“Return To The Egegik” - Scott Haugen
Bushplanes, the taxi of remote Alaska, are how you get in and out of camp and access many of the other fisheries and brown bear viewing locales in this part of Alaska.
I sat on the bank of a remote river in Alaska, where I’d sat 15 years prior, watching a couple buddies catch coho. By the time I finished my second cup of coffee, they were done. They’d each caught plenty of salmon, but they were convinced the fish had moved out, so prepared to move to new water. It was my turn.
Grabbing my rod that was rigged with a 2.5 Mag Lip, I quietly waded out to their spot. On the first cast I hooked and landed a fat coho, and landed three more in four casts.
“What in the world?” A buddy quizzed, questioning not only how I caught the salmon, but where I caught them. When I pointed out the deep spot 10-feet away, and how though they’d been fishing the area for over an hour but didn’t touch this water, they shook their heads.
I went on to release over 50 coho by 2:00 p.m. in that spot, fishing multiple ways. The experience brought back many fond memories I’ve had on the Egegik River, and why I look forward to fishing with Becharof Lodge every season.
Becharof Lodge on the Egegik River was the first fishing lodge established on this clear-flowing stream. In the good old days we’d fish every day and not see another angler, save for those in our camp.
Then, another lodge came to the river. Shortly after that, silver salmon numbers declined in some rivers near King Salmon, where many high-end lodges are located. It didn’t take long for some of these lodges to figure out if they wanted happy clients, they better fly to the Egegik for the day to catch coho.
Longtime guest of Becharof Lodge, Jim Matlock, shares a fishing hole on the Egegik River with some willow ptarmigan, Alaska’s state bird.
While the experience isn’t as tranquil as it once was, the fishing is still the best I’ve personally experienced in Alaska, and I’ve fished much of the state over the past 31 years. I’ve lived nearly nine of those years in different regions if the state, including Southeast.
I know there are some incredible rivers in Alaska, and I’ve fished a number of them while working on various book projects over the years, including my massive work, A Flyfisher’s Guide To Alaska. But having fished the Egegik so many days for so many years, from late July to early September, it’s tough to match when it comes to catching high numbers of coho every single day, and doing so multiple ways.
This past season only confirmed my feelings, as many friends from my hometown booked trips with Becharof Lodge. One avid fly angling buddy looked to catch a few on a fly then try various traditional presentations. He never set down the fly rod, landing some 30 coho a day for five days straight, and losing more than twice that. He’s coming back next year with a group of his friends.
Twitching jigs for coho on the Egegik River is very effective for anglers who have the technique down. A range of Yakima Bait’s Twitcher Jigs did very well this past season.
Another angler who booked for the second year in a row was all about the numbers. He was there for five days, and when a client had to cancel at the last minute, the man stayed to fish three more days. He ended up landing over 500 coho in just over seven days of fishing. The list goes on.
What I love most about fishing the Egegik is the number of ways coho can be caught; that’s something I’ve never experienced on any river in Alaska. One day I fought 95 coho on big beads. Last season BnR Tackle’s 32mm Soft Beads reshaped the way many anglers fish the Egegik. This season they picked up right where they left off. I even did well on the new 40mm Soft Beads, proving just how aggressive the coho in this river truly are. For comparison, I fished both big beads several times on three other prime coho rivers on the Peninsula in August and September, and hooked a total of one fish, which I lost.
The Egegik River is also prime for casting plugs from shore, a technique that’s a thing of the past in the world of salmon and steelhead angling. This past season I rigged my 9’ 6” E6X with a Shimano Stradic CI4 3000F and spooled it with Power Pro’s Maxcuatro 50-pound braid in moss green. This line is equivalent to 10-pound diameter line, and with the long rod and a two-foot dropper, I could whip the tiniest of plugs to where the fish were. This line is tough, too, I’ve caught 40-pound sheefish through seven feet of ice in the Arctic on it, as well as big barracuda in Mexico.
I’ve never seen a leader-shy coho, so I tie my terminal gear directly to the braid. Not only did I catch loads of coho on various 2.5 and 2.0 Mag Lip patterns, but also on 50 series Hot Shots, T4 Flatfish, Wee Warts and Hot ’N Tots. The Egegik is a plug casting paradise from shore, unlike anywhere I’ve seen.
The Egegik River runs crystal clear, born from Becharof Lake, the second largest lake in Alaska. The gravel this massive body of water flows through is the perfect filter, which is evident when flying over the tundra and seeing the many silty
streams flowing from the hills and tundra in the region.
