Nushagak Blog 2010

By Terry Wiest

Nushagak River, Alaska
June 19 - 24, 2010

The annual Steelhead University trip to the Nushagak River with Jakes Nushagak Camp.

Day 1

The day started EARLY - 3:00AM and I'm up waiting for one of my fishing partners for the week Mike Mayer. We arrive at SeaTac and get checked in for our 6:00AM flight to Anchorage. While there we bump into Eric Newfeld, the Simms Rep. We also meet Kevin Klien our third fishing partner for the week along with the father and two son trio of the Steven's from Maple Valley.

Flight is good. We get to Anchorage and off on another flight to Dillingham. Barely time to get our luggage and the World War II Goose is waiting for us. This is great! Got to camp at 1:30PM when we were scheduled for 4:00PM.

All my buddies are there I met last year including Eli (Camp Owner), Swanny (Co-owner and Manager), Jesse, Brian, Mikey and Denny. New buddies Justin and Darrin rounded out the guiding crew for me this year.

After a quick introduction to the camp for the others, Eli has me take everyone over to the "bait" tent and start tying up. We go through a ton of eggs so everyone gets to tie up their own spawn sacks. Swanny throws me a couple bags of Pautzke Firecured eggs and we're in business. I guess not only the salmon love these Pautzke eggs but so do the dang monster mosquito's. I had egg goo squirt my face and instantly had a mosquito land on it and gave me killer bite #1.

It's beach fishing time and it's a bit slow. Gear consisted of spin-n-glow with 1.5oz of weight and a nice Pautzke Bait Berry. A few jacks but nothing of any size. Hookups are slow but consistent as up and down the beach there were fish coming in.

We fish until 10:00PM or so (1 hour off for dinner) and have a couple fish, but we're looking forward to the morning.

Day 2

Wake up at 3:00AM and it's freezing - my head is about to burst so I tuck inside my new mummy bag and much better. Lesson learned, wear stocking cap to bed.

Generators kick on at 6:00AM and I crawl outta bed. Breakfast at 7:00 and let go fishing!

8:00AM and Mike, Kevin and myself are paired up with Denny for the day. We only pull a couple hundred yards from the camp and set down our gear. I'm using a G. Loomis HS1021c rod with Daiwa Luna 300 reel loaded with 25lb hi-vis P-Line.

We're using a 3/0 Matzuo Sickle hook (treble's too hard to release fish safely) - more on that in a minute. And of course on those hooks are a nice thumbnail size Pautzke Bait Berry. OK - now more on those Matzuo hooks. All I can say is WOW. I've been using these hooks for 2 years now and their hookup ratio is staggering. You just don't loose many fish with these hooks.

OK, so we drop down and literally within the first minute Kevin is already hooked up. Yee Haw. Not a big fish, but it's his first Nushagak King. I hand my rod to Mike and I unhook the fish while Denny keeps the boat in the slot. Almost as soon as I get my rod back Mike's rod double's over and it on. Kevin hadn't put out yet so he unhooks the fish. Both fish were smaller than average, probably looking at 8 - 10 lbs.

So the day starts out fast with 2 fish in 5 minutes. Another 20 minutes goes by and it's Kevin again - he will have the hot rod for the day.

By lunch we've hooked 9 fish with the average size only being about 12 - 15lbs.

After a nice hot lunch we're at'em again. This time I'm first to hook up and it's a nicer fish. Still not the same fish as we were getting last year, but I think it's a keeper compared to what we've been getting so a 18lb fish is in the box.

Kevin continues to have the hot rod and soon puts a 20 in the box. Mike decided his next fish he's keeping and it's about the same size.

Day 2 results
20 fish
Average size - 15lbs

Day 3

Before breakfast I tie up some fresh Pautzke Bait Berry's to have a variety. I'd put a couple drops of Anise Oil on the previous days so now I'll have with or without to choose from.

Today we're paired up with Mikey. Along with a great fisherman and guide, Mikey is a Grizzly Bear Guide so we got some great stories while we were fishing. I also saw my first Grizzly in the wild today and I'm glad I was on the opposite side of the river.

On to fishing.

Mike is hot today! I think he hooked up the first 4 fish before Kevin or I had a bite. Mike was in the back left seat, and so was Kevin the day before. We're rotating so I'm already guessing day 3 I'll have the hot rod. But to continue with today. Up to lunch it's on the slower side, but we still manage 9 fish going into lunch.

Right outta the gait after lunch Mikey puts Mike on the biggest fish yet. This is a reel screamer and Mike is all smiles - this is what we came for. A super hot fish with shoulders. This fish we put in the net and Mike can't stop shaking, not only his biggest Nushagak Salmon but his biggest salmon ever. A solid 27lbs.

An orange with blue dot Big Moby spinner was doing the trick.

Kevin and I also get in to better fish than the day before and each put a 22lb fish in the box.

Day 3 Results
20 fish
Average Size - 20lbs

Day 4

We're fishing with Swanny today and he's decided to change things up. First of all, the much anticipated back left seat was not to be had by me today, Swanny had already appointed me the front seat to distribute the weight more evenly in the boat. Not a problem but Mike and Kevin sure got a kick outta it. They flipped for it and Mike gets the "lucky" seat again - oh and yes, it proved to be the HOT seat AGAIN!

