The Nushagak

by Melissa Norris

King salmon are my first love on the Nushagak, but as the years have gone by my fondness for this river has grown deeper to a whole new level. My very first time to the Nushagak River was when Marcus and I were there in 2006 to film an episode of North to Alaska with Larry Csonka, back when they were still producing their show. I always enjoyed our magazine’s trips with them. What a hoot. On that trip I caught a legit 35-pound Nushagak king, a toad for that river. I was coming out my boots landing that fish. It was so fun!

And so began my love affair with kings. That memory reminds me of my first trip to Nushagak River Adventures Lodge five years ago because I was also jumping out of my boots while catching kings on The Nush. Initially their guide looked pretty suspicious of me because my jump, launch, hook set was a little much for him, but after a few times of effectively putting fish on the end of the stick, he began to relax and think “Okay this fishing magazine publisher lady isn’t as ‘sus’ as I thought.” I can’t help it! I get excited. 

The Nushagak is one of those places I find myself planning to visit year after year. With 25 years under my belt of living and fishing in Alaska and ample opportunity to fish many places with my job, that says a lot.

The Nushagak

Sockeye are in abundance on the Nushagak River. © Nushagak River Adventures Lodge

Why does the Nushagak keep making my list? 

It’s for several reasons. For starters my first love is still there in numbers stronger than most anywhere else. Catching kings is an absolute blast. There is nothing quite like the excitement of the strongest, pulling, darting, head-shaking Pacific Chinook salmon at the other end of your line. It makes the heart pound. Your job is to stay calm and listen intently to your guide as they give you instructions. “Keep your rod tip low to the water. Bring it around over here. Don’t give it any slack. Now reel.” Oh yeah, that’s some good fun.

But kings are not the only game in town, another reason I love the Nushagak is the increased numbers of sockeye that have been pouring in over the last few seasons. It’s mind blowing how many sockeye make it into Bristol Bay and into the Nushagak River. Catching sockeye is a whole other technique. Your guide will choose a beach where you can line up along the river to fish. First they will show you the basic move. We catch red salmon mostly by flossing them or lining them in the mouth. They have been historically thought not to feed or bite in freshwater, although we have learned from some trusted sources and underwater video footage this is not the case. Still the tried and true lining method is practiced here and guests love catching sockeye. They are a great fish for harvest since their numbers are strong. And speaking of strong, these smaller acrobatic salmon act like giants when they are hooked on the end of your line. With 5 a day the trend for sockeye harvest regulations on this river, you fill up a 50-pound airline approved fish box pretty quickly. Most folks don’t need much more than that.

The Nushagak

Fishing for silvers can be accomplished using a variety of techniques, including casting spinners from shore. © Nushagak River Adventures Lodge

You have probably guessed by now that silver salmon (coho) make my Nushagak love list as well. The best part of catching silvers is the variety of ways to fish for them. Sometimes you’ll be in the boat casting to them, other times you fish from shore. I have only made it out for silvers once so far but it was a really fun experience. My bestfriend of over 25 years was able to go with me and that made it special. Again I was fishing at Nushagak River Adventures Lodge as I have for many years. I tend to choose this outfit when I go. Their accommodations are the nicest around. Their owner rebuilt the lodge over the last 5 years from the ground up. I tend to enjoy being comfortable these days and an all-inclusive Alaska fishing lodge is the way to go for that.The private cabins, pristine bathhouse segregated for gender, and a main lodge where guests gather to dine and visit all add to the comfort. They have a solid guide team, quality boats and equipment, plus their chef throws down some serious cuisine. Chef Chris is one of my favorite lodge chefs. He looks just like a normal dude in a chef jacket but oddly I see stage lighting and hear a 6-piece band when he walks out of the kitchen—He’s a rockstar. The place is family-friendly so you can feel good about bringing the next generation and the previous generation to share your love of fishing.

Besides the Fishing

Of course we always consider the fishing wherever we go. Even though the Nushagak is one of the best salmon rivers in Alaska, we all know there is more to the experience than just fishing. I also love to visit the Nushagak because it gives you that full Alaska experience where you fly into a remote community, either Dillingham or King Salmon, then you take a float plane to the lodge. Your lodge would arrange the next leg for you and have you fly out with one of the local flight service float plane charters. It’s as remote as they get, but with Starlink internet at the lodge where I go. The floatplane leg is often one of the memorable parts of your Alaska vacation. On top of the cool small plane experience, you are sure to see some Alaska wildlife on your visit, such as eagles, fox and moose. It’s quiet and completely wilderness without any of the traffic like the road system fisheries.

Trip Planning Tips: The Nushagak and Beyond

Fishing Nushagak kings, sockeye or silvers isn’t so much a DIY option. You really need to book with a lodge or tent camp with seasoned guides who know the river. If you are looking for an easy, all-inclusive experience, I do suggest checking out Nushagak River Adventures Lodge to plan a 4 or 5 day stay with them during your Alaska vacation. If it were my trip coming from the lower 48 to Alaska, I would opt to build in a day or two ahead of the Nushagak portion of the trip to fish for halibut and other bottomfish. Shoot me an email if you want some ideas on where to go before or after to see more of the state and experience some of the other awesome fishing destinations or sights before you have to return back home. I can recommend restaurants, places to stay, guides, charters, lodges and destinations, and when to come. It’s been a privilege to get to know Alaska’s fishing industry so well over all these years. I am always happy to connect with people and offer advice for their trip of a lifetime.

Melissa Norris is founder and Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines. Started with her brother Marcus, the two have owned the magazines and media company for over  25 years. Send a note to if you’re planning to visit Alaska and would like some tips.

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