Curious how various gear works on pressured fish in this clear water, I often followed fellow anglers, intent on seeing if I could catch fish once the action noticeably slowed. While the occasional big plug, spinner, or bead produced bites, it was downsizing my terminal gear that really surprised me. I caught numerous coho from holes that had been pounded by buddies for hours, using minuscule 1/16-ounce and even 1/32-ounce jigs suspended beneath a float. Tiny spinners, little Soft Beads, and small clusters of cured eggs, along with the little plugs, also worked.
The Egegik River makes everyone feel like a pro, which is the beauty of it. For me it provides a starting point to try different things in fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, on more pressured rivers with fewer fish. When it comes to catching fish multiple ways, the learning curve is virtually flat on the Egegik.
I also did very well twitching a size-range of Yakima Bait’s new Twitcher Jigs. These jigs did well on the other rivers I fished in the summer and fall, and as you’d expect, bite to hookup ratios were very high.
What I love most about the Egegik is the setting. Having lived seven years in the Arctic, I’m partial to tundra, however. The amount of life that emerges from the seemingly flat habitat never ceases to amaze me.
In August and early September on the Egegik River we saw moose, caribou, wolf, red fox, loads of willow ptarmigan—Alaska’s state bird—and plenty of brown bears. If I had one day to spend fishing, it would be alongside brown bears, what I consider the ultimate Alaskan experience.
Brown bear viewing is a big attraction for many guests at Becharof Lodge. Not only are bears common around camp, but famed Brooks Falls is only a 30 minute floatplane ride away.
Last summer saw another record run of sockeye salmon on the Naknek River, which leads to Brooks Falls. As a result of the big red run and high water, brown bear numbers on Brooks Falls also reached record proportions. Several guests at Becharof Lodge fly to Brooks Falls to watch brown bears each season. The 30 minute flight on a floatplane is worth the price of admission, alone, but to see multiple bears fishing and coexisting with one another in such a unique setting is a wondrous experience. I’ve been going to Brooks Falls since 2001, and never tire of it. Last summer there were several days where over 30 bears were on the falls.
There are also plenty of flyout fishing opportunities for trophy-class Arctic grayling and char, even rainbows. Flyouts can be weather-dependent, so be patient. In fact, practice patience whenever you’re traveling through and fishing in remote Alaska.
Because travel is restricted to bushplanes in remote Alaska, know that your pilot is never late and they’re never wrong. Becharof Lodge exclusively relied on Trygg Air last season, and it was a good move. Trygg Air has perhaps the best bush pilots I’ve flown with, and I’ve been in a lot of planes all over the state the past three decades.
Casting tiny plugs for coho? You bet! The Egegik River is made for this approach, and many others anglers are eager to try.
The new cabins at Becharof Lodge, multiple flush toilets and hot showers are nice to have in camp. Yes, this is a camp, not a lodge. If you want a fancy lodge with finished rooms, multiple wines and five course meals to choose from, this place isn’t for you. But if you want comfortable and affordable, with world class coho fishing, look no further. “Last year I spent over $10,000 to fly fish out of a plush lodge in King Salmon,” shared a dentist I fished by on the Egegik. “Here, I was able to bring my two kids for about the same price and I caught more coho by lunch on my first day than in seven days of fishing with the fancy lodge.” He’s excited to return to Becharof Lodge.
The new owners have Becharof Lodge running smoothly, which is a feat in itself in remote Alaska. The cost of fuel, food, bushplane service, land permits, and more continues to rise, but they’re still able to offer affordable rates. I’ve eaten coho from numerous rivers throughout Alaska, and my wife, Tiffany, would agree, those from the Egegik could be the best of the best, year in and year out. The food in camp is also top-notch and you’ll never go hungry.
On September 2nd I left the Egegik River to spend a couple weeks fishing and bird hunting farther down the Peninsula. On the plane I flew out on, my dad and a couple of his friends flew in on. We briefly chatted before they hopped in the boat and headed to the lodge.
Author, Scott Haugen, has fished with Becharof Lodge on the Egegik River for many years. This season he took a number of coho on all types of tackle, including these on BnR Tackle’s new 40mm Soft Beads, a testimony to how aggressive these fish are.
When I got home, Dad was as excited to share stories. He fished until September 7 and said it was the best coho fishing he’d ever experienced, with bigger fish than when he’d been there before, in mid-August. “The fishing slowed down a bit in the afternoons, but I was more than happy with 30 or 40 big coho by lunch.”
Dad plans on returning to the Egegik River with more of his golfing buddies, and I hope to join them, along with other fellow STS subscribers, many of whom have ventured to this wonderful place over the years. There’s a reason I keep going back to Becharof Lodge and sharing the experiences in these pages, because it truly is a special place I wish everyone could see at least once in their life.