The Egegik (Alaska) Experience by Scott Haugen
After more than an hour of watching friends catch coho after coho, I finally felt the urge to make a cast. The action had been sizzling, yielding salmon on just about every cast for my fellow anglers. Then the bite suddenly stopped, as it often does when fish move out of a hole.
The Egegik River is wide, shallow, and easy to wade. It can be fished multiple ways, and the endless beauty emanating from its shoreline never grows old.
I walked a short distance upstream, where I’d been watching dorsal fins splitting the smooth surface of the calm flowing Egegik River. I knew of a little depression in that spot, one that often enticed traveling silvers to rest.
I baited my hook with freshly cured eggs, and no sooner had the cluster hit the water when a hard-fighting coho attacked. The same results came on the next cast, and the next. Twenty-one casts saw me landing 21 coho, keeping four that were hooked too deep to release.
I lost a fish on the next cast, then landed five more in a row before losing another. On my 29th cast I landed my 27th coho, and kept it as it was hooked deep. Though I could have kept fishing after keeping my fifth and final fish—the daily limit on the Egegik—I called it a morning.
Pouring a cup of coffee I sat back and watched friends continue to fish, reflecting on the many years of incredible memories I’ve had on this amazing river.
I first learned of the Egegik River 15 years ago. Having fished throughout Alaska for three decades, the Egegik is my favorite coho river in the state.
Tiffany and I lived in Alaska’s Arctic for most of the 1990s, and I think that made me partial to the tundra. I like the openness offered by the rolling tundra surrounding the Egegik River as it leads to some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
The wildlife exposed by the tundra is tremendous, from giant brown bears to wolves, ptarmigan to sandhill cranes, weasels to fox, and a plethora of bird life. The tundra, itself, is mesmerizing to study, and the coho fishing on the river is truly exceptional.
Author, Scott Haugen, has been fishing the Egegik for 15 years, and ranks it atop his favorite rivers in Alaska, for many reasons.
I first fished with Becharof Lodge in 2008, with then owner, Bruce Hallingstad. Bruce and his wife Lisa worked hard to establish a quality camp on the Egegik, the first on this short river. In the fall of 2019 the lodge was sold. Two men became equal partners in the lodge; George Joy, a longtime fishing and hunting guide for Bruce, and the best mechanic I’ve ever seen, and Mark Korpi, a building contractor from Astoria, Oregon who can craft a cabin from a 2x4 and sheet of plywood. These two are a great team.
The first thing George and Mark did upon acquiring the lodge was change the name to Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River, then erect multiple cabins, which replaced the tents used for so long. They installed more flush toilets and showers, and continue improving upon the amenities at the lodge, including expanding and upgrading the electricity.
Two large structures with multiple rooms are now in place, along with smaller cabins and a comfortable dining hall with windows offering a commanding view of the river and surrounding tundra. And, just like the fishing was when I first experienced it, seasoned anglers can still catch and release over 100 coho a day when the timing is right. Then again, if you’re not into numbers that’s okay as there’s so much more to enjoy.
For many years this camp was a place dominated by older male anglers. Today, the newly constructed lodge and its pleasantness attracts many couples, families, and youth. “This is the best vacation we’ve had in 14 years,” I overheard one wife confiding in her husband as they prepared to fly home.
This past August I spent the entire season at the lodge, something I’d always wanted to do. The new owners and their staff were wonderful. Clients came and went, and the positive spirits of most everyone were contagious. It was a happy place, all season long.
Though the lodge has satellite TV, it was never turned on—no one even asked for it. Mornings were spent taking in the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa. Big breakfasts were the norm, something most people claimed they never ate at home, but didn’t let slip by them.
Dinners were tasty with an abundance of food, and the friendly, comfortable atmosphere made it easy for people to help themselves to as much as they liked. Cookies were baked fresh from scratch each day. No one went hungry, ever.
Leslie is all smiles over this Arctic Char she caught while on a flyout to a remote stream. If you want to experience ultimate Alaska, consider a flyout adventure.
While the comforts of camp play a big part in pleasing many people, it’s the fishing that brought them here. Many serious anglers wake up early and have their coffee and breakfast downed in time to be catching fish before the sun crests the horizon.
There are also those who sleep in, appreciating the freedom to do what they want on their vacation. They catch fish, too, a lot of fish.
