mike and Graham drive the boats and help put visitors on fish. Most days you’ll also find Jerry out on one of the boats “fish’n and lov’n every day.” Jerry has known Mike and Graham for all the years he’s been fishing the Naknek and hired them to guide him year after year that he came to visit. Now that he’s a permanent fixture in King Salmon, he offers their Naknek River salmon fishing services through the lodge in an all-inclusive fishing package and he knows that guests will be treated courteously and catch fish.

Fox Bay Lodge offers an Alaskan experience so ultimate it will stay with you forever. It turns out to be an affordable, all-inclusive lodge experience without the added expense of fly-outs. If you want to venture outside of King Salmon to some of the area’s elite trout rivers, that is also an option, and worth the extra expense if you’ve already come this far.

Best Alaska fishing lodge_Fox Bay Lodge

Photo by Mark Emery.

Last, I have to give a shout out to chef Joe, who really went out of his way for me. I eat a pescatarian diet and have for more than 10 years. I don’t like to make too big of deal out of it when I visit folks on behalf of the magazine. Most likely fish is on the menu and that always works for me. I forgot to mention it ahead of time to Jerry and when we arrived he specifically asked me, so I shared my preferences. Visiting many lodges around the state over the years I have seen some lodge chefs visibly stressed from the added detail that I don’t eat meat, but I watched Joe handle it effortlessly as he whipped up a sautéed vegetable sandwich to send out with me—and it was so yummy. He packed a grilled salmon sandwich on a bagel in the cooler the next day and I was impressed both times by these unique options.

The second day of silver fishing was a little slower than the first. We pulled stakes at a hole that was producing but nobody was hard up for fish so a river tour to the lake became part of the agenda. We ran up and down, touring the beautiful Naknek on this sunny day in late August. The silver fishing had peaked and the river was taking a break between wild and tough coho and the fat, torpedo-shaped rainbows that are world-famous in this drainage for busting past the 30-inch mark. It was a perfectly relaxing day of Naknek River salmon fishing.

Late in the night after our day on the river, snuggled next to my spouse, I am somewhere between dreaming and awake. “Did you hear that noise?” Wayne asked. “What is that?”

“It’s a bear,” I mumble, because what else could it be? The sound came again and continued getting louder, and we realized the bear was wailing on the metal lid trying to get in the bear-proof trash. We heard chef Joe shout at the bear to go away. A few minutes later all was quiet. Jerry was right; this is a great mattress, I thought as I drifted off.

We’ve been out to the Naknek a bunch of times. It’s always a pleasure Naknek River salmon fishing and this short trip for silvers turned into making new friends and getting some much-needed time as a couple. On the PenAir flight on the way back to Anchorage I watched an older Alaska Native woman take our magazine from the seatback in front of her and read it from cover to cover. I was content as I witnessed the way she paged forward to read a section, jumped around and read some more, ultimately reading most of the August/September issue on her way to Anchorage. As I watched, I reflected about how great our lives are making Fish Alaska, and about how people touch each other’s lives. And I thought about making another journey for Naknek River salmon fishing to reunite with our new, old friends at Fox Bay Lodge.


Melissa Norris is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Fish Alaska.