Alaska Meets the Tropics

I stepped outside of the baggage claim door at 11 p.m. on August 13 in Anchorage. A blast of warm air unexpectedly hit me. I didn’t expect it at that time of the evening. I was looking forward to a rest after long travel and always welcome a pre-fish rest day or two in Anchorage when I travel to Alaska.

The following morning, I was in a t-shirt at 6 a.m. and as comfortable as can be. It felt more like Aruba than Alaska. A bright sun peeked over the horizon and ushered in one of the warmest days I’ve ever spent in Anchorage. The day’s high in Anchorage—81 degrees. While I’m not a huge fan of cold weather, I realized the effect this would have on our week at Hoodoo Lodge, a silver salmon factory far south on the Aleutian Peninsula.

Historically, the Hoodoo (aka the Sapsuck) is one of our best performing silver salmon lodges with high daily catch numbers. This fishing program is solid as a rock and runs like a well-oiled machine. I was optimistic. However, I also realized that weather like this is typically tough on salmon fishing. That coupled with the fact the river was down about 20 some inches from normal limiting jet boat travel or raft fishing could make for a hard week. I can always gauge the caliber of a lodge on how they react when conditions are not ideal. No poor attitudes or excuses. No “should have been here last week.”

The next day my hosted crew arrived, and we had a great dinner at the seasonal Bridge Seafood Restaurant. If you have not tried it, I recommend it highly for the food, unique ambiance, and view.

This morning we boarded a Pilatus PC12 in Anchorage and settled in for our two-hour private flight south to Nelson Lagoon. The Pilatus is a wonderful aircraft that clicks along at about 300 mph making for shorter air times and carries a large payload for its size. I was equally impressed when I found our pilot, Mike, has the most hours of any pilot flying this aircraft in the world. Alongside Mike sat Frontiers guest Rob M., a former military and retired United Airlines pilot, so we were ready for action.

The Pilatus touched down on the runway in Nelson Lagoon, unloaded our gear, and hopped on the owner of Hoodoo Lodge, Rod Schuh’s Beaver and made the short 10-15 minute flight to the Lodge landing strip. Interestingly, the departing guests were a Wounded Warrior group. Rod and his crew donate two weeks to hosting these veterans each season. Soldiers, we salute your service and appreciate the sacrifices you make to keep our country safe.

Arriving at the Lodge, a quick bite of lunch was followed by rigging up, and we were on the river a mere hour later for our first shot at silver salmon. Dressed in waders and a light flats shirt, we fished under a bright sun and managed to hook a couple nice silvers and a few pinks.

I awoke anxious the following morning and had already downed a couple of cups of coffee by 6 a.m. Breakfast is at 7 a.m. so I had plenty of time to think about the day. I’m fishing with John today; he’s never fished Alaska, never thrown a fly cast, but was enthusiastic and arrived with a great attitude. We had a good start, each landing some silvers, chums, and a couple pinks. I typically wouldn’t even mention a pink salmon, but these were nice fish and fought well.

The attraction of Hoodoo is the fly-out fishing options, and everyone has one fly out trip included in their fishing package. This morning, my daily group of three flew to North Creek out camp on the Bering Sea in the Lodge’s de Havilland Beaver. Flying in we saw plenty of caribou from the area’s non-migrating herd and marveled at the multi-colored tundra dotted with hundreds of small ponds. Landing on the black volcanic sand beach of the Bering Sea was as cool as it gets.

This is an overnight camp, and typically anglers fish an afternoon on arrival, overnight, and fish the following morning before swapping out with the next group. The overnight camp is modest yet comfortable with padded cots, warm sleeping bags, basic meals, and nights spent in secluded Alaska silence.

The North Creek river channel had shifted a full ¾ of a mile due to a recent heavy storm, but the hard-packed beach offered easy walking, so it was not strenuous. Seals were bobbing in the ocean at the mouth of the creek readying for their next meal. The sights and sounds here were amazing. We followed brown bear tracks down the beach on our way to fish and had a fox walk right into camp without much fear. Maybe we were the first humans he’s seen?

North Creek is a bit off-colored, similar to a glacial river. The tint was enough to keep the sun from penetrating too deeply into the water column, so the fishing was steady all day picking off silvers, chums, dollies, and the occasional pink salmon. The chums were as big as any I’ve ever caught. They pulled like a king salmon and made plenty of hard, arm-burning runs. We ran our guide ragged today with constant hookups and releases, but he smiled all day at the consistent action.

Hoodoo Lake Fly-out – The Hoodoo river gets its start at the outflow of Hoodoo Lake—about 30 miles from the Lodge. This large lake feeds the river and is loaded with dolly varden in the upper section. The river was holding good numbers of kings and red salmon as well. The salmon were spawned out, but I can surmise the early season here is salmon heaven. The dollies were thick as could be and holding in the fastest of water. The group traded out for 5 wt. rods today and had an absolute ball. Using the biggest beads in the guide’s box, we hooked a ridiculous number of dollies and some husky rainbows. This was super fun, and the swift water made the fight even better. This was volume fishing at its finest. The natural beauty of this area is equally as impressive, and I found myself just staring at the incredible vistas in every direction.

The days following were cloudy with brief showers, which were welcomed, and the silver fishing turned on between the lodge and the coast. This weather boosted the fishing on the main river, and group members interested filled their fish boxes to bring fresh salmon home. Note, most Alaska guests can keep salmon, and limits are set and regulated by the state, so it’s an environmentally sound practice.

My first hosted group at Hoodoo had a great time at the Lodge, and the staff was very accommodating to our needs. Eileen dazzled us with her wonderful culinary creations, we received hospitality and service with a smile from Lacy, and Philly kept the food preparation area spotless. The kitchen staff worked as a team, and we wanted for nothing during our stay. The guides I fished with were solid as could be—experienced, patient, entertaining, all the important elements a seasoned guide should have. My group had a unique rotation due to weather, however, typical guests will have the chance to fish with them all during their stay.

In summary, the trip was great—the fishing was tough, but the overall trip was one of quality. The fact that all other guests at the Lodge were all returning guests speaks volumes. Hats off to Rod and his staff for showing us an awesome week on the Hoodoo.