Swanny also decided it was not a spinner day, but instead he was going to put a smile on for all of us - a Mack's Lure Smile blade that is. And he was right! Using a very large smile blade, then two corkies to the first hook, then a cheater to the second hook with a Pautzke Bait Berry on the upper hook.

And Mike starts us off strong with a fish, but we double up with Kevin. As soon as they get their fish released I hook up. So 1 pass, 3 fish. The next pass and Mike hooks up again, and wow, so do I! Now it's 2 passes and 5 fish. But just as soon as it started it cooled off and the fish moved up river.

We found the fish again and even got a few more doubles. So far this has been the best day for lunch as we hooked up 16 fish.

That first drop after lunch has been good for Mike and he does it again. This time he puts an even nicer fish in the box with a fish of 28lbs.

The fish are slamming the Smile Blade Pautzke combo and we're quickly up to 22 fish and all have fish of 25lbs or more in the box.

For some unknown reason the bite just died. It might have been the 68 degree bright sunny whether that came from nowhere?

We ended up with a couple more fish for the day and all rods were getting fish. The fish were also bigger today and sure would have been nice to have a bite all afternoon, but it wasn't but how could we complain with a 25 fish day?

Day 4 Results
25 Fish
Average Size - 24lbs

Day 5

Today we fish with Brian Lull (Northwest Sportman Magazine). Brian jokingly tells me I have the front seat today - UM NOT going to happen. They had made a deal with Brian to tell me that when I showed up. Nope - back left it is for me. Would it be the hot seat? NO, but Day 5 would be.

Brian anticipated fishing with us and didn't want to disappoint - and he didn't. Another fantastic day of fishing.

I hook the first fish today and as Brian starts to get up to unhook it we have to explain to him how we like the boat to run. No problem there, in fact he loves it! He just keeps on the fish and we'll take care of unhooking, baiting, tying, untangling and netting fish. Cool!

Most boats are struggling but Brian gets us on fish. 12 by lunch and we have 2 keepers in the box already - Mike and I both have 25lb fish in the box.

After lunch Kevin is not sure he should have went out before a pit stop, but Brian senses were on some good fish so he asks if we can make 1 pass before returning to shore. Good thing we did! Holy cow Kevin hooks up with a hog which turns out to be the biggest fish we kept. Pushing 30lbs it took Kevin's mind off anything else but fighting this beast. In the net and back to shore. Got that one takin care of quickly with some nice pics and a superb fillet job to get it flash frozen quickly.

We're back on the water and all is good.

Just like the day previous, the bite just flat out died in the afternoon.

But we still managed to scrap out a few fish and all three of us are punched out with our 4 Chinook each for the trip.

Day 5 Results
19 fish
Average Size - 25 lbs


New guests arrived around 4:00PM and were anxious to fish from the bank. We just watched at first, but then, what the heck, the bite is on!!!! Fish being landed all up and down the beach, even some keepers. We helped release some of the fish and waited until after dinner to join them.

It went from a Chinook bite to a chum bite and I was set. Twitchin jigs was ON FIRE as I was the only one twitchin. It was great and these chum fight like a mad dog.

We quit around 9:00PM and had plenty of fun.

But then they came - SOCKEYE!!!! And we're talking in droves. (Sonar counted 22k just that day that passed through).

Darrin hooked the first sockeye of camp and it was game on!

Jesse, Justin and I were the only ones on the beach from 10:00PM until 1:30AM and it was lights out fishing. If you've never caught a sockeye this fresh from the ocean you have no clue as to how these fish fight on light tackle. What an absolute blast!

Jesse is the master at the Kenai flop. It took me a while to get used to it, but when I did it was hookup after hookup and we had the whole beach to ourselves. I'm sure others were wondering what the heck was going on as we were hooting and hollowing until finally we called it a night.

Your limit is 5 sockeye and I was the only one retaining them. A very nice bonus for the cooler.

Day 6 (4 hours)

Our last day and we have Eli, the Camp Owner, to fish with. Eli is great! He already knows our routine from fishing with him last year and of course the guide talk each night. And he's happy to go along with out routine.

We're all punched out so no need to net any fish today, strictly catch and release.

At least it started out with Eli being able to keep us on the fish, but he did it too good, we're into doubles of fish nearing 30lbs and no rest for Eli, we need help releasing fish. Man we got into some nice fish today and double 30lb fish was just crazy.

This probably would have been the best day number wise as it already was the best day size wise, but this was our fly out day and only 4 hours of fishing.

Day 6 Results
16 fish
Average Size - 25lbs


100 Fish (Chinook) for 4.5 Days fishing 3 guys via boat
Does not include bank fishing and other species (Chum, Sockeye and Dolly Vardon).

This was fantastic considering there were only 500 fish a day coming through the sonar and 17K total through the end of our trip - compare that to 2000 fish a day and 40K through our trip in 2009.

Eli and Swanny put on one helluva camp and I would highly recommend you book with them if you're considering taking a trip to the Nush.

Terry Wiest
Steelhead University