Aleutian Coho Paradise 2022


September 7-14 2022   The Sapsuk never disappoints and is why it remains one of my favorite annual trips. The main reason I love this trip so much are the regulars I fish with once a year.   Preacher Mike, Jerry and Diana, Charlie, Kirk  and Mark Won.  Mark and Kirk couldn’t make it this year and  90 year old  Steve Sakamaki filled out the group .   Lucky for us, our week just proceeded an epic storm that brought hurricane winds through the Aleutian Islands the day after we left.   Timing on the Sapsuk is critical but also very unpredictable.

Local AK fisheries Guru and childhood friend Glen Chen reported a month ago that there were Coho run failures on some of the biggest rivers in AK (the Kiskokwim and Aniak RIvers)  and low numbers in Kenektok in western AK .  Glen’s home rivers in central  AK had late hatchery Coho runs as well as low numbers.  But there was some hope however with the near normal runs on the  Anchor River on the Kenai peninsula, and the weir counts on the Karluk at Kodiak Island.     In any event,  there would be Cohos in the Sapuk and as long as there were fish,  there was fishing.

Cohos are a really different type of Salmon.  Every salmon has it own wheelhouse.  King Salmon are huge and strong.  Kings fight long and hard and the hook set is critical to surviving the long fight.  King Salmon fight like a runaway freight train and sometimes they hunker down on the bottom to rest despite how hard you pull on them.    Sockeyes fight like bonefish.  They are smaller but pound for pound they are fierce.  Cohos on the other hand can be bigger.  The average size Coho we were catching 9-15 lbs.  Coho are not only aggressive,  they are sometimes focused on topwater.   They hit flies like they want to kill it and will move 15 feet to hit a swinging fly subsurface or on the bottom.   They go nuts for blades and movement in the fly as well.     They are also temperamental.    When they are holding and not chasing,  getting a free drifting fly in front of them is also effective.   They will move 6 inches and hit almost anything you throw accurately at them site fishing.   We caught cohos all week that gave us line cuts even using 20 lb leaders and tight drags.  Cohos are amazing jumpers unlike most salmon.   Its not unusual for a hot fish to jump a dozen times and still resist the net.

Over the week,  our group of six caught 100’s of fish.  We had some spectacular days early in the week even though it was windy, overcast and rainy almost all day.  On Day 2  it got so crazy good that 5 Spey rods were broken before noon by two veteran spey fishermen!  That’s a camp record and an indication of how good the fishing was.  Landing unpredictable  Silver Salmon without a net can be a difficult and complex maneuver.    It was Steve’s first time Spey casting and by day two he was fishing like a veteran thanks to the expert instruction from our great guides Eli and Mike.   As the week progressed,  the water levels rose and we were fishing for moving fish vs holding fish.  Fishing moving fish is a completely different game.   Site fishing moving fish is as fun as casting to a rising trout.   On a good days when the fish were holding,  we were catching 30-50 fish a day and on the slower days when we were chasing moving schools of fish  we averaged 10-20 fish a day.  We got lucky with the timing of the run with a large amount of fish holding mainly at the Weir Hold and near camp   When the river rose a foot,  the fish ended up moving up from the Weir to above “The  Braids”.   Another routine that I love about the Sapsuk if the fishing after dinner into the late evening hours that remain sunny till 10 PM.   Every evening that I went out and fished the camp fishing holes,  I caught more than a half dozen fish targeting fish moving through the system.   One evening I fished with the  Camp Chef Jake and helped him land the  second Coho of his life.   Its Jakes first year as Camp Chef and he did a phenomenal job filling Heathers shoes

Many articles have been written about the Sapsuk River which is easily one of the largest rivers in the Nelson Lagoon area with large runs of King Salmon, Silver Salmon and Steelhead.    The Sapsuk is the “Aspen” of spey fishing for Cohos  because the fish are so fresh and chrome from the ocean,  They eagerly chase and slam subsurface flies and floating gurglers.  For me ,  this is the real joy of fishing the Sapsuk and there was plenty of this to be had this week.

Over the years,  the surface and subsurface tactics have changed for me.   I really missed Mark Won on this trip – famous on the river as the Man in the Yellow Raincoat.   Even though he wasn’t with us,  His techniques and fly choices were my main guide as Mark has put hundreds of days on the Sapsuk over the years.   Heavy Bulky flies on Spey rods with T14 tips is Marks weapon of choice.  I had two rod setups for this trip.  One 13 foot Meisner Spey Rod with a 350 grain head and  8 feet of t14 tip for deep presentations.   The other was my new favorite setup – an 11 foot 7wgt Sage X Switch Rod.   The switch rod was setup with a floating 300 Grain Commando head.   Depending on weather I was fishing strictly on top or “waking” fish subsurface,  I  used a half an half tip or a floating tip.    Jerry who has also spent 100 days on the river over the years has perfected the Propeller Coho fly.   There is no doubt in any river guides mind  that the sure way to catch fish in the Sapsuk is to use a Pink #5 VIbrex with a pink rubber grub.  This setup is so deadly that we use it to search for holding fish. One fisherman flying out last week told me he landed 26 cohos in 28 casts with the Vibrex. Over the years Jerry and I have engineered spinners that clip on to our conventional Coho Flies and found they increase the catch rate by a factor of 2.    The propeller fly also increases the effectiveness of flies swung across the river just below the surface of the water.   My cousin Wayne discovered this using Smilely Blades and beads in front of the fly.   Cohos go nuts for this presentation even more so than a swung Gurgler.  The spinning blade creates a surface vibration much like a Bass Buzzbait.   Waking fish Subsurface is exciting because  you visually see fish chasing and hitting the fly.   Its most effective in shallower water with  a short cast on a switch rod – much like high sticking or Czech nymphing a fly in the surface film.

The Sapsuk Camp is located 16 miles northwest of Nelson Lagoon on the banks of the Sapsuk River.   Access to this camp is only available via jet boat on the river. Travel time from town to the camp varies, but is usually a scenic hour and half boat ride.   The camp is located on a high bluff looking over the river and the two home pools – Silvertree and Peterson- which are some of the most productive on the river, so you can fish late into the night as we often did every night after dinner till 10 PM.

This camp has a very nice shower house (with endless hot water), a kitchen/dining tent, a lounge tent, 3 guest tents  and two very nice comfortable outhouses.  All of the above have wood floors and wood walkways connecting them.  The two Guides- Mike and Eli- are expert spey instructors as well as great fun to be around. The new chef this year was Jake who outdid himself this week making great food for us all.


The Food

Jake really took great care in making us some very fine meals.

The Animals

The Scenery

Roe Processing

4 thoughts on “Aleutian Coho Paradise 2022

  1. No, but its the secret of not attracting a bear at night liking your cutting board. The bears in the Aleutians are GIANT and abundant.

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