Last season thousands of coho held close to shore right in front of the lodge. After dinner for nearly half the season, anglers caught salmon after salmon right from shore. It made for a fun, unforgettable experience for many people.
I was surprised with the number of folks who were happy fishing only in the morning. They’d return to camp, enjoy a hot shower and lunch, take a nap, read, then sit atop the viewing platform and watch the local wildlife until appetizers were served.
Brown bears were seen every day of the season, many coming close to camp, even licking the fish slime from the boats during the night. A wolf came into camp three times, passing mere yards from the cabins. Willow ptarmigan, the state bird, abounded last summer, often mingling at the feet of anglers.
The fishing is simple, and the gravel, gently-sloping banks, easy for anyone to negotiate. The Egegik River is wide and shallow, and very little weight is needed to get presentations into the strike zone.
Coho fishing on Alaska’s Egegik River is the perfect place to catch lots of salmon; some anglers have caught all five species in a single day. Driftbobbers like this Lil’ Corky Cluster are ideal when drift fishing eggs for silvers on this river.
Cured eggs can be fished on the Egegik River, which isn’t the case for all rivers in the region. Be it drifted along the bottom or suspended beneath a float, there’s no contesting the value of a well cured egg for achieving high numbers of coho on this river.
Spinners can be incredible on the Egegik, with the Flash Glo Squid Skirt Spinner topping the chain in popularity. Spoons and jigs are very productive, too. A good twitching jig angler can expect consistent success on this river, with rubber legged versions being the hot ticket day in and day out. Soft Beads were the top artificial bait last season, with the 32mm version opening many eyes.
Want to fish topwater for coho? This is the place, be it with a spinning rod or fly rod. Many anglers use only a fly rod all week long, stripping streamers, moving Wogs, and swinging surface poppers. Spey rod anglers love the vast amount of prime, open water to be fished.
The beauty of Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River is its proximity to even more remote places in Alaska. Flyouts take you to captivating streams where the pursuit of trophy class Arctic Char and grayling, along with rainbow trout, capture the essence of fishing in Alaska.
If you want to experience brown bear viewing at famed Brooks Falls, that’s only a 25-minute floatplane flight from the lodge. Watching 1,500-pound bears gorge themselves on sockeye salmon is a sight to behold, and when a fight breaks out, hang on.
Floatplanes are the lifeblood of remote Alaska, and are instrumental in providing many unique fishing and wildlife watching opportunities for folks at Becharof Lodge On The Egegik River.
An hour boat ride down the Egegik River finds you in the village of Egegik. Along the way you’ll often see bears, moose, beluga whale and unlimited bird life. In the summer, the bay of Egegik is home to some of the most intense commercial sockeye fishing in the world, but calm and quiet the rest of the year. It’s a fun village to walk around and envision what it must have been like for the indigenous peoples of the region hundreds of years ago.
If you’re lucky you’ll meet Scovi, the 76-year-old matriarch, and mayor, of Egegik. If you come to the lodge, you’ll likely meet her granddaughter, Elise. Elise is a 17-year old guide here, and has been fishing it and driving boats on the Egegik since the age of four. Elise’s father, Carl Adams, is the best of the best when it comes to navigating this river.
It’s funny, the more time I spend at Becharof Lodge, the less important catching high numbers of coho becomes. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown more aware of all the other things this magical place has to offer. Maybe it’s because I find myself getting more pleasure watching others catch fish than I ever thought possible. Then again, maybe it’s because I know I’ll be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
Guide, Elise Adams, releases a coho for another happy angler on the Egegik River, something she’s been doing for three years with Becharof Lodge.
I’m hoping to spend the whole upcoming season on the Egegik River. I’m also hoping my dad will again join me, as he loves the Egegik, and that my wife, Tiffany, will finally get to experience it for the first time.
There are few places I keep going back to in Alaska, as there’s so much to discover in this state. But the Egegik River is an exception. Each year the coho run gets me excited, and the tranquility of this place continually captures my mind. Simply put, it’s the best Alaskan fishing experience I’ve come to appreciate. Who knows, maybe you can join me next season, and become yet another member of the STS readership who have discovered over the years how truly special this place is.
- written by Scott Haugen
Note: To book your trip on the Egegik River, and maybe fish with longtime STS columnist, Scott Haugen, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.