SAFARI Camp Season Summary, 2015
Alaska Fishing and Season Summary, 2015, Alaska Wilderness SAFARI
2015 was the year of the pinks and silvers… we had the best silver salmon run in a decade or more, and without question, witnessed by far the largest pink salmon run we’ve ever seen. The chum salmon run was lighter than average, the dolly fishing was good in the middle to upper river, the bay fished better than 2014 for halibut, rockfish numbers were solid and consistent, and cod numbers were simply overwhelming.
Let’s talk about the silver salmon first because it’s been a few seasons since we’ve been able to report that the silver fishing was absolutely ON FIRE. And, in late August and early September, we had the best beach fishing for silvers we’ve ever seen – and this is about as unique as it gets for salmon fly fishing in Alaska. Both the tidal flat near camp and the river fished exceptionally well for silvers, too – by mid September the river was absolutely FULL of them. It was as good, maybe even better at moments, than the “old days” in Nakalilok bay.
In our 2014 season summary we predicted a strong run of pink salmon in 2015, but we really had no idea how BIG the run would be. According to multiple sources 2015 was the second largest [commercial] pink harvest in Alaska… ever. The tidal flat and the lower to middle river was black with them throughout August and early September – a good problem to have, especially if you like high volume salmon fishing. We even observed pinks stacked up in tertiary streams so small you could literally step across the water and over the backs of salmon. The unsuspecting “consequence” of a huge run… the die-off was immense in September. You wouldn’t believe the piles of dead fish unless you saw it with your own eyes (remember, all Pacific salmon die after spawning).
The Dolly Varden fishing was good in the middle river but really shined in the upper reaches of the valley. The lower river was literally too choked full of pink salmon to even get a good drift, so you had to walk up the river valley to find the best Dolly fishing. But for those willing to take a hike to Lion’s Head, the fishing was superb.
It was nice to see better halibut fishing this season compared to last, but it was still below historic levels. Perhaps because the bay was choked full of cod, you couldn’t even reach the halibut (or they just weren’t there in normal numbers). On the flip side, once you found a school of cod you could catch them until you were bored (another good problem to have). Weather permitting, we caught black rockfish in big numbers around kelp beds in the bay – even with fly rod.
The Nakalilok Bay wildlife highlights of 2015 include 1) watching a wolf chase and catch salmon on the tidal flat, 2) viewing a sea otter family in the bay multiple times, and 3) finding the remains of a whale skeleton on a remote Alaska Peninsula beach.
Bear viewing is a regular daily highlight at SAFARI camp, but it was a lighter season of bears in general. “Lighter” is all relative, of course, as we still saw a bear (or bears) everyday of the season – guide Carl kept track of the bear sightings.
We saw even more wolf tracks this year compared to last, a clear sign that wolf activity is picking up on the Alaska Peninsula (which is great as far as we’re concerned). A few single moose and caribou were seen on the tidal flat, and a few small groups of caribou were seen in higher elevations.
Whale sightings were close to average in August, and lighter in September (which is normal). Multiple species of sea birds were seen throughout the season, as usual, and we were treated to a few common loon sightings again this year. Migrating ducks and geese definitely started passing through early again this year (like 2014). We saw the most emperor geese this year compared to any prior season, and there was an increase in fall surf scoter sightings again.
Overall the weather was good but windier than average throughout August and September. Mid to late September was colder than typical, and brought the most snow we’ve ever seen fall on the lower peaks and ridges scattered throughout the valley – most of it quickly melted at elevations under 3000′. We even had sleet/snow mix fall at camp in late September but it wasn’t even close to cold enough for it to stick on the ground.
Like 2014, we started off the season with unusually low river and creek flows due to an early/warm spring and light winter snowpack. However, river flows somehow stayed good enough throughout the season to sustain healthy salmon runs. Occasional light rain showers helped with flows, plus we had one quick, heavy blast of rain (with some big wind) during the second week of September. But, yeah, we went fishing anyways…
Finally, we had a completely new river mouth this year – the lower river ran through the meadow near the sand dune in a way that we’ve never seen before. Only about 25% of the water flow followed historic river channels near the rocky bluffs of Harley Hill, 75% diverted at “the corner” and headed towards the sand dune area. Runoff gorged a narrow, deep channel through a couple hundred yards of meadow grass where a very small, shallow channel previously existed. Mother Nature is always in charge…
Check out the 2015 SAFARI camp photo gallery for some great images from a great season of fishing and adventure on the Alaska Peninsula!