Alaska’s Seward Peninsula is covered with rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes. Almost all of the water can be crossed in chest waders or less. Most of the streams are crystal clear, with rocky bottoms. Some rivers turn to a sandy bottom with poor visibility as they near the ocean. Water temperatures run from 35-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of our rivers are located in mountainous terrain, with peaks rising to over 4700 feet. Others are on low lying tundra plains. The rivers of the Seward Peninsula drain the creeks and streams of higher terrain, which swell in spring from snow melt and during the summer from long periods of drizzle and rain.
In most areas the water table is present only a few feet beneath the surface. Most of the Seward Peninsula is a sub-arctic tundra region, while the eastern portion sees the edge of the tree line with small scattered spruce growth.
Dolly Varden char
These beautiful fish occur in every river and stream that we fish. Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma) are often confused with their close relative, the Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus). The slight difference in appearance between the two can at times be puzzling, but they are different species and can be differentiated by external characteristics or by the habitat in which they occur. The common anadromous (moving between salt and fresh water and spawning in fresh water) char in western Alaska is the Dolly Varden.
We have large populations of anadromous Dolly Varden in this area. The fish range in size from 16 to 24 inches, with occasional fish reaching 30 inches in length. Young Dolly Varden live in freshwater for their first three years and then begin a migratory lifestyle moving to sea in spring and returning to freshwater in the fall to spend the winter. Upon reaching sexual maturity, many fish will not migrate, but remain in rivers to spawn in September or October. Arctic char, while present, only reside in a few of our mountain lakes.
Sometimes Dolly Varden will follow salmon upstream from the sea in order to feast on their eggs that fail to be fully deposited in the stream bottom. They also feed on newly emerged pink salmon fry in the spring as they move toward the sea.
The Dolly Varden is sought after by fly-fishermen for its beautiful colors, which can vary from bright silver with pink spots, to a darker shade with pink spots and a red belly. When you hook into one of these fish, it will give you a fight worthy of a fish twice it’s size. Watch out for their infamous roll, or they will quickly twist your line around themselves, break it off and be gone. In early summer bring plenty of nymphs, woolly buggers, and fry imitations: later in the summer fish with egg and flesh patterns.
These unique fish demand clear, clean water to survive, the main reason that they are all but extinct in the lower 48. They thrive on the Seward Peninsula, and are a great sport on a fly rod. Arctic grayling are the oldest fish in the bunch up here and are known to live for as long as 30 years. Arctic grayling undertake annual migrations within the river seeking out spawning areas in the early spring and then moving to summer feeding areas where they remain until moving to a suitable over wintering location in the late fall.
Arctic grayling in Norton Sound streams can reach a very large size because of the influence of large runs of pink salmon on the productivity of watersheds. Salmon bring tons of marine derived nutrients into fresh water each year. In addition, they provide a more direct benefit to resident grayling in the form of salmon eggs and fry.
Arctic grayling spend 8 to 9 months each year under the ice without feeding much, and after spawning in the spring they must feed heavily all summer in order to be able to reproduce the next spring. In addition to salmon eggs and fry, Arctic grayling feed primarily on drifting stream insects and have been known to even eat shrews. Early in the summer and during late, sunny evenings, fish for grayling on the surface with an Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Renegade, Mosquito, Ant or Mouse. Later in the day and during the salmon runs, throw an egg-sucking leech, woolly bugger, egg pattern, gold ribbed hare’s ear, fry pattern, or almost any attractor fly.
Arctic grayling on the Seward Peninsula receive very little fishing pressure and because of their longevity we take special care to release all these fish very carefully. The Alaska state record Arctic grayling weighing 5 lb., 1 0z. and measuring nearly 23 inches in length was caught and released by one of our anglers in 2008.
These voracious eaters are famous for their large number of VERY sharp teeth (about 700), and the tenacity with which they feed on bait fish, mice, and even the occasional duck. A very exciting fish to catch on a fly rod or with conventional gear, these prehistoric looking creatures will definitely provide a thrill.
We will search for these fish in the sloughs and backwater north of Nome.
The average size Pike in this area range from 20-35 inches and 5-15 pounds, however several 40+ inch and 20+ pound Pike have been caught in this area. Fly-fishermen will need an 8-10 weight rod with a steel leader or 40lb monofilament for a leader section.
Pike will eat Bunny and Flash flies, the Gray Ghost, and Woolly Buggers. They also respond very well to large saltwater flies such as Pacific Herring, Tarpon Flies, the Seaducer, and large surface flies that imitate small mammals. Conventional fishermen will need a reel with 12-25lb test and steel leaders.
Pike love the Five-O-Diamonds and Daredevil spoons, as well as any other large, flashy spinners, plugs, or baitfish imitations.
