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Sheefish (Stenodus leucicthyes) are the only predatory members of the whitefish family and inhabit only arctic and subarctic drainages of Asia and North America.  They are found naturally in the large northerly flowing rivers of Russia and in the Mackenzie and Anderson Rivers of Canada.  In Alaska they occur in the Kuskokwim, Yukon, Kobuk and Selawik rivers.  Early French explores in North America called it “inconnu”, which means “unknown fish”, and this is an accepted common name.
Sheefish have a silvery streamlined body, large scales and a strong lower jaw that projects past the upper jaw.  Their general body form is much like that of other successful predatory fish such as Tarpon and Snook.
Sheefish over winter in the lower reaches of rivers in or near estuaries and undertake long migrations to faster flowing upper reaches of rivers to spawn in the late autumn.  Sheefish may migrate over 1,000 miles to reach spawning areas in large rivers such as the Yukon. Females broadcast their eggs at the surface of the water as fall weather reduces the water temperature to near freezing.  Males fertilize eggs from below as they fall through the water column to lodge between stones in the streambed.  Mature Sheefish are very fecund, and a large female may release 400,000 or more eggs.  Sheefish generally do not spawn each year after reaching maturity.
Young Sheefish emerge from the gravel in the spring and drift downstream to rear in slow moving waters of lakes, sloughs or estuaries near the mouth of the river.  They feed on plankton during their first year, but soon switch to a diet of fish and begin to grow rapidly.  Sheefish may reach sexual maturity at a weight of 7 to 9 pounds at 7 to 10 years of age.  Sheefish can spawn repeatedly over their life that may extend for more than 30 years in the case of the largest individuals.  
Females generally live longer and attain larger sizes than males.  The Kobuk River holds Alaska’s slowest growing, longest lived, and largest Sheefish and here females may reach a weight of 50 pounds.  The State of Alaska angling record is a 53 pound Sheefish caught from the Kobuk River.  However, most of the fish in the spawning population are smaller and anglers visiting this river should expect to catch fish averaging around 15 – 25 pounds.  Fish over 30 pounds are considered large, and an angler fishing for more than a day or two can expect to catch several of fish in the 25 - 35 pound range.
In recent years, the Sheefish population in the Kobuk River appears to be at or near record levels of abundance.  It is likely that excellent conditions for survival of young fish occurred during 1997-1999 and these fish have recently recruited to the spawning population.  Fishing has been excellent during the past three years and will likely continue to be for some years into the future as this group of fish moves through the population.
Our guide on the Kobuk has many years of experience on the river and is very familiar with areas where Sheefish are seasonally abundant.   Their migration pattern puts fish in the upper river from late July through the end of September.  Sheefish tend to hold near the bottom is areas of fairly swift current and moderate depth of 6 to 10 feet.  Most fishing is done from a boat anchored near the edge of the current, although it is possible to fish from shore at a few locations.  Come prepared for large fish in swift currents.  A 10 wt rod with a deep sinking shooting head or integrated head line is recommended.  For those skilled in the use of a two handed rod, fishing from shore can be rewarding.  Again, deep sinking lines are required.  Sheefish tend to strike at brightly colored attractor patterns or baitfish imitations.  Standard salt water baitfish flies such as Clouser minnows and deceivers are very effective.
Kobuk River Sheefish offer one of the few situations were an angler can expect to catch a large number of large fish in a remote river situation.  If water conditions are reasonable, an angler can expect to catch 20 or more fish per day that will range from 7- 35 pounds, and there is always that chance of a real monster.  Moreover, the upper Kobuk River is one of Alaska’s more scenic locations and other than an occasional local subsistence user from Kobuk or Shungnak a visitor can expect to see few other people.

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