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Iliamna Excursion at Talarik Creek Lodge

Newhalen River Dolly
A nice Dolly from the lower Newhalen River. © Melissa Norris

Day-tripping Lake Clark, the Newhalen River, and the Tazimina River

When I learned I’d be visiting Talarik Creek Lodge in early August, I realized I would be pushing a new pin in my Alaska travel map.

Lake Iliamna is located at the north end of the Alaska Peninsula in the heart of Bristol Bay, just south of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and north of Katmai National Park. With a stunning Aleutian Range backdrop, Lake Iliamna the largest body of freshwater in Alaska at about 80 miles long and 55 miles wide and it supports an abundance of coveted gamefish.

The draw of Talarik Creek Lodge is simple: The lodge provides anglers the ability to fish several famous fisheries, targeting multiple species. For me that variety always adds to the experience.

Erik Salitan with lake trout
Erik Salitan of Talarik Creek Lodge with a 36-pound lake trout from Lake Clark in summer of 2017. © Gary Stewart / Talarik Creek Lodge

Over the course of three days we fished Lake Clark, the Newhalen River, and the Tazimina River. We successfully sought lake trout and grayling in Lake Clark, rainbows in the Tazimina, and rainbows, Dollies and an August-surprise sockeye in the Newhalen.

The area is home to the world’s largest salmon fishery, which results in some of the most amazing trophy-class rainbow trout fishing in existence. Many of the lodges throughout Bristol Bay are fly-out lodges, but Talarik Creek Lodge fishes their home waters, of which there are an abundance. This cuts back on travel time and the overall cost of the trip and you still fish epic water with barely anyone around.

Had my schedule allowed me to stay longer, lodge owner Erik Salitan would have boated down Iliamna Lake to take us to Talarik Creek in search of giant rainbow trout. It was too windy in the few days I was able to visit to take on the lake, even with Erik’s custom Bentz boat, which is super stable and allows them to get to places other people can’t visit. My cover photo posing with the Iliamna Lake Monster would have to be snapped another day.

Alaska’s own Loch Ness Monster is a mythical creature drawn from Native culture, reportedly 10- to 30 feet long, that in the darker tales is said to target people fishing on the lake. With over 900 feet of depth in places on Iliamna Lake and several recent sightings, the lore’s credibility is improving. Some think Illie is a large white sturgeon, while others think it is a Pacific sleeper shark or one of the lake’s remarkable freshwater seals. Recent sightings describe several creatures traveling together.

Fishing in the Iliamna Area

With the Iliamna winds howling in force, Erik went over the angling options that remained viable. I chose trolling for lake trout on the turquoise waters of Lake Clark, part of the four-million-acre Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Erik launched the Bentz in the Newhalen and expertly guided us towards our destination.

Once on Sixmile Lake, we trolled Storm Wiggle Warts on Ugly Stik rods paired with Shimano spinning reels, finding our way into Lake Clark under the clouded majesty of the volcanic Chigmit Mountains. We caught a half-dozen lake trout of average size.

The exciting part about fishing for lake trout is although they average about 5- to 12 pounds, they can reach almost 50 pounds, and you never know when you are going to hook a big one. These big fish can be as old as 50 years so handling them for a safe release is critical. They commonly dive as soon as they are hooked, which adds to the battle. We didn’t catch any hogs that day but the week before Erik and some clients had landed a beautiful 36-pound laker they were able to photograph.

grayling
Gary shows a nice-sized grayling, healthy, and abundant in the area.

Hours later we decided to target grayling in the Newhalen River on our way back to the lodge. Casting size #4 Blue Fox Pixees did the trick as some respectable-sized grayling crushed those lures. I used a blue-bodied Pixee with a silver spinner blade. Fortunately the treble hooks were cut down to a single hook, making it easier to practice catch and release on these healthy fish. After fishing a while and catching some really nice grayling, we decided to call it a day.

Back at the lodge guide Gary Stewart had traded places with Martha so she could spend the day fishing with us. He was busy preparing a recipe we featured in Fish Alaska’s May 2017 issue originated by Chef Bobby at The Flying Machine Restaurant in The Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage. It’s a game-changing Halibut Olympia recipe that puts every other Halibut Olympia ever made to shame. Gary prepared it well and everyone had a new favorite way to eat halibut.

Talarik Creek Lodge: Iliamna Fishing

The next day we woke to more wind so we decided to head back to Lake Clark to troll for lakers and cast to grayling. After a morning similar to the day before, we decided to assemble the fly rods and test the waters of the Tazimina River.

The sun came out for a little while and the mouth of this stream proved fun with a few 20-inch leopard rainbows brought to hand while wading up to our knees. Given a longer stay I would definitely have wanted to fish the Tazimina River more.

