On the Nushagak, Sportfishers Struggle to Reel In The Kings

The Nushagak River is becoming one of Alaska’s premier destinations for king salmon sport fishermen. The king return to the Nushagak is proving stronger this year than last, and Fish and Game says they’re on track to meet the escapement goal. Sport fishing guides say the angling has only been average.

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Years of experience has taught Nanci Morris Lyon that sweet spot for catching kings is a water temperature right between 52 and 54 degrees.

But hot weather in Bristol Bay has put the water temperatures well into the 60s.

“Between that and the bright light that tends to make all fish head to the bottom it’s definitely had an effect, I feel it’s had an major effect on what we’ve seen as far as the king catch this year.”

Lyon is the managing partner of the Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon.

Her clients pay big money to catch kings on the Nushagak, one of the best king producing river in the world. Fish and Game manages to put 95,000 kings in the Nushagak River, and is on track to meet that goal this year. But that hasn’t translated into anglers landing kings in regular numbers.

“You know, we’ve been catching a lot more of the smaller fish. And for the numbers that they are seeing in the return at the sonar counter, we’re not seeing that kind of numbers, in relative percentages to past years, in the boat. So we are definitely not catching what I would say is a normal catch for sport fisherman.”

Matt Norman, manager of King Salmon Lodge, has been seeing the few bites from kings as well. He says a recent corporate group fishing for kings was less than satisfied.

“Boy, it was a real bust. We have 22 guests and I think if we caught three kings out of 22 people it was a good day.”

Norman says after that trip the organizer of the group told him that they loved the lodge and the food was great.

“But if we want to stand and not catch fish, we can do that on the Kenai without the airfare to King Salmon.”

That’s why Norman says he’s starting to book more guests to fish for silvers later in the season.

“August, knock on wood, has been a really good month. The last part of July through August for silvers has been pretty steady out here.”

He’s alright rebooked that corporate group to come back next August to fish for silvers instead of kings.

But Nanci Morris Lyon isn’t giving up on the Nushagak king run.

“These things are all very cyclical. So I am rather reluctant to say that I feel like it’s a doomed fishery or that we are seeing the end of it.”

Lyon says the Nushagak is a long ways from becoming like the poor king run on the Kenai.

“But I think it is something that needs to be watched. I think we need to be very conscientious and watch and see what our numbers do on some of our years that have more norms for the temperatures and weather, rather than this year.”

Lyon describes herself as an eternal optimist, which she says is a requirement to be a successful fishing guide. Her lines are cast for next year.

Matt Martin is a reporter for KDLG in Dillingham.

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