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The Spectacular Kanektok and Arolik River Fisheries

Kanektok River

The Kanektok (aka the Chosen River) is a fly fisherman’s dreams. The river is the perfect size and provides outstanding spawning grounds for all five species of Alaskan Pacific salmon. Located in southwestern Alaska near the village of Quinhagak, our camp is perfectly situated within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.  Encompassing over 4 million acres, it is home to some of the most prolific salmon runs in the world and hosts a wide variety of fish, bird and mammal species.  From rolling tundra to the highest mountain peaks, and from the rugged coastlines to crystal clear rivers, the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for all things wild.  A magical place by any account, its ability to support wildlife and sustain natural populations of WILD fish truly set it apart.  In the clear waters of the Kanektok, anglers will find king, coho, sockeye, chum and pink salmon, as well as trophy-sized native rainbow trout, arctic char, grayling, and dolly varden. The Kanektok and its tributaries and braids give anglers access to some of the best sport fishing in the world. We are extremely lucky to be here on this river and are excited to share this very special area with you. 

The Kanektok river fishing season is dictated by the king and silver salmon fishery and has excellent trout fishing. The kings run June 15th – July 25th while the silver salmon run July 23rd until Sept 10th. The king salmon escapement goal is 3,500 - 8,000 per season. The silver salmon escapement goal is 50,000 per season. During the month of July the Kanektok receives a run of 50,000 – 200,000 chum salmon and on even years receives a run of over 100,000 pink salmon. The river also has a run of 50,000 - 200,000 sockeye salmon in mid July. The rivers’ rainbow trout are most prevalent in the braided section of the river. There are trophy rainbows available with some close to 30 inches. The dolly vardens are sea run with over 20,000 - 35,000 passing the fish weir last year. The river also has a good grayling population.

Arolik River

The Arolik River harbors many similarities of the Kanektok in terms of fish species, ease of wading and types of fishable water, and also has a staggeringly prolific amount of fish to water ratio.  The primary difference between the two rivers, is that the Arolik is one third the size of the Kanektok. Flowing out of Arolik Lake, the Arolik River is located four miles south of the Kanektok River, and has long been coveted by the fly fishing community, if only for the fact of it being less accessible than many other rivers. At Reel Action, we are fortunate to fish its tidewaters for chrome bright salmon and strong rainbow trout.  We can also venture another twenty plus miles upriver where there are abundant dolly varden, grayling and resident rainbow trout - not to mention the immense amount of salmon still present as they return to their home waters to spawn.  In addition, the Arolik has many miles of side channels, meandering braids, and tributaries to explore before finally reaching the Bering Sea. Overall, the Arolik is a beautiful little river to fish and something every angler should experience! 

Togiak National Wildlife Refuge Links

Togiak Homepage: http://togiak.fws.gov/
Togiak Conservation Page: http://alaska.fws.gov/nwr/planning/pdf/togiak/Togiak_Decision_Summary.pdf
Togiak Fish Page: http://togiak.fws.gov/fishspp.htm
Togiak Mammal Page: http://togiak.fws.gov/mammals_spp.htm
Togiak Bird Page: http://togiak.fws.gov/birds_spp.htm

Our Principals

We would like you to take a few moments of your time and familiarize yourself with some of the following key points about the refuge.  We will include its goals, purposes, public use objectives and vision statement.  These are all very important to become familiar with, as they are the foundation of our camp operation, of the philosophies we guide by, and at what we are trying to protect in this special wilderness area.  Following the specific refuge information, we will cover our catch and release policies, information on low impact, leave no trace fishing practices, appropriate interactions with other refuge guests and a brief note regarding bear safety.  It is not our intent to overwhelm, just to help you better prepare for your amazing week fishing with us. 

Togiak Wildlife Refuge Goals

Goal 1. Increase our knowledge of refuge resources to support management decisions and maintain the health and integrity of native ecosystems.

Goal 2. Provide quality fish and wildlife oriented recreation, subsistence, interpretive, and educational opportunities that promote stewardship of southwest Alaska wildlife and their habitats.

Goal 3. Protect the natural and cultural resources of the Refuge to ensure their integrity.

Goal 4. Maintain the wilderness character of the Togiak Wilderness Area.

Goal 5. Develop and maintain support mechanisms and infrastructure to achieve management goals.

Goal 6. Maintain a leadership role in the management of [native] natural ecosystems in southwest Alaska.

Refuge Purposes

(i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity including, but not limited to, salmonids, marine birds and mammals, migratory birds and large mammals (including their restoration to historic levels);

(ii) to fulfill the international treaty obligations of the United States with respect to fish and wildlife and their habitats;

(iii) to provide, in a manner consistent with purposes set forth in subparagraphs (i) and (ii), the opportunity for continued subsistence uses by local residents; and

(iv) to ensure, to the maximum extent practicable and in a manner consistent with the purposes set forth in subparagraph (i), water quality and necessary water quantity within the refuge.

Public Use Objectives

1.  To ensure that public use programs are consistent with maintaining the natural diversity of refuge resource and habitats.

2.  To provide public use programs which minimize possible conflicts between and among subsistence, recreational and commercial users.

