Spey fishing, like most fishing, is addictive! Justin Crump, co-owner of Frigate Adventure Travel based in King Salmon, Alaska on the banks of the Naknek River, is in a prime location for spey fishing for Bristol Bay’s legendary rainbow trout. Justin’s quick overview about spey fishing on the Naknek as well as the Kvichak for big rainbows is a must-see.
He starts by giving an overview of the Bristol Bay sport fishery. Bristol Bay is home to several very large lake systems, and it is these systems that produces the huge, world-famous runs of sockeye salmon (as well as Chinook, coho, pink, and chum salmon). The sockeye form the base of the food chain, bringing marine nutrients back to these systems. It is because of the sockeye and the food they provide through their flesh and eggs that these systems also produce large rainbow trout. Two of the best rainbow lake systems in the region for large rainbow trout are Lake Iliamna and Naknek Lake.
The Naknek River flows out of Naknek Lake; the Kvichak River flows out of Lake Iliamna. In both of these systems, the trout spend a lot of time in the lakes feeding on juvenile sockeye. However, in the fall, big rainbows leave the lakes and drop down into the rivers. By this time, most of the eggs are gone. The fish can’t rely on the egg buffet, so spey fishing—swinging flies to fish that will chase them—is very effective. These are big rivers that are well suited to spey fishing.
Spey fishing allows us to cover a lot of water in big rivers, and it can be very effective for really big rainbows. Typical flies are big streamer patterns, leeches, sculpins and flesh flies. These fish are very opportunistic and if it looks alive or like food, hold on!
Spey fishing rods, AKA two-handed fly rods, allow you to cast far with very little backcast room. Spey fishing systems also allow you to easily vary the sink rate of your presentation, and spey fishing gear, specifically since the advent of Skagit lines, allow you to cast big streamers, leeches, flesh flies and sculpins with ease.
Justin contrasts the fishing between the two rivers, explaining that the Naknek has deeper runs, while the Kvichak is generally shallower. In both rivers, the big rainbows are much more willing to chase a fly than say, winter steelhead, and they’ll move much farther to take a fly than winter steelhead.
When spey fishing for big ‘bows in either stream, Justin explains the importance of letting the rod load up before setting the hook. In reality, he says the fish basically set the hook themselves if you don’t take the fly away from them. He also explains that chasing these fish with a boat is often necessary, and he explains why.