100 Best: Copper River

Location: Alaska

Type of stream: Freestone

Angling methods Fly

Species: Rainbows, sockeye, and grayling

Access Restricted

Season: June - September Supporting

Services: Private lodges

Short take: You can match the mayfly on this Alaskan river

Handicapped access: Fishing from a boat is possible, but otherwise no

Alaska has two Copper Rivers. One is a massive salmon fishery in southeast part of the state and the other is a short charming river known for caddis, stonefly and mayfly hatches below lake Iliamna. Rainbows take dries until salmon arrive.

By late July, the first bright and shiny runs of sockeye fresh from Bristol Bay via the Kvichak River and Lake Iliamna. Rainbows get careless as they feed like pigs first on eggs and then on flesh of spawned out salmon. Pick your favorite egg fly and later turn to flesh flies, those combed out strips of orange yarn tied on a hook. Most rainbows run in the 12-inch to 20-inch range, but the number of 24-inch fish is large enough so most anglers play one or two while they’re on the river. The further the season goes, the fatter the fish. July and August are peak months for salmon on the river but that too begins to pale as the weeks slide into September when the ‘bows are at their largest.

Every day anglers from scores of lodges in the Iliamna region fly in on float planes with guides who’ve stashed jet boats along the river’s mouth. The good news is that, unlike Lower Talarik Creek on the north side of the big lake, there are 13 miles of Copper River below the 50-foot falls, plenty of room to absorb a legion of anglers. Should you wish solitude, grab your five weight and have your guide run you up to the falls. Follow the path around them and have a field day with grayling.


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