Nushagak Fishing Report and Highlights 2023

The Nushagak fishing report for this season is generally one of positives. Season highlights include our conservation efforts, 40-Inch Club members added and our annual Special Forces week. 

Nushagak fishing reporIf you know our lodge, you also know that our owner and all of our guides promote conservation. One case in point is our “40-Inch Club Honor Wall” for those who catch, measure, and release any king salmon over 40 inches back into the river to perpetuate genetics. That distinctive experience gains anglers membership in the 40-Inch Club. This season, six clients got their names added to this wall of honor.

You may know that at the start of this fishing year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Fisheries chose to allow Nushagak River sportfishing users a seasonal four-king limit. Sport fishermen could retain in possession, one king over 28-inches and three between 20- and 28-inches, plus five Jacks, which are under 20-inch king salmon that return to freshwater earlier than their counterparts. This conservation strategy seemed to work fine at the outfitter and lodge level, but management for the overall health of the river’s king run failed based on their choice to let the commercial fleet fish nearly non stop during valuable king conservation timing. And while this may be a bit of a downer for our Nushagak Fishing Report, the situation cannot go ignored.

The commercial fishing industry funds an antiquated ADF&G sonar counting station on the river that determines when the fleet can fish based on estimated in river returns. The numbers provided are, at best, an amalgamation of several prediction-based algorithms. The only actual counting of fish is completed along the banks, and sometimes with a dropped net. They do this to determine the quantity of fish and species during periods of time before and after high tides. They take these limited samples and apply them overall to come up with a number. Nevertheless, the ADF&G management decision to allow commercials to fish once again contributed to the inability to meet the annual escapement goal for king salmon. It is shameful that the powers that be allow the disintegration of this important resource to fail for the gain of harvesting “as much sockeye” as possible while still trapping and killing kings as bycatch. 

It’s especially insane since the results are poor quality salmon when the harvesters and processors can’t keep up with their own supply, and the lowered prices paid to all in the subsequent seasons due to an abundance of fish still on the market from the previous huge harvest lowers the demand. I guess the feast or famine lifestyle is more of a priority than sustainability for an entire species, important to the sport and subsistence communities. ADF&G’s local choices are more crucial than ever as larger, more difficult battles to fight like the injustice of the massive amounts of kings recorded as trawl bycatch exist as the elephant in the room.

But despite these issues at hand, back to our Nushagak fishing report for 2023. At the lodge our clients enjoyed catching and releasing kings over 28-inches regularly while retaining their authorized king salmon harvest for the season. One big difference from the past three seasons is there was barely a Jack to be found. Those immature kings were missing from the daily catch reports and hardly graced the fish cleaning station.

Sockeye salmon season began with a flurry of shiny backs bustling into the river on or about June 26th. That fury normally lasts for roughly two weeks, ending July 10 this year. 1.8 million sockeye were estimated as having passed the sonar fish counting station in 2023. The sockeye that we harvested this year seemed larger and abundant. Our clients happily filled their boxes of salmon bounty with sockeye, topping it off with their allotment of kings, and departed with enthusiasm and gratitude, planning for the next season. This is certainly one of the bright spots on this year’s Nushagak fishing report.

On or about July 6, all of the outfitters and tent camps on the Nushagak packed up and went home. One week later, ADF&G published an emergency order ending the possession of kings, but allowing a catch and release option. Understanding how the run has gone for the last few years and wanting only good fishing for our guests, our lodge chose not to schedule clients from 7/15 to 7/25. This break allowed the kitchen, staff and guide team to take a much needed siesta, clean-up king and sockeye gear, and prepare coho gear for the final of three distinct salmon seasons.

On July 25, we hosted our annual Warrior Sportsmen Inc group. This non-profit was established to allow U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers to “hit the off-switch” and take a moment with nature and fellow soldiers. We are honored to be one of their annual retreats and to allow them access to Alaska’s Bristol Bay. As guests normally do during the last week of July, these green beret warriors limited out on silvers everyday by 9:30am, then continued to catch and release coho for the next 5-6 hours. When they returned to the lodge each day, they were worn out but fulfilled! Those were some of the best fishing days this summer.

During the first few days of August, we had some rather hot days and blue skies. While we Alaskabound humans sure love it, coho are often not fans of those conditions. It was more of a struggle to catch limits these few days, but everyone still did and nobody could complain about the beautiful days. On August 5th, there was a 35-40 knot Southern wind that pushed fish into the river. Everyday thereafter was a coho fish show….in a word, The Nushagak fishing report for coho season was EPIC!!

Truth is, we are already looking forward to season 2024 with anticipation and zeal for this great fishery! Fill out the request for information form here and Pete will get in touch with you with available dates and trip details.