3.  To provide the opportunity for rural residents engaged in a subsistence way of life to continue to do so.

4.  To provide the opportunity for fish and wildlife oriented recreation emphasizing short-term, low density public use.

5.  To provide for a range of high quality recreational opportunities, including wilderness areas that emphasize naturalness, solitude and primitive recreation.

6.  To maintain wild fishery stocks in their naturally occurring spaces diversity, abundance and age class composition.

7.  To ensure availability of public use sites for the needs of subsistence, recreation and commercial users.

Refuge Vision Statement

With the help of cooperators and partners, the Refuge will continue to be part of a healthy functioning ecosystem where fish and wildlife populations and their habitats exist in an environment primarily affected by the forces of nature. Current and future generations will have opportunities to participate in a variety of fish- and wildlife-dependant activities that emphasize self-reliance, solitude, and a close relationship with the environment. The public will gain an understanding of the Refuge on natural, cultural, and scientific levels to appreciate the importance of its protection and preservation for future generations.

Catch And Release

After thoughtful review of the above refuge information, we would now like to share with you some of the most important concepts you will be dealing with on a daily basis at our camp.  The first is catch and release.  Reel Action Alaska is an avid proponent of maintaining the river’s wild fish populations and under most circumstances will practice catch and release.  No matter how great the fishing is and no matter how many fish it appears are in the river, these resources are precious and every fish released will either live to fight and spawn another day or, as in the case of salmon will at least be allowed to pass on their most valuable genetics to future generations. When out with a guide, it will be rare for you to have to handle the fish on your own, but if we are unable or helping someone else land a fish, we would ask that you abide by the following guidelines.  Proper fish handling is extremely important and is often the difference between a fish swimming off and thriving and a fish swimming off and dying a few days later.  Please do not drag fish onto the shore – always have at least one foot of water to land the fish.  Do not pick fish up by the gills or grab them by the tail and hang them upside down.  This can do great damage to the spine of the fish.  If you are not planning on taking a picture, please just back the hook out of the fishes’ mouth without touching it. We will not take pictures of fish in the boat.  If you want a picture while boat fishing, we can go to shore or leave the fish in the water along side the boat for the picture.  We do not want to risk dropping any fish in the boat as that could do substantial damage to the fish.  For taking pictures, please leave the fish in the water until the person taking the picture has the camera out and ready.  Then briefly lift the fish for the picture and immediately put it back in the water.  If you are holding a fish for a picture, put one hand on the wrist of the tail and the other hand under the belly.  Do not squeeze, just let the fish lay on top of your hand.  When releasing fish, please point their head upstream into the current and let the fish go when it is ready to leave on its own.   

Leave No Trace

One of the guidelines our operation prides itself on, is having a low impact on the environment.  We are proud to practice leave no trace fishing and outdoor activities as we are in a very special part of Alaska where the ecosystem is still thriving and largely self sustaining.  We hope to help keep it this way.  The huge runs of wild salmon that are the lifeblood of this ecosystem, would not be possible without sound management and proactive support from its everyday visitors (like you and I).  We will leave no garbage or litter on the land or in the water at any time.  This includes all food, lunch wrappers, fishing line, cigarette butts and human waste.  We will have a portable toilet in each of our boats so that all human waste, including toilet paper will be packed out.  (Who wants to find this on the bank anyway?)  This will help preserve water quality and minimize our impact on the surrounding resources.  Also, if you see trash on the ground, even if it isn’t yours, please pick it up and throw it out properly (trash bag in boat).       

We Are All Guests

Another aspect of our operation is interaction with other visitors in the refuge and how we will minimize our impact on them.  During your week with us, you will see a few other boats on the river.  These boats might be native Yupik residents or other sport fisherman.  We may also encounter raft groups floating downriver.  Whoever it may be however, what it all boils down to, is do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  Be nice, pure and simple.  The Yupik people have been using the Kanektok River for subsistence living for thousands of years.  They fish, hunt, trap, pick berries and collect firewood.  We will do our best to stay out of their way so that our actions do not interfere with their way of life.  It is important not to damage the resources of this land, so that those people who depend on it for a living and as a culture can continue to do so long into the future.  Regarding other sport fisherman in boats, rafts or along the bank, we will do our best to stay out of their area and not crowd them.  We hope to minimize our impact on their day and know that they would do the same for us.  Besides the fantastic fishing opportunities, part of the allure of this magical place is the solitude and feeling of being so remote, alone, and in touch with nature.  By giving others space and being kind to those we come across, our goal is to help everyone feel this gift of solitude and being one with the stillness that surrounds. 

King Salmon

The Kanektok is a very special river in terms of king fishing.  It is unique amongst other Alaskan rivers in that not only does it provide the opportunity to catch chrome bright fish close to the ocean, but they are in water that makes them very accessible with a fly rod, (swinging technique in particular).  In other drainages, the size of the river is usually too big or too muddy to effectively pursue king fishing and the fish themselves tend to turn red faster.

King salmon are an incredibly powerful and impressive fish.  When you land one of these beauties, it is truly a magical moment – so much so, that despite your burning arms, you’ll want to get right back out there and try for another!

