Togiak River Lodge Story by Marcus Weiner
King and silver salmon fishing are the primary draws on the Togiak
The sharp knife lays open the flesh of the fresh Chinook. Its chrome sides still laden with sea lice, the hen fell victim to a gob of eggs enticingly back-bounced through a prime slot in the lower river. Don removes the heavy fillet as Kevin deftly cuts the succulent flesh into meal-sized portions. Kevin grabs the next fish and removes its fillets with the speed and precision of one who has spent many hours at the cleaning table. I’m engrossed by the clean knife strokes as the team moves seamlessly through the hefty pile of king salmon. Groups continue to return with the morning’s catch and the fish are reduced to perfect chunks ready to be wrapped, vacuum-sealed and frozen.
These are my thoughts after igniting the grill and mixing up the usual sweet and spicy dry rub. It’s a true indicator of a high-end, professional operation when you not only enjoy the fish when you catch it, but also when you eat it. Too many operations fail to pay the proper attention to the cleaning and packaging of your fish once it has been caught, and this is what will keep the fish tasting fresh for months to come. I’ve had great results working with operators across the state, especially in Sitka and Kodiak. Now I’ll add Togiak River Lodge to the list.
The Togiak River is one of Alaska’s strongholds for salmon and is an especially prime location to target king and silver salmon. On each excursion we’ve made to this great river in July, we are constantly reminded of the quality of the Chinook fishery. Twenty fish days are not uncommon.
Silver salmon runs are very strong in the Togiak River and the number of fish and their average size make it a great choice for anglers of all skill levels. In addition to the five species of salmon, the river is host to healthy populations of char, rainbow trout and Arctic grayling, and both the tributaries and mainstem provide excellent shots at good fish.
The river does not see the fishing pressure normally found at Alaska’s great Chinook fisheries. This place can best be described, at least in Alaska terms, as an easy-to-access location with a remote feel.
The lodge sits six miles upriver from Togiak Bay and is the only established facility in the first 20 miles of the river and one of two on the entire river. This position puts Togiak River Lodge in a prime location to access tidewater and chrome, sea-lice ridden salmon. Good food and accommodations, combined with excellent fishing and professional guides, make this a top-notch destination for the avid angler.
It’s a Lund family operation, and you can tell that fishing and hosting are in their blood. Larry and his wife Patty, as well as their son Kevin and his wife Melissa, provide a warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Marty and Taylor round out the third generation of Lunds that work at the lodge. They make you feel like family at their resort, and the lodge is alive with conversation and fish tales when anglers are not on the river.
Guests fly to the city of Dillingham from Anchorage and then board a floatplane to the lodge doorstep, or take a wheel plane to Togiak and a short boat ride to the lodge. In addition to the main lodge that hosts the dining room and lounge, anglers get private cottages that have their own bathroom and shower. Professional cooks provide three meals per day, and both the entrees and desserts will keep you coming back for more. Fresh, home-baked bread is prepared and devoured each day. There’s just something comforting, and all-out delicious, about freshly baked bread.
The lodge has wireless Internet and satellite television, so the communication junkies can still stay connected while on a remote fishing extravaganza. After a full day of fighting king or silver salmon, one can enjoy the lodge’s hot tub and sauna, and have a better chance at reducing some of that hard-earned and much-coveted muscle soreness.
Lodge boats are comfortable 18- and 20-foot flat-bottom and semi-v skiffs, with well-cushioned chairs and plenty of fishing space. They are well-suited to the river and are perfect for chasing salmon as they move from tidewater to holding pools upriver. When cruising between holes on the river, you can really appreciate the comfortable chairs and smooth ride.
Fishing the Togiak River
King and silver salmon fishing are the primary draws on the Togiak. In typical years, kings begin to pour into the river in mid-June and continue through the end of July. Silvers pick up where the kings leave off and continue through September. Sockeye and chum salmon are present about the same time as the kings, while pinks span the gap between king and coho runs. Rainbow trout, char and grayling can be found throughout the summer.
I was particularly impressed with the range of techniques employed by the guide staff to catch kings. We back-bounced eggs, pulled plugs, cast and retrieved spinners, and drift-fished with a bobber and eggs. Other techniques available are side-drifting and fly-fishing, and I get the sense that this experienced crew is open-minded to any technique that will catch fish. Mature Chinook range from about 20- to 40 pounds, with the occasional monster reaching 60 pounds.
Silvers average about 12 pounds on the Togiak, with robust specimens pushing 20 pounds. Coho are generally pretty abundant here, so anglers can pick their desired technique. Fly and spin fishing are usually the methods of choice.
While backbouncing eggs, we caught a large number of quality trout and char. A few of these fish hit the 26-inch mark. While I’ve not caught a 30-inch trophy here, the pictures support the quality of this trout fishery, and a trout bum would be well advised to spend some time swinging streamers or drifting egg and flesh patterns to the resident population.
After arriving at Togiak River Lodge and eating lunch, co-publisher Melissa Norris and I donned our gear and headed out with Derek Sater, a full-time fishing guide who moves between Alaska and the East Coast throughout the year. He’s a free spirit, who clearly enjoys fishing and has a sense of humor quite similar to ours. We had some real side-splitting moments when one person’s joke would start a round-robin of wisecracks.
We start by backbouncing eggs down long runs and hit a few fish. Melissa has got the hot rod and I’m basically soaking bait while she sticks several that are landed and released. We’re just getting warmed up, and by the end of the day, she’s landed two chromers that we’ll take home. It speaks to the health of the Togiak River king salmon fishery when an angler is able to take two kings per day.
At the start of the next morning, I can tell that my luck has changed. Shortly after starting the day in the lower river, I’m able to stick and land a 25-pound hen fresh from the salt. A few hours later, and farther upriver, the fish’s identical twin finds its way to the deck after backbouncing the soft inner seam of a particularly long and turbulent run. It was a tricky drift that required some extra effort to keep touch with the bottom, and it felt good to finish my limit before lunch with a pair of solid chromers.
After lunch found us working back upriver, where we finally settled into a glory hole. Melissa and I doubled up regularly, experimenting with different rods and reels, sometimes to the point of nearly breaking rods under the power of these 10- to 35-pound fish. By day’s end, we’d each boated at least 15 kings, and the A-Team had reason to celebrate.
On day three, we are in for a special treat, as we’ll run upriver to Gechiak Creek and wade and cast to Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. It’s a small stream that has many of the characteristics of good trout water: riffles, runs, deep pools, plenty of cover and lots of food for the resident species. In addition to plenty of salmon, other food sources like sculpin and shrews can be found in the area.
Melissa and I swing streamers and nymph egg patterns. I find that more rainbows attack the swinging Conehead Zuddler, while the char were more interested in the free-drifting bead. We end up working about two miles of river and are rewarded with many nice fish in the 16- to 20-inch class.
On our last day, it’s back to the boat to tussle with more Chinook. Mid-morning finds us fishing a slack-water seam with barely enough current to keep the bait sliding downriver. Rigged with a bobber to suspend above the bait, I cast into the seam and watch the bait move slowly downriver. At nearly 100 yards, the bobber moved slightly downward, but noticeably upriver. After gathering the slack and striking swiftly, I enjoyed another scrappy, mid-20-pound hen.
Under cloudy skies and steady drizzle, Melissa stuck one of the better fish of the trip and spent 15 minutes battling a hen in the low 30-pound range. It’s a cap on a terrific interlude of salmon and trout fishing at Togiak River Lodge.
You Should Go to Togiak River Lodge
There are many places that one can journey to in Alaska and have an enjoyable fishing experience. But there are fewer and fewer places where you can fish to abundant king salmon with virtually no other pressure. And to find a place that is relatively easy to access, has all the amenities of home and is run by people who love to fish and enjoy showing others how to as well, makes for a potent combination. When you factor the range of species, techniques and sheer abundance of fish present in the Togiak River, it is easy for the seasoned angler to argue that the Togiak is among the top of all rivers in Alaska. So give Larry a call and set up a trip for 2010, and you, like Melissa and I, will be enjoying fresh salmon all winter.
Click here to visit Togiak River Lodge’s website.
Marcus Weiner is publisher of Fish Alaska & Hunt Alaska magazines.