The Chinook, or King Salmon is the largest of all the Salmon species. Seward Peninsula Kings average 15-25 pounds, with record Alaska Kings weighing in at around 90 pounds!
Chinook Salmon numbers on the Seward Peninsula have been very poor for a number of years now. Kings are not known for their acrobatics or feeding tendencies. Their sole reputation lies in their size.
Hook into a King, and you may think you’ve just snagged a large rock or tree limb until it starts to move. Anglers will need an 8 or 10 weight rod to successfully fish for these monsters. Good fly choices would be the Bunny Fly, Flash Fly, Popsicle, and any attractor patterns.
Probably the best sport fishing for salmon is for the Coho, or Silver Salmon. Coho rear in freshwater for one or two years before smolting and traveling to the sea. They remain at sea for about 14 months and begin to enter our rivers during late July. The run peaks in mid-August and continues into September. Silvers are known for their acrobatic leaps and their long runs. Many Seward Peninsula Rivers receive good returns of Coho Salmon.
Caught early in the run, you will get a beautiful bright silvery fish. As they get closer to spawning, the fish will darken to a bronze or purplish color, and then finally turn all red. But don’t think you’ve got the upper hand; a red-colored Coho can still put up a mean fight.
Fly-fish for these spectacular fish with a 7-9 weight fly rod. Coho are very aggressive and will usually attack most bright attractor patterns. Tie simple streamers with a combination of colors including red/white, orange/white, and pink/yellow. A little bit of silver flash or sparkle will add to the appeal.
The Sockeye or Red Salmon is a beautiful fish and one of the best eating salmon available. Once they get closer to spawning, their entire body turns red, and their head turns green. We catch these fish on two rivers in substantial numbers, and occasionally see a few on other area rivers.
Sockeye Salmon rarely bite anything offered on fly or conventional gear; these photos here show the results of a subsistence harvest using a seine net. With persistence you may occasionally entice one to bite at a Green Eyes, Red Hot, or similar fly. Dead drift these simple fly patterns with short, erratic jerks to catch the fish’s attention. As they bite for the hook, allow slack in your line. When the fish turns its head, then it is time to set the hook.
Post-spawn, these fish are much more aggressive, and you will not have a problem hooking into a beautiful red and green fish that will give you a considerable fight.
The Chum or Dog salmon is unfortunately one of Alaska’s most underrated sport fish. They are one of the larger salmon in the bunch, with Seward Peninsula chum averaging 8-12 lbs. Young chum salmon migrate directly to the sea after emerging from the gravel in the spring. They return to spawn in fresh water after three to five years in the ocean.
Fresh out of the sea these fish are bright silver in color, turning darker with vertical stripes and growing large teeth as they near their spawning grounds. You don’t hear of many people targeting the Chum, however they are a strong fighting sport fish and will give any fisherman a challenge. Many Chum salmon are caught each year by anglers fishing for other species.
Fly fishermen should be prepared with no less than an 8-weight rod when fishing waters inhabited by Chum salmon. Use flies that you would use for any other salmon, such as bunny flies, flash flies, the Popsicle, or any multi-colored streamer.
The Pink salmon, or Humpy, runs in Seward Peninsula waters in larger numbers than any other fish. Young pink salmon travel directly to the sea after emerging from the gravel in the spring. They return the next year as adults ready to spawn, completing their entire life cycle in two years. Males are easily recognizable by the large hump that develops on their back as they approach spawning. Even our small Seward Peninsula Rivers swell with millions of fish during the strong even-year runs, and several hundred thousand fish run in the odd-numbered years. Caught early in their run, these can be a good-eating fish. If you’ve always wanted to catch fish until your arms ached, this is the fish for you. They are comparable in size and fighting characteristics to a Dolly Varden.
Pink salmon runs provide tons of marine derived nutrients that fertilize our rivers, and provide food for other fish in the form of eggs, fry and flesh. Conventional gear fishermen will catch these salmon on pixies or any other flashy spoon or spinner.
Fly fishermen will have luck with green woolly buggers, flash flies, or any other typical salmon attractor pattern.
Run Timing Chart
Our Run Timing chart below will give you a good idea of the best times for each species of fish.
Daily Flyouts, 2015
most amazing grayling fishing
5-Day Float, 2006, 2007, 2008
rockin’ GREAT time!
Daily Flyouts, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016
Daily Flyouts, 2013, 2016
Best place we have been
Daily Flyouts, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016
Trip of a lifetime!
Daily Flyouts, 2006
Daily Flyouts, 2008
Highlight of our summer!
Daily Flyouts, 2009
Daily Flyouts, 2016
Daily Flyouts, 2007
We had a blast!
Daily Flyouts, 2015, 2016