We are strictly catch and release for all king salmon, the gene pool for the adult king salmon is extremely precious and we want to protect future generations any way we can!


Silver Salmon

What a blast silvers are!  Ranging in average weight from 8-12 pounds, they also come in huge numbers.  Unique to this river too, there are SO MANY of them that you can catch chrome bright fish for the entire 5-week season – they just keep coming and coming… 

Incredible fighters, silvers, like chum salmon are also very top water oriented.  They are aggressive, strong and acrobatic fish.  They can be caught from shore or from a boat, in sloughs and off gravel bars.  You can catch them by stripping weighted flies, or by using poppers, wogs, gurglers and even dead drifting into the swing.  There is excellent sight casting opportunities, and they will often take the fly just at rod’s length after having chased it for 20-30 feet.  When they want it, they want it! 

Chum Salmon

Chum salmon are AWESOME and there is certainly no shortage of them in this river. Available for most of the season, they can be caught anywhere from tidewater to 15 miles up river and still be very fresh and chrome bright.  They are an excellent game fish and are fantastic fighters, often making long runs and contorting themselves into master aerial acrobats.  And one thing is certain - once these fish are hooked they do not give up!  For their size, they are very strong. 

Averaging 10-14 pounds, chum are perfect for both single-hand and spey-rod techniques.  As with king salmon, they will take flies on the swing, but they are also VERY top water oriented.  This can be a blast using pink wogs, poppers and even mouse patterns.  They will also take flies being stripped through the water such as streamers and leeches.      

In August, the spawning chum provide a feast of eggs for the ever hungry dollies, grayling and rainbow trout.

Rainbow Trout

The rainbow trout in this river are beautiful and a real pleasure to fish for.  With true ‘leopard’ genetics, they are the MOST stunning rainbows in Alaska – bright red lateral stripes and large, prominent spots across their entire body, even their eyes! 

These rainbows average 18-24” and can be caught in the main river as well as in the plethora of smaller side channels.  You can sight cast for a lot of these fish and they can be caught using a variety of flies and techniques including mouse patterns, leach patterns, egg flies, flesh flies, dry flies and nymphs.   

Dolly Varden & Arctic Char

The Kanektok has no shortage of these eager fish.  Entering the river as a bright silver army, the fish gradually change color as they get closer to spawning.  Now, saying these fish change color is a bit of an understatement.  At first they change just a little – they still have very silvery sides, but develop light pink spots and have a generalized blue sheen.  By the time spawning is at its peak however, the dollies become some of the most beautiful fish on earth.  They have neon bright orange/red bellies that almost seem to glow and sport a fantastic green and blue, sometimes almost turquoise upper body.  This coloration is made even more vivid by the many vibrant orange spots that dapple their body.  In a nutshell, dollies are the ‘tropical fish’ of Alaska.  It is not uncommon for people who catch these magnificent fish to say that they are the most beautiful fish they have ever seen or caught. 

Fishing for dollies is a lot of fun.  They are aggressive, come in huge numbers and can be easily sight casted to.  Averaging 18-24,” larger fish range up to 28.” They can be caught on leaches, dry flies, mice and egg patterns. 


Grayling are year-round residents of the Kanektok and will eagerly take flies all season long.  They might be a smaller fish, but they are beautiful and will aggressively take a variety of flies, especially dries.  Known for their fantastic, fan like dorsal fins, they are a great fish to watch coming up for your fly on the surface.  They can be a lot of fun with a fly rod, particularly a 3-5-weight rod. 

Pink Salmon

Like an army of chrome footballs, pink salmon run up river to spawn every other year – as it so happens, on even years.  Averaging 2-4 pounds, they are a great fish to catch on the 5-weight and you can catch them in unbelievable numbers.  Entering the river shiny as can be, their bodies gradually morph into something akin to an upright pancake with one heck of a hump – hence their nickname, “humpies.”  Physical appearances aside, they will aggressively take flies in much of the same water and techniques as silver salmon – stripping streamers, flies on the swing, in side channels, along gravel bars and in sloughs.  One of the most productive and perhaps the most fun means of catching these guys however, is on the surface using wogs, gurglers, poppers, and even mouse patterns.   Like many of the other species, they are very top water oriented and will aggressively destroy any prey (real or perceived) on the surface.   

Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye are the lifeblood of Alaska.  In every drainage they flourish and spawn, their eggs provide many other fish species with food and their bodies provide flesh for some of Alaska’s top predators and scavengers.  Entering the river a bright silver color in June and early July, as August approaches they turn a vivid red with a huge hump and crazy snaggly teeth.  Most of these fish spawn far up river in the upper tributaries. 

Run Timing Of The Fishery

June 15th – July 15th – PEAK time for King Salmon (Kings available until July 25th)

June 20th – Sept 5th - Rainbow Trout

June 20th – July 31st – Chum Salmon

June 25th – July 25th – Sockeye Salmon

July 15th – August 5th – Pink Salmon

July 10th – September 5th – Dolly Varden/Arctic Char

July 24th – September 5th – Silver Salmon

Grayling are available all season long 

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