Tazimina River
Casting near the mouth of the Tazimina River. © Melissa Norris

The Tazimina River is a clear creek teeming with rainbows, grayling, char and sockeye directly across from the village of Nondalton. Upriver are the powerful Tazimina Falls and the Tazimina River Hydro Electric Power Plant, which supplies most of the electricity to Iliamna, Newhalen, and Nondalton. Farther north are the Lower and Upper Tazimina Lakes, accessible by floatplane for what is said to be excellent grayling fishing. The riverbank is sprinkled with overhanging sweepers making for eco-rich trout habitat.

On day three we planned to fish the lower Newhalen. We drove on one of the few gravel roads that make travel in the area possible. Erik launched the boat in the village of Newhalen so we could fish from the Newhalen Gorge and drift towards the mouth of the river where it meets Lake Iliamna.

We were able to get out and fish from the beach in addition to trying several drifts before powering back up for a couple more. Both bank fishing and drifting proved fruitful and the group caught some nice Dollies and rainbows on a variety of Eppinger lures I had brought.

The Eppinger Devil Eyes was a hot ticket as was the hammered-nickel blue-and-red-hued Daredevle we tried. Gary even picked up a rogue chrome sockeye that are abundant in the area, but it was slightly past time you’d expect to see them. Fishing was good that day and we saw some respectable trout and char for this time of year.

Best Time of Year to Visit Iliamna

I visited in early August and was able to fish for a variety of species. The region is home to all five variations of Pacific salmon, as well as the resident species of trout and char, grayling, lake trout and Northern pike.

Lake Clark grayling
Erik and Martha hold a Lake Clark grayling.

If you go earlier in the year, from mid-June to late July, you’ll be able to fish for king salmon, my favorite salmon to fish for and eat. Coming in late June you’ll also have a chance at the world’s largest sockeye run and they can be found through early August. 2017 did not disappoint, with a whopping 56.5 million inshore sockeye reported, the second highest run in the last 20 years.

You can go out to Talarik Creek Lodge in June or July and easily harvest some of the finest fish on the planet to take home to your table. Pinks and chum salmon are around in July and early August—the latter month also brings the silvers.

The trout, Dollies, grayling, lake trout, and pike are found in abundance throughout the whole season so you can’t miss when planning your multi-species quest to Iliamna.

People choose Iliamna for the plethora of choices, world-class rainbow fishing, unparalleled sockeye numbers, and the complete remoteness of the area.

People choose Talarik Creek Lodge for their guest-driven program aimed at seeing you experience the trip you want. Their homey atmosphere, deep love of Alaska, and unpretentious attitudes make for a comfortable place to relax on your journey into the wilderness.

Staying at Talarik Creek Lodge

Erik Salitan, a sardonic grin permanently fixed on his face, was exactly as I thought he’d be, and upon meeting him I could tell we were going to have fun.

Talarik Creek Lodge
Talarik Creek Lodge overlooks Iliamna Lake. © Talarik Creek Lodge

When I first started working with Erik I learned that he and his wife Martha had been part of Life Below Zero, a television show depicting the lifestyles of individuals living in remote Alaska on the National Geographic Channel. Curious, I searched Google for their show and watched a clip of Erik telling the story of how he asked Martha Mae to marry him. Erik and Martha are as Alaskan as they come and the story involved baiting and submerging an ice hook with an engagement ring.

Erik bought Talarik Creek lodge in 2014. He is a registered hunting guide, experienced pilot, and has owned a hunting guide business called Bushwack Alaska Guiding & Outfitting since 1998. He also co-owns Blanchard Family Funeral Home in Fairbanks. Having lived in Alaska for all his adult life, he and Martha split their time between Wiseman, AK, and Iliamna. He’s completely self-made and lives off the land. Working hard and making his way comes natural to him. Erik is the kind of intelligent, tenacious, self-motivated person you want by your side in the wilderness.

Newhalen River rainbow trout
This chrome-bright rainbow was caught on the Newhalen in August 2017. © Melissa Norris

Martha Salitan was born and raised in Iliamna and is no stranger to sport-fishing lodges, having worked at her parent’s lodge her entire life. Her role is to manage the operations at Talarik Creek Lodge, cooking delicious meals and seeing to each guest’s needs. Everything was clean and neat under Martha’s care. When I was there she got to take a break from the day-to-day operations to show her true colors, proving to be as much as an outdoor enthusiast as anyone else there.

The lodge itself is spacious with grand views from its perch over Iliamna Lake. Dining is a treat, as the lodge staff serves high-quality cuisine. The second evening we had a huge feast of Alaskan king crab they bring in from an outfit in Kodiak that was absolutely delicious. It was well cared for and tasted like it was fresh from the sea.

Private rooms with private baths feature clean and cozy bedding. The mattress I slept on was comfortable and I slumbered without a care.

Whether you want to visit Iliamna to fish for trophy rainbows, limit out on sockeye, or just fish famous waters you’ve never fished before, call Erik or Martha Mae Salitan at (907) 388-8766. Visit TalarikCreekLodge.com or email TalarikCreekLodge@gmail.com.

 

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

Iliamna Excursion at Talarik Creek Lodge originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Fish